Staying Active

Sunday, January 1, 2012

On an early October day last year, during the city’s first stretch of real fall weather, Andrew Bond takes to a corner patch of grass outside of Celtic Media Centre and brandishes a sign that reads, “Local film grad 4 hire. Will PA and work hard!” After graduating from Full Sail University’s film program, he had moved from Kansas City to Baton Rouge looking for work in the industry. Celtic chief Patrick Mulhearn snaps a photo of Bond and pops it on Facebook to give the job seeker a boost.

Some critics carelessly classify film industry jobs as only transient work. But less than a hundred yards away from Bond’s curbside plea, Active Entertainment is combating this argument, as nearly 20 full-time employees prepare to huddle for the former Lafayette-based company’s first full staff meeting at its new Baton Rouge headquarters on the ever-expanding campus of Celtic Media Centre.

Down the hall from the production offices of A&E’s Breakout Kings, the group of editors, CGI artists and production coordinators make small talk near a high stack of untouched pizza boxes. Wearing a t-shirt, madras shorts and leather sandals, Active founder and New York native Ken Badish strolls to the head of the long table and takes a seat.

An avid tennis player, Badish talks in sports metaphors, referring to Active’s post-, pre- and in-production scheduling as “blocking and tackling.” The terms “singles,” “doubles” and “home runs” appear to be shorthand for his company’s three arms of prospective business. A single is a $2.5- to $5 million feature for international distribution and domestic channels like SyFy and Lifetime. A double refers to the top-to-bottom production services Active can provide to big-budget features that choose Louisiana. A home run would be an independent but high-profile passion project steered by talent, something in the vein of Natalie Portman’s Black Swan or Ryan Gosling’s Drive.

New Orleans actress Ashton Leigh co-starred in the 2011 TV movie Swamp Shark, directed by Griff Furst, an actor and producer and the cavalry-leading creative director for Active Entertainment.

“Griff was great, and he told me I had his favorite death sequence in the whole movie,” Leigh says. “All the Active people were so professional, but also really fun. They’re basically the only local company doing what they do here and making good films.”

At the conference table, Badish gleans updates on multiple projects from Furst and quickly commandeers the conversation to run down each sector of activity. He does so at a rapid clip and in succinct detail.
As talk turns to a cable project in post-production, Badish wants an update on the visual effects. “I still need to see a DVD. Can I get that?” he asks. “How’s it looking? Do we like this movie?”

Badish elicits a show of hands. Most go up. The consensus is clear. When the CGI is complete, the film will be solid.

An analytical thinker with a keen eye on the big picture, Badish understands that to get ahead in a creative business, detailed organization is essential.

“We tend to be methodical,” Badish says. “It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s do it,’ but this is not an easy business. We’re doing banking and financing on a very complex stage.”

A veteran of film distribution and acquisition with years of experience as an executive at HBO and Blockbuster, Badish launched his own enterprise in Los Angeles two decades ago. He moved Active to Louisiana in 2007 and soon met his business partner, Daniel Lewis, a Baton Rouge native and former financial executive who had just leveraged his mastery of film production tax credits into a successful producing career.

“Daniel is a perfect example of someone who’s young, bright and aggressive,” Badish says. “We decided it would be fun if we did this together.”

And together they are doing a lot. Active’s upcoming slate is loaded. Badish asks his team point blank if they can handle it all. The response is quick and overwhelmingly positive. Visual effects artist Blane Granstaff promises he can deliver a final edit whenever Badish needs it. “Give me a deadline,” he says, “and it’ll be done.

“I’m comforted by that answer,” Badish says before scanning the faces of his staff. “And actually, I believe you.”

Those assembled include the requisite industry veterans, but the company has augmented its ranks with those from other backgrounds as well. One Active staffer was hired away from a news station’s weather department. Others were wooed from the hospitality industry and the music business. Yet they all have one thing in common.

“Whether it’s the deal-making, management or the creative side, you have to be passionate about this business, and that’s the key that we’ve looked for in our hires,” Lewis says. “It’s a big blend of people who care.” activeentertainment.com

225 Magazine, http://www.225batonrouge.com/news/2012/jan/01/staying-active/?movies

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