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FAM Tour-Louisiana 2

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By Mark London Williams“If you don’t keep the business in Louisiana now, it’s going to die.” That’s the prognostication of Edith LeBlanc, a production executive for LIFT, the Louisiana Institute of Film Technology. While it sounds like a semi-public film commission bureau, it’s in fact a private company that accepts “assignment” of a film’s Louisiana state tax credits, then turns around and hires local crews, houses out-of-town hires, provides equipment and payroll services, and the like.LeBlanc knows something about living on the edge herself: she had to flee Hurricane Katrina’s path with the rest of her fellow New Orleanians, and was busy trying to set up her life anew in Shreveport while simultaneously working the phones to tend to a daughter’s evacuation of Houston as Katrina’s successor, Rita, bore down on the Texas city. In the pre-Rita days we caught up with her. In fact, LIFT was still unpacking amidst bare walls, uninstalled DSL service, and a lot of gear salvaged from its New Orleans warehouses, when Below the Line visited.“We were planning to open an office in Shreveport anyway,” LeBlanc said, noting that the original Crescent City office “couldn’t handle the amount of business we had,” as television and film productions rushed to take advantage of the tax breaks offered by the Pelican state.The decision to go ahead and speed up the opening of the Shreveport office came, according to COO Kimberly Anderson, in a Texas hotel room, while she and her fellow LIFT-employed Katrina evacuees realized that if they didn’t re-open soon, they wouldn’t have to worry about the Louisiana film biz at large because their company itself, would die.“Sometimes, out of tragedy, come things we can use to our advantage,” says Anderson. And while some New Orleans-set productions like the TV series Scarlett can find enough gothic, wrought iron, antebellum architecture in a town like Natchitoches to keep the series about an Anne Rice-like writer and her various haunts on track, the issue for the Shreveport-Bossier area—indeed all of Louisiana—is larger than whether New Orleans can be faked.There’s the question of infrastructure support—crews, soundstages, housing, gear—that was a vital component in drawing films to Storyville and its environs: a script didn’t have to be “set” in Louisiana in particular, not even, necessarily, the south (though that helped). What was attractive about Louisiana was that the tax breaks were coupled with experienced crew members, stages to shoot on, and vendors who knew how to get anything a production might need.“They have to understand it, but they don’t yet,” LeBlanc says of local governments and businesses, listing, as one example, the casinos that have flourished on both sides—both Shreveport’s and Bossier’s—of the Red River.“You wouldn’t have to worry about those off months,” she says of the hotel casinos, noting that there’s a whole raft of business waiting in long-term stay packages, stars in suites, and yes, even the casinos themselves: “The more time we [crews] work, the more we like to spend our money.”There is gold, she argues, in them thar digits, and silver nitrate frames. And not only for the gambling establishments, but “gas stations, pizzerias, car rental places”—you name it.As far as retooling quickly to keep business in the state, well, LeBlanc notes that “Shreveport’s not far from Dallas,” and “Panavision’s in Dallas.”LIFT wants to help people “see this as an opportunity, not a disaster,” Anderson adds. “Now,” she avers, “instead of selling just south Louisiana (to producers), we want to sell the whole state.”There’s little choice, of course. Time will tell whether the “whole state” can regroup fast enough to meet the challenge.

Written by Mark London Williams

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