Behind the scenes on New Orleans film tours

NEW ORLEANS Fri Dec 30, 2011 8:18am EST

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - It's been more than 50 years since Blanche DuBois in the play "A Streetcar Named Desire" wistfully declared that she had "always depended on the kindness of strangers."

Now, a local tour service in New Orleans is bringing visitors to locations in the city where films featuring DuBois and other fictional characters were set.

"I want to be able to answer every question about every movie ever filmed here," said Jonathan Ray, the owner of New Orleans Movie Tours, who escorts visitors to the 30 locations and other movie-related spots on the two-hour twice-daily tour.

He and his wife Michelle began the tours seven months ago to give visitors a different perspective of New Orleans by highlighting its history as a film location.

Ray drives as many as 10 passengers around the city in a van equipped with individual video monitors.

At each location he shows clips from a movie or TV episode filmed at the site and offers anecdotes related to the location.

The tour stops at Canal Street as they watch video of Vivien Leigh, starring in the 1951 film version of "Streetcar," stepping off a train and asking directions to a street called Elysian Fields.

When a scene from the 1991 movie "JFK" pops onto the screen, showing actor Kevin Costner's character in the French Quarter bar called Napoleon House, tour guests see the bar up close.

Guests, who pay $39 for the tour, also get popcorn and bottled water.

Ray, who worked behind the scenes on several locally-shot feature films, spent much of the last two years researching local movie history and amassing details about more than 100 New Orleans-related productions, from the 1958 Elvis Presley movie "King Creole" to "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Keeping up with local movie trivia is a growing challenge in a city that's become a popular filming location.

Since 2002, when Louisiana implemented a tax credit program that gives producers financial breaks in exchange for making movies in the state, New Orleans has become one of the largest film centers in the country outside of Los Angeles.

About 90 feature films and television productions came to Louisiana in 2011, according to the state's Department of Economic Development, and New Orleans hosted more than half of them.

Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock own homes in New Orleans and Nicolas Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, Nicole Kidman, Sylvester Stallone and other stars have worked here.

Guests on last week's tour saw Will Ferrell and Dylan McDermott who are working on "Dog Fight," a comedy slated for release in 2012.

Local tourism officials welcome the movie tours as an extension of the film business.

"When a tourist comes to the city and sees Matthew McConaughey or Jessica Alba, it supports the idea that New Orleans is an exciting place to be," said Jennifer Day-Sully, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Jerry Norton)

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