A Detroit, Atlanta or Dallas might be a convenient and cost-efficient place to make a film or television show, but they lack the essential cultural richness that can lure creative people to stay. The Big Easy is attracting that type, plus post-production startups, and animation and videogame outfits, giving a broader foundation to the nascent local entertainment industry.
“This is different,” notes Los Angeles native and longtime Hollywood costumer Wingate Jones, who started Southern Costume Co. last year to cash in on the growth in production in the state. “It’s the combination of the food and the culture that appeals to people. It must have been a lot like what Hollywood was like in the ’20s and ’30s. It’s entrepreneurial and growing like mad.”
Critically, Jones adds, Louisiana’s unique culture comes without the fancy New York or Malibu price tag. This is a place where small roadside cafes serve up bowls of gumbo, crayfish and shrimp that would cost three to five times as much in New York, the Bay Area or Los Angeles. Excellent music — from rap to jazz to blues and gospel — can be found simply by walking into a bar and paying the price of a couple of beers. And then there are housing costs, roughly half as high, adjusted for income, than the big media centers.
This mixture of affordability and culture is attracting young people — the raw material of the creative economy — as well as industry veterans like Jones. In 2011, we examined migration patterns of the college-educated and found, to our surprise, that New Orleans was the country’s leading brain magnet. New Orleans was growing its educated base, on a per capita basis, at a far faster rate than much-ballyhooed, self-celebrated places like New York or San Francisco. In fact, its most intense competition was coming from other Southern cities such as Raleigh, Austin and Nashville, the last two of which also share a strong, and unique, regional culture.
Another sure sign of the city’s growing appeal has been a torrent of applications to Tulane University, the city’s premier institution of higher education. In 2010 the school received 44,000 applications, more than any other private university in the country. The largest group, more than even those from Louisiana, came from California, with New York and Texas not far behind.
Increasingly, the Big Easy merits comparison not only to the Hollywood of the 1920s but also Greenwich Village of the ’50s, Haight-Ashbury in the ’60s and “grunge” Seattle in the mid-’80s. These, too, were once appealing places that were less expensive, less predictable and more open to cultural outsiders. Now they’re increasingly too pricey and yuppified for creative people bereft of large trust funds.
Damn. I thought ATL would continue growth in the film industry. Now its New Orleans?
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