Community center may find new life as film soundstage

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2008


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE — Since its completion in 2006, parish officials have been hard pressed to make the 42,000-square-foot St. John Community Center in LaPlace truly work for the community, but an aggressive marketing campaign involving the film and television production industry may change that.

The parish has paired up with the River Parishes Tourism Commission in an effort to promote the community center as a Hollywood soundstage and market St. John and the River Parishes as a region full of unique locations for the filming of motion pictures.

“We’ve produced a brochure and a DVD that showcases interesting locations in the region in the hopes of enticing producers to bring their projects to the parish,” said St. John Public Information officer Buddy Boe. “We handed out 300 packets at a conference in Los Angeles, and we plan to do another one in Santa Monica in April. Whatever it takes to get the parish’s name out there.”

St. John has also joined forces with Jefferson and Orleans parishes to create the Southeast Louisiana Film District in an effort to sell the entire region between New Orleans and Baton Rouge to potential movie companies.

“New Orleans is not the only location in the state bringing in film productions,” said Boe. “The area is in competition with Baton Rouge and Shreveport for movie industry dollars, so we need to work with our neighbors to help keep some of that money from going elsewhere.”

Jay Tusa, newly minted Tourism Commission director, has been at the forefront of the push by St. John to lure more movies here. He said the center is in a good position to be marketed by the Tourist Commission.

“There are a lot of locations if people come to Southeast Louisiana, but we have some really unique locations here that they won’t find a lot of other places,” Tusa said.

Tusa explained that the size of the St. John Center makes it a versatile location that can accommodate almost any need. He also added that the center is one in a small number of soundstage facilities that is air-conditioned.

“Most larger soundstages are not able to use it because of the noise,” Tusa said. “Naturally, that is a big plus for us when we are competing with someone else.”

Boe said another element of the region-wide marketing campaign has involved working with the owners of some of the areas unique locations to get preapproval for filming so that if a production wants use of it, it is ready to go.

“If a production comes in and they want access to say a plantation home or an older looking private building, we want to be ready with all the paperwork so they can jump right in and start filming,” Boe said. “The sooner they get going, the sooner money gets spent in the region.”

Since being completed, the St. John Community Center is costing parish officials approximately $15,000 a month for regular, maintenance fees. So they made a deal with the Tourist Commission to give them one free office in exchange for marketing the center as they go about their usual business of marketing the entire region.

Although the parish has been aggressive marketing the facility to Hollywood, Boe said the community center is still always open to other small-scale uses. He said the Tourism Commission has been active in drawing in other revenue sources like corporate meetings, small reunions, carnival balls and any other groups that may want to rent a smaller portion of the center. He said the facility’s 42,000 square feet could be broken up to accommodate groups of all sizes, with areas as small as the front foyer available.

Boe also said that the parish has been in contact with St. John School Superintendent Courtney Millet to arrange for each area high school to host one free event a year in the community center.

“The main target has been the movie industry, but we still want the center to work for the community,” said Boe. “We are not looking to alienate our home residents.”

Boe said the marketing campaign, which is still in the early stages, has produced minor interest, but it is starting to grow in name recognition. He said a recent movie crew rented out the soundstage for three months at a cost of $80,000.

“This shows that the facility can truly become a profitable venture for the parish,” said Boe. “In addition to what they spend to rent the place, most of these productions usually leave the facility in better shape than when they came. The last group scratched up the floor a little, so they ended up re-painting the entire floor for us.”

Boe said the parish has already finished new brochure packages that tout the community center as “The Premier Soundstage of LaPlace, Louisiana.” He said the parish and the Tourism Commission is working on a locations booklet that showcases the variety of unique locales the River Parishes has to offer.

“A production out of Los Angeles or New York probably won’t know what can be found out here,” said Boe. “The area has locations that can accommodate almost any script.”