Three In One
The St. John Center Soundstage in LaPlace is not just a soundstage, it’s a community center and the parish’s tourism commission headquarters.
You likely know, or know the name, Paul Aucoin — the executive director of the Port of South Louisiana — but you may not know that he’s also in the film business.
In addition to his work at the port, Aucoin is chairman of the board of New Orleans Plantation Country, the River Parishes Tourism Commission. In 2007, he was faced with a unique opportunity.
“When St. John Parish decided to build a community center, they were advised that — due to the burgeoning film industry in the area — they should build the center to soundstage specifications so that it could be used as both,” Aucoin says. “Not long after the center opened, the person overseeing it was terminated and I was asked to take over. I did so, with the condition that we could move the offices of the tourism commission to the center and operate rent free.”
Aucoin says the arrangement has worked out successfully for both the St. John Center Soundstage and the River Parishes Tourism Commission. Film Coordinator Jo Banner runs the soundstage while also serving as communications manager for the tourism commission; and Kimmie Carlos serves as executive director of the tourism commission.
The St. John Center Soundstage is the only soundstage in plantation country, an area popular for filming. It is perfectly positioned — only 15 minutes from the Louis Armstrong International Airport and 30 minutes from both New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
“We get the most interest from tourists interested in seeing the filming locations of ‘Django Unchained’ and the first season of ‘True Detective,’ both were filmed near here,” says Banner.
While neither of these productions used the soundstage, it has been used by productions including a TV series by the Oprah Winfrey Network called “Queen Sugar” that premiered on Sept. 6 of this year; AMC’s martial arts series “Into the Badlands” that premiered Nov. 15, 2015; and TNT’s 2010 police detective series “Memphis Beat” starring Jason Lee. Feature films have included “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg 2013 action flick, “Two Guns,” and the 2015 comedy film “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” starring Rob Corddry and Craig Robinson.
The 42,000-square-foot center includes 26,000 square feet of soundstage split between main and secondary soundstages. Filming has also extended into the expansive 200-foot-long atrium.
“The atrium has been everything from an airport to the inside of a school,” Banner says.
Catering, dressing rooms and green room facilities are also available on site.
Banner says the pairing of community center, soundstage and tourism offices is certainly unique. “I don’t know of anything else like it,” she says. Profits from the soundstage, along with fees for rentals of the community center for events including weddings, reunions, meetings and job testing, all go back to the parish.
“It’s been a really good arrangement for everyone,” Aucoin says, noting that productions like “Into the Badlands,” “Queen Sugar” and “Two Guns” were all six-month rentals. “Plus, the money these productions are spending, a lot of it is going to local businesses,” he says. “We’re talking about maybe half a million dollars every time someone builds something in [the soundstage].”
For a man who found himself thrown into the film industry, Aucoin says the experience has been an enjoyable one.
“Everyone I’ve ever met has been so friendly and great to work with,” he says, noting that his favorite celebrity encounter so far has been with Denzel Washington. “It was kind of embarrassing actually, because there was a glare from the windows and so I didn’t see that he was standing there wanting to shake my hand,” he says. “When I realized it, we had a very nice conversation that I ended by telling him, ‘Good luck!’ Of course that night I realized what I had said and the next day I made sure to tell him, ‘I meant break a leg!’ He laughed.”
Kimberley Singletary is the managing editor of Biz New Orleans magazine. A 20-year Southern California veteran, she has been surrounded by the film industry for most of her life.