Storm Could Cut Filming in Louisiana

Times Staff Writers

As Christina Fong walked out of a Whole Foods near the warehouse district in New Orleans on Saturday afternoon, $125 of groceries in hand, she got the call: It was time to evacuate.

With the news that Hurricane Katrina was on a direct course for New Orleans, Fong, an assistant director on the upcoming Denzel Washington film “Deja Vu,” was told to pack her belongings and be ready to board a charter jet that night.

Twelve hours later, Fong and about 70 crew members from “Deja Vu” and “The Guardian,” both Walt Disney Studios productions, were back in Los Angeles, grateful to have been whisked to safety but anxious about their futures.

Now that the hurricane is over and they are out of danger, Fong said, she is “concerned about my job and what happens to all of our jobs.”


With their departures -- and that of other crews -- Louisiana watched millions of dollars of Hollywood money potentially get washed away Monday as Katrina bore down on the Gulf Coast.

The state, one of the most aggressive in using tax breaks to lure production from California, reported film and television spending of more than $125 million last year, up from $3.9 million in 2002.

Last year, 27 feature films and TV movies were made in Louisiana.

As Katrina flooded streets, ravaged homes and left hundreds of thousands without power in Louisiana and Mississippi, producers of half a dozen film and TV projects slated for the Bayou State scrambled to figure out their own futures.


Warner Bros. said crews for the Joel Silver production “The Reaping” were evacuated by plane from Baton Rouge to Austin, Texas.

Other productions to be shot in the state this year include the films “Bug,” starring Ashley Judd, and “Big Momma’s House 2,” with Martin Lawrence, and the FX Network television series “Thief.”

Even with its generous tax incentives -- Louisiana paid out $67 million in tax credits to movie and TV productions in 2004 -- the fallout from Katrina could make the state a much tougher sell, at least in the short term, industry watchers say.

“This is probably going to put them out of competition for a while,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.


An inevitable run-up in the price of building supplies, for example, will substantially cut into a film’s bottom line, he said, noting, “If you pay for a set, you’re going to have to pay dearly for production supplies.”

Steve Dayan, a business manager for the Los Angeles-based union that represents location managers and other production workers, said, “This is obviously not going to have a positive impact on filming in Louisiana.”

“Does it have a silver lining for us? Perhaps. But that’s not the kind of silver lining we want,” said Dayan, whose union, Teamsters Local 399, has lost jobs to Louisiana and other states.

Although the storm and its aftermath may prompt some producers to consider other states, others in the industry predict that Katrina will have little effect on Louisiana’s booming film and TV business.


In fact, the crew of “The Reaping” was expected to return to Baton Rouge on Wednesday and begin shooting Thursday.

“I don’t think it would scare me off personally, and I don’t think it will scare anyone from Hollywood,” said 28-year veteran Ned Shapiro, who spent six months in Louisiana in the last year as a location manager for the current release “The Dukes of Hazzard.” “Movie people take their chances.”

Bill Lindstrom, chief executive of the Assn. of Film Commissioners International, said most film commissioners were prepared for such disasters.

“They’re ready for anything,” he said. “I’m certain they will bounce back really quickly.”


Walt Disney Studios spokeswoman Heidi Trotta said it was still too early to determine whether production would be affected on “Deja Vu,” from director Tony Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and “The Guardian,” which stars Kevin Costner. The Burbank company was awaiting damage estimates from authorities.

“We are grateful to the city of New Orleans for their foresight of Hurricane Katrina’s possible devastation,” Trotta said. “Our priority this past weekend was to get our preproduction crew to safety, which we did on Saturday.”

Hollywood studios and production companies typically carry insurance policies that cover losses related to hurricane damage and can move production elsewhere as long as they haven’t already received tax breaks for local filming.

The hurricane had disrupted phone service in New Orleans on Monday, and representatives of the Louisiana and New Orleans film offices could not be reached for comment.


The preproduction crew of location scouts, accountants, art department personnel and set construction workers for “Deja Vu” was flown out of New Orleans at 9 p.m. Saturday, along with a dozen others who were working on “The Guardian.”

“You are so used to having to move and create a different atmosphere every day,” said Fong, who passed up at least five other films to work on “Deja Vu.” “Everyone was super-calm.”

But, she added, “it would have been a different story if we hadn’t gotten out.”