Entrepreneur builds thriving business serving La. movie business

...Millions of dollars in state film industry tax credits helped

By Bill Lodge
March 31, 2014

Andre J. Champagne is a young entrepreneur who has built a burgeoning business in Baton Rouge and New Orleans from the transportation and comfort needs of film crews in Louisiana.

Millions of dollars in state film industry tax credits have helped, too.

In less than seven years, Champagne’s business — Hollywood Trucks LLC — has grown from five vans and two stake-bed trucks into a 400-unit fleet of more than 40 types of trucks, tractors, trailers, all-terrain vehicles and specialty equipment.

“Anything on a film set, we can provide, if it’s on wheels,” Champagne said.

During the past seven years, Champagne also has parlayed money from financial backers — including the state of Louisiana — into the development and manufacture of an environmentally friendly line of luxury trailers for actors and film crews.

“This company is a reflection of the fantastic initiatives that (the Louisiana Department of Economic Development) is putting forward,” Champagne, 37, said. “We’re very grateful to this state.”

Chris Stelly, executive director of the state department’s Office of Entertainment Industry Development, said Hollywood Trucks’ audited expenditure of nearly $17.1 million in Louisiana resulted in its certification for nearly $6.83 million in state tax credits.

Stelly said Hollywood Trucks qualified for those “tax credits through the state’s motion picture infrastructure program.”

While building Hollywood Trucks’ annual revenue more than 800 percent — from $607,479 in 2008 to more than $5 million in 2013 — Champagne took on two additional businesses.

The Napoleonville native and 2002 LSU kinesiology graduate is the founder, chief executive officer, publisher and an owner of “Scene,” an entertainment magazine that prints many articles about people in the film industry.

Champagne also said he began producing movies in Louisiana more than a year ago.

“Scene” magazine’s 2013 revenue was $400,000, Champagne said. He said copies of each edition are placed in luxury trailers and film studios in Baton Rouge and New Orleans so actors and film crews can read about colleagues. They also can glean information about places of interest in Louisiana.

Champagne would not identify the movies he produced. He said they would not be released for another 18 to 24 months.

Regardless of Champagne’s other interests, Hollywood Trucks remains the moneymaker for him and the firm’s other owners. With the exception of founding partner Mike Hollingsworth, a Baton Rouge auto and truck dealer, Champagne would not identify his co-owners.

Hollywood Trucks’ payroll totaled about $650,000 in 2013, Champagne said. The number of full-time employees ranged between 12 and 15 during the year. Champagne estimated his employees’ average salaries at between $45,000 and $50,000.

In addition, Champagne said, hundreds of union drivers are hired each year to steer all of his trucks, trailers and other vehicles to and from film locations across the state.

Champagne never worked in kinesiology, which requires the study of how muscles work for application in some physical rehabilitation programs or related fields, such as sports medicine.

Instead, the young man moved to Los Angeles after graduating from LSU. He recalled that he eventually met Jane McGregor, who was a vice president of operations for a California film production company.

For three years, Champagne said, he worked as McGregor’s executive assistant.

“She was a really fantastic mentor, extremely knowledgeable in film production,” Champagne said. “I’m so thankful she let me look at and peruse so many documents and listen to so many conference calls.”

Added Champagne: “When I worked for Jane, I learned every aspect of the business behind the scenes. I recognized the value of production support services.”

McGregor, who should not be confused with a Canadian actress of the same name, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

In 2007, the film business returned Champagne to Louisiana for a movie production troubled by a lack of available transportation.

“The infrastructure was not readily available,” Champagne recalled. He said he immediately recognized a business opportunity.

“This company (Hollywood Trucks) is a direct reflection of how fast and how significant the film industry has grown in Louisiana,” Champagne added. The firm was formed in October 2007 and began operations in 2008.

In recent years, Champagne said, “We’ve been fortunate to have been involved with 98 percent of the films and television series made in this state.”

Hollywood Trucks has supplied transportation and support services to film productions in all eight of Louisiana’s metropolitan statistical areas, Champagne said.

“That’s the fantastic part about this industry,” Champagne continued. “From an economic development standpoint, it touches every city in this state. It’s truly statewide.”

Among Hollywood Trucks’ more than 400 rental units are 40 Ecoluxe trailers.

“I can’t build them fast enough,” Champagne said, adding that they range in size from one bedroom to three.

Those trailers feature pollution-free rooftop solar panels for daytime air conditioning, generators that run on cleaner-burning and renewable synthetic diesel for nighttime air conditioning, low-voltage LED lighting, countertops made of recycled plastics and privacy windows that block UVA and UVB rays.

Filmmakers who stay in those trailers have unlimited access to big-screen DirecTV, Apple TV and wireless sound systems.

“These are amenities that are not found elsewhere,” said Champagne, who repeated that he currently cannot keep up with demand.

“I’m waiting for 30 brand new units to come off the (manufacturing) line right now,” Champagne said, noting that another 70 are at earlier stages in the production pipeline.

The film industry is attempting to reduce its carbon footprint, Champagne said, so he feeds his trucks and generators renewable synthetic diesel from Dynamic Fuels in Geismar.

Dynamic Fuels is a joint venture of Tyson Foods Inc. and Syntroleum Corp. that says it uses fat from chickens and other animals, greases and vegetable oils to produce 75 million gallons of low-emission fuel annually. The firm reports having spent $150 million to build its Geismar refinery.

Dynamic Fuels halted production late last year, but Champagne said the refiner still delivers stockpiled fuel to his firm’s staging sites. He predicted that the refinery will reopen this year but noted that his vehicles and generators can run on regular diesel if renewable diesel is unavailable.

When out-of-state film crews come to Louisiana, Champagne noted, they don’t travel far to find Hollywood Trucks.

Champagne said the firm’s fleet is split between Celtic Media Centre, in Baton Rouge at 10000 Celtic Drive, and Second Line Stages, in New Orleans at 800 Richard St. in the Lower Garden District.

Both Celtic Media and Second Line are movie production studios.

Celtic Media bills itself as the largest film facility in Louisiana. The firm says it has 150,000 square feet of stage space and 90,000 square feet of office space on 30 acres near the southeast corner of the intersection of I-12 and Airline Highway.

Second Line mentions it has 37,000 square feet of soundstage space, a five-floor office tower, 73,000 square feet of warehouse space and spectacular views of New Orleans.

“Whenever I talk about Hollywood Trucks, I like to point out that there is nothing ‘Hollywood’ about Hollywood Trucks other than the name and the clientele,” said Patrick Mulhearn, executive director at Celtic Studios.

“Hollywood Trucks is a Baton Rouge-born, Louisiana-based company through and through and was started by an LSU-grad from Napoleonville,” Mulhearn added.

Mulhearn also noted that Louisiana led the nation last year in the number (18) of major studio live-action movies, including best picture “12 Years a Slave,” which also claimed the best supporting actress Oscar for Lupita Nyong’o.

Another Louisiana production,“Dallas Buyers Club,” spawned Matthew McConaughey’s best actor Oscar and sent Jared Leto to the stage for his best supporting actor award.

For that same movie, New Orleans makeup artist Robin Matthews shared the best makeup and hairstyling Oscar with stylist Andruitha Lee.

“I honestly don’t believe Louisiana’s film industry could have reached the heights we have achieved without the Hollywood Trucks fleet,” Mulhearn said. “It is equipment and infrastructure that is integral to motion picture production. Without it, Louisiana would be a lot less attractive place to shoot.”

Added Mulhearn: “From an economic development standpoint, the vehicles and trailers are bought, taxed, licensed, plated, insured, painted, logoed, serviced, repaired and fueled in Louisiana and ultimately driven by Louisiana drivers. They are economic development on wheels.”

Mulhearn said Champagne and Hollingsworth should be proud of Hollywood Trucks’ success.

“As for Andre, I am proud to call him a tenant, a production service partner and a friend,” Mulhearn said. “His dreams are as big as his work ethic, and that is good news for Louisiana.”

Officials at Second Line Stages did not respond to a telephone request for comment about Hollywood Trucks.