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Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022

City of Shreveport Purchases Millenium Studio


Troubled Muse to create digital content for television and films

The city of Shreveport recently purchased the Millennium Studios building in the Ledbetter Heights area adjacent to downtown for $6 million.

"We purchased the real estate formerly owned by Millennium Studios," Drew Mouton, director of the Shreveport Office of Economic Development, said of the 70,000-square-foot facility. "They built this studio 10 years ago and operated it as part of their global content production. They will continue to operate and make films, but we own the property."

Mouton said the move by the city would foster another boom in the local film industry.

"Coming into this job, we heard a lot about the film industry," he said. "It has a strong emotional resonance with people who lived through it. We did $300 million worth of production work in 2006 alone, and hundreds of millions more after that. Many of our citizens remember how vibrant that industry was."

Millennium Studios will be home to three "master tenants," Mouton said. "Each of them will operate a certain element of the campus," he said.

One tenant is Troubled Muse, a new animation and visual effects studio. According to the studio, Troubled Muse will create original digital content for television and feature films, specializing in motion capture, visual effects and animation.

Troubled Muse's long-range plans include hiring 200 people locally. Estimates also include 83 indirect jobs that would be created, bringing the total to almost 300, Mouton said. He said Troubled Muse has a short-term goal of hiring 120 people this year. The average salary will be $74,000, plus benefits.

"Most of their staff will be new hires," Mouton said. "They will hire 200 tomorrow if they can find them."

Troubled Muse CEO R. Andru Davies said when the purchase was announced that that is where the community can help.

"If you have your friends and families that may have all moved away in the last few years because the tech jobs have left or the film jobs have moved somewhere else, please come back because there's jobs here, and we need to staff up," he said.

Louisiana's Entertainment Job Creation Program will support Troubled Muse, the studio said in a statement shortly after Perkins made the announcement.

The Entertainment Job Creation Program provides a tax credit on annual W2 wages to approved entertainment companies that create well-paid jobs for Louisiana residents. The program offers a 15 percent credit for each new job paying $45,000 to $66,000 annually. It provides a 20 percent credit for paying more than $66,000, up to $200,000 a year.

Mouton said Shreveport had advantages beyond a potential talent pool, too, including the state's tax credit program for the film industry and north Louisiana's versatility as a location.

Shreveport's success in the film industry is a "chicken-and-egg" issue, Mouton said.

"We have the ability to be competitive," he said. "It's an industry we want to support. But most of the crew has shifted out into other areas. They go where the work is. So we needed to be intentional in the way we went at re-establishing a crew base here."

Mouton said the problem has a twopronged solution. One of those prongs is bringing back the crew that left for opportunities elsewhere. "If the work is here, then the crew will return," he said.

The other opportunity is to grow the talent locally.

"We need to develop our own crew," Mouton said. "That's what the Millennium campus is all about."

According to Mouton, other tenants — Southern University Shreveport and the Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) — will join Troubled Muse to create a workforce development pipeline to support the film industry.

"SUSLA will be overseeing the actual educational training programs," he said. "The Arts Council will oversee the hands on makers’ space that will provide an opportunity for people to come in and play and practice and apprentice."

Mouton said that entities including Digital Media Institute, The Prize Foundation and Robinson Film Center have expressed interest in helping fill that gap.

"There already is essentially a pipeline relationship between DMI and Troubled Muse," Mouton said. "DMI is an important part of the workforce development chain."

DMI teaches one-year intensive animation and visual effects programs, video game development and a two-year degree in digital marketing at its Shreveport campus. The animation and visual effects program is available online day or night and through satellite programs at Northwestern State, the University of New Orleans and Nunez Community College.

“Andru came to us and asked us to train people,” Miralles said. “We are honored that he believes in our program and the graduates that come from DMI.”

Rich Hansil, interim executive director at the Robinson, also teaches a class on becoming a production assistant that will be part of the pipeline as well. Hansil began his 20-plus year film career as a production assistant (PA) on the set of “Armageddon,” and he continues to work in the industry.

"PAs are foundation on which a film is built," Hansil said. "They do every job on set. Having good ones is a great way to have people come back into town."

Hansil knows the importance of having a skilled workforce for a sustainable film industry.

"Those tax credits are not super valuable without a workforce," he said. "If we develop our crew, we are going to give (productions) every reason to come to Shreveport."

Eric Gibson is a Shreveport filmmaker currently working on a project in the area. He is eager to see the film industry return in force and take advantage of the facilities at the Millennium Studios building.

"Having Millennium here was a great anchor to get the larger productions into town," Gibson said. "Those larger productions really helped train a good crew base for a period of time. That went away when (former Gov. Bobby) Jindal suspended the buyback program and all the productions went to Atlanta and New York. We were left with Millennium, and they were charging the same rates they were charging the big-budget guys. Getting studio space wasn't an option for us as lowbudget filmmakers."

To fund the purchase, the city used $2.5 million in federal money with a Housing and Urban Development designation related to the Choice Neighborhoods redevelopment project going on in that area. In December, the Shreveport City Council approved $3.8 million of the funding, much of that from federal American Rescue Plan funds allocated for economic development. Community Development Block Grant funds filled in the gaps, Mouton said.

Troubled Muse will pay a normal lease rate, Mouton said. SUSLA and SRAC will pay operating costs as well. No taxpayer dollars were used to purchase the building, and Mouton does not expect to cost taxpayers for ongoing maintenance.

"We expect this to produce some surplus cash as soon as it is fully occupied," he said.

Miralles said the pandemic-driven spike in demand for content makes this an opportune time for such a collaboration.

"The industry is white hot right now," Miralles said. "There's so much content being produced all over the country. The workforce demand outstrips the supply. Our students come out ready to go to work. We show their work to the major studios, and they ask, 'When can we get more?' We have an overall placement rate of 84% for all our programs, and employers really know that they can plug our grads right in."

Gibson said increased demand for content on various platforms presents an excellent opportunity for Shreveport.

"Having a place where people who are interested in the business can go to learn and maybe get on projects is huge," he said. "That's exactly how I learned is by getting on these crews. It's also very important because we all keep waiting for the film industry to come back and bring their big productions here. But at the end of the day, they leave.

"It's gonna take locals. The opportunity is there for us. There is demand for content right now. And you don't have to be in L.A. It's cheaper to make a movie here. In order for it to be real and survive, we have to facilitate the low-budget filmmakers."

The goal, Mouton said, is to bring back industry workers who have left while retaining the talent that remains here.

"We need to find ways to encourage our local writers, producers, content makers, to make their valuable things here," he said. "We don't build industry just by being a service provider to an itinerant movie that comes in for three months and leaves."


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