By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — “Off the charts.”
That is the way Slidell Cultural Department Director Kim Bergeron responds when asked what kind of economic impact a sound stage in Slidell could bring.
The possibility of a sound stage being constructed here is looking very good after Slidell businessman Reed Ingram confirmed two weeks ago that he is the man heading the attempt to do just that.
Ingram, owner of Bev, Inc., a food and beverage catering company, was approached almost two years ago by Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan about the idea, and since then, has worked with Drennan to push the plan forward.
Ingram is the lead investor in a plan that would build a $15 million sound stage on 160-acres of land at Camp Villere, near the North Shore Square mall. The only holdup at this point is getting final approval from Governor Bobby Jindal’s office for the public/private land deal there.
Ingram not only wants to build a sound stage, but told The Slidell Independent he wants to build the biggest one in the United States, double the size of the 80-acre Warner Brothers site in Hollywood. That sound stage location is presently the largest in the country.
“We want it to have lakes, streams, swamps—big stages, little stages—and do this in a way that we will attract a lot of movie companies here with their productions,” Ingram said.
Bergeron, who was in on the plan from the ground floor when Drennan was soliciting ideas from his staff for economic development, said the residents of this community still do not fully comprehend how big the sound stage will be for the economy here.
“For starters, having a sound stage here will simply get more movies filmed here, since many companies want to be able to do inside shoots along with area location shoots,” she said.
Bergeron has been the Slidell contact when movie companies are looking for locations here. She has dealt with many productions that shot in Slidell and has seen first-hand what the effect is.
“When Baytown Disco shot here two years ago, they were using a Slidell lounge for a late-night shoot with a car exploding in the parking lot,” she said. “Suddenly the fire department was concerned with the explosion injuring people in the area, so they wanted a small building to protect everyone near the explosion. The producer sent people right out to buy the materials and they built a building.
“Meanwhile, people kept going to the McDonald’s nearby, late into the night, and kept spending money there,” she said. “That is just one small example of how this works. When these companies come here, even the smaller movies with $3 million to $4 million budgets, they spend a lot of money.”
Bergeron said one other recent movie spent $27,000 on car rentals just for their crew when they were here, not to mention renting hotels and eating at local restaurants for days.
“Even the smaller movies will bring 100 or more people, and that doesn’t begin to count the local people they hire from this area. There are many jobs in the movie industry so for every movie that shoots here, those people are working,” she said. “This is going to open up new trades for many people here.”
Continuing into other economic impacts, she noted the need for props, renting local office space, renting local homes for location shoots, paying extra police protection, and the need for virtually any kind of scenery items a movie producer thinks is right for his film.
“A producer can suddenly decide the scene needs a painting on the wall of the lead actor, so they hire an artist to paint the picture—it goes on and on. Everything you can think of that might be needed in a movie could likely be purchased here,” she said.
Ingram agreed that the jobs created simply from the sound stage in Slidell are an added bonus, besides the businesses in this area that will supply merchandise or materials for the films.
“I have been told the multiplication factor is something like seven or eight times whatever the movie is spending here,” he said. “So if a movie was spending $1 million to film in this area, it can affect the area up to $7 million or $8 million the way it goes from one business to another.”
Again referring to the shoot for Baytown Disco in 2010, which brought Billie Bob Thornton and Eva Longoria here, Bergeron pointed out location shoots in Olde Towne, a Slidell home, a local marina, a city gymnasium, the previously mentioned lounge and several businesses here.
“Businesses even get paid loss of income money if their place is used and can’t be open for a day or two,” she said. “One local lounge was turned into the place actors and actresses were fed for every day they were shooting here. That is always needed for any location shoot, and remember that having a sound stage here will mean many more movies will shoot here.”
Since the Louisiana Legislature approved major tax incentives for the movie industry in 2002, films in the state have increased every year. Shreveport is now a major sound stage location, while Baton Rouge and New Orleans have sound stages in the southern part of the state. But Bergeron believes the St. Tammany area will compete equally with the others for another reason.
“Not only do we offer the actors a relaxed atmosphere in Slidell, but we offer New Orleans and the Gulf Coast right nearby,” she said. “That is a draw for the movie companies in trying to secure someone to do the film, so it will certainly bring more of the productions to this area.”
Bergeron credited Drennan for his leadership two years ago, urging department heads with the city to offer ideas for economic development. With her longtime connection to the arts, Bergeron had always discussed a possible sound stage in the region.
“The idea was always around, ever since movies started coming here from L.A.,” she said. “But the mayor deserves the credit for taking it and running with it, and especially for finding the investor. You can have all the ideas in the world, but without the money, nothing happens.”
Bergeron also gave accolades to Ingram, for not only pursuing the project, but wanting to do it in such a big way.
“Reed’s vision is so exciting,” she said. “I would love to see five years into the future and see how this will affect this area. This is going to benefit so many people who still don’t realize the way it will help them.”