Videogame production growing down South By BASHIRAH MUTTALIB

Baton Rouge boasts its share of Louisiana film and TV production as well as a growing vidgame development industry.

Electronic Arts is setting up a testing center on LSU’s South Campus to ensure consumer readiness for its “Madden NFL” franchise, “Tiger Woods PGA Tour” game and “NCAA Football” series. Baton Rouge is banking on the success of this enterprise to launch a digital research complex for similar companies on the university’s 200-acre South Campus.

Vidgame developers Nerjyzed Entertainment and Yatec Games have also added their titles to the city’s production roster.

Yatec’s president, Dean Majoue, evacuated his New Orleans home and business in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita. He created Yatec with a vision of participating in the development of Louisiana’s growing entertainment industry and supporting the post-hurricane revitalization of the area.

Yatec, creators of “I.Q. Identity Quest,” offers services in Web design, custom animations, 3-D modeling, simulations and training programs.

Nerjyzed Entertainment is a privately held videogame and 3-D animation development and publishing company and the creator of “BCFx,” the Black College Football Experience vidgame. The once Dallas-based company is now headquartered in Baton Rouge.

CEO Jacqueline Beauchamp and partner Frederick Johnson founded Nerjyzed in 2003 with a team whose track record included entertainment, sports and videogaming as well as degrees from historically black colleges and universities. Their goal, according to Beauchamp, is to “continue infusing the videogame and publishing industry with positive content related to the urban lifestyle.”

Vidgame development is an ever-burgeoning industry, and Baton Rouge recognizes its growth as an added draw to the city’s production base.

“One additional key point to highlight regarding this industry is that successful startup videogame studios are typically targets for acquisitions from large publishing companies like EA, Midway, Sony, etc.,” said Beauchamp. “Therefore, building strong workforce, infrastructure and incentive programs will show the industry that Baton Rouge is serious about the videogaming industry. The key thing that must be highlighted is — assuming that the new startup studios will be successful and acquisitions occur — the city of Baton Rouge wants to insure that there is a strong industry support to retain the companies in Baton Rouge.”

Bolstering the city’s production infrastructure are new post-production companies and soundstage facilities such as Celtic Media Center, River Road Creative, Louisiana Media Services and Louisiana Media Prods.

“The collective economic impact of these new entities is currently being determined,” said Baton Rouge Film Commission executive director Amy Mitchell-Smith. “But the benefits of permanent jobs creation, strong local wages, competitive infrastructure, high tech equipment purchases and capital investment are considerable.”

Celtic Media Center, partnered and managed by Raleigh Studios, is a full service 20-acre complex providing services and support personnel for film, TV, musicvids and vidgames. The facility’s 35,000-square-foot O’Connor Building houses administrative offices, post-production and 4,057-square-foot and 6,500-square-foot soundstages.

Baton Rouge hosts a healthy film/TV production roster, with projected revenues of more than $67 million for 2007 (total in-state spend will be finalized in 2008). Room revenue for 7,000 nights amounted to a direct spend of $490,000.

Pics such as “I Love You Phillip Morris,” “Nine Dead,” “The Open Road,” “Cirque du Freak,” “The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice,” “Yellow Handkerchief,” “Middle of Nowhere” and “The Way of War” lensed in the city, while additional photography for “Jumper,” “Miracle at St. Anna” and “Cadillac Records” was done in Baton Rouge.

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The relatively young film commission for Northeast Louisiana is open and ready for business.

ESPN docu series “Varsity, Inc.” recently lensed in the area, and a second season is in the works.

“The football atmosphere was perfect for what we needed in West Monroe, not to mention the beautiful scenery,” said Horizon Entertainment and Prods.’ Jason Geigerman. “The hospitality shown to us made us want to never leave.”

Northeast Louisiana’s universities, Louisiana Tech, Grambling State and the U. of Louisiana at Monroe, in addition to its high schools, offer a mixture of old and new looks, as well as period architecture, and they are often the site for live coverage of events for ESPN, CSTV, Cox Sports and other sports networks.

The cities, like the schools, vary in location appeal. Monroe offers art deco and craftsman styles, while its small towns, hard-bottom bayous, lakes and rivers, piney forests and agricultural terrains can pass for just about anywhere.

“The same great state tax incentives apply in our area,” said Sheila Snow, communications director, Monroe-West Monroe Convention Visitors Bureau. “During the recent hurricanes, our 13 Northeast Louisiana parishes experienced no lost work days. Area government agencies are ready and willing to assist productions, and our commission is dedicated to eliminating any red tape.”

Northeast Louisiana’s proximity to the South’s major highway, I-20, and an airport serviced by major airlines, in addition to more than 2,000 hotel rooms and corporate housing, add to its production appeal.

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