As Chief of Development for the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development in Alexandria, I have had a front row seat to the arrival of the film industry to Cenla. Just about four years ago, shortly after Mayor Jacques Roy began his first term in office, the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development began its efforts to market the City of Alexandria and Central Louisiana to the Film and Entertainment Industry. The State of Louisiana had a strong history of luring film and television productions to the State, primarily through the economic “carrot” of the then 20% Tax Credits and a 40% Infrastructure Tax Credit. New Orleans was the primary focus of attention of the filmmakers, followed by Baton Rouge. It was not until Hurricane Katrina battered South Louisiana that the City of Shreveport became the new film center of the state. During the rebuilding years for South Louisiana, Shreveport capitalized on the Tax Credits and the perception of “Safety” from any future storms. In the meantime, Cenla was only looked at for occasional specific filming locations which were very few and far between.
In partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, Alexandria/Pineville CVB, the England Authority and GAEDA, “Central Louisiana In Film” was launched. The goal was to first educate the film industry of just where Alexandria and Cenla were in Louisiana. For the most part, the industry had no idea. Central Louisiana In Film, also known as “CLIF” began to attend the American Film Market in Santa Monica, California. AFM is considered the premier gathering of members of the film and entertainment industry throughout the world. Our first year was again focused on education and awareness of Alexandria and Central Louisiana to the industry. We were so unknown, that I had to purchase a road map of Louisiana to use at our exhibit booth just to visually point out where Alexandria was located.
There was considerable questioning and outright criticism of our efforts, with many saying “Alexandria can never compete against New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport”. My response to the critics was then and continues to be: “Alexandria and Cenla is not New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport, and we do not want to be compared to those cities. What we have to offer is our exclusive fantastically diverse filming locations that can look not only like Louisiana, but anywhere in the USA and beyond”. Also, we do not have the congestion, high cost of doing business and excessive regulations. We are, however, a “Film Friendly” city and region. Add in the new State of Louisiana Tax Credits of up to 35% and we now have a solid marketing tool.
This approach has now begun to pay off. Alexandria is now on the film industry’s radar and their interest is peaking. We have had small, limited filming take place over the past two years, because of our efforts, with productions of “Loss of a Teardrop Diamond” filmed for a few days in the historic Hotel Bentley and “My Own Love Song” filmed in Pineville, again for a few days. However, we have just seen the completion of the first feature film completely produced in Alexandria and Pineville. “Escapee”, produced and starring Faith Ford just recently wrapped. A production office was opened on Bolton Avenue, with filming taking place in Downtown Alexandria, the Garden District, and Pineville. From the combined cooperative assistance of the City of Alexandria and Pineville, this production took advantage of the considerable ease of filming here. The success of “Escapee” has provided concrete evidence to the rest of the film industry that a production can be successfully filmed in Cenla. There always has to be a “first” and we thank Ms. Ford for her “Faith” in our community.
Now, on to even better news. We now have commitments from a film production company for a three picture deal to be filmed in Alexandria. The first will begin pre-production in early November and will star Val Kilmer. In December, a national television network will be filming in Downtown Alexandria and has already committed to a sequel. A second television production, which has already completed three episodes in Alexandria, will be back in for two additional episodes, also shooting in December. In January, another feature will begin production filming in the Garden District and at the Alexandria Zoo. The Spring of 2011 will welcome yet another feature film production. The flurry of film commitments has garnered a great deal of interest from both the business community and citizens alike. While we’d love to shout from the rooftops the names of the upcoming productions, we can’t…at least not yet. As the production dates for each approach, the release of the production company name and feature title can be disclosed, however we must honor the non-disclosure requirements these deadlines pass. That, as they say, is show business.
We continue to work hard in our efforts to attract filmmakers to open full-time production offices here in Alexandria. The first to do so was Shaun Sanghani, producer/director of SSS Entertainment, who has opened his production office in the Downtown Fulton Hotel. SSS Entertainment also maintains offices in Los Angeles, and boasts successes in both television and film. Talks are ongoing with other production companies to establish offices in Alexandria.
The good news continues as each week I receive inquires from major studios and independent filmmakers interested in doing business in Alexandria and Cenla. Through the efforts of CLIF and the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, we have turned the corner and have found our “niche” within the film and entertainment industry. These productions bring to our community not only economic revenues but also unique marketing opportunities on a national level.
CENLAWOOD is becoming a reality. We are not New Orleans, Baton Rouge or Shreveport; and we don’t have to be. We may not have existing Sound Stages, but we do have highly desirable filming locations throughout Cenla which have finally been enthusiastically “discovered” by the industry. The future for film in Cenla is very bright. So, quiet on the set…lights, camera, action!