New Orleans is nicknamed “Hollywood South” because of the numbers of film productions taking place here. This has only been a recent development and is almost entirely due to the tax credits provided to moviemakers when they film the production here.
But did you know that there’s also a recording tax credit? That means that anyone who records in Louisiana can receive a tax credit of up to 25%, depending on the amount invested in the project. (For more information on incentives see the Louisiana Entertainment Office website).
Soundstages and studios in Louisiana have sprung up to cater to the needs of the movie industry, and at the same time, to record local and visiting recording projects. Many of them wouldn’t have been constructed without the benefits of the Louisiana tax incentives.
The newest of these is Esplanade Studios, located in an historic old church at 2540 Esplanade Avenue, just off Broad Street. I visited in yesterday for the first time, and it’s huge, and gorgeous.
Most people don’t perceive the emotional color and impact that music provides to a film. Imagine, if you will, the movie Jaws without its ominous theme music, or Star Wars, or just about any other movie you’ve ever seen. We just don’t think about the music; it’s part and parcel of the movie-viewing experience.
OffBeat editor Brett Milano and I were given the rare chance to watch how movie music is produced this week when we dropped in at a scoring session at Esplanade Studios.
Misha Kachkachishvili, engineer and former owner of Axistudio, developed the studio by completely renovating and retrofitting the historic church property into a multi-level facility that accommodates everything from an individual to an orchestra. The studio just opened in mid-June, and is already recording new projects by Cindy Scott, Geoff Clapp, as well as several film and television scoring projects.
“If it wasn’t for the tax credits, we wouldn’t be doing this at Esplanade,” said Joel High, the music supervisor on Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas, the project we witnessed being recorded at Esplanade Studios.
For a layperson, it was fascinating to watch how the music for a film is recorded and matched to the action sequences on the movie itself. I’ve been to many recording studios to view how an audio song is recorded, but never watched it being recorded with action as part of the recording process.
The big room was full of string musicians—all wearing headphones—who were on the ready when the conductor Jay Weigel gave them the signal. The composer of the score, Chris Young, was in the control room with the movie’s music editor, the film editor, Joel, Misha and a score of other engineers, along with a representative of the Musicians’ Union Local.
While we were there, parts of the movie’s soundtrack was being recorded live for mixing in with other elements of the score that had been recorded elsewhere. In this case, ”soloists” had already been recorded and the musicians in the studio were filling in the strings to a so-called “click track.” A click track is a method of writing bars of music in consistent time values that serve almost as a metronome so that the musicians will produce a consistent tempo that can be synced exactly with the film’s action, based on how the movie’s action has been edited and how the composer wants the music to sound to enhance the movie’s action. The conductor and musicians could hear the click track through headphones as they played their parts for the score that would be mixed in with soloists to produce a final soundtrack. The music editor keeps track of syncing, and the actual film editor is also present, as the music composer and sound engineers are usually working with a rough edit of the film.
It’s a long, tedious process, and nothing like you’d expect a music recording would be.
Kachkachishvili tells us that there will also be two smaller studios downstairs that he’s leasing, one to composer Jay Weigel and another to Donald Markowitz, who is from California, and one of the composers of the song “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from the film Dirty Dancing. Misha will also create a 3,000 square foot performance area downstairs that’s fully equipped with state-of-the-art recording and video equipment. “I want to make it affordable for musicians so they can bring their own audience and be able to record live performances there,” he said. That space isn’t expected to open until early 2014.
The great thing about all of this is that it’s giving local musicians the ability to make good money when they serve as session musicians for a film scoring (musicians are union members in situations like this; and it certainly adds to their incomes).
So everyone wins here: studio owners, musicians, filmmakers, and the New Orleans economy. Music is more than just live music and festivals. We have a unique opportunity for our musicians to capitalize on the movie industry, which not only uses musicians in soundtracks, but also licenses music for use in films.