The music in the bar was, appropriately enough, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Everyone in Louisiana was trying to find that bridge, including our bartender, Mitch, who had relocated to Shreveport—where our barstools were located—just a week before.Mitch had lived in Los Angeles, then moved to New Orleans, and had just made a claim to FEMA—the apartment he’d been sharing with his dad was still underwater—on the day he poured our bourbons and margaritas, as my FAM Tour hosts and I wrapped up a day tooling around the Shreveport area.Or more precisely, the Shreveport Bossier area—mid-size metropolises separated only by the Red River, but joined, in the minds of visitors, by casinos on both sides of the water.Those casinos draw people from Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas primarily, seeking a little recreation and perhaps trying to make good on the American promise that you can “get rich quick.” Which—let’s be fair—has always been one of many non-muse-related reasons that people get into “pictures.”It’s also been one of the reasons producers have been drawn to Louisiana—if not to get rich, then at least to save some production lucre by taking advantage of the state’s production tax breaks. So the question for the Shreveport folks, then, is not whether they can continue to draw people from Tulsa or Lubbock, but whether they can pull them in from down the I-49 in New Orleans.Part of the challenge for the suddenly busy north end of the state will be letting everyone know what resources they have and how fast people can land on their feet.One example was potential crew member and film student Mitch-the-bartender. He wanted to re-enroll in film classes, and was taking general ed stuff at the local state campus, LSUS, unaware that the community college in Bossier had classes and digital filmmaking equipment to offer.On a larger note, productions already in the Louisiana pipeline, which can’t shoot elsewhere, want to know they can find more-or-less duplicate locales. That was the case for the production gang from Road House 2, all of whom briefly piled out of a massive SUV where my host, Jessica Hawkins from the Shreveport Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, and I sat at Mitch-the-survivor’s bar, waiting for a dinner table.The restaurant in question was Smith’s Cross Lake Inn, a venerable area eatery—with architecture suggesting an outsize shotgun shack—perched, yes, on the shores of Cross Lake, itself an example of the near-to-town rural and wilderness vistas the Shreveport area has to offer.I’d been in the dust of the Road House guys all day. Faced with an imminent start date and a hasty relocation from the area damaged by Katrina, they found themselves busy scouting back roads and country bars.They were being chaperoned by Betty Jo LeBrun-Mooring, executive director the Shreveport-Bossier film office, who said “thank goodness I wasn’t new to the job, and this didn’t blindside me!”By “this,” she meant not only Road House, but all the other productions hastily relocated to her area: the Kevin Costner/Ashton Kutcher-starring Coast Guard drama The Guardian, the FX-produced TV series Thief (see related article) and the New Orleans-set gothic TV drama Scarlett, which found itself in nearby Natchitoches, which has more of what might be called the “traditional New Orleans ‘look.’”But films don’t have to be Orleans-set to want to film in Louisiana, since the tax breaks are so lucrative for producers. And Shreveport and its environs has more than one kind of look to offer, from the bayou-esque settings around Lake Bistineau to the mixed architecture (yes, including antebellum mansions) of the town’s historic district, to the Red River, which cuts through Shreveport and Bossier.Captain Eddie Jellum who runs Houseboat Adventures out of Shreveport, ran me up-river in a smaller skiff one evening to show off his beloved river—and within minutes of town, you can easily be convinced you’re in a wilderness estuary, or by the banks of a languid fishing spot.And if you can get permission from the Pentagon, there’s also nearby Barksdale AFB, which looks not only like, well, an Air Force Base, but also like an Andy Hardy-esque “small town USA,” with its ’30s-era base housing built along curving streets that replicate backlot sight lines.But scenery alone won’t help the Shreveport-Bossier area handle all the filming that was coming in to the Crescent City. They’re not looking to steal business, as Hawkins says, “we don’t want to be crass, we want to help New Orleans.”What they want is help the state “rebuild”—a word you hear all over Louisiana—and keep filming within their borders before a less-afraid-to-be-crass neighboring state decides that now is the time to wrest all that film biz away from the land of Huey Long.What about getting crew? A lot of New Orleans-based film workers have, like bartender Mitch, relocated already, including folks like hair stylist Donita Sather (see related article), who’ll be working on Thief.Mike McHugh is the business rep for IA 478, an umbrella local for various crafts and disciplines based in New Orleans. Its website has a post-Katrina check-in for members, and by reading it, you can see that many once-local film workers are now scattered from Hollywood to Manhattan to Illinois and Pennsylvania, and all parts in between.And yes, some—including McHugh—are still in Louisiana, many in the Baton Rouge area (which McHugh describes as “packed full of people” in the wake of massive relocations). “There’ll be crew,” he promises, for any production that comes to Louisiana to shoot, though most folks are “waiting until there’s a deal” in place before striking out in any particular work-related direction.Don Wagner is a grip, one of those 478 members represented by McHugh, and he was unpacking boxes at the newly relocated Shreveport offices of LIFT, the Louisiana Institute of Film Technology (see related article). He lives in Mississippi, but the New Orleans-area apartment he kept for work was flooded out. Still, he says “there’s gonna be plenty of work” coming in, and mentioned he’d be back on a show “next month”—which is to say, the very month this issue of Below the Line hits the streets.So two pieces of the puzzle may be coming together: locales and crew. What about infrastructure, sound stages and support?Conditions may accelerate growth—or fine-tune the types of businesses springing up—in the area. One example is Odyssey Sound Lab, which was busily expanding as we got there. Starting life as a recording studio, the facility mixed a Willie Nelson album for DreamWorks and later did the audio—including ADR—on a Willie Nelson video. From there, it has moved into postproduction sound on videogames, notably for EA Sports.But can any of this translate to a working postproduction sound facility if someone needs it more or less… now? Dexter Johnson, the lab’s chief engineer, had been hanging out with the Road House folks himself, and he, and owner Patrick Williams, have decided on a “if you build it, they will come” approach, which is to say, they’re ramping up, but trying not to overextend, to meet anticipated production needs. Johnson is an Apple Final Cut Pro man, but he and Williams were discussing making “the Avid leap,” while simultaneously offering assurances that they were “very capable of doing post, ADR… everything,” yet noting they’d be even “more suited next year.”It’s a big game of “catch me if you can” right now—played in both directions. Louisiana wants to hold on to additional productions, once those already in the works fini
sh their relocating and production in the north end of the state.Producers, meanwhile, may be looking to other states if they leap on the tax-break bandwagon—and can claim they’re out of any putative “hurricane zone” for the foreseeable future.“We’re shooter-friendly,” LeBrun-Mooring insists. And they’d like to stay that way.
Written by Mark London Williams