NEW ORLEANS — Universal Pictures has had such a good run making movies in Louisiana that the studio is returning to the Bayou State next month for the making of its next big project — an action thriller with sci-fi elements and starring Tom Cruise.
The name of the project and other details are under wraps, but one thing Universal executives are willing to say is that Louisiana has served them well when it comes to making movies.
Louisiana was the filming site of such Universal projects as 2005's "The Skeleton Key" with Kate Hudson; 2009's "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant" with John C. Reilly and Salma Hayek; the now-showing action film "Contraband" starring Mark Wahlberg; and the sci-fi action film "Battleship," which is due out in theaters on May 18.
"It is a wonderful place to make films," said Andrew Fenady, Universal's president of physical production, who oversees all aspects of physical production, including budgeting, scheduling, hiring crews and managing day-to-day operations.
Filming on the untitled Tom Cruise project is set to begin mid-March in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Fenady said. The film will co-star actresses Andrea Riseborough and Olga Kurylenko. Filming will last a little more than a month in Baton Rouge and just under two weeks in New Orleans.
It won't be Cruise's first time working in Louisiana, but it will be the "Mission Impossible" star's first time back for film work in a while. Cruise starred with Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst in 1994's "Interview with a Vampire," which was filmed in New Orleans and other parts of south Louisiana.
Cruise will be joining a growing list of A-list actors working in Louisiana this year.
Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley are expected to arrive next month for the filming of "Ender's Game," an adaptation by Summit Entertainment of Orson Scott Card's best-selling novel of the same name.
Diane Slattery, a spokeswoman for the project, said production on "Ender's Game" will begin in New Orleans in March and run through June.
Actor and comedian Will Ferrell has been in Louisiana for weeks for the filming of "Dog Fight," and he'll be in New Orleans the Sunday before Mardi Gras to reign as the god of wine during the Bacchus parade Feb. 19.
Other movies filming in New Orleans are "Broken City," with Wahlberg and Russell Crowe and "Now You See M," with Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg. The Quentin Tarantino-directed film "Django Unchained," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Jamie Foxx, is set to begin filming in New Orleans this month.
Besides the state's generous film tax credit program, Louisiana's film infrastructure with its deep crew base and numerous studios attract movie-makers, Fenady said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
While there are other states offering film tax incentives, Louisiana is unique because of the stability and longevity of its program, Fenady said.
Louisiana's tax credit program was launched in 2002 and has since hosted hundreds of film and TV projects. In 2009, the state decided to make its tax credit permanent and increase the benefits to 30 percent. Originally, the statute cut the incentive to 20 percent with plans to eventually reduce it again to 15 percent.
Chris Stelly, head of the state agency that promotes Louisiana's film, theater, music and digital media industries, said the state's move to make the incentives permanent at 30 percent has helped to steady and grow the industry.
"It sent a message that we are here to stay, that Louisiana is a reliable place to do business," he said.
Since the film tax credits were introduced, movie production hubs have popped up in cities across the state, including Shreveport, Lafayette and Baton Rouge although New Orleans continues to see most of the activity. Last year roughly 45 projects — almost half of all those filmed in the state — were shot in the New Orleans area.