Category Archives: Film/Motion Pictures

‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ Rides the Festival Circuit

Story by W. H. Bourne • Red Carpet Photos by Odin Lindblom

Louisiana cast and crew of Beasts of the Southern Wild arrived in downtown Los Angeles for the 18th annual Los Angeles Film Festival. The festival, produced by Film Independent, the non-profit arts organization that also produces the Spirit Awards, featured Beasts as a centerpiece gala.

Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts is a folk tale focused on life and survival in bayou country in the southernmost part of Louisiana. Shot in Terrebonne Parish, the film uses locations in Pointe Aux Chenes and Isle de Jean Charles to create the fictional town of “Bathtub,” a concentration of all the cultural elements of Southern Louisiana in one place.

Benh Zeitlin

“It’s one of the best examples I’ve seen of tenacious people keeping a place alive,” observes Zeitlin about Pointe Aux Chenes, where he and Lucy Alibar would live while co-writing the script, and Isle de Jean Charles, where they would frequently visit. “There’s a tragic side to it, and yet the spirit is not all morose. It’s so much fun to be there, and there’s great food and it’s just glorious. That whole feeling really inspired the characters and their choices to keep celebrating life and to never abandon the people and places you care about.”

While one would assume that a film that portrays this intimate a look at life in Louisiana was written by a local, Zeitlin was born and raised in New York.

“After I got out of college, I was traveling around Europe looking for a place to shoot my short, Glory at Sea,” recalls Zeitlin. “While I was in Europe, Katrina hit. I wasn’t happy with anything I saw in Europe and I was wanting to come back to America because I felt like the film really happens there. Several friends kept telling me that I needed to come to New Orleans to shoot it. I asked them if I could easily find trash to build a boat out of. They said if you want trash, this is the place to come. There’s trash on every corner.”

He continues, “This little film took a year and a half to make, with people coming down from up north to help, and it eventually led to what would become Court 13, a group of friends who were excited about being filmmakers and making Beasts of the Southern Wild. I fell in love with the city while filming Glory at Sea.” Zeitlin now calls New Orleans home.

Glory at Sea won awards at several festivals, including SXSW and New Orleans Film Festival, and it was a key factor for Zeitlin to get funding for Beasts. “I applied for a grant through Cinereach, a non-profit, using Glory at Sea as a sample of what I wanted to shoot,” says Zeitlin. “It was the first time Cinereach funded a feature, and it allowed us to work in a different way. The budget was somewhere between $1 and $2 million. I know that we went over budget and the tax incentives really helped us increase our budget.”

“We were picked up by Sundance early on in the project for their labs,” he continues. “We did two writing labs, one directing lab, and one production lab. We knew our best chances for the film were at Sundance, but we missed the first deadline and spent another year in post-production. We sent a rough cut in to Sundance that was missing the VFX and the score.”

“It was surreal going to Sundance,” says Zeitlin. “We finished the sound mixing two days before the festival. Even when it first screened at Sundance, I was mixing sound in my head. I couldn’t really enjoy it, and I didn’t really notice that other people did. After Sundance, I spent another three weeks working on the sound.”

Beasts may be a folk tale, but for the cast it’s been a fairy tale. Zeitlin was intent on using local talent to portray the characters in his film, even the leads.

Dwight Henry

“It was a tremendous experience and the best feeling when everyone saw the film at Sundance, and when it was over and 1,500 people stood up and applauded,” says Dwight Henry, who plays “Wink,” a dying man who feels the urgency to teach his daughter the survival skills she’ll need to survive in the Bathtub.

Henry is a self-made businessman. For the past 15 years, he’s been the owner of Henry’s Bakery and Deli and he is the current owner of the Buttermilk Drop Bakery and Café, located at 1781 N. Dorgenois St. in New Orleans.

“You have to understand the region we’re living in,” says Henry. “It’s a very dangerous situation. You have to face the real-life situations of losing your home, losing your life. I was always trying to emphasize what it was like losing your father and needing to learn to take care of yourself.”

“I’ve always worked with non-professional actors,” says Zeitlin, “but with this film, I never intended to use all non-professional actors. (But) we weren’t able to cast professional actors. They were beaten by locals from Louisiana. And they added so much to the script and the film. I’m not a native New Orleanian, so I learned from my cast, in particular, by interviewing them and then tailoring the script based on their experiences.”

He continues, “Casting people who are acting for the first time, they’re not playing themselves. They had to learn these parts, even though they had an inborn charisma. We tried to collaborate on every aspect of the film with them. I wanted to let the people who are playing the parts teach us about what it would be like to go through some of the incidents we portray in the film. I would bring the script to the bakery at night, and we would revise it based on Dwight’s experiences and the way he would say things so the script would feel more natural and organic.”

Zeitlin auditioned over 4,000 girls before he found the star of his film, Quvenzhané Wallis, from Houma.

Quvenzhané Wallis

“We were looking for someone between six and nine years old and not having much luck. Quvenzhané’s mother got a call from a neighbor telling her about the auditions at a local library. Quvenzhané’s mother was reluctant to send her to the audition since she was only five, even though she could read,” says Zeitlin. “I’m so glad she auditioned. She is wise beyond her years and fearless.”

“It was fun because I really wasn’t expecting all this commotion,” says Wallis, who is now nine and in the third grade at Honduras Elementary School in Houma. Wallis acts like a pro on the red carpet and at press interviews, answering journalists with insight and honesty.

Zeitlin is asked how long it took to make the film. “It was a long shoot—about 52 days,” he says, and then hesitates.

Wallis jumps in, “It was three months for the shoot and three years to make the film.”

“I had to learn a lot of things to play ‘Hushpuppy,’” says Wallis. “I had to learn to act, to swim, and to touch a pig. I cried the first time I touched the pig. And I had to learn how to be dirty with the mud because I’m not really like that.”

Adds Henry of his training regimen, “(Zeitlin) had acting coaches working with me at night while I baked doughnuts at the bakery. I have a daughter that’s seven years old, so it was easy for me to relate to Hushpuppy and to being a father to her. We did a lot to bond together, like cooking and baking.”

Zeitlin talks about the many challenges he faced while shooting.

Benh Zeitlin and Quvenzhane Wallis (Photo by Jess Pinkham)

“Day one of our shoot was when Deepwater Horizon blew up,” he says. “The marina I wrote the film in, BP was using to navigate the cleanup. We had to get them to move the booms and let us in and out of the marina while shooting. You get down far enough (in Louisiana), you’re not in an area ruled by people, you’re in an area ruled by nature. We wanted to live the adventure and the experience. It’s a really challenging place to shoot, but it was really rewarding.”

Zeitlin reflects about the movie’s meaning and the impact of writing the script down in Terrebonne Parish.

“I wrote this after (Hurricanes) Gustav and Ike and while that influenced my writing, it’s not about any one specific storm,” says Zeitlin. “It’s about standing strong and enduring in that place. It resonated with residents of Isle de Jean Charles who just hoped that ‘I can continue to live my life on this island and die on this island, even though I know my children won’t be there.’ I want people to know what it’s like to live in a place that will someday no longer be on any maps.”

At Los Angeles Film Fest, Beasts of the Southern Wild was generating Oscar buzz, citing the incredible performances of Wallis and Henry, as well as the captivating script and direction. It combines the harsh realities of a girl losing her father, her home and her community. Yet her creativity and imagination gives her the strength to endure.

“I tried to think back to how I thought of the world when I was six and everything was very real,” says Zeitlin. “Hushpuppy has the strength and sweetness to preserve this culture. The film is her film. She’s the person I want to be.”

Hollywood South Rolls On

Story by Arlena Acree, Director of Film, Media, and Entertainment,
City of Shreveport Film Office

 

Film and TV production activity has picked up tremendously in the Shreveport-Bossier area for 2012.

Thus far, we have hosted 13 film/TV projects and are gearing up for more possible projects. Reality TV is becoming more common in our area due to several new shows that are doing very well. Billy the Exterminator is currently shooting their fifth season. We also have two feature films shooting now: Olympus Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler, Dylan McDermott, Aaron Eckhart, Angela Bassett and Keong Sim, and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, starring Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Rami Malek, Charles Baker and Frank Mosley. It’s very exciting to have some production of this caliber and a lot of wonderful cast.

Moonbot’s William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg celebrate their Oscar win. Photo courtesy of AMPSA

Shreveport’s Moonbot Studios won an Academy Award recently for its first animated release, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Shreveport artist William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, his co-founder of Moonbot Studios, were present in Hollywood for the big win. Moonbot reached the apex of the entertainment industry by winning the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. The acclaimed 14-minute film features the protagonist surviving a storm and landing in a world where books come alive as characters with curative powers, imparting healing through discovery. Joyce, Oldenburg, managing partner Lampton Enochs and the Moonbot staff employed a variety of techniques in a hybrid animation style inspired by The Wizard of Oz, Buster Keaton and the Hurricane Katrina experience. A huge ticker tape in downtown Shreveport was given to honor the Moonbot team.

Our infrastructure continues to grow with some great successes. Millennium Studios will soon expand their 7-acre studio to 20 acres to include more soundstages, a prop house and a backlot. Our diverse locations have doubled for Washington, DC; New York; Miami; Kodiak, Alaska; Amsterdam; Guantanamo Bay; Maine; Kansas City; Senegal, Africa; Sodom; the Bering Sea; the North Pole; New Hampshire; Oklahoma; Memphis; Arizona; New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Iowa; Los Angeles; Texas; and Portland, Oregon… just to name a few.

Cast and crew from out of town enjoy our quality of life, the ease of film production, and our efficient highway system with minimal traffic. Louisiana is always in the top United States and international rankings, and the industry will continue to grow, as we have some of the best tax incentives in the U.S. The year of 2012 will be a fabulous year and our 2013 is already shaping up. Let’s keep them rolling in…

‘Olympus Has Fallen’

Millennium’s latest feature film shoots in Shreveport

Of the numerous production projects shooting in Shreveport-Bossier so far this year, Millennium/Nu Image’s Olympus Has Fallen is undeniably the largest. And not just in regards to budget or buzz—but also in terms of the scope of the production.

Crew prepped for 10 weeks prior to shooting, building several indoor and outdoor sets to stand in for the White House and Washington, DC. The White House façade was constructed in Bossier City at Arthur Ray Teague Parkway near the CenturyLink Center, while the Oval Office was replicated at StageWorks. Sets have also been built on both of Millennium Studios’ soundstages.

Diego Martinez

“It’s a challenge to double Washington, DC, because it’s so unique,” said Diego Martinez, president of Millennium Studios in Shreveport. “There is just so much build and so much construction, and it all has to be perfect.”

In fact, there was so much construction work that nearly half of the film’s 170-plus crew base was on the construction team, according to Martinez.

Olympus, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart, is a thriller that has been described as “Die Hard in the White House.” Butler stars as a former secret service agent working to prevent a terrorist attack in DC, while Eckhart plays the president whom Butler must save after he is kidnapped by said terrorists. Ashley Judd, Robert Forster, Angela Bassett and Melissa Leo are also featured in this star-studded cast.

The project originally came out of Millennium Films’ main office in L.A., where executives thought it would be a good fit for the Shreveport studio.

“They thought Shreveport was a good place to shoot it, so we scouted, and we were able to find what we needed here,” said Martinez. “For everything we couldn’t find or physically build, we’ll create with visual effects. One of our companies is Worldwide FX, housed here on property, so we’ll do all the visual effects in-house.”

The 53,000-square-foot Millennium Studios, owned by parent company Nu Image, has been open just over a year in Shreveport, and Olympus is already their fifth project—and their biggest film to date.

“This is our largest project, period,” said Martinez. “Expendables and Expendables 2 and Conan were our largest, and this may be a little bigger in terms of the scope of the project and the budget. This is definitely on that same level, and probably a little bit more.”

Martinez, who is from New Orleans, said Millennium enjoys working in Shreveport, and credits the local government and film office with helping to grow the local industry.

“There are great people working here, but it’s the outlying support that’s phenomenal—from the city to the people,” he said. “It’s just a good place to work, I think, and we definitely feel like we’re a partnership with the city and film office here.”

In fact, Millennium has been so happy in Shreveport that they’re planning on investing more money into expanding their studio.

“On the facility we have now, we spent $12 million, and we’re in the planning stages to expand,” said Martinez. “We hope to start that soon. We have a prop set dressing warehouse we need to have on site, we need more offices, and we’re exploring a bigger stage. We also want to house outside vendors, so we need more space for that.”

With Millennium bringing more and more productions to the Shreveport-Bossier area, including at least one more this summer, the expansion may be needed sooner rather than later. But for now, Millennium is satisfied with the progress the studio—and the local industry—has made.

“Shreveport doesn’t have the lure that New Orleans has, but we’ve had great success here and that’s why we chose to be here,” said Martinez. “We all agree that this is a city on the move. It’s been wonderful that we’re a part of that. We are just extremely happy to be here.”

Olympus Has Fallen began shooting the second week of July, and plans to wrap in mid-September. The film is set for release in 2014.

I.D.D.O Productionz Partners with Louisiana Film Resources for Video Project

Many people from the United States have never even heard the term “eunuch,” but Louisiana producer Shanna Forrestall met a family of eunuchs in India years ago whose story changed her life. Now one of her current video projects is a “teaser” video aimed at raising awareness for this underserved people group in India.

Shanna Forrestall with the Eunuchs in India

Alex Willson shooting footage in Mumbai

“In 2004 a ‘modern day Mother Teresa’ named Myra Fernandes who works with the poor and indigent in India introduced me to a family of eunuchs,” said Forrestall. “I had met a few eunuchs before in India, but had never been introduced to the unique challenges and needs of these people. Meeting these beautiful individuals and spending the day with them changed my life forever, and I determined to find a way to help them.

In 2011 Forrestall brought a team of Louisiana filmmakers to India to work on a non-profit project called Enter Namaste. The team was there to shoot a video documentary and commercial to assist in raising awareness and funding for a series of schools for disabled children in southern India. While there, she entreated her team members to help acquire footage of her friends, a family of eunuchs living in the outskirts of Mumbai (Bombay).

The team discovered that the eunuchs in India are treated almost sub-human, and until as recently as one to two years ago had no basic rights to vote, get married, claim unemployment, etc., in India because these castrated males who dress as females could not be classified as a man or woman to complete government paperwork.

After video footage of this rare group shot by Alex Willson and Han Soto (both of New Orleans) was brought back to Louisiana, Forrestall was on the hunt for someone to help her edit and finalize the video.  Forrestall and her project assistant, Andrew Vogel, put an ad on Craigslist seeking someone with a compassionate heart to help.

Vogel notes, “Craigslist isn’t always the best place to find quality help, but we lucked out finding Kendal. He’s got a lot to offer and ended up being the missing link to the project.”

Kendal Odom of I.D.D.O. Productionz volunteered his time to research the eunuchs of India and edit the footage using original music created and donated by Johnny Burgard, a local composer.

More information on the Eunuchs:
Eunuchs have been in existence since the 9th Century BC. These castrated males traditionally served as guardians of the royal harems, but their role in society has drastically changed.

Many believe that eunuchs or “hijras” as they are called are born with no genitalia, but in truth, natural born eunuchs are a rare occurrence, and countless numbers are forcibly created.

Considering themselves neither men nor women, members of this so-called ‘third sex’ generally adopt feminine names and dress and are traditionally referred to as ‘she.’ As a result of their sexual crisis and physical deformities, many eunuchs are rejected by their family and left isolated by society.

Typically feared by the masses, eunuchs are not given the opportunity to work in traditional jobs.  Instead, they are forced to make their living by other means, and some beg or bully for money, while others turn to prostitution.

It is a widely accepted belief that the eunuchs have spiritual powers, so their blessings and curses are both considered potent. The eunuchs are a creative group of individuals, with talents in music and dance, and some are able to subsidize their income by performing and offering blessings at childbirths, weddings, housewarmings and other auspicious events.

But, unable to be classified as men or women, the eunuchs have been left with limited rights and virtually no support from their own government. Until recently, eunuchs were denied even basic human rights like the right to vote, marry, own a ration card, a driver’s license, or to claim unemployment or health benefits, so many live in severe poverty with no family, community or societal support.

The eunuchs are talented and important individuals who are just beginning to receive the recognition and respect they deserve. You can support their journey by sharing this announcement to raise awareness.

For more information about the project, visit www.lafilmresources.com.

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Free Screening Next Week!

The Louisiana International Film Festival (LIFF) will host an exclusive complimentary red carpet pre-release screening of Beasts of the Southern Wild in Baton Rouge on Thursday, July 19.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, the Louisiana-shot film that won awards at Sundance and Cannes this year as a festival sensation, is now headed for general release in theaters.  Although it was Benh Zeitlin’s feature film directorial debut, it received rave reviews from the critics, and is highly anticipated by filmgoers.

The film was shot on a limited budget with untrained actors in a remote part of South Louisiana, and features an unlikely hero, a little girl called “Hushpuppy.” The film resonates with many people as an allegory for Hurricane Katrina that devastated the Gulf Coast a few years ago, but it blends the real and imaginary in a mystical story about love, hope and survival.

The screening will begin at 7pm on Thursday, July 19, at the Cinemark Perkins Rowe Theater located at 10000 Perkins Rowe in Baton Rouge.

See RSVP details below: