Chris Cado, a construction supervisor, and his team bustling away on Electric Entertainment’s Elmwood sound stage is a sign that the Louisiana film and television industry is slowly emerging from one of the longest production droughts in its history. The Writers Guild of America strike last year, together with industrial action by the SAG-AFTRA actors union, brought the industry to a near standstill and left many in New Orleans and other film centers struggling to make ends meet.
Even though the unions and Hollywood studios reached settlements in September and November, there is a long lead time before many productions can get going again. “Leverage: Redemption” is currently the only show shooting in Louisiana, according to Film New Orleans and Louisiana Entertainment, which track filming activity. They hope others will soon be on the way.
Cado said that he and his crew of about two dozen carpenters, electricians and other skilled tradespeople are relieved to be back on the job. Many had struggled during the strike, which followed the prolonged downtime during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For us builders, it’s maybe a little easier to slide into other work in ‘the real world,’ as we call it in the film business,” he said. “But even for a lot of us who used to be in the real world, it’s a different set of skills and our names aren’t out there anymore. It’s been a tough year.”
Though film and television shoots are still thin on the ground, there is a wary sense of optimism among Louisiana’s film folk.
In December, Jason Waggenspack, head of The Ranch sound stages in Chalmette and current president of the Louisiana Film Entertainment Association, led a delegation to Los Angeles to get a feel for when productions will be fully back in swing.
“We met with the majors and several of the mid-level studios and the streamers,” Waggenspack said. “They were all singing the same tune: ‘We’re ramping up and ready to go.'”
The Ranch is preparing to shoot the second season of “Mayfair Witches,” an AMC network series based on an Anne Rice book trilogy. It is expected to start shooting in February. Though The Ranch has just one other project on the blocks, Waggenspack said the indications are that studios will start booking in earnest by mid-year.
Starlight Studios in New Orleans East will also resume production on one of its projects in February. Now called “The Corps,” a movie based on the book “The Pink Marine” about a gay U.S. Marine’s struggles during the 1990s, it suspended production in July when it ran out of script written before the strike.
Kevin Murphy, Starlight’s chief operating officer, said he expects the booking calls from the studios to come within the next few months, once television shows and films are recommissioned, financing is approved and scripts are written.
“But it’s not like the big circus has rolled back into town, not yet,” Murphy said.
It is a frustrating wait for many of the 10,000 or so film industry workers in Louisiana, especially those who cannot get back on the job until the cameras start rolling.
“A lot of the other guys — the set designers, the art department — they can be working months on pre-production,” said Michael Applebaum, a New Orleans-based cinematographer who started in the business in the late 1990s. “My first day on the set isn’t until the first day of principal photography.”
One big uncertainty facing the industry is what the strike settlements and the mergers of big studios will mean for future productions.
The merger-mania that has created groups such as Warner Brothers Discovery and Walt Disney/21st Century Fox is expected to continue apace. With consolidation could come a squeeze on new show production and less demand for sound stage space, industry watchers worry.
But it could also mean that show producers will be looking for cheaper places to shoot. In New Orleans, at least, stage space has been increasing in anticipation of more local demand.
Second Line Stages in the Lower Garden District has tripled in size since it was acquired four years ago by Hackman Capital Partners, which subsequently invested $100 million. Likewise, Quixote Studios has been expanding its sound stage footprint on Airline Highway in St. Rose since the company was acquired by Blackstone-backed Hudson Pacific Properties in 2022.
Rachel Olschan-Wilson, co-founder of Electric Entertainment and an executive producer of “Leverage: Redemption,” said her company found itself in the New Orleans sound stage business somewhat by accident when it had difficulty finding space to shoot in 2021. Her Beverly Hills-based firm took over part of the 130,000-square-foot warehouse in Elmwood when Pasha Freight moved out, and has since expanded into the rest of the space.
The company also has nearby production offices and is looking to grow its sound stage footprint further.”We’re making this huge investment into this warehouse because we plan on being there a really long time,” Olschan-Wilson said.She said Louisiana has the advantage of having a well-established pool of skilled filming crews, which means production companies do not have to fly in their own crews. Also, she said, there is stability in terms of tax subsidies after the Legislature voted last year to extend Louisiana’s film incentive program through 2031.
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