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Sci-fi series The First filmed on New Orleans stages

The FirstDrama The First used New Orleans as a setting and production base to tell a future-set story of efforts to send a manned mission to Mars.

Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone star in The First – not to be confused with Damien Chazelle’s feature First Man – for US streaming service Hulu and Channel 4 in the UK.

Louisiana’s base 25% filming incentive support was a major factor behind The First using New Orleans as a base, but the city itself and the presence of two regional aerospace centres were also major draws for the show’s producers. 

The Michoud Assembling Facility is a manufacturing plant owned by Nasa and the John C Stennis Space Center is used to test rockets.

“Not only did this afford us research and filming opportunities, but it also made it plausible that our fictional aerospace company, Vista, would be located in this part of the country,” says Chris Menke, production supervisor on The First, in comments to KFTV. 

“Secondly, New Orleans is a vibrant, lush city both visually and culturally – a rich setting in which to place our characters and one that is a stark contrast to the barren planet Mars.”

Filming was based at The Ranch Studios, a facility situated about seven miles from downtown New Orleans that offers stage space, warehouses and workshops. The studios have previously hosted Terminator: Genisys and Deepwater Horizon.

For The First, the production team built sets including interiors of the home of Penn’s character Tom Hagarty, the Vista centre and a separate green screen stage for scenes set in moving vehicles.

There was also a lot of location work around the city, as well as limited shooting at the aerospace centres with reduced crew sizes and staff escorts.

The First“Most of the locations were homes and areas that showed off the uniqueness of New Orleans,” Menke tells KFTV.

“One place that was featured frequently was Buffa’s Bar & Restaurant, which is a New Orleans landmark known for local music, food and drink, and a friendly crowd.”

Louisiana is long-established as one of the top filming locations in the US, though its broader appeal for big-budget Hollywood features has waned in the past few years, primarily as the result of a cap imposed on the state filming incentive for the first time back in 2015. 

Georgia and California have become the firm US favourites as production locations for the best-performing US features, according to figures from FilmLA, with the pattern having been shifting away from Louisiana since 2013.

“It is finally starting to bounce back which is a wonderful thing,” says Menke. “Louisiana is known for its hardworking and talented crew, and has the infrastructure to support the industry.”

See KFTV's production guide for more on filming in Louisiana.

Images: Paul Schiraldi/Hulu