Recycled Filmmaking

A few months ago I was biking through the Central Business District. My eyes caught on something that made me do a double-take.

I saw a streetcar derailed from its tracks, battered and beaten and covered in vines. I noticed that all the surrounding buildings were covered in vines as well—I had seemingly stumbled into the post-Apocalypse. For a moment I questioned my sanity, but quickly the underwhelming truth came to mind: Oh yeah, they’re shooting Planet of the Apes III. (I later learned that the film is set in San Francisco—that wasn’t even supposed to be a New Orleans streetcar! Why a studio from California would come to flat-as-a-pancake New Orleans to shoot a movie set in San Francisco is a puzzling question I hope to answer in a future blog post.)

I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker since the age of 12, and stories are always popping into my mind. Seeing that rusted, overgrown streetcar conjured a story—an Apocalyptic tale set in NOLA, akin to Mad Max but involving bicycles instead of cars, and fresh water instead of gasoline. I sat and thought about it for a moment, but then sighed and acknowledged the fact that I would never have the production capital to create a post-apocalyptic world. I got back on my bike and rode on.

Happening upon a movie set is typical occurrence in New Orleans. There are major Hollywood productions shooting in the city almost year-round. It used to be exciting to see all the Hollywood trucks lined up and filled with lights, lenses, dolly tracks and enough cable to power a small town. But now the city’s grown used to it—just another piece of New Orleans’ eclectic ornamentation.

Being a local filmmaker, I’m always filled with a warm, safe feeling seeing those Hollywood trucks. They are proof that there are well-paid jobs to be found for people of my ilk. But there’s also a subtle feeling of frustration, because I know that any job I could get on those shoots would probably be mindless grunt work. If you have ambitions of making your own movies, New Orleans is a questionable place to be. Hollywood productions come to New Orleans, shoot, and then leave. We locals are left with a paycheck and dependence on the next Hollywood production that comes to town.

Louisiana now has a solid infrastructure for making movies, but the vast majority of local filmmakers don’t have the production capital to utilize expensive moviemaking toys. How will New Orleans ever become Hollywood South if New Orleans filmmakers can’t make films that look like Hollywood productions?

Well . . . have an idea!

I got this idea after a lively conversation with my friend who’s a local benefactor of the arts. This benevolent friend is a collector of junk. He owns two warehouses in Slidell full of the most marvelous, creatively inspiring mounds of junk you can imagine. Lately, ever since Hollywood began frequenting the bayou, my friend has been buying up Hollywood’s junk. After finishing a shoot, large-scale productions often auction off much of their set pieces, props, costumes and other moviemaking paraphernalia. My friend loves this stuff, and his warehouses have been filling up. One of his latest business moves has been to open up his warehouses to filmmakers as treasure troves of props, sets, costumes, etc.

What we have here is recycled filmmaking—Hollywood comes to New Orleans, spends a lot of money building a fantastic scene, shoots the scene and then blows town leaving all their cool stuff. Then a local guy like my friend buys up Hollywood’s remnants and rents them to small-scale, local filmmakers.

And guess what—one of the best pieces in my benevolent friend’s extensive collection is (drumroll please) the overgrown streetcar from Planet of the Apes III! When he told me he had acquired that streetcar, my post-Apocalyptic bicycle story flew back into my mind. Renting the set pieces from my friend, I might actually be able to make the film I envision.

This is a beautiful equation: Hollywood comes to town and ends up selling off wonderful junk that local filmmakers use to tell new stories—not sequels or remakes but homegrown tales coming from the local culture. These local films can now have production quality comparable to Hollywood, because we’re using their hand-me-downs! It’s local, recycled, independent filmmaking. Who doesn’t love that?