Thursday, February 26, 2009

IN THE ELECTRIC MIST


Yesterday, I went to a matinee of the movie version of IN THE ELECTRIC MIST WITH THE CONFEDERATE DEAD, a mystery written by New Iberia’s native son and best-selling author, James Lee Burke. My primary interest in the movie was to see the locations and scenery that the director had selected from sites recommended by my good friend Janet Faulk who had shown the film crew locations for movie scenes.

Janet, who lives in an apartment in my backyard, is a woman who has always admired the name “Scout,” the name of the young girl in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (her favorite novel and movie), and earned that name in the list of credits at the conclusion of the movie. A former CEA for the previous New Iberia City government and now President of the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce, Janet was hired to work with the production company of IN THE ELECTRIC MIST through a personal endorsement made by her friend Greg Guirard, a nature writer and photographer who lives in the Atchafalaya Basin. Intrigued by the idea of “sense of place,” Janet has an intuitive ability to find appropriate places for things to happen in Acadiana, and the majority of the scenes in ELECTRIC MIST are her “finds.”

The story line of this movie centers on a Hollywood crew coming to town to produce a Civil War film. The movie stars Tommy Lee Jones as Dave Robicheaux, the fictional New Iberia detective who tries to link the murder of a New Iberia woman to a New Orleans mobster returning to his home town. Shots of downtown New Iberia, St. Martinville, and environs give the movie cultural authenticity, and Janet traces the effect produced to the movie company’s goal of looking not for New Iberia’s most beautiful scenery, not for a history lesson, not even for the purest sense of culture, but to tell a story,” to create a medium for James Lee Burke’s novel,” she said. “Rather than ask to see historic landmarks, they wanted to see places like a house with a long driveway…a strip of rural road with water on both sides.” Janet remembers her most humorous morning working as a scout as one in which she looked at her schedule for the day and discovered she’d have to search for morgues and men’s restrooms. Some of her sites involved weeks of searching, but other searches revealed perfect locations during the space of one long day.

When the last James Lee Burke novel became a movie, it was filmed in New Orleans but its authentic setting should have been New Iberia, so producers of IN THE ELECTRIC MIST decided to film in Iberia Parish and four other Acadiana parishes. Janet says that they wanted to create the film in its indigenous setting and this drove the creative process to keep the integrity of the story intact. The film company also used existing property rather than building sets. This made Janet’s job a bit harder and the search daily became more intense for her. However, most of the locations were within a thirty mile radius of the Queen City on the Teche. Scenes were shot in locations along the West Atchafalaya Basin levee from Catahoula, Louisiana to ten miles south of the Charenton Boat landing near Charenton, Louisiana. A few of the scenes were shot in New Orleans.

I was in New Iberia when “Scout” Janet worked on the scene sighting and know that for several months she worked from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., and longer. Some nights she “scouted” for good restaurants to feed the movie crew, especially for those that offered crawfish. Some days she worked alone, and other days she traveled in a van with crew members and showed them sites they had chosen from photos or description. She was challenged to find the most authentic looking house of Dave Robicheaux, the movie’s hero, and spent several days riding along LA Highways 14 and 347.

When Janet summarized her experience about her job as” Scout,” she praised area people: “One thing I already knew about the people I encountered while scouting for movie sites is that their personal character is very similar to southern Alabamians (she’s a native Alabamian) in that they’re generous and helpful…hospitable as southerners can genuinely be.”

One of the interesting aspects of attending the movie, IN THE ELECTRIC MIST, in a New Iberia theatre is that you get to sit near your friends and hear them exclaiming over, or wondering where certain area sites are. I came away thinking that the movie was an unbeatable combination of good writing, good production, good acting, but, most of all, great location work by “Scout” Faulk (pictured above).
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