Louisiana may be the greatest actor among the 50 United States. In countless films and television shows, the state has portrayed Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado, the jungles of South America, London, and even Los Angeles.
Current and upcoming feature films shooting in the state include Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," the sci-fi adaptation "Ender's Game," and Dito Montiel's "Empire State," a heist flick set in New York City.
"Historically, Louisiana has had a film industry," said Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Entertainment, a division of the office of economic development. But he estimated that the business attracted only two or three projects a year prior to 2002, generating about $10 million in revenue for the state.
Since becoming a pioneer a decade ago by establishing tax credits for film and television productions, though, business has been booming in Louisiana. Seventy-nine applications were submitted for the tax incentive program in 2007, according to Stelly. Five years later, that number has nearly doubled, with more than 150 applications in 2011 (the last year such numbers were available). Stelly also said that for every dollar invested in the program by the state, about $5.51 is returned to the local economy.
The film industry paid approximately $117 million to Louisiana actors and production crew members in 2010. Stelly could not provide the specific number of actors and crew hired each year and said that payroll data for 2011 is incomplete but estimates it to be between $150 and $200 million. He said that today, Louisiana ranks behind only New York and Los Angeles as the country's production hubs.
The last decade of rapid development has also included investing in the industry's infrastructure. Soundstages, animation studios, and postproduction facilities have opened in several cities across the state, supporting local businesses and creating a sustainable economy that is less dependent on out-of-state resources. Many schools across the region are responding to these new employment opportunities by adding acting and film production to their curriculums.
As TV series such as A&E's "Breakout Kings" and USA's "Common Law" move to Louisiana, they bring more long-lasting opportunities with them. Casting director Ryan Glorioso said that a show like HBO's "Treme," which depicts life in post-Katrina New Orleans, has an even greater impact because it employs local artists and prompts viewers to visit the city.
Glorioso, who has worked with local actors since 2005, said that he has seen a "tremendous amount of growth" in the past five years. Glorioso Casting now casts extras and principal roles in New Orleans and Shreveport, for such films as the upcoming Will Ferrell-Zach Galifianakis comedy "The Campaign" and the 2011 remake of "Straw Dogs." Because it's a local company, producers also receive an extra tax incentive for using Glorioso's services.
And even though Hurricane Katrina was devastating to the entire Gulf Coast region in 2005 and for years later, it had an unexpected benefit to the local film industry by forcing productions to move inland, where studios added new locations to their maps. Cities such as Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette have since shared the load by hosting such productions as "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn," "Drive Angry," and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation."
News has been good as well for the region's steadily increasing number of union members. A SAG-AFTRA local chapter, shared with Mississippi, has recently been established in New Orleans. The new local is a direct result of the union merger, according to SAG-AFTRA South Region Executive Jason Tomlinson. His New Orleans-based position was created in 2007.
Tomlinson and Glorioso both said that they know many actors who have recently relocated from the coasts. "A lot of actors, especially newer actors, feel like they have to live in Los Angeles or New York in order to work," Glorioso said. "I had an actress in a class that I was teaching who lives in Tupelo, Mississippi, and she works all the time. She said, 'I never thought when I was in college that I'd be able to live in my hometown and be a working actor.' "
In addition to the star-studded "Django Unchained" and "Ender's Game," other feature films currently shooting in Louisiana include "The Tomb," a prison-set action thriller starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger; "Oblivion," a sci-fi epic starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman; "The End of the World," in which Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and James Franco prepare for the apocalypse; "Barefoot," starring Evan Rachel Wood and Scott Speedman; and the aforementioned "Empire State," starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Liam Hemsworth.
Films that will begin production this summer include "Olympus Has Fallen," starring Gerard Butler as a former Secret Service agent who tries to prevent a terrorist attack on the White House; "Pawn Shop Chronicles," a thriller starring Paul Walker; "Twelve Years a Slave," starring Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender; "Two Guns," co-starring Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington; and "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," a sequel to "Percy Jackson and the Olympians."
Additional film titles currently shooting or about to begin production include "King Dog," "How to Love a Geek," "Aztec Warriors," "Nothing to Fear," "The Pendant," "Motel," and more. For more information and to apply as an actor or crew member for these projects and more in the state of Louisiana, view the full casting notices at BackStage.com. (Subscription required).
Daniel Lehman is a staff writer for Back Stage. Follow him on Twitter: @byDanLehman