When Aviation Director Kevin Dolliole examines the largely abandoned former South Terminal at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, he sees a future cargo and aircraft maintenance operation flourishing with offices and distribution facilities.
But until that transformation begins, he’s happy to see her as what the film and TV production industry wants it to be.
As the production industry reboots after lying dormant for much of the coronavirus pandemic, many have noticed that New Orleans is in possession of a rare and valuable asset: a vast empty movie set ready. to play the role of airport – or whatever decorator can propose – in any number of TV shows and movies.
In recent months, it has been used to film airport and office scenes, a sniper attack, and even a skateboard competition.
“It’s a gem that we have,” said Elston Howard, director of the New Orleans-based location, who used the empty terminal for scenes in the films “Girls Trip” and “Jack Reacher: Never Go. Back “, with Tom Cruise.
Howard worked at the local business for about 30 years and said he spread the word to his contacts in Hollywood.
“It’s like having an airport as a backlot,” he said.
In the production industry, an empty facility – a hospital, school, or airport – can be a boon as it can be used without many of the restrictions and limitations imposed by its use in the real world. But they are often dirty, run down or dangerous.
Not only is the Old South Terminal clean, lighted and powered, it has everything a production could need to quickly stage an airport scene – ticket counters, customs offices, baggage carousels – as well as enough space to build any other indoor location for other scenes.
Lisa Latter, a location manager, was at the South Terminal on Monday filming an exterior shot for the upcoming sixth season of the “Queen Sugar” television show. Filming will wrap up this week, but “if we had had another scene (to shoot) we definitely would have done it there,” she said. “You can do an office scene or the interior of a house. You build two walls and you have a kitchen. You know, the magic of cinema.
“It’s very unique,” said Kate King, a site manager who has worked all seven seasons of “NCIS: New Orleans” and recently shot a scene at the airport involving a sniper in a field. tour for the show’s final season. “There isn’t a place in the city that has so much parking, so much square footage, and (seclusion) that you need. He really has enormous potential.
Howard, Latter, and King are no strangers to staging productions in the South Terminal, but they mostly worked in the old Hall A space, which closed about 10 years ago. And the filming took place while the rest of the terminal was running, which has many limitations in terms of access, security, parking availability and other obstacles in a company that already has no shortage of deadlines and narrow windows.
There is still a certain level of security to manage, but it’s not as rigid as filming in an active terminal. Crew members don’t have to park far away, and shots in spaces with planes and the general public aren’t limited to odd hours of the night. Filming at a busy airport, especially now that travel is starting to pick up with Memorial Day weekend, is fraught with challenges.
“It makes the whole process so much smoother,” Latter said of the filming of “Queen Sugar”. “We had parking for the crew and we could walk across the street. “
A few weeks ago, Red Bull used the facility for its “Terminal Takeover”, converting features such as the baggage carousel, escalators and support pillars into ramps and platforms for towers. Teams of five skaters and a cameraman came from southern towns to film themselves doing stunts that could earn them $ 5,000.
“Airports are always kind of like a holy grail place to skate, but you’re not allowed to,” said Josh Greene, president of Throwing Star Collective, the production partner of Red Bull Terminal Takeover. “This was our first airport construction or takeover. It just doesn’t exist in a lot of places, especially at this level.
The airport has earned more than $ 500,000 making facilities available to film production since 2015, including installments from “Jurassic World”, “Terminator”, “NCIS” and “Treme.” The pandemic hampered the production industry shortly after the South Terminal became fully available with the move to the $ 1.2 billion North Terminal in late 2019, but Dolliole said it was resuming.
“We’re getting a lot more phone calls now,” he said.
However, access to the full terminal will not last forever. The New Orleans Aviation Board has taken the first steps to transform the 1.2 million square foot facility into its next permanent incarnation, an air cargo and aircraft maintenance hangar. The board recently selected Jacobson & Daniels from a pool of candidates and will vote to approve the contract once Dolliole’s office finishes negotiating it. The company will spend the next 18 to 24 months developing a master plan for building the 200-acre property over the next two decades.
“All of this needs to be mapped out, but the vast majority of our area is going to be consumed by aeronautical (uses),” Dolliole said, adding that ancillary users could be distributors and a back-office space for companies that use the property.
Dolliole said the expected growth in air cargo fueled by Amazon, which has distribution centers in New Orleans and is building more facilities in Baton Rouge, bodes well for the South Terminal as the airport is the only its size at 300 miles.
“Airports across the country are seeing an increase in traffic in this arena, and I see that we are also taking full advantage of it,” he said. “I can see an aircraft maintenance facility here for sure. “
Dolliole said the old Halls A and B should be demolished, although that is still at least a year away.
Hall D, which served Delta and is the most recent of the South Terminal facilities, will be retained and used for charter activities. The future of Hall C is less clear, although it is currently used as part of an emergency operations center, so it is not on the same demolition schedule as A and B, as the he airport sees it as the first area to be redeveloped.
Dolliole said the old long-term parking garage will continue to be the new economic land and the old short-term garage will continue to serve as a parking lot for employees and workers redeveloping the south side.