ROLLING, ROLLING! ACTION! ST. FRANCISVILLE STARS IN YET ANOTHER MOVIE PRODUCTION
By Anne Butler
Photos by Bonnie Marquette
Pssssssst! Wanna hear a secret? There’s a rumor going around, about that handsome devil Kix Brooks, alleging that he was seen in my bedroom… You know, Shreveport native Kix Brooks, iconic country music star, soulful twang and trademark big black cowboy hat, one-half of Grammy award-winning Brooks & Dunn, multiple recognitions as Country Music Association’s Duo of the Year, singer-songwriter now also into acting, movie producing, wine making, radio show hosting, and a multitude of other ventures.
And yeah, it’s actually true! Unfortunately I wasn’t present at the time, but it was all part of the most recent movie filming in St. Francisville, a romance called “Home By Spring” set to air on the Hallmark television channel March 31. Besides Brooks, who served as executive producer as well as actor (and yes, he did play his guitar and introduce a new song), other stars include delightful young London-based actress Poppy Drayton, plus Mary-Margaret Humes and Steven R. McQueen who just happens to be the grandson of the late Hollywood action star Steve McQueen. Screenplay was written by Brooks’ son.
Filmed at Butler Greenwood Plantation and other locations in the St. Francisville area throughout the dreary cold month of February but featuring full-flowered spring settings, with wedding and reception scenes requiring colorful fresh flowers, the production crews spent hundreds of dollars at plant nurseries and florists throughout the St. Francisville area on plants and floral arrangements. They also enriched the local economy with extensive purchases at hardware stores for building sets and props, antiques co-ops, gift shops, art rentals, service stations for gassing up the huge fleet of trucks and transportation vans, restaurants, markets and grocers for prepared prop foods. Extras were also hired to appear in some scenes, like the wedding on the front lawn of Butler Greenwood and for the festival crowd in downtown St. Francisville by the parish courthouse.
There were location rentals and overnight accommodations for a large crew…actors and directors, producers, production coordinators, script supervisors, camera crew, set lighting, grips, sound technicians, art department and set decorating, props, costumes, makeup, hair, casting, special effects, not to mention an on-site medic and caterer. Staging for the large trucks and trailers was an additional expense, necessitating many loads of gravel in what seemed like incessant rain. Movie scout Bonnie Marquette estimated total local movie spending at $1.8 million.
Says Laurie Walsh, “They do contribute greatly to the community when they are filming here.” Walsh, as director of the parish tourist commission and manager of the St. Francisville Main Street program, serves as film liaison for both the parish as a whole and for inside the town limits. A no-fee film permit is required, as is insurance coverage. Her involvement, she explains, is to assist location scouts in finding properties that fit their project needs, helping arrange scouting and reaching out to the property owners, then stepping out of the picture. She can also reach out to local accommodations to set up initial contacts when film crews need assistance with lodging. If public property or streets are to be used in filming, she helps facilitate that as well.
“We really act as a go-between and we do not get compensated or enter into any negotiations. But we see both direct and indirect impact of the movie footprint here when they rent locations, utilize overnight rooms, and reach out to the community for other goods and services.” Among recent film projects Walsh has worked with are GI Joe 2, Bonnie & Clyde, Magnificent 7, Hap & Leonard, Kamp Kool Kids, Starbright, The Zoo, Underground, Blaze, Backroads, Jeepers Creepers 3, Oblivion, Maze Runner, Beautiful Creatures, Nocturna, Final Girls, and “a bunch of commercials.”
With its picturesque preserved downtown district listed in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places, St. Francisville is a little town that steps back in time very easily; throw a little dirt on the streets and you’re back in the 19th century. Add to that the wealth of natural resources in the surrounding Tunica Hills, with terrain varying from steep hills and deep hollows, clear-running creeks with sandy beaches and towering bluffs, the Mississippi River, historic plantations and formal gardens, and even that least-likely of tourist attractions the state penitentiary at Angola, and the St. Francisville area can provide just about any setting movie-makers are looking for. Best of all, “Home By Spring” is actually using St. Francisville’s name, promotion you couldn’t put a price on.
In 2013, Louisiana was ranked Number One in international film production, even above California. Revisions capping the motion picture tax credit program in 2015 caused a drop-off of some 90%, after criticism of the tax program’s return on investment. But ROI is what the state collects in taxes versus what is issued in tax credits, discounting the ancillary impacts, the trickle-down benefits. Now the film industry is enjoying a steady comeback, because in 2017, according to the executive director of entertainment at Louisiana Economic Development, legislative revisions have made the tax credit program more sustainable and have restored filmmakers’ confidence in it, plus adding incentives for permanent job creation, for local spending and for production throughout the state. In New Orleans alone, three feature films and four television series are currently in production, with three other feature films having wrapped recently and two major features in preproduction. Tom Hanks is filming Greyhound in Baton Rouge, a $50 million production, and other big productions are on location in other areas around south Louisiana.
Louisiana’s Economic Development Secretary is excited by the uptick. “Entertainment production is a good fit for Louisiana’s creative culture and skilled workforce,” he said. “Our entertainment program provides jobs and economic activity. For every dollar invested through entertainment tax credits, there is an economic impact of $4.68 across the Louisiana economy.” Not all legislators are on board; one Metairie Republican recently tweeted, “We divert more than $150 million a year away from important priorities like higher education so that we can see Tom Hanks in a restaurant.”
But to a little town like St. Francisville, to see a celebrity like Kix Brooks dining at The Francis or Magnolia Café or one of the other local restaurants doesn’t just give residents a thrill. It also means an awesome boost to the local economy, where $1.8 million spread among all the little businesses in town sure can help.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs.
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting, and kayaking on Bayou Sara. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities like the April 1 Easter Sunrise Service at Hemingbough, the Angola Prison Rodeo April 21 and 22, and the Tunica Hills Music Festival April 21 in Parker Memorial Park featuring more than a dozen musical groups like the Fabulous Bagasse Boys, Cupcake Strippers, the Levee Road Review, Chris House, Bonfire Band and more).