The Producer

Credit Sander Gusinow
David Cress on set

David Cress, producer of hit TV show Portlandia, explains how Oregon’s film industry has taken off and how it supports sectors all over the state.

Share this article!

In 2005 Oregon’s film industry generated approximately $5 million in revenue and supported 200 Oregon jobs. Today the sector generates $200 million and 5,000 jobs.

Shows like Portlandia and Grimm, along with movies such as Twilight have put Oregon on the map. Government incentives, combined with a strong local talent pool, continue to grow the industry.

Few individuals can claim to have done more for Oregon’s film industry than David Cress, the producer of Portlandia. He is now producing the second season of Shrill, a series based on the book of the same name by Lindsey West.

Here he discusses the Oregon film industry’s growth, its future and how it lifts Oregon businesses from Portland to Burns.

How did you get into the film industry?

I studied economics in college but I didn’t really like my career options. I always wanted to make film, so I went back to school at Mount Hood Community College, which had a television production program.

They also had a course called Cable and Community TV, which was taught through a grant funded by cable franchise fees. I still use what I learned in that class every day of my career. I eventually got an internship at a commercial production company and that’s how I got my start.

How did the film industry in Oregon get going?

One thing we had when I got into the industry was a thriving animation business. What was also thriving was production of direct-response television, what you’d call today ‘infomercials.’

The thing that really laid the foundation for the film business here was sports apparel, because that requires a lot of visual lifestyle content to go with your product.

We also had a lot of music video production here because there was a thriving music scene. So there was a lot of creative energy.

What kicked off the industry’s growth?

Vancouver, B.C. started offering incentives for film production companies to shoot there, and that really changed the landscape.

There was an effort by the film community and the tourism department to bring that business back to Oregon. Some very smart policymakers got together and decided, ‘We can build a modest incentive.’

We weren’t offering the same kind of incentive that wealthier states could offer, but it worked out very well because we’ve had very smart film commissioners and a number of governors who have supported this effort.  

What does filming in Oregon offer that states with a bigger incentive cannot?

We now have multiple Emmy-winning production designers and costume designers who live in our state.

Even with a smaller incentive we still have a competitive advantage because they don’t have to bring people in from out of state. There’s a lot of home grown expertise.

I don’t think there’s a better executive director of a film organization that Tim Williams, who runs Oregon Film.

It’s also on the same time zone as the studios [in Los Angeles] , which helps with shipping and calls with executives. There’s also no sales tax, which makes our incentive go even further.

How have streaming services (Hulu, Netflix) helped Oregon’s film landscape?

Streaming services have a greater appetite for longer-run series, which are a better match for our state because we don’t offer the kinds of incentive numbers to get a superhero movie to shoot here.

Oregon is a good match for these more modestly budgeted TV shows. Unlike movies where they bring key personnel in from out of state, these longer-running series are more homegrown. They support lighting designers, costume designers and lots of other family-wage jobs.

What other industries does the film industry support? 

I think the Film Office folks recognize the additional benefit of content that shoots Oregon for Oregon. It has a knock-on effect on tourism.

If you want to have your product showcased in a show or in a storyline, we are seeing increasing ways for companies to do that.

Instead of paying for a 30-second spot to get someone to notice your product, you can pay or offer a service to filmmakers to get a spot in a storyline, or even help create the images to help showcase product to consumers.

That’s even more reason to keep offering incentives for bigger movies and shows to come to Oregon.

What effect has the film industry had on rural communities? 

A few years ago there was an additional incentive added for filmmakers the further away they got from the metro area to incentivize them to shoot in more rural areas.

Broadway Video produced a movie in Grants Pass. There was a Kelly Reichardt movie that shot outside of Burns, and a movie called Lean on Pete that was shot outside Burns as well. The Franco brothers shot something that isn’t out yet outside of Bandon.

There’s increasing activity in Central Oregon and Bend. A lot of companies want to shoot their cars down here. There was a John Deere commercial that shot down in Sothern Oregon recently. You want those environments to showcase your product.

Where would like to see the film industry in Oregon in the next five years?

I think it would look like it does now, just a bit more. I think more can be created here.

The tax incentive is always the wellspring of this. There are lots of conflicting needs for the state’s revenue, and it might be some time before policymakers decided growing the film industry more is what they want to do, but I’m not complaining.

When I first started, Portland State had just killed its film program. The University of Oregon had absorbed its film program into its journalism program. Now every university in the state has a film program.

Those students are going to start businesses and create shows. If we can retain those people it’s going to be a big win for the state.

To subscribe to Oregon Business, click here.