It has long been a desirable location for travellers wanting a little more southern magic with their US trip than the traditional New York /LA stops can offer, but New Orleans has also always been popular with filmmakers and Hollywood stars - in fact the Big Easy has even been tagged “Hollywood South”, with hundreds of TV shows and movies being made there in recent times.
the Big Easy has even been tagged “Hollywood South”,
Today that number may have waned slightly, as generous tax breaks given to filmmakers were capped in 2016 - halting the huge influx of Hollywood types keen to spend less to make more - but it still produces a steady crop of movies and TV shows. In fact by all accounts the town is once again setting itself up for a boom – and not just because it offers a wide range of neighbourhoods and scenery to film in.
After devastating Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, New Orleans began the long task of rebuilding, with the dogged assistance of the film and TV industry. Brad Pitt - himself a famous resident of the city - rebuilt many homes thanks to his Make It Right foundation, and the money that came from the movie business itself has long been credited with helping the city get back on its feet, showing potential investors months on from the disaster that the city was not underwater but was a viable - and working - option. In fact, Pitt filmed The Curious Case of Benjamin Button here, the first big movie post-Katrina, keen to show the world that the city had resurrected its perfect storytelling backdrop and was indeed open for business.
Since then some of the best and most critically acclaimed productions of the last years have come out of Nola. Think the locally made 12 Years a Slave which won the 2014 Oscar for best picture, or Louisiana-made productions as Jurassic World and Pitch Perfect 2 which dominated global box offices. Then there was Django Unchained, 21 Jump St and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Fantastic Four, The Big Short, Bad Moms… the list goes on. Last year’s The Beguiled and Girls’ Trip - both huge box office successes -were also filmed there.
Movie stars too, flock to the city for its laid-back lifestyle
Movie stars too, flock to the city for its laid-back lifestyle - Pitt, Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, Nicolas Cage and John Goodman all own homes here. Sandra adopted son Louis from here as well, with daughter Laila also Louisiana-born.
And it’s not just movies and movie stars that are getting the Southern treatment. TV shows aplenty are being filmed in the famous and not so famous streets. Take Treme – named for one of the country’s oldest African-American neighborhoods - which bills itself as the “birthplace of jazz”. Treme has produced more musicians per capita than perhaps anywhere else in America and also gave its name to a HBO series about the rebuilding of the city post-Katrina. And yes, while the clue may be in the title of NCIS: New Orleans, there are many other less signposted shows coming out of Louisiana. Preacher and Queen Sugar, both well received in the US, have also used New Orleans neighbourhoods as locations.
When it comes to locations, NOLA boasts more National Historic Districts than any other city in America, and there is nothing quite like the colourful houses and streets of New Orleans. Vibrant areas like the famous French Quarter with its sidewalk performers, hotels, hanging gardens, gas lanterns, balconies, and other details make this part of town so adored and so immediately recognisable - and so easily spotted in movies like Interview With A Vampire and beyond. Bourbon St - ostensibly New Orleans’ most famous thoroughfare - is known worldwide for its beads, its drunken revellers and its party atmosphere seen in films from Live And Let Die to Pelican Brief. The Marigny, known here as the locals’ French Quarter, is a triangle-shaped wedge of streets which was at one point almost entirely residential, and it’s a lovely and distinctly New Orleans neighbourhood filled with colourful shotgun houses and even more colourful personalities, popping up on screens regularly.
The Garden District - a green and gothic area filled with stunning old mansions and bowing trees and southern style - is where Anne Rice wrote her Vampire books, and the area featured in the movie adaptation and Benjamin Button among others. Of course, if the vibrant life of these places doesn’t appeal, the gothic above ground cemeteries of New Orleans are just as famous - or infamous - and used on screen since Easy Rider.
With a new boom around the corner, and 13 years on from Katrina, New Orleans looks set to once again be the place to go - both for tourists demanding more beignets for their buck, and the film industry wanting more Southern charm on the big screen.
Written by Claire Isaac