Saturday, July 26, 2014

HOLLYWOOD SOUTH ... What's it all about????

This was my interview with 
WVLA's Jeanne Burns in May 2014

Jerry Leggio was working for the state back in 1960, when he got the chance of a lifetime. “I was with the Department of Labor,” he explained. “And my boss said to me ‘Jerry, because of your theater background, I'd like you to be in charge of casting films when they come.’"
Leggio said yes. The very first movie he worked on was “Desire in the Dust”, which led him to do a little research. “I found out that up until that time only 37 films had been made in Louisiana since talk films had started in the late 20's.” Leggio decided then and there that Louisiana could do much better than that. So, he set out to get a film commission formed in Louisiana. The Louisiana Science Foundation was, at the time, charged with the task of bringing economic development opportunities to the state, so that is where he started.
Friend Jason Furrate says Leggio was very persistent. “You know, he was involved in government, but he was not a politician," Furrate stated. "So he’d bring the thing up about forming the Louisiana Film Commission. And they’d shoot it down. So he’d wait twelve months and do it again."
And when he did, Leggio was armed with even more information. In true Jerry Leggio fashion, he managed to get a meeting with legendary movie producer Otto Preminger. “He said, 'so if you really want to entrench the industry in Louisiana, you have to give them something,'" Leggio recalled. "'You have to provide them something that you can supply. Don't promise them anything you can't deliver.'”
And with that, Leggio made a second run at the decision-makers. And they shot it down again. So, when Jerry met John Wayne on the set of a film, he asked The Duke to take a look at his proposal.
Wayne was so impressed, he made a phone call to then-Governor John McKeithen. But the governor was out of town. “McKeithen was just broken hearted that he hadn't had an opportunity to talk to The Duke,” Leggio recalls. “But he called Dr. Galianno who was the executive director of the Science Foundation and said ‘fund that project.’"
That is when the Louisiana Film Commission finally came into being. Leggio went to work wooing Hollywood, doing something that is almost unheard of in the movie industry. “Jerry put the state of Louisiana ahead of his own career,” Furrate said. “He wasn't angling to get a part. He may or may not get a part. He was angling for the state of Louisiana to be the place that they make movies.
Over the years, that came to be. Leggio remained active in bringing movies to Louisiana. He was and still is a big advocate for creating and keeping those tax credits that have helped make Louisiana the number one movie-making place in the country. And to hear Leggio tell it, it was all a labor of love. “So this isn't all my doing,” he explained. “I mean, I got it going, but I knew at what point I could step out of it. And I just wanted to see it happen".
Leggio has appeared in 56 films and television series over the years. In May, he was awarded the first-ever Anne Price Lifetime Achievement Award by the Louisiana International Film Festival for his work and contribution to the Louisiana film industry.


Monday, July 21, 2014


When Jason Furrate, Director of Programming and Production for Cox Communications,  invited me in late April 2014 to join him and Andre Chappoy, Co-Founder of CFX Entertainment, for lunch at Coffee Call, my natural instinct told me that another film production was in the offing.  This expectation was quite exciting.   

I had worked on a previous production, LA-308, that was produced and directed by Jason with cinematography by Andre.  The LA-308 experience had been extremely full-filling  and rewarding and I couldn’t wait to be brought in on another Furrate/Chappoy project.

At the appointed date and time we met at Coffee Call on College Dr. in Baton Rouge.  The three of us (myself, Jason and Andre) small-talked while waiting for Charlene Robert’s arrival.  Charlene was the Advocate’s marketing director.  When she joined us, Jason then asked me “Do you have any idea why we are here?”  I confessed that I really had no idea.  I didn’t want to express my hope that another film production was being cast for fear that I would be wrong.

As it turned out I was wrong.  A film project was not in the offing.  Jason said that the LOUISIANA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, which was now entering its second year, had instituted a lifetime achievement award named in
honor of the late Anne Price who had been the Advocate’s premiere Arts columnist for nearly 70 years.   Jason  asked “Would you want to take a guess as to who will be its inaugural recipient this year?”  I had no idea and certainly didn’t want to venture a guess.  I said “Tell me, Jason.  I dare NOT venture a guess.”  He said “You”. 


It took a few seconds to process his answer.   I said “You? As in‘me’?”  He said “Yes, YOU, Jerry Leggio” while grinning and pointing at me.  With my non-plussed and speechless expression, I looked quickly over at Andre who grinned and nodded, then at Charlene, who did the same. 

My initial response was “WOW!  Lifetime Achievement? WOW!”  Then Jason said that the LIFF board had met and all agreed that I was the obvious choice.  “WOW!”  The word “obvious” made it more special and even more special was the fact that this award bore the name of Anne Price.  Another WOW!

I was feeling like George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s character, in Frank Capra’s enduring 1946 classic film IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  All I could say was “IT’S A WONDERFUL FEELING.”  And I could think of no greater honor than being the recipient of an award bearing the name of Anne Price.  This lady was the personification of the Arts not only in Baton Rouge but throughout the state.  Anne’s journalistic contributions to the arts in Baton Rouge and throughout Louisiana greatly enriched our culture.  She epitomized the very essence of theater, music, ballet, film and the graphic arts.

I was quite aware that film production in Louisiana had finally taken hold and that this industry now appeared to be here to stay. Some 5-7 sound stage parks had been developed and were up and running throughout the state.  As of this
writing Louisiana was enjoying FIRST place in film production among all the states including California and New York, a ranking that I had never believed would come this soon though I had envisioned this possibility as Louisiana production activity began to mushroom in the 80s.  I swelled with pride knowing that my pioneering efforts, which I began in the early 1960s, had exploded into a colossal Louisiana economic engine, resulting in an annual billion dollars of economic activity.

At the conclusion of the Coffee Call meeting I was told that the award presentation would follow the showing of Jason’s film, LA-308,  at this years LIFF (La Int’l Film Festival).   LA-308 was a film that I was proud to have been a part of.   Jason and Andre ingeniously crafted this quality production for under $120,000, a true feat in economy and efficiency.

Before leaving the parking lot that served Coffee Call, I decided to text Gloria and let her know the good news.  She had asked that I do this.  I use voice command on my cell phone and vocalized “I am going to be the recipient of a life achievement award at this year’s film fest.” Before pressing the SEND button I reviewed my message for accuracy.  Instead of seeing the intended message, it read instead “I am going to be the recipient of a lice treatment award at this year’s film nest.”  Hmmm!  Was my Android trying to tell me something?  I hoped this was not an omen.  I corrected the message and sent it on to Gloria.

As elated and thrilled as I was, I nonetheless harbored some anxiety.  Gloria asked “What’s bothering you about this honor?”  I said “My great fear is that attendance at this film and this presentation may be very sparse.  I would hate having to accept such an honor before a ‘crowd’ of  only 10 or 15 people or, worse yet, even fewer than that.  How embarrassing that would be.”  She merely said “You worry too much.”

At 11 AM on Saturday morning, May 11 Gloria and I walked into the Cinemark Theater that would be exhibiting LA-308.  Within minutes the theater filled to capacity.  I would learn later that people had to be
turned away due to the sell-out.  My heart filled with both pride and humility.  I could not have been happier.  I was overwhelmed with well-wishers and showered with congratulatory comments.   What a day!  It was a WONDERFUL DAY!  It was a WONDERFUL FEELING!

It never occurred to me that I would ever gain any recognition for my film development pioneering work.  Nor had I ever expected any such recognition. My greatest gratification was witnessing its fruition.  In the late 80s I was all too happy to step back and let younger, smarter folks continue the process …..

….. except when on 2 separate occasions in the late 1990s and then again some 7 years after that when Jay Dardenne’s shrewd and innovative tax credits program was in jeopardy of being repealed, I emailed all the state’s legislators
to persuade them NOT to reduce or eliminate this program.  I explained the sensitive nature of the film industry.  Once an asset is provided to them, like spoiled children, producers expect no less.  If credits are reduced or eliminated, we would quickly see the end of location filming in Louisiana….thus resulting in a devastating loss for Louisiana’s employment numbers and tax base.

Today, thank heavens, the tax credits are still in play and film production in Louisiana has never been more plentiful.  God bless the movie industry.  God bless Louisiana.