Before moving to New Orleans, I was aware that the film and television industry was thriving in Louisiana. I’d seen films that were set here, and I knew that a great deal of films were shot or being shot in and around the city. But I didn’t fully understand the importance of the making of movies in New Orleans until my first week living here.
I was enjoying happy hour at a bar Uptown when one of the regulars requested that the program on the television be switched from ESPN to the nightly news — and that’s when I saw my first “Hollywood South” report. Maybe I’d heard that term before, but I’d never seen the ongoing film projects in New Orleans and greater Louisiana presented in such a pronounced manner: where and when things were being shot as well as footage of the production. I was enthralled.
In no particular order, here are are just a few select highlights from the extensive list:
Films Shot in New Orleans (TV Shows, too)
American Horror Story: Coven (2013)
In compiling this list, American Horror Story: Coven jumped out as one of the productions with perhaps the most recognizable New Orleans locations. There’s the spectacular Buckner Mansion — at 1410 Jackson Ave. — that attracts locals and tour groups alike. The Crescent City Connection bridge features in that season, as do two of the city’s finest places to eat and drink: Atchafalaya (an Uptown restaurant that serves delicious Louisiana fare) and Cure (a firehouse that was converted into one of the best spots for cocktails in New Orleans). One of the most memorable settings in the show might be the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital at 6000—6098 Tchoupitoulas Street. It’s definitely not as creepy during daylight hours.
I think I wore out my parents’ VCR as a kid watching this film, which may have also been the first time I saw New Orleans represented on screen. A number of years before I’d even been into a bar, I thought one of the settings in the film looked like the coolest places I’d ever seen. I didn’t find out until fairly recently that the exterior shots were of the Napoleon House (500 Chartres Street in the French Quarter). Even at 11 years old, I wanted to go there.
Like Coven, JFK is rich in identifiable New Orleans landmarks: there is, for example, the sequence where Kevin Costner, playing former District Attorney of Orleans Parish Jim Garrison, wanders around Lafayette Square and begins to explain his theory of the conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. And then there’s the brief scene at the Fairgrounds Racetrack at 1751 Gentilly Boulevard, as well as short sequence outside a restaurant at St. Louis Avenue and Royal Street.
Burnt is the story of a talented young chef whose career in Paris’ hottest restaurants— due to a series of bad decisions — is in free-fall. He relocates to New Orleans and has a very specific penance in mind: he intends to shuck one million oysters before embarking on a trip to reengage his culinary career in London. The restaurant where he undertakes his massive goal is Casamento’s, a place famous for its fresh oysters and oyster sandwiches that is located on Magazine Street. (Note: the basketball court at the corner of Magazine Street and Napoleon Avenue is also briefly featured in Burnt!)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Much of this film was shot in New Orleans and surrounding areas, but the most memorable location of the film would be the 7,800-square-foot mansion at 2707 Coliseum Street. The so-called “Benjamin Button house” has become a staple of walking tours in the Garden District. Looming over the street, the house has been a (massive) home for three generations of the Nolan family (the granddaughter of the first Nolan owner, Ashley, plays a doctor in the film). When the house was put up for auction, bidding started at $2.85 million, which seems right for one of the city’s most beautiful homes.
The Pelican Brief (1993)
I’d be remiss to not include a film whose main character is a Tulane student; and it’d be wrong to avoid the film adaptation of the work of the South’s great genre writers, John Grisham. Starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts, The Pelican Brief is a typical Grisham gumbo of political intrigue and legal wrangling, and it features two very specific New Orleans spaces: there are shots from inside a Tulane University classroom (for visitors, Tulane is at 6823 St. Charles Avenue) and Spanish Plaza on Canal Street.
The Pelican Brief is a gumbo of political intrigue and legal wrangling, and it features two very specific New Orleans spaces.
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
While Tennessee Williams play has the French Quarter as its central location, the largest use of a real New Orleans location is this city’s train station. Next time you watch this classic American film — and hear Stanley holler “Stella! . . . Stella!” —remember that he’s not on a street in theFrench Quarter, but rather on a set in California. I think that in some way speaks to Marlon Brando’s skill set — he didn’t need the sights, sounds, and smells of the Quarter to deliver this seismic performance.
The Magicians (2015)
This television show about a group of students who are selected to join a secretive academy is based on a popular novel by Lev Grossman. Full disclosure: I’ve never read the novel nor have I seen the show. However, driving home after a long day, my route home was interrupted by their filming; the set looked fascinating from my idling car. Parts of the pilot were shot in 2014 at the Round Table Club, a 19th-century mansion adjoining Audubon Park (not a bad place to start a series) and Half Moon, a beloved — if dive-y — local bar.
“You have to watch the tropical foliage. That ain’t in Dallas.” — Matthew McConaughey on the New Orleans-filmed Dallas Buyers Club
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
I’m not sure if I am more amazed by the fact that Dallas Buyers Club—one of my favorite films of the last few years—was filmed exclusively in New Orleans (despite that Texan metropolis being name-checked in film’s title and the central place of the city in the film’s narrative) or the fact that this Oscar-winning film was shot in 25 days with about 15 minutes for each take.
This was not the first time that the film’s star, Matthew McConaughey, had been involved in a film where New Orleans functioned as a stand-in for Dallas; 2011’s Killer Joe was also shot pretty much exclusively in New Orleans. However, there’s significant skill involved in making New Orleans look like somewhere else. “You have to watch the tropical foliage,” McConaughey told The Dallas Morning News. “That ain’t in Dallas,” he said. “In some places you can see the humidity and the mildew and the overgrowth where mother nature takes over in New Orleans.”