Impacting the film industry once seemed unreachable for the young and creative growing up in southern Louisiana. Yet as the industry here has boomed, fewer locals are making the exodus. Those once drawn in by the promise of greater opportunities on the West Coast are faced with the very real question: Are the palm trees really greener on the other side? 225 spoke to three locals who crossed state lines, and even oceans, in search of their big breaks—only to find it waiting for them back home.
digital lighting artist, director, producer
Inside a small, unassuming brick office space off Airline Highway sit several tiny cubicles filled with state-of-the-art equipment. Upside-down light fixtures soften overhead glare, while processors hum along with gigabytes of unreleased footage and carefully crafted animation. This is the Baton Rouge outpost of Pixomondo, an Academy Award winning international visual effects company based in Frankfurt, Germany.
Here , Kolby Kember, a digital lighting artist, packs some serious talent and resume material along with his tattoo sleeves and gauged earlobes.
“I get those nerdy moments all the time, when I’m working on something and it turns out really awesome. It’s so cool,” says Kember, who has contributed to films like Captain America: The First Avenger and the 3D rerelease of Titanic. “You’re proud of it. It’s always a very quirky, excited moment.”
A lifelong artist with local roots, Kember studied in Orlando before crossing coasts to Los Angeles for work. He soon began racking up experience on major motion pictures like The Avengers, but rumors of the growing business in Baton Rouge piqued his interest.
“I worked in studios in L.A. with thousands of people, where you’d see a new face every time you walked into work,” Kember says. “Everybody knows who everybody is around this studio [in Baton Rouge].”
Here, Kember has refined visual effects to the likes of Star Trek Into Darkness, and popular TV series like Game of Thrones and The Mindy Project—all without having to leave the capitol city or its friendliness.
The hometown sense of community has also helped him launch his own production company, Rougarou Films, with coworker and effects artist Sam Claitor.
“There’s work to be had in other places. You can go to L.A., to New York, to Vancouver, to Atlanta,” Claitor says. “But why not be in Baton Rouge right now if you’re working in film? Because it’s growing.”
Compared to his old friends and coworkers protesting the Oscars and struggling to find jobs in L.A., Kember says that Baton Rouge allows him to do what he loves on the same scale, but with more freedom to find his own inspiration.
“There’s two different kinds of pride, of reward, so to speak,” Kember says. “You have that really big reward aspect and good feeling after working on a big film, but it’s a completely different kind of awesomeness when you finish something of your own, that you wrote and directed yourself.”
For this artist, our backyard is the perfect place for those two kinds of pride to meet.
In his early 20s, Jordan Lewis hopped on a plane to Beijing. After earning a degree in international trade and finance, an overseas internship for the Shaw Group seemed like the perfect step forward. However, when offered a job in China, Lewis turned it down in favor of his hometown: Baton Rouge.
“Home can be anywhere, but my home happens to be here,” Lewis says. “I don’t see the need to leave it to do what we want to do.”
Before long, the expert on Chinese entrepreneurship revived his old interest in music production and found his way into the local film ranks. These days, you can find him on the grounds of the Celtic Media Centre in a studio once intended to be Master P’s recording booth, its walls lined with mismatched furniture and piles of dumpster junk. At age 27, Lewis is a foley artist, the oft-overlooked performers who create and record the sounds of movement and atmosphere that round out a film.
Lewis’ job starts when he receives reels of a film without sounds like footsteps, rustling papers, splashes or bodies falling during a fight. Lewis and his team then choreograph ways to create and layer suitable noises to back the reels, and Lewis gets to work recording them.
“You have to try to feel what they’re feeling and move your body in a way that seems appropriate,” Lewis says. “A lot of times it’s just adding some character to that noise.”
During nine- to 12-hour days of recording, Lewis could be throwing himself around the room, walking in high heels or hurling weights at loose car parts depending on the scene.
“Looking into the future, I think we’ve become the L.A. of the south. Louisiana in general is a huge market. We are sought after,” Lewis says. “Baton Rouge has a tremendous potential, and it’ll be a serious contender as a city.”
unit production manager
Looking back on the past several years of filming around Baton Rouge, a few names stand out. Morgan Freeman. Tom Cruise. Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. The recent history of Hollywood South reads like a red carpet roll call, but behind the big names, there is Emily Morrow holding them all together.
The job of a unit production manager may not be the most glamorous, but Morrow makes movies happen. Starting from the earliest prep time, 33-year-old Morrow handles budgets and department heads, hires and oversees the crew, wrangles the talent and keeps the production rolling. She’s seen it all, from multi-million dollar blockbusters with hefty nondisclosure agreements like the Twilight and Percy Jackson franchises to stuntman injuries and first aid for snakebites. In explaining why she once sat on a live alligator on a dare from the crew, she offers her life philosophy: “Once I commit to something, it’s done.”
Though a fixture in the southern Louisiana film scene, Morrow actually learned the ropes in New York City. The Leesville native graduated from LSU with a mass communication degree and took a daytime production internship at WBRZ but soon enrolled in the production program at the New York Film Academy. There, Morrow began carving out a place for herself in the industry, working and studying on set under veteran producers.
But in 2002, after completing the program, Morrow felt pulled back to Baton Rouge. She remembers a professor from the academy asking her as she packed up, “Why would you go home? You’re never going to work a day in film.”
Though the choice wasn’t easy, Morrow has no regrets, and a long line of movie credits to show for it.
“I probably have worked more and grown faster here than any of my colleagues in New York,” Morrow says. “I came back in a time when the crew base was growing, I built my own network of people. And it boomed.”