Shreveport's Millennium Studios debuts
Shreveport rolled out the red carpet Thursday for the long-awaited opening of Millennium Studios — the city's hope for bringing prosperity back to the Ledbetter Heights neighborhood.
In true Hollywood style, the party included appearances from A-list actors Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel. The pair, in town to shoot Millennium feature "Playing the Field," posed with politicians during a VIP reception where wine and beer flowed. The public came in later to enjoy food and drinks, dance to live music and tour the $10 million-plus facility.
Beyond the glitz and glamour, bigwigs from the film industry and state and local government said movies and digital media are here to stay. The complex — complete with more than 25,000 square feet of sound stages, supplies of props and wardrobes and a special effects studio where 70 graphic artists already work — will anchor growth in a decaying area in the shadow of Shreveport's skyline.
Previously known as St. Paul's Bottoms, the neighborhood once was home to Shreveport's legal red light district. Renamed Ledbetter Heights in the 1980s, partly to counteract a perceived racial slur in the old name, it has steadily lost population and building stock in recent decades.
Now the studio will be a bastion for the cultural economy, Mayor Cedric Glover said. That's appropriate considering the neighborhood is christened for blues legend Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter.
Even the industry as it is now known started here on a rough note, Glover reminded the hundreds gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Hurricane Katrina blew filmmaking out of New Orleans in 2005.
"Lo and behold they landed on our doorstep," Glover said. "A year or so later, I ended up becoming mayor."
And the rest is history. Glover and the City Council acquired land to tie 6.7 acres. It now is leased to Millennium for 49 years at $1,200 annually.
While New Orleans and Baton Rouge have film infrastructure, Louisiana Director of Entertainment Industry Development Sherri McConnell said Millennium's is the "first truly genuine studio system in the state."
The company can handle production, post-production and visual effects in-house.
Trevor Short, chief financial officer for Nu Image, Millennium Films' parent company, said the studio was important enough to find financing even amid the ongoing recession.
"We're very grateful for the state of Louisiana to encourage us to come here in the first place," Short said. The state was among the first to offer tax breaks and other incentives to lure the industry away from California.
With "Playing the Field" and another film soon to be shot in New Orleans, Short said, his company will have produced 16 movies in Louisiana.
That comes to $340 million spent in-state, Short said, including $44 million for salaries.
Local family filmmaker Suzanne Smith beamed as she looked around the just-opened building at 300 Douglas St. She said there's more to the industry being here than tax structure. She tried working in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, but she never got as far as she did here.
"The people from California are coming here because we offer Southern hospitality that they don't always get," said Smith, who splits time between Shreveport and Nacogdoches, Texas. "It's a chance to encourage filmmakers that might not get that in that chaos out there."
Ground-breaking for the 53,000-square-foot plant was in 2008, but work didn't start until December 2009. Weather and economic woes slowed construction.
Millennium plans to add a second phase. That ruffled some feathers in the historic preservation community.
Besides forcing relocation of some residents, it put some buildings that date back to 1870 in jeopardy.