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New Orleans Film Festival asked upstarts and insiders to discuss 'Hollywood South'

October 19, 2014

The Times-Picayune

Two sides of the Louisiana film boom showed up for panels at the New Orleans Film Festival, and they agreed on one thing: It's a great time to be making movies in Louisiana.

Two sides of the Louisiana film boom showed up for panels at the New Orleans Film Festival on Saturday (Oct. 18): young independent filmmakers in one group, seasoned industry managers in a separate afternoon session.

As different as the two groups were, they agreed on one thing: It's a great time to be making movies in Louisiana.

The insiders mostly came from the production team that helped to make "Black and White," the Kevin Costner star vehicle that opened the festival at a red carpet gala on Thursday. Shot in New Orleans, but set in Los Angeles, Mike Binder's film follows a racially charged child custody case.

The industry panel discussed the sales pitch made to Binder, who originally wanted to film in Los Angeles.

Elston Howard, location manager for the film, jumped in right away:

"Mike's decision wasn't just about tax credits. He had never been to New Orleans before. He didn't know what we had to offer. He didn't know that we could give him Brentwood and South Central Los Angeles without leaving New Orleans."

Howard, a graduate of Dillard University, has worked on a host of films, including "Ray," JFK," and other New Orleans productions.

Todd Lewis, who produced "Black and White," has honed his New Orleans pitch in the 12 years since relocating here.

"The Louisiana film industry has grown up," he said. We have sound stages, post-production facilities, local vendors, and an amazing crew base of professionals who live here. Plus, it's just cheaper to do business in Louisiana. Not only are the crew rates lower - the whole cost of living is lower."

Lewis offered an example: "A lot of 'Black and White' was filmed in a house we found in New Orleans. I can't say what we paid, but the same setting in Los Angeles would have cost about $25,000 a day. That wasn't in the budget."

Will Greenfield, who served as production supervisor for "Black and White," said that the growth of the local industry has brought other advantages for cost-conscious producers.

"We saved a lot because we could do the entire production from start to finish right here. In the past, I used to approve gigantic Fed Ex bills. Now you don't have to ship everything to Lost Angeles - and you can put that money into other parts of a production."

Money also was on the mind of the young independent filmmakers who gathered at the Contemporary Arts Center on Saturday. The group included several who have shown their work at the NOFF in recent years: Brent Joseph,

Ashley Charbonnet, Paavo Hanninen and Charlie LaVoy. Filmmakers Milo Daemgen and Zac Manuel, co-founders of the Greenhouse Collective, rounded out the panel.

"The cost of living in New Orleans makes a big difference if you want to make independent films," LaVoy said. "You don't have to work 60-hours a week to support yourself. It's not a rat race. You can focus on your art. And that makes New Orleans a good place to strike out on your own."

Manuel, a New Orleans native, concurred: "Southern California didn't feel right to me. I like the creative freedom here - and the fact that I can connect with other artists in a collaborative way. New Orleans encourages that."

The growth of Hollywood South was portrayed as a mixed blessing by some of the filmmakers.

"Having the big players here doesn't really help the independent scene," Hanninen said. "Money trickles down, but only if you pick up work on a crew - and that's the kind of work that consumes you, takes you away from the projects you intended to pursue in the first place."

Charbonnet, a New Orleanian, has made some inroads with the industry.

"I straddle the fence," she said. "I'm a place-based storyteller with a special interest in New Orleans, but I feel like the track of my career will take me to Los Angeles."

Meanwhile, she does a lot of creative juggling.

"It's good to be in a thriving production center. Without Hollywood South, we wouldn't have the vendors and crew base, the costume designers and make up artists," she said. "Of course, to take advantage of those resources, you have to shoot in summer, and look for crew members who will take a pay cut to work on a $100,000 feature. It's a reality that calls for some creativity, too."

25th ANNUAL N.O. FILM FESTIVAL

What: The annual eight-day celebration of film, featuring screenings, panel discussions, workshops and parties, all organized by the New Orleans Film Society.

When: Events daily through Thursday, Oct. 23.

Where: Venues throughout the metro area, including the Prytania Theatre, The Theatres at Canal Place, the Chalmette Movies, the Contemporary Arts Center, the Civic Theatre, the Carver Theater and the Ashe Cultural Arts Center.

Tickets: All-access passes ($200 for film society members; $250 for non-members) are available at neworleansfilmsociety.org and grant passholders the opportunity to reserve seats for all screenings and VIP access to all parties and special events. Single-screening, general admission tickets available at the film society website.

Details: Find a full schedule and description of all festival films online at neworleansfilmsociety.org. Visit NOLA.com/movies throughout the festival for daily best bets and daily schedules.

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