Take Five: Inside Esplanade Studios
While local film production has exploded and Hollywood has infiltrated the city, post-production, specifically sound production, has lagged. But there's a new facility in town, which is now the largest recording studio in the state. This may change the game when it comes to audio for big time film projects.
The first thing you notice after entering the control room at Esplanade Studios is the mixing board. Thousands of dials, buttons, and gauges line a surface about the size of a canoe. And not surprisingly, this board has some history. The Trident TSM console, built in the 1970s, once resided at A & M Studios in Los Angeles and PrairieSound Recording in the Bay Area, and was used to record artists like Barbara Streisand, The Police, Tom Waits and the best selling single of all-time, "We are The World".
Misha Kachkachishvili, owner and chief engineer of Esplanade Studios, is excited to own this equipment. "This board has seen lots of great music, and it’ll see again — hopefully more," he says."
From 1921 until the Sunday before Hurricane Katrina, the gothic revival church on Esplanade Avenue in the Tremé was home to the Third Presbyterian congregation. Then the storm hit, flooding the building, shattering its windows, and scattering its congregation — forcing them to sell. The church then sat on the market for five years, vacant and decaying. Enter Misha, a native of the Republic of Georgia, who first came to America in 1994 as part of an exchange between Loyola University and the Georgian Conservatory.
"It was so impressive, and going to Loyola in the middle of all these jazz cats and professors and just, that was it, it was like a dream place to be," he says."
So he stayed, and began his career as a sound engineer for local musicians. Mischa worked at Access Studios in Metairie, but was searching for a place of his own. Turns out the answer was hiding in plain sight.
"I live literally one block away. When I saw the place I was overwhelmed — there was water in the basement still, floors were gone in by termites, the roof was gone — but I felt such a good vibe as soon as I walked in; the building felt great. So that was a decisive factor for me."
So, with the state’s film tax credit program at his back, Misha bought the property and immediately got to work. On a tour of the new space, Misha walked through Studio B, a private studio that Danny Markowitz is about to take up as its first tenant. Markowitz is a composer, songwriter, and producer most known for writing "The Time of My Life" from the movie Dirty Dancing.
Studio C is a private studio for film and television composer Jay Weigel, who is fresh off of creating music for Will Ferrell’s recent The Campaign, as well as for Tyler Perry’s Medea movies.
Jay says Esplanade studios is the first studio complex in the state that actually built something that’s different from anybody else had.
"It actually filled a niche: it’s a big enough space and acoustically great space that you can actually do sort of the kind of recordings that are normally only done in major cities like Los Angeles... and I don’t even know if you can do this in New York anymore, quite honestly. I’m not sure they have a space anymore, so it’s quite remarkable that Misha pulled this together."
Studio A, the 3400-square foot main recording room at the heart of the church’s former sanctuary, is dominated by a massive pipe organ, donated by Andrew Carnegie in the 1920s, one of just two the philanthropist gave to the city.
Still under construction is an additional 3000 square foot downstairs space for special recording projects, including live or private concerts with the church's original pews for seating. Local musicians stand to benefit from the increased opportunities offered by the studio. But it’s the classical musicians , those most vulnerable in a city dominated by jazz and funk, who are really in luck.
"It’s important to keep those players here," says Misha. "They’re phenomenal players and they’re from all around the country, and having for them the space that can guarantee them some work that can just keep everything going, it’s just very, very important."
For Weigel, Esplanade’s significance hits closer to home. "I’m fine, I can write and do my thing, but I have children and I want them if they’re gonna be in New Orleans and if they’re interested and I don’t even know if they are in the music industry, I want them to have something to do, and this we’re building something and it’s very exciting."
The local film industry currently outsources most of its audio post production work. It will be interesting to see whether the New esplanade studios changes that.