Celtic Media Centre brings blockbusters to Baton Rouge

By Kaci Yoder 

April 8, 2013

Off an unimpressive stretch of Bluebonnet Boulevard, across the street from an old Coca-Cola factory being steadily transformed into a Costco, Baton Rouge’s best kept secret is making magic.

Though many Baton Rouge residents have never heard of it, the Celtic Media Centre has put the Capital City on the map for film and television over the past few years. All those big budget movies like “Breaking Dawn,” “Battleship,” “The Host” and “Oblivion” that brought stars to Baton Rouge? They came for Celtic.

Just getting past the front gates requires clearance from the inside, a necessary precaution given the scale of some of the productions that have unfolded at Celtic. Though the no-fly zone the cast of “Breaking Dawn” requested above the lot proved unnecessary, a few intrepid “Twilight” fans managed to sneak onto a Celtic shuttle before accidentally winding up on the set of “Battleship” instead, eventually getting escorted off the premises.

The thought of two multi-million-dollar blockbusters being filmed at the same time in Baton Rouge may blow some minds, but for director of Studio Operations Patrick Mulhearn, it’s business as usual.

“It’s an exciting time for us right now,” Mulhearn said, watching as employees hung brand-new framed posters of major Celtic productions on the walls of the lobby. “We feel like we’re just getting started.”

At the moment, Mulhearn is juggling projects with several different studios including Active Entertainment, Gold Circle Films, 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios. These studios come to Baton Rouge largely because of tax incentives that make it extraordinarily cheap to produce films in Louisiana, he said.

“Baton Rouge has become a prime place to make movies,” Mulhearn said. “It’s cheaper, it’s more secluded ... Anything you want to do for a movie, we can do it.”

Beyond the gated entrance, the Celtic Media Centre sprawls across 23 acres that are never completely still. Even without Tom Cruise’s SUV driving him around the lot, Celtic stays busy striking the last of the “Oblivion” set and unloading vintage cars for a pending production of the “Bonnie and Clyde: Dead and Alive” miniseries.

Once the site of Master P’s future recording studio, the Celtic Group rebuilt and expanded the facilities after buying the property in 2006 and later partnered with Hollywood’s Raleigh Studios.

“This was going to be Master P’s shark tank,” Mulhearn said of one glass-walled section of offices.

The Celtic offices house everything from soundstages to screening rooms, a working salon and the offices of a local film magazine. One stage buried within the offices offers green-screen shooting, while a state-of-the-art recording and sound effect studio and a mixing theater provide Hollywood-caliber post-production capabilities.

Most of the magic, though, happens in the seven other stages across the grounds. Most resemble a standard warehouse from the outside, but each already boasts its own star-studded history.

Stage 2, once intended to be Master P’s basketball court, now serves as one of the smaller stages at Celtic. During the shoot that gave Stage 2 its nickname — “Twilight Holy Ground” — Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson were filming in bed together when the noise of gunfire made it through the soundproof walls — the sound of an AR-15 firing from the “Battleship” set across the lot. According to Mulhearn, Stewart jumped up in the bed and shouted, “I wanna be in that movie!”

Other venues at Celtic include twin 30,800-square-foot stages — Stage 4 and Stage 6 — one of which contained a full-size replica of the Cullens’ house during filming of “Breaking Dawn.” Between them sits Stage 5, one of the only stages outside Hollywood with a 70-foot ceiling peak to allow for sets like the sky home used by Tom Cruise’s character in “Oblivion.”

Perhaps the most promising and fastest growing of Celtic’s assets is its relationship with Pixomondo, a German visual effects company that has set up shop in Baton Rouge through Celtic. Over the next year, Mulhearn hopes to have dozens of artists working there full time, which would open an enormous door for production in Louisiana.

According to Mulhearn, those types of options create unprecedented opportunities for Baton Rouge. A need for visual effects was part of what narrowly cost Celtic its deal with the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, but Pixomondo’s collaboration has brought interest from many effects-heavy films.

“When Baton Rouge is included in a list of places like London, Shanghai, Berlin, Vancouver, then you know that we’re doing something right,” Mulhearn said.

Recent rumors suggest Universal Studios may have its eye on Baton Rouge for production of “Jurassic Park IV.” Though Mulhearn declined to comment on “Jurassic Park,” he did confirm that Universal has put a hold down on “very big” unnamed project to begin shooting at Celtic this summer.

The Capital City may not be the new Hollywood yet, but at the rate Celtic Media Centre keeps growing, it could be standing on the brink of a booming industry.

At any moment on a typical day in Baton Rouge, the world’s next blockbuster could be coming together.