Houma goes Hollywood with the ‘The Hot Flashes’

Chabert staff worry about community loss
February 14, 2012
The Heart of a Lion
February 14, 2012

Few people gathered downtown in Houma Monday morning as production crews working on a motion picture featuring multiple well-known actresses readied cameras and microphones.

“The Hot Flashes” stars Brooke Shields, Wanda Sykes, Daryl Hannah, Melanie Griffith and Camryn Manheim. Production, based in New Orleans, broke from the Crescent City for a one-day shoot at Le Petit Theatre de Terrebonne, or as it’s referred to in the movie, the “Christian Women’s Center.”

For one morning under an overcast sky, Houma rubberneckers in the never-ending line of traffic down a one-lane-only Main Street could have caught a glimpse of Shields. That was enough to coerce a couple of people to stand across the street.

“I think it’s actually cool because I know the movie stars from movies I have at home,” said Morgan Wren, a 10-year-old who snapped several photographs while skipping a morning of school from Lisa Park Elementary.

Morgan said she knew Shields from “Furry Vengeance,” a 2010 family comedy. She is also familiar with Wanda Sykes, who lent her voice to “Over the Hedge.”

“She’s star struck,” said Millie Wren, Morgan’s grandmother.

Tommy Guarisco, owner of two downtown Houma buildings, watched the film crew work from a seat on the Downtown Balcony staircase.

“(I) wanted to take a good look at Brooke,” Guarisco said. “I thought she was taller.”

Guarisco owns the Thatcher Place and Haydel Drug Store buildings. He’s also on a downtown revitalization committee and said the filming has put a “spotlight on Houma” that could facilitate more local productions.

“With all the movies being shot in Louisiana, we might get a share of it,” he said.

The state’s allocation of tax credits on purchases made in and employees hired from within Louisiana boundaries has helped the industry blossom in the Bayou State.

Louisiana ranks third in film and television production nationwide and has produced more than 300 motion pictures, including films, television series, commercials and documentaries, since 2006, according to LouisianaEntertainment.gov.

Shields was the only star in Houma, according to a production representative.

Karen Schilling, president of the board at Le Petit Theatre de Terrebonne, said the film’s producers reached out to her to use the theater after scouting the location. Not much of the interior was changed, she said, and producers “really loved the theater.”

The theater is in the midst of producing “Cover of Life,” a play Schilling directs that will debut March 1. The building is unique in that the stage shares the same room as the audience, so set construction cannot be hidden behind layers of curtains. Because of this, the theater director was wary that changes to the set would hinder her own production.

But the theater was able to reach an agreement with producers, who paid a fee to use the building for one day. The proceeds will go toward refurbishing the theater, a task that has to be balanced with keeping in line with the historic allure, Schilling said.

Schilling was also one of a couple of dozen extras, who identified themselves as middle-aged women, to be whisked into the theater before 8 a.m. Monday.

“The Hot Flashes” is a comedy about a basketball team consisting of “underappreciated middle-aged” Texas women, who had won state championships. The older women are thrust into a rivalry with the current, “arrogant,” state champs and play them in a series of games with the proceeds being donated to charity.

Susan Seidelman is directing the film. The 59-year-old Philadelphia native directed three episodes of “Sex and the City,” and is probably best known for her 1985 film “Desperately Seeking Susan.”

Beads from the previous weekend’s Mardi Gras festivities were scattered on the pavement across the street from the theater, which was outfitted with a new sign and posters on the doors hiding the building’s name.

Filming was expected to move to a makeshift bait shop behind Fabregas Music.

Perhaps it was a bottleneck caused by shutting down one lane of Main Street for about a block, but motorists with tilted heads drove by the scene in a steady stream all morning.

More likely, the overcast sky, chilly weather, bevy of street-side production trucks and the fact that most morning shooting took place behind closed door prodded people to ride by instead of gather.

“I’ve been living here all my life, and I’ve never seen so much friggen traffic on Main Street,” 65-year-old Mike Plessala said.

Brooke Shields takes a drink during a break in filming “The Hot
Flashes” outside of Le Petit Theatre de Terrebonne in downtown