JACKSON — Jake and Jodie Seal weren’t really looking for an antebellum home — or a home at all — when they purchased the old Asphodel Plantation Village in 2008. This was business, not pleasure.
It became both.
Jake Seal’s business is movies. He has acted, directed and produced. That was why he bought Asphodel, now named Plantation Village Studios. Its 17 acres are now dedicated to the big screen, and about 20 movies have been either shot or worked on there.
In the process, the Seals’ lives have become a remake of an old TV show, “Green Acres.” Jodie Seal grew up in Sydney, Australia, and was Miss Australia in 1996. The couple lived in London until moving two years ago, with their three boys, into the Levy House, one of the antebellum buildings on a quiet stretch of La. 68 south of Dixon Correctional Institute.
Good-bye, city life.
“It’s not Sydney. It’s not London. It’s been strange,” Jake Seal said. “It took me a lot to adjust to having to drive everywhere, not being able to walk to places, the big car culture. People in America will drive 45 minutes for a hotdog. In England, you drive 45 minutes, that’s a holiday.”
People are coming from much farther away to make movies at the studio, which includes a 10,000-square-foot sound stage they built and a collection of old buildings, a pond and wooded property, all of which can be transformed into a variety of backgrounds. The oldest building, originally the plantation overseer’s cottage, has been converted into a bar called Mackie’s when it’s not being used for movies.
So, of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, why did they walk into this one?
Louisiana’s generous tax incentive for movie-making is a big factor. At the time, there also was a federal incentive that has since disappeared, but Seal said he has several projects that are grandfathered in under that incentive.
“It gave the ability to make a film investment very conservative,” he said. “That’s the most important thing in the way a film is financed now. It’s hugely misunderstood from the outside, but from the inside, that’s what pulls production. It’s very, very successful.”
Though Louisiana has become a filmmaking mecca, many movies shot in-state are produced elsewhere. That creates mostly temporary local jobs. Although Plantation Village handles editing and post-production work — including an upcoming biopic of jazz great Chet Baker, starring Ethan Hawke, and a comedy, “Breaking the Bank,” starring Kelsey Grammer — Seal saw this as a place to be different.
“I think the exciting thing here is being able to build something that’s like an old studio that develops its own scripts, that produces them with the same core people, bringing in all the additional people — casts, extras — but have a core of 10, 15 to make great quality stuff over and over, and those 10 or 15 have job security and they’re making films because they love doing it,” he said. “That’s why people come to film or music or most of the creative and artistic things is to make something, but they start struggling to find the work.”
The studio has handled a half-dozen films from start to finish. Russian-born director Catherine Sheino has been there in preparation to shoot a psycho-thriller, “Fear,” with filming to start early this year.
“I was acquainted with Jake and another partner, Matt Geller,” Sheino said. “Honestly, I met a lot of producers from Russia, from England, from America, and they were the first persons about whom I think we are on the same page.”
The property itself was a selling point. The old buildings, which include a wooden train station, provide flexibility, Seal said. Once a bed and breakfast, there are 14 rooms to house movie crews when they’re there. Seal also owns studios in Canada and his native Great Britain, but neither is like this. “We came to Louisiana looking for something that was worth building out and a unique space, one that would be very creative,” Seal said. “I only thought of this much, much later, but if there was an archetype, it was something like (George) Lucas’ (Skywalker) ranch, where Lucas set up this big creative space. I think Pixar has a very similar thing. They’re all very high-tech and glamorous, and this is the opposite of that, but the point is people come here, whether they’re musicians or writers or filmmakers, and it’s quiet. They can concentrate. It’s very inspiring. It’s a safe place to come and create, and they’re excited by that.”
It is also a unique place to live, especially for the Seals, whose 4-year-old twins have become Southernized, saying “sir” and “ma’am” to their parents.
“I feel like I’m about 110,” said Jodie Seal, 40. (Jake Seal won’t disclose his age, even to his wife, who said he’s about 37.) “Also, they’ve been Americanized — the sugar in everything. That never happened before.”
That describes a lot about Plantation Village Studio.
“Filmmaking is all about the imagination,” Jake Seal said. “I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. You can turn anything into anything, and this had just a wealth of opportunities.”