New Orleans in (Major) Motion

By Halle Rudolf

New Orleans is famous for a handful of things, music, mixed drinks, and Mardi Gras amongst the most prominent. Major Motion Pictures don’t usually make the list. Though it doesn’t even begin to rival global entertainment meccas like Los Angeles or New York, Louisiana “has become one of the top destinations in the world for motion picture production.” [1]

In July of 2017 the state of Louisiana designed the Motion Picture Tax Credit, providing productions filming in the state with up to a 40% tax credit on their expenditures.[2] This attracted many films that wanted to produce big budget films on a bit of a smaller budget. And like any incentive that brings in new work, new jobs were created. From catering companies prepping Craft Service carts to homeowners renting out their houses as film sets, New Orleanians from all different walks of life got wrapped up in this industry. A Tulane University student, Gigi Forbriger, became reliant on motion picture filming to help cover her school expenses by submitting a casting profile to directors in hopes of securing work as an “extra” in Blockbuster films.

Unfortunately, like many professions worldwide, film production in New Orleans was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Standard CDC guidelines for staying safe amidst the virus suggest always wearing a mask in public and social distancing whenever possible.[3] These are things that would be particularly hard to practice on the set of a movie or television show—especially since most don’t involve acting out a devastating pandemic. All fourteen films and television shows in production when lockdown began in March have been on hiatus ever since.[4]Consequently, every New Orleanian relying on this industry to make a living has been hit hard.

Gigi frequently worked as an “extra” in New Orleans, appearing in work from national KFC commercials to Tom Hardy Blockbusters. “Because I spend so much of my time doing schoolwork, I had trouble finding a job with hours that would work for me. When I was doing movies and stuff, I could spend twelve hours once a week shooting, and I’d have enough money to get through a couple weeks,” she said. “Now that nothing is filming, I’m definitely having a harder time financially.”

This is an industry that was just beginning to take off, and, like Gigi, many people were finding their footing in the business of blockbusters. “I’ve always loved movies,” she explained, “which is why I was so excited to find out how accessible the industry was to pretty much every person with a photo of themselves and a computer.” Not only has this impacted her financially, but socially, she loved making connections with people from all over the city and state. “I met some of the coolest people working on these movies and it breaks my heart to think that they’re either out of work or putting themselves in potentially unsafe working conditions.”

The city of New Orleans has actually tried to jumpstart the industry again, issuing permits to productions that will adhere to CDC guidelines.[5] Film New Orleans released a statement saying that they “believe the safety of [their] filmmakers, crew members, vendors, location owners and residents are [their] highest priority as [they] work toward welcoming film back to the city,” but this also comes with risks.[6] COVID-19 is still a burning flame, and many people still don’t feel quite comfortable returning to “normal” life amidst a viral outbreak.

“I completely understand that the city is trying their hardest, but I don’t think they’re really looking out for the small guy,” Gigi noted. “Even if I were to get a casting call, I have to think about the butterfly effect that me working with a bunch of people would have. I still go to class and it’s definitely not fair to my peers and professors for me to show up to in-person class after I’ve been in close contact with people on a movie set. I’m sure other people I’ve worked with must feel the same way.”

The state of Louisiana has been through a lot in the past decade or so, struggling every day to recover from natural disasters and economic strife. The blooming film industry has been a bright spot in state programs to help the city get back on its feet. It has acted as a safe haven both socially and financially for regular-Joe’s all over the state. With time and patience, like a micro chasm of New Orleans, this industry could bounce back even stronger.

In a city like New Orleans overflowing with culture, the opportunity for young creatives like Gigi is diverse and plentiful. It is certainly something worth working towards reviving. “I really can’t wait to start filming again once the production companies can safely return to work and I feel comfortable going out on location. It’s really been a highlight of this city for me over the past few years. In so many ways.”

Footnotes


[1] Louisiana Entertainment

[2] Ibid

[3] Center for Disease Control

[4] https://www.nola.com/news/coronavirus/article_dd48b806-a205-11ea-9d6c-43f3ce24361a.html, Film New Orleans

[5] Statement issued by the city of New Orleans

[6] Ibid

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