Media: Film production grows
By William Johnson For the Daily World
Both finalists in this fall’s race for lieutenant governor pushed the idea of Louisiana becoming the Hollywood of the South, arguing that the film industry can produce good, high-paying jobs for a struggling state economy.
To a limited extent, in Lafayette that is already happening. But there are certain needs and perequisites that have not surfaced here, like the post-production facilities and soundstages other areas of the state have invested in.
That doesn’t mean the growth won’t happen. Bullet Films, which came to Lafayette in 2007, has produced six movies here, with three more in post production and a 10th set to begin filming in December.
Daniel Lewis, the company’s chief operating officer, said his various divisions provide full-time local employment for 20 people and that can rise to 100 or more during shootings.
“This city, the entire surrounding area has so much to offer. You have great restaurants, great people, all the vendors you need are already in place. The local administration is so welcoming. It’s a good mix,” Lewis said.
A plethora of options
While few realize it, he said the Acadiana region is a filmmaker’s dream, especially when it comes to locations.
Some locations are obvious, such as the swamp needed for a movie earlier this year. But Bullet Films just wrapped a disaster movie set in Washington, D.C., and the movie that begins filming in December is set in Miami.
“All of this will be shot right here in Acadiana. It’s kind of cool,” Lewis said.
He said Crowley has street scenes right out of the 1930s, New Iberia has a shipyard and other areas of the region can pass for New Orleans — almost anywhere else you can imagine.
“You can accomplish anything you want right here,” Lewis said.
The state also has a generous tax incentive program that makes the region attractive financially.
What Lafayette doesn’t have is a decent soundstage and an adequate pool of experienced crew members.
Lewis said he still has to import everything from hair and makeup artists to camera crews and electricians.
Yes, there are plenty of locals with those basic abilities, but he said movies are different — the skills required can really only be learned on the job.
“It’s a matter of understanding how to prepare someone to go before the camera. You have to understand lighting, the work flow on the set — it is all about set experience,” Lewis said.
But as more films are shot here, he said the crew problem is slowly being corrected. “The crew base here has tripled in the last three years,” Lewis said.
For him, the lack of an adequate soundstage is a more important problem. His company has created its own on Garfield Street, “but we are rapidly outgrowing it,” he said.
“Lafayette is never going to get big budget productions or even a TV series without a stage. That is definitely a missing piece,” Lewis said.
Like everything else about building a film industry from scratch, he said it all comes down to the classic chicken-egg situation.
If you don’t have the stage, you can’t attract major productions. But if you have a major soundstage but no production companies, it will stand empty and the millions of dollars required to build it could be lost.
The same is true of trained crew people. You need the films to help train and nurture their skills. But without a regular set of local productions, the crew will leave to find work elsewhere.
Lewis’ advice is to start slow and let each arm of the industry grow together.
“We are working closely with Lafayette economic development and the city. They are very motivated to do something,” Lewis said. “We are working closely with them to make it happen, but it takes a lot of time.”
Helping to grow the industry from another direction is the University of Louisiana, which has opened its Moving Image Arts program, headed by Dr. Charles Richard. He called his program’s scope “very broad.”
Richard’s office is located in the $27 million Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise Center and simply walking into his office shows just how broad the industry can be.
One student was using the LITE Center’s high-speed computers to create a 3-D architectural image of a plaza that the viewer can travel through, while across the room another was creating a simulation to train underwater welders.
“The video game field alone has already surpassed traditional film making in terms of jobs,” Richard said.
As a result, his program uses a multi-disciplinary approach, preparing students for careers in film, advertising, industry, even military training applications.
“It is designed to prepare students for any kind of career that makes creative use of moving images,” Richard said. “This is a new kind of literacy that is taking shape in the modern world.”
Moving at light speed
For Louisiana, using the technology behind LITE’s imaging magic is a rapidly growing field.
Louisiana is third in the nation in terms of film making, ranking behind California and New York.
In 2007, the last year for which figures are available, 6,230 people in Louisiana made their living in the film industry.
“Since 2001, it has been growing at a rate of 22 percent annually,” Richard said.
Part of the reason are the state’s generous tax breaks and other inducements, which Richard said means the industry will only continue to grow.
“The state wants to build a sustainable industry. We want to be a part of that,” Richard said.
“The purpose of these incentives is to build a film industry and I think it’s working,” Lewis said. “They are really helping us grow our business.”
Like Lewis, Richard believes more trained crew members and an adequate soundstage are critically needed items for Lafayette, but adds one more — post-production facilities.
But with arrival of Pixel Magic in the LITE Center and the success of Bullet Films’ own post-production efforts, Richard said that is another concern that is rapidly disappearing.
While a number of problem areas remain, both argue this area has a major advantage — a unique culture.
Lewis said is not uncommon for him to bring in a outside expert for a project who decides to stay.
“Our culture is a big draw,” Richard said.