“Dallas Buyers Club” and “12 Years a Slave” are two blockbuster films with something in common, and it’s not just their Oscar nods.
Both were shot, not on set in a Hollywood studio, but on the streets of New Orleans.
Louisiana has recently earned a new reputation as “Hollywood South.” There are 14 films and TV shows currently in production in New Orleans, far out-pacing Hollywood, and A-listers including Sandra Bullock, Brad Pitt and John Goodman all have homes here.
“I am obsessed with [New Orleans] so far,” Kendrick said. “Just everything about it is -- it’s so unique. There’s just absolutely no other place in the country like it.”
"Mr. Right” director Paco Cabezas couldn’t say enough about shooting the movie there.
“[We] wanted a movie that was full of life so that’s why we came here,” Cabezas said.
Of course, there’s no party like a New Orleans party -- the music, the food, the beignets -– but those are not the main reasons movie producers are choosing the Big Easy and the Bayou state over old familiar shooting haunts like Los Angeles and New York.
“We were thinking about Puerto Rico at one point, Columbia, Toronto, Georgia, and the one big reason we ended up coming [to New Orleans] was the tax credit,” said producer Bradley Gallo.
Movie makers get a 30 percent tax break from the state of Louisiana, compared with the 20-25 percent offered in California and base of 20 percent in Georgia.
“Every dollar they spend in the state to a Louisiana-based company gets 30 percent back from the state of Louisiana,” said Katherine Williams, the director of Film New Orleans in the New Orleans mayor’s Office of Cultural Economy. “If they hire local crews and vendors that’s an extra 5 percent, [looking at 35 percent tax credit for every dollar spent.”
Those movies included “21 Jump Street,” its sequel “22 Jump Street,” “Django Unchained,” and even “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," just to name a few.
For Louisiana, film and TV production here meant $813 million added to the local economy last year, according to Film New Orleans. For local technicians like Earl Woods, it meant a steady paycheck. Like so many in New Orleans, Woods said he was hit hard in Hurricane Katrina.
“When Katrina came, business was probably down six months before the movies started trickling back in,” Woods said. “I think the movie and film business helped rebuild the city financially a lot.”
And not only does filming in New Orleans provide jobs, it also helps young up-and-comers in the business earn more responsibility faster, like Mara LePere-Schoop. She works as a production designer, a title she said she might have had to wait another 10 years to earn in Hollywood.
“I’ve been very fortunate down here because it’s been so busy, had a lot of access to things I don’t think I would have necessarily had in L.A. or New York,” she said. “In some ways it was kind of a fast-track apprenticeship, where I got to do things that in other places wouldn’t have happened as quickly.”
Beyond the tax credit and job opportunities, many credit Brad Pitt and the film, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” as a major turning point for the city. “Benjamin Button” was one of the first big movie productions in a post-Katrina New Orleans, and Pitt has become one of many celebrities who have given both their talents and time to rebuilding the Big Easy.
“Brad Pitt really fought to bring ‘Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ back to New Orleans after the storm,” Williams said. “They had planned on shooting it here and after the storm the studio was leary… I think he knew what it would mean for the city to showcase that it was dry and not under water and open for business.”