Residents want HBO’s ‘Treme’ out of neighborhood

Published 12:14 am Sunday, March 28, 2010

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As New Orleans revels under the label of ‘‘Hollywood South,’’ attracting film crews, celebrities, and convoys of big trucks to the region with the promise of tax incentives and incomparable scenery stretching from Audubon Park to the Lower 9th Ward, one neighborhood isn’t welcoming the limelight.

In a riverside block of Lowerline Street, some neighbors say the limelight is an onslaught of cameras, lights, noise and parking problems caused by the HBO original series ‘‘Treme’’.

Set in immediately post-Katrina New Orleans, ‘‘Treme’’ intends to tell the city’s recovery story through fictional characters drawn from some of the men and women who live and work in and around the local culture of second-line musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, cooks and chefs and music fiends.

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‘‘Treme’’ shot a pilot episode last spring, and returned in November to start filming nine more episodes. Fee Nah Nay, the production company, said it had only two episodes left to film as of Monday, when a 36-hour stretch of shooting began at 5 a.m.

HBO is scheduled to premiere David Simon’s pilot on April 11. Simon also created ‘‘The Wire’’ — a six-season HBO series that some critics compared to Dickens.

Since November, on a modest stretch of shotgun homes called Black Pearl on some city maps and known by others as the Uptown Triangle, ‘‘Treme’’ has rented a 2,700-square foot Craftsman-style corner house, creating early awakenings for neighbors who walk outside to find an array of strangers.

About 40 neighbors have signed a petition for a fast exit of trucks, lights, crew and hangers-on.

But advertising executive Rodney Montz, who rents to Fee Nah Nay, shrugs off the signers as a few grumpy neighbors who don’t see the big picture.

‘‘It’s 10 to 15 days out of a 365-day calendar,’’ Montz said. ‘‘It’s not at all like living next to Clancy’s or next to any business.’’

Montz, 47, publisher of The Levee, a satirical monthly newspaper, said the production company asked him if it could use the house as the onscreen home of a university professor played by John Goodman.

Montz was then board chairman of the Uptown Triangle Neighborhood Association, but said that had nothing to do the rental.

‘‘Everyone would have taken the deal,’’ said Montz, ‘‘There is a residual effect this can have for the city. I can’t put a price on it. If it weren’t my house, it would be someone else’s house.’’

Lois Pruski, who has lived in the neighborhood for 18 years, said someone else might have done more for other residents.

‘‘My problem is he is inconveniencing the ’hood while he gets his money,’’ she said. ‘‘Mr. Montz has no regard for his neighbors. I have a Tudor revival and I’d be glad to let them use my home. And I’d make sure that the neighborhood is compensated for their inconvenience.’’

Pruski said she herself isn’t too bothered by the filming, but the local elementary school and neighbors who lack driveways aren’t as lucky.

On a recent Saturday, the Treme crew asked her to stop doing yard work while they shot a scene, Pruski said.

‘‘First they offered to hire a landscaper; Then they offered me $300 cash to unplug my equipment,’’ she said. ‘‘I told them, ’You could take half of what you’re giving to Mr. Montz and divide it among my neighbors.’ There was no response.’’

Associate producer Laura Schweigman said on-location filming like that in and around Montz’s house is far more authentic than a soundstage.

‘‘We want to show what New Orleans really is,’’ Schweigman said. ‘‘One of our characters lives Uptown. We want to get the real New Orleans. It’s better to film at a real location than try to recreate it.’’

She said location managers work hard to soften the ‘‘unavoidable inconveniences’’ such as trucks taking up off-street parking. It makes the work day longer for crews, she added.

‘‘We are careful to make a small footprint,’’ she said. ‘‘We don’t bring all of our trucks (to Lowerline). We locate parking for residents. We know it’s tight.’’

As compensation, locations manager Virginia McCollam has promised the Lowerline neighborhood playground equipment and offered to host a barbecue in the nearby park.

Attorney Maria Auzenne started the petition.

‘‘’Treme’ is causing a lot of pressure. We’re already too congested,’’ she said.

‘‘Eighteen-wheelers park outside our doors all day long,’’ said Auzenne, who also praised a ‘‘Treme’’ locations manager for responding to complaints of parking problems and a generator parked outside her home.

‘‘Our taxes pay for that street,’’ Auzenne said. ‘‘We have some right to be able to have a peaceful environment. We’re supporting the film industry, we’re asking the film industry to support us. Use our soundstages.’’

New Orleans makes location shooting easy.

No permit is needed, just a request by City Hall to check in. The three-employee film office fields complaints, calls and questions, and acts as a liaison for disgruntled residents wondering when street parking will be available.

Crews must abide by parking regulations and the rules of any agency responsible for a given location, said Jennifer Day, director of the city’s Office of Film and Video. Filming in Jackson Square, for example, requires strict compliance with the parks department.

‘‘They call it ’film-friendly,’’’ said Day. And, she said, that’s a big advantage New Orleans has over California and other areas with strict guidelines.

Day said she has visited the Lowerline Street location in response to complaints, which she said aren’t uncommon.

Gripers ‘‘tend to be a lot more vocal than the thousands of residents in the city who support the film industry,’’ said Day. ‘‘We are talking about a million-dollar industry.’’

In 2008, film projects generated $230 million in New Orleans, Day has said.

She said with an incoming mayoral administration led by Mitch Landrieu, who helped encourage Louisiana to welcome the film industry as lieutenant governor, the city is a ‘‘work in progress’’ when it comes to possible rules and regulations on film production.

‘‘We as a city have to make some decisions about what kind of impact is tolerable and what is intolerable,’’ said Day.

Some New Orleans neighborhoods have already set limits.

The Garden District Association won’t let film crews show up before 7 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends and limits any one location to four days at a time and twice a year, with at least four months between production.

No filming is allowed on holidays, including Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day. Also, the association ‘‘asks’’ for a daily donation — averaging $500 — ‘‘to preserve the beauty and integrity of the neighborhood.’’

Despite complaints, film production generates its share of excitement for many New Orleans residents.

‘‘It makes me feel important, like I live in a real city,’’ said Nicole Polichano, a junior at Tulane University who moved to New Orleans from south Florida a year ago. ‘‘It makes me proud to be from New Orleans.’’

Polichano, 21, said her apartment is about a block from the filming.

‘‘I’m right by the catering truck,’’ she said.

She said she leaves early in the morning for classes, so she avoids the added traffic and noise.

Polichano enjoys recalling how ‘‘Treme’’ sent out flyers about a year ago warning residents that the production would be placing ‘‘Katrina fridges,’’ code for the ruined refrigerators dumped outside in wake of Hurricane Katrina, around the Uptown neighborhood.

‘‘They told us not to get post-traumatic stress disorder,’’ Polichano said.