Hurricane Shuts Down Movie Productions In Once-Busy Louisiana

State was recently home to sets for 'Dukes of Hazzard,' 'Skeleton Key.'

For Louisiana’s burgeoning film industry, the future couldn’t have looked brighter before Hurricane Katrina hit.

High-profile films like “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “The Skeleton Key” were showcasing the beauty of the state. Sean Penn and Jude Law had just finished shooting the high-buzz drama “All the King’s Men,” and sightings of stars like Lindsay Lohan (“Just My Luck”) and Martin Lawrence (“Big Momma’s House 2″) were further enhancing Louisiana’s image as a hot filming location. Hollywood’s Sunset-Gower Studios had even announced plans to build a state-of-the-art facility in New Orleans, allowing filmmakers to further capitalize on the state’s enormous production incentives.

But where Hollywood and Louisiana were once united by business, they’re now united by tragedy.

“Sunday morning we realized that with a category five [hurricane], the walls would be breached, so we just drove,” recounted a still-panicked Lucy Lawless. The actress best remembered as the invincible Xena was feeling anything but heroic Friday (September 2) as she recounted her memories of Katrina striking with a terror far more frightening than anything contained in “Vampire Bats,” the movie she’d been filming in New Orleans (see “President Bush Says Progress Being Made In Chaotic New Orleans” ).

“I kind of don’t give a sh– anymore, frankly,” she said of the status of the film. “I don’t care that our sweet little working lives have been disrupted. It’s such a damn stinkhole there for all the people that we know and love and their homes. The state of our production is so [low priority] in our lives now.”

Several other productions filming in the state have encountered the same adversity, and likely the same sentiment. Walt

Read accounts from Gulf Coast residents.

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Disney Studios whisked 70 crewmembers from the Denzel Washington thriller “Déjà Vu” and the Ashton Kutcher/ Kevin Costner drama “The Guardian” to safety the day before the storm hit the area. Hilary Swank and the rest of the crew of “The Reaping” were similarly flown to Austin, Texas, in time to avoid Katrina. “The Last Time” with Michael Keaton and Brendan Fraser has also ceased production, acknowledging in a statement that the film has incurred “some extra expense” while offering that producers “expect to resume and complete production as quickly as possible.”

Those involved with the various productions undoubtedly each have their own tragic memories. For Lawless, who drove out of New Orleans with “Vampire” producer Jill Tanner, the chaos of the evacuation placed great emphasis on every single minute.

“I got up [Sunday], turned on the TV and rang the last remaining people. I said, ‘Come on, this is stupid,’ ” the actress remembered. “Of course, my producer said, ‘Let’s just stop by the office and pick up the film stock, get the footage we shot Friday night.’ There was the accountant, counting beans at a table and prepared to go down with the ship. We got a hand on the film stock, and [the accountant] left 20 minutes ahead of us but arrived in Baton Rouge five hours ahead of us. The people who left 10 minutes behind us were totally gridlocked. … Every 10 minutes costs you two hours on the road trying to get out.”

It took Lawless and Tanner nearly 10 hours to navigate the 70 miles between the two cities. “We were concerned we’d spend the hurricane stuck in our cars. I can only assume that thousands and thousands of people did; that’s what’s really upsetting. We happened to make lucky decisions, but there must have been people who panicked and went the other way. We were tempted to turn around and go east when we were three hours into our trip, because it was so gridlocked going west. We decided to stick with our decision and not make a panic-based decision.”

The women spent the next two nights at the house of some strangers who took in evacuees. “Southern hospitality is phenomenal,” Lawless marveled. “They were sheltering more than 45 people. They don’t care who you are, they just open their doors. … They are such good souls, and they are in such pain. The nightmare is real.”

Now safe in her home, Lawless admitted that she feels “guilty and good — guilty for feeling so good” about her own physical well-being. Cautioning that hers is just one of thousands of stories emerging from the tragedy, she admits a reluctance to ever have to think about making movies again. “The producers and I weren’t going to leave because if the hurricane passed over with no damage, then we had to be there or all those involved would be out of a job,” she reasoned. “Well, it turns out they’re all out of their jobs, out of their houses and a lot more.”

Ask her the basic plot of the film, and she can barely work up enough enthusiasm to mumble, “It’s a Halloween, teen flick, really.” Begrudgingly, she added that “for all intents and purposes, it is lost. We are going to shoot next week [with new sets and costumes] in Nova Scotia.”

“It’s tough,” she continued. “But who gives a sh– if it’s tough for us? It does not even compare to the difficulties facing those people there.”

Elsewhere in Hollywood, studios like Warner Bros. are augmenting their employees’ contributions to relief efforts, while “The Last Time” has announced plans for a September 9 L.A. wrap party that will be open to the public and donate all door proceeds to disaster relief.

To find out what you can do to help provide relief to victims of Katrina, head to think MTV’s hurricane relief page.

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