FilmWorks production facility staying busy in eastern New Orleans warehouse

FilmWorks movie productions quietly opened late last year in an eastern New Orleans warehouse tucked away along the Intercoastal Waterway.

George Steiner, FilmWorks founder, said the response was immediate. The facility is booked through August.

“We haven’t even had time to paint,” Steiner said.

On a 37-acre site on Jourdan Road, the facility has a 20,000-square-foot stage, a 406,000-square-foot backlot, two floors of 92,000 square feet of workspace, storage and greenspace.

Steiner gathered Wednesday with local leaders including New Orleans Councilman James Gray and  GNO Inc. President and CEO Michael Hecht — along with New Orleans actor Bryan Batt — for some fanfare to publicly celebrate the launch of the facility.

The event was held a month from the start of the legislative session in Baton Rouge, when lawmakers are expected to eye changes to the state’s movie tax credit incentives in the face of a daunting budget deficit.

Officials at FilmWorks on Wednesday held up the early success of the new facility as an example of why the state should retain the incentives that have fueled the so-called “Hollywood South” scene.

The site was once home to a MacFrugal’s distribution center. The warehouse caught fire in 1996, turning into one of the biggest blazes in New Orleans history at more than $100 million in damages.

The land is now owned by Dupuy Storage and Forwarding LLC and CG Railway Inc.

Previous attempts by other groups to develop a movie production house on the site failed because the owners didn’t want to sell, Steiner said.

But he made a deal to develop the site without buying the land. He declined to say how much the project cost. He said it is entirely privately financed.

The state’s program offering tax credits on film production infrastructure projects closed to new applications in 2009. The ongoing motion picture tax credit is part of a package of state business incentives that have given away about $3 billion in tax revenues between 2005 and 2010 — programs that are increasingly coming under fire as corporate welfare.

Despite tax credits getting bad press, Will French, Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association president, said the program attracts more jobs and more business for locals as the industry decentralizes from Hollywood. “Growing this industry here allows us to create that in-migration,” he said.

Louisiana has garnered so much attention from the film industry that productions are having trouble finding a place to work as existing spaces fill up. French said that means production instead go to cities like Atlanta, which has quickly built up its inventory.

Batt, a New Orleanian and longtime Broadway actor, also known for his roles in “Mad Men” and “12 Years a Slave,” also chimed in to cheer on the local industry. Batt, 52, said he had to move to New York to pursue his acting aspirations. He stayed away for 20 years.

A growing fim industry means more work for locals and an economic boost from actors eating out, shoping and buying houses, he said.

Batt said he’s happy to be living in New Orleans now and working as an actor in New Orleans — “and not as an extra.”

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