BY ELIZABETH GLAUSER
Some things are just best suited for the South. After producing this summer’s Battleship on the lot at Raleigh Studios at the Celtic Media Centre last year, Duncan Henderson decided to bring his next big budget film back to Baton Rouge. Officially entitled The Untitled Tom Cruise Project, but better known for the moment as Oblivion, the film is directed by Tron:Legacy helmer Joseph Kosinski. Like Battleship, it is a titanic-sized project from Universal Pictures.
Originally set to film in Australia, economic downturns down under and economic incentives in Louisiana brought filming back stateside. “Because Battleship tied in with the US Navy, it was incredibly beneficial to stay in the United States,” says Henderson. “Then getting the benefit of the Louisiana rebate, this all kind of came together.”
Splitting shooting days between Hawaii and Louisiana, Battleship took advantage of both states’ filming incentives. However, on the islands, there are restrictions on the tax rebates a production can receive. “To speak highly of the Louisiana rebate, it actually is a very clean, straightforward rebate that people have been successfully working inside the parameters of and collecting the money,” says Henderson. “So it was pretty straightforward, where other [states] change them all the time. They start them, then stop them. Louisiana has had a good, long history of making the rebate an actual, practical thing to go for and actually get.”
“Hawaii’s expensive in a lot of different ways too,” adds Henderson. “So to the extent that you can get to Louisiana, you are better off economically.” Although Battleship is set in Hawaii, much of the film’s setting was able to be created using the stages at Raleigh Studios.
The big budget production was one of the first of its size to film at the Celtic Media Centre, helping break in the soundstages and let the industry know they were able to handle studio-sized projects. “To tell the truth, we did a lot of learning on Battleship about what was here on the lot, how it worked and I was very happy, certainly happy enough to want to come back and do it all over again,” says Henderson. “Coming back the second time, you’ve already gone through it. So when people would ask this or that about how big the stage is and the grids, how construction worked, et cetera, we knew.”
When it came time to film Henderson’s next project, the Tom Cruise intergalactic epic Oblivion, the producer returned to familiar Louisiana territory. “We pretty much knew exactly what it was going to be like. We were here before,” says Henderson. “There’s always a little bit of learning when you first come to any place, and I feel that we’ve already been through that on Battleship, so we came with Oblivion and it wasn’t like there were any particular surprises. We knew what we knew. And we certainly were aware of how the rebate worked. I think that in that sense, we were able to maximize maybe it a little bit more.”
While bringing in crew from California, Henderson also took advantage of Louisiana’s stock of film professionals. “Almost every department has some local crew working in it,” says Henderson. “Financially you’d like to have more. The more Louisiana-based crew you could have the better off you would be.” Before helming some of the biggest productions of the day, Henderson himself began his career below the line.
Starting out as an assistant director, Henderson was able to learn how films are actually made by working directly with all of the departments. “I’ve actually had the benefit of starting at the bottom, and I think that’s been helpful because I was actually a DGA trainee, and then became a 2nd assistant director, 1st assistant director,” says Henderson. “I got to work right in the middle of the crew and learn a lot. That’s been very beneficial. I spent a lot of time doing that, and kind of learning as you’re going. You got to meet a lot of people. I think it has been really beneficial, just basically coming up through the ranks and learning the ropes that way.”
Filmmaking is becoming a major part of Baton Rouge, but there is one other thing that’s still king: LSU football. “One of the things great about Baton Rouge is it’s the capital and it’s also got LSU here,” says Henderson. “So if you’re a sports fan, and I’m a big college football fan, you can’t really do any better than that.”
The football-enthused filmmaker may have taken in a game or two in Tiger Stadium, but it’s the overall atmosphere of Baton Rouge that sticks. “Mostly when you’re here, you’re just working. Always, five days a week, lots of these pictures six days a week, and usually a lot of prep on the seventh day. You’re busy,” says Henderson. “If it’s just comfortable living, which it is here in Baton Rouge, and there’s an odd day out, there’s something you can go do and you’re happy.”
Although a fan of Louisiana’s Southern charm, the producer hasn’t quite set up permanently in the capital city. “I’m a California guy. I was born and raised in California. My great grandmother was born in Los Angeles,” says Henderson. “But it’s nice down here. It’s a little bit of heaven here, but then you think, ‘I don’t think it’s quite like this in the middle of summer, when it might feel a little different.’ We’ve enjoyed it and certainly have gone out and looked all around the state.”
“We actually drove all along the gulf coast from here to Florida just to see that part of the country. It’s stunningly beautiful. There’s so much to see and do. And certainly New Orleans is a very, very interesting town with something going on literally every week,” says Henderson. “So we have enjoyed our time down here, but like I said, I’m a California guy, and that’s where my family is, that’s where I’ll probably be heading back to. But it is tempting, I have to tell you.”
Henderson is currently in Baton Rouge finishing up Oblivion with Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo and more. After bringing some of Hollywood’s biggest names to the capital city, Oblivion will open next year.