Film producer explains why he likes making movies in Louisiana

Film producer explains why he likes making movies in Louisiana
Source: Louisiana International Film Festival
Source: Louisiana International Film Festival

JACKSON, LA (WAFB) - Jake Seal produced the Ethan Hawke directed film "Blaze" that pays tribute to unsung country-western musician Blaze Foley.

"It's a beautiful love story," he said. "It's wall-to-wall music and the music is absolutely extraordinary.

"People have generally heard of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson - well they covered Blaze Foley. Actually, when we announced this film, The Kings of Leon were at number one with a song about Blaze's life. So, there's a lot of interest in his work but people have sort of stumbled on it."

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Seal explained that Hawke started pondering the idea of Blaze while working on post-production for Born To Be Blue at Village Studios in Jackson, LA.

The star of the film, Ben Dickey who is a musician himself, pitched the idea to Hawke. Seal said Dickey was a perfect fit for the role of Blaze Foley.

"[And with] Ben there were a lot of parallels in Ben's life as a singer-songwriter, as a musician," he said. "No one really knew much about him. He kept almost getting to the A-Pex of success and then it all falling apart.

"…it was lovely to sort of build something around an incredibly talented musician, singer-songwriter in his own right and someone who is an amazing performer," he added.

Hawke did a lot of background research on Foley and got input from those who were closest to the musician.

"We were lucky enough to get linked in with many of Blaze's contemporaries, many of whom then not only endorsed the film and helped on the film but were around the whole set," Seal said. "We had Blaze's wife, Sybil, and she was there, and she was one of the authors on the film based on a book from her life."

The filmmakers focused on telling a story that accurately depicted who Blaze Foley was instead of focusing on every detail of his life.

"There's something lovely about the troubled artist who didn't want money, spent anything he earned, lived on the good graces of everyone, spent a lot of time living for free in a treehouse."

When Blaze was just a "germ of an idea," Hawke began to consider Louisiana and Village Studios as a prime location to shoot the film.

"Originally, he [Hawke] said to me, 'Hey look at this place,' while we were sitting in Mackie's Bar."

Mackie's is part of Village Studios. Hawke's idea of shooting Blaze at Village Studios and the surrounding area looked like an option that was financially viable when they considered the state's film tax credit.

"One of the great things about shooting in Louisiana is the access to all of the scenery, but you have a tax credit that really supports film. It's a wonderful thing."

Blaze was shot in almost 60 different locations throughout East and West Feliciana Parishes.

"A lot of Louisiana can double for anywhere," he added.

Three weeks of production was spent on location. In the week they spent at Village Studios, they filmed on sets that doubled as such cities as New York, Chicago, and Austin, Texas, the latter was where Foley spent the last years of life.

Crews also spent weeks building a replica of the treehouse Foley lived in for part of his adult life. Seal said on the Blaze project, his team had the luxury of time to make it look as authentic to the period as possible. It remains intact on the property of Village Studios.

In addition to a bar, Village Studios has a bed and breakfast, office space, backlots, and several sound stages, so crew members and equipment were housed at Village Studios.

"You get an efficiency when you come into a studio that you don't have elsewhere, and things get a lot more cost-effective. All of your parking is here, your gas [costs] go right down because you're not traveling anywhere. There are no logistics of moving the big circus that we call our [camera] unit around. Those things trip you up on locations and where at a studio everyone relaxes because everyone knows where everything is."

Seal described the experience of shooting Blaze at Village Studios as "remarkable."

"I mean we have studios in Canada, we have one in the U.K. as well, but this one here is so special because we've got the accommodation and the incredible network of people around it."

He said locals let filmmakers use their vintage cars to be used as set pieces, contributed clothing for the actors' wardrobe, and served as extras in the film. Some people even donated their 4x4s so crews could shuttle equipment between the different location. Seal says all the help is appreciated by the filmmakers.

Many of the locals who helped on Blaze were invited to watch the film at the Louisiana International Film Festival.

"It's quite an incredible thing when you bring a film into a community, not only does a lot of money get spent and that generates a lot of income and taxation and jobs and everything else, but you also get this groundswell of people being able to contribute to something that they wouldn't otherwise be able to do.

"How often do have Ethan Hawke coming somewhere to make something that turns out really great," he added.

Blaze was the third project Seal has worked on in Louisiana. He thinks the Louisiana film tax offers filmmakers a better deal than the one the state of Georgia offers. However, Seal credits Georgia for doing a better job of marketing its tax credit.

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"I think the Louisiana [film] tax credit is a huge thing. The locations are a fantastic thing and the flexibility of the locations. But the people, Louisiana is so welcoming and so many people want to support and help each other, which I think is really wild. And you don't necessarily get that anywhere else."

When asked why Seal was so appreciative of the people he worked with while in Louisiana, he responded, "The people make big, big difference."

"I find in Louisiana people are ready to help and whenever you're finding little problems you can work with them and move around things. And that's a huge deal when you've got 100 or maybe 300 people working on a film, a lot of those small pieces that can cause stress or can make things fall down or break [and there's always] someone who wants to help."

While the movie only took about four weeks to shoot, the team spent over a year working on the post-production aspects of the film, so the movie would look and sound like a proper homage to Foley.

Seal said he and his team are proud of the film they created. But what he enjoys the most is that people are so moved by the film they started downloading and listening to Foley's music.

Seal hopes to work on future film projects in Louisiana. He also hopes the state expands its film tax credit to foster more facilities like Village Studios that would foster more full-time film industry jobs.

Blaze was released in January at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Currently, it's only being screened at film festivals. Seal anticipates it will be widely available in the fall of 2018.

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