New Orleans Actors
Posted by Jim Johnson on November 24, 2012 0 Comments
New Orleans actors have experienced a lot of change over the last ten years - though many of them haven't been there through all of it. A lot of New Orleans actors weren't in New Orleans when it all began to change...
Louisiana Tax Incentives for Films
The current tax incentives that have drawn so much filming to New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana were passed in 2002. At the time, they were some of the most agressive incentives in the entire country and actually made Louisiana competitive with Canadian locations - without the whole snow thing.
Since then, a lot of other states have passed similar incentives, but they haven't had the same benefits... It has a lot to do with timing and momentum.
After Hurricane Katrina
The incentives began to move things, but much of the state was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It was a nightmarish disaster that cost billions of dollars and nearly 2,000 lives, and it brought the focus of the nation to New Orleans. Though other areas were devastated as well, such as southern Mississippi, news, footage and stories from New Orleans captured the most attention with their disturbing images.
All of this attention also drew people who were interested in helping, and that helped to give a significant boost to the film industry taking the risk of moving more money and shoots to the pelican state. Money and attention poured into the state, as well as Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and their horde of children.
It was an epic disaster, and it jumpstarted the Louisiana film industry.
New Orleans Accents
Initially, much of the filming in New Orleans had local themes, and the shoots made use of the New Orleans Yat accent. "Yat" comes from the local greeting "Where are you at?" meaning "How are you doing?" though it usually sounds more like "Wheh y'at?" K-Ville and the HBO series Treme are some of this local genre.
As more money and more productions were based in Louisiana, the industry's infrastructure grew as well. Film and television crew jobs have exploded, and more seasoned professionals are readily available. Skilled crew members have increased more than 400 percent since 2002.
Similarly, the actors based in New Orleans are not necessarily from New Orleans anymore. More and more NYC and LA actors are making their way to the Gulf coast.
One challenge for the locals is that there is very little opportunity for working in live theatre in New Orleans, which is a great way for an actor to hone his craft. I have attended the last two years of the Louisiana Actors Expo, and both years one of the primary suggestions from the panels of casting directors and agents was "get training; do plays." Many of them even stressed doing Shakespeare so that the actors would be able to handle the language and bring that skill back to their film auditions.
Another primary area of concern was the ability to speak without a New Orleans accent and/or without a typical Southern accent. In addition, some actors in other parts of the state have elements of Cajun accents that make it more difficult to cast them in a variety of roles.
I had the opportunity to meet a number of people who offer training in New Orleans, but it may not be as much as the actors need. Far greater than that, however, is that challenge that they actors are not pursuing the training. When ongoing training is not a priority for actors, it sends a message that ongoing employment is also not a priority...
That doesn't mean it's easy. Actors, especially when they are just starting out, are oftentimes not paid enough to re-invest in their own future in the field. Balancing the books in the arts is never an easy thing. Unfortunately it means that the jobs go to those who come in with the skills already in pocket. Oftentimes, the locals are shut out.
Market-Driven Accent Training
Whenever actors ask me what accents they should first work on, it's easy to say some kind of General American and definitely Standard British. Beyond that, it's most useful to work on whatever you look like and - if you want to work in film - whatever the local accent is. In the case of actors in New Orleans, that means they need their Yat on, and ready access to some varieties of Southern accents would serve them as well.
Thinking about becoming a New Orleans actor? You'd best get started before you move...