Pathways to Gold
In St. Bernard Parish, Jason Waggenspack and Sidney Torres III broaden the playing field with a world-class facility for Louisiana-shot films.
ther than disappointment over the second-biggest movie of 2015, Jurassic World, not getting a single Oscar nomination (not even for visual effects!), all of the other Louisiana-shot movies that managed to be nominated for the gold were thankfully without controversy. The Feb. 28 Academy Awards were otherwise veiled with outrage. The #OscarSoWhite trending hashtag that resumed after black actors and directors were shut out of all Oscar nominations for the second year in a row inspired host Chris Rock to lighten things up by Tweeting, “It’s the white BET awards, dang!” Rev. Al Sharpton crusaded a national “tune-out.”
Celebrated director Spike Lee took another approach. He suggested starting a program like the NFL, where teams are obligated to interview minority candidates. Glaring omissions among Oscar noms included Will Smith (Concussion), Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) and Michael B. Jordan (aka Adonis Johnson, in Creed). The controversy resulted in various A-list stars boycotting the 88th annual awards, including Lee. But the red carpet was still dazzling.
It was encouraging to see that this year, one of Louisiana’s star-studded locally filmed features, based on a book by New Orleans author Michael Lewis, landed in the best picture hat for the Academy’s top award. Even though Hollywood South didn’t come away with a pile of gold Oscar statuettes, Brad Pitt’s The Big Short held a seat at the grown-ups table with an impressive five Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture), topping all the other Louisiana-shot movies of 2015.
Industry leaders are hopeful that Louisiana fares better on the Feb. 26, 2017 red carpet. Jason Waggenspack is among those optimistic powerhouse Hollywood South visionaries devoted to making such dreams possible. He has played a part in the biggest films to hit Louisiana.
“I believe inspiring creativity is our calling,” says the energetic founder of The Ranch, a sprawling new world-class film studio located in St. Bernard Parish. “I want to help people realize their greatest imaginations while building a film-friendly community.”
The Baton Rouge native, whose recent projects have included Terminator: Genysis, Deepwater Horizon and Daddy’s Home, has partnered with St. Bernard resident, attorney Sydney Torres III, to create The Ranch film studios in Chalmette. The state-of-the-art complex provides one of the largest film production facilities in Louisiana. It encompasses 22 acres, and includes more than 210,000 square-feet of production space and 20,000 square-feet of high-end office space. Further expansions are underway.
“Some of our unique features at The Ranch include our Advantage Program were we have formed brand alliances in an effort to give our customers significant discounts on things they need for every day production,” Waggenspack explains. He was busy coordinating multiple projects including Billionaire Boys Club (Kevin Spacey) and Mena (Tom Cruise) when Louisiana Life spoke with him about the new facility that is generating a buzz among Hollywood directors and producers.
Waggenspack served as locations manager for such blockbusters as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (he shut down a major intersection of downtown New Orleans for six weeks to shoot the human colony) and Twilight: Breaking Dawn, to name a few. He founded Neutral Ground Films in 2007 and has since produced hit television series set in New Orleans, while also co-directing indie movies.
“Here at The Ranch, we are trying to create a new model for the state,” he explains. “It’s a model that not only makes money, but also gives back to the community on many levels. We see The Ranch brand as a creative story that is unfolding. My vision has always been to have filmmakers serving filmmakers.”
The Ranch began in 2014 when Waggenspack took over two formerly blighted big-box stores in Chalmette. “I stumbled upon the real estate while scouting the film Terminator: Genysis. I was introduced to Sydney Torres III, and shortly after getting to know each other, we decided to go into business together. With extensive experience in location scouting, we offer clients initial location scouting services to help draw their projects not only to The Ranch, but also to Louisiana.”
Regarding future plans, Waggenspack reveals, “The Ranch has its sights set on expansion with additional purpose-built sound stages and completing a campus that serves as a breeding ground for visual artist poets and filmmakers. We also have set our sights on producing, and have begun humble conversations with the needed partnerships.”
As the facility continues to attract more A-list actors and directors to south Louisiana, going for Oscar gold will undoubtedly intensify. “We are currently courting several major blockbusters while also housing independent films,” he adds. Hopefully by next year, Academy taste will have shown more racial diversity, and the money men will continue to greenlight inspired Louisiana-based films long past the tent-poles of summer.