Whether it’s an intricate chase scene in “NCIS: New Orleans” or a second-line with 700 extras for a big-budget film, location managers and scouts must wrangle street closures, rent homes and figure out where everything will be shot.
For Elston Howard, location manager for high-end productions — including “Fantastic Four” and the fall-release Gerard Butler/Ed Harris sci-fi thriller, “Geostorm” — getting a project from script to screen is routine.
“Just a couple of months ago, we wrapped a sequel called ‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back,’ Howard said. “Tom Cruise, the star, is known for doing a lot of his own stunts, but clearing the way for him and the necessary stunt people to do a rooftop chase sequence across balconies in the French Quarter means getting the OK from a number of different entities.”
Those entities might include the City Council, neighborhood associations, the police, and residents who live near the shooting location.
Lisa Latter, location manager for the Jamie Lee Curtis/Emma Roberts television show “Scream Queens” and scout on “The Big Short,” said that much of what she does is negotiating the use of people’s homes.
“When you’re agreeing to pay people anywhere from $1,000 to $8,500 per day, so that we can essentially come in and take over their home, you want to dot all of your i’s and cross all of your t’s ahead of time,” Latter said.
“That means considering everything from the possibility of uncooperative neighbors to potholes on the street, which would make it virtually impossible for large equipment trailers to traverse.”
For Peter Yokum, whose French Quarter residence has been used in films that run the gamut from “JFK” and “Looper” to “The Mechanic” and “Now You See Me,” vintage is the name of the game.
“I own the oldest private home in the French Quarter, and I intentionally keep it as a time warp. When location managers are scouting for a period piece, this place fits the bill,” Yokum said.
The allure of shooting in New Orleans and the surrounding area is twofold.
The stars and the crews love the food, the music, the laissez-faire attitude and the friendliness of the people. So often, even if the script calls for a Los Angeles location, the powers that be within the production will create that town’s double in New Orleans and its environs.
Kevin Costner’s home in the film “Black or White” — set in Brentwood, California — was actually a home in Old Metairie.
Gerard Sellers, location manager for 2014’s Academy Award winning picture, “12 Years A Slave” and 2015’s Bradley Cooper flick, “Burnt,” turned a New Orleans hotel into a Washington locale.
“The majority of this film was shot on four Louisiana plantations … primarily on Felicity Plantation,” a historic sugarcane plantation in St. James Parish, he said.
“But, if you recall in the film, Solomon Northup was kidnapped as a free man in Washington, D.C., and sold into slavery in Louisiana. Having an entire crew move from one location to another is time consuming and costly.
“So we used the Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, which certainly has an 1800s look, as a double for D.C. Simply cover the ‘Columns Hotel’ sign and you’re good to go.”
Besides the welcoming locale, generous tax incentives — until recently — made it financially attractive for studios to shoot in the Crescent City.
With legislative tax credit caps now in place, the financial motivation has decreased. But New Orleans is a unique city, with locations like no other in the world.
“When the city uses its own backdrop and plays itself, it’s a no-brainer” said Albert Quaid, location scout for “NCIS: New Orleans.”
“A picture says a thousand words. On ‘NCIS: New Orleans,’ we focus on what screams ‘New Orleans.’
“That means the French Quarter, the Bywater, Faubourg Marigny, Tremé, Central City, the Garden District, Mid-City, the Mississippi River, Algiers Point … and the list goes on.”
The benefits of having major Hollywood productions shoot in Louisiana go far beyond putting people here to work, location scouts said.
It means supporting local businesses, whether it’s hotels and restaurants, or the local lumber company, which supplies wood to build sets.
“Wolverine 3,” now shooting in New Orleans, for release in 2017, has brought hundreds of people into the city.
“When you bring in a film or television show, which features New Orleans as a character, it spreads the message about the city to hundreds of millions of people worldwide,” said Mark Romig, president and CEO of New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp.
“‘NCIS: New Orleans’ is not only a popular dramatic series,” Romig said. “It’s a love letter to the city. And that’s the sort of publicity you can’t buy.
“When the actors on that show talk about how they’ve fallen in love with this city, people want to come here and see these locations. And that is priceless.”
Could your house be a shooting star?
Here are some tips from Lisa Latter, location manager and scout, to get your home in the casting mix:
1. E-mail 5-20 pictures of your property — interior, exterior, and grounds — to Katie Williams, director of film, New Orleans, at email@example.com.
2. Be aware that only a small percentage of homes are found from databases. Sixty percent are newly scouted for specifics detailed in the script, and another 30 percent are homes that have been previously used. However, you could receive a knock on your door one day, requesting that your house be used for a TV show or movie.
3. Know your neighbors. You may want to see your home as the centerpiece of a major production, but if your neighbors oppose the idea of trailer trucks, equipment, and lights in the neighborhood, they have the last word.
4. The studio should provide you with insurance, and you and the location manager should agree beforehand to a mutually acceptable day rate for your property. Just keep in mind that you will have a full film crew — at least 50 to 80 people — in your home for at least one full day.