Oregon’s film industry has exploded over the past five years. Businesses, especially rural communities, are reaping the benefits.
Sika Stanton has ambitions as a filmmaker. A Portland resident, she has worked on projects for Honda, CLIF Bar and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She has also produced her own documentary, The Numbers, about African American Portland residents displaced by gentrification.
“Ultimately I'd love to get to a place where I am represented by an agent and can choose projects that align with my interests and values and where I'm in a position to hire and mentor a diverse crew,” she says.
While Stanton says it would be nice to travel to Los Angles to get a glimpse of how the industry operates there, she never considered moving to California or New York as her filmmaking career began to pick up steam.
The fact that someone is able to make a living as a filmmaker in Oregon may not seem surprising today. Projects like Portlandia, Grimm, Shrill, and Twilight put Oregon film and TV making on the map.
In 2005 the state’s film industry generated approximately $5 million in revenue and supported 200 Oregon jobs. Today the sector generates $200 million and 5,000 jobs.
The groundwork for Oregon’s flourishing film industry can be traced to sports and apparel brands, such as Nike, creating demand for visual lifestyle content. Much of today’s film activity, however, is due to financial incentives offered by the state. These incentives were introduced after Vancouver, British Columbia, saw success with a similar program.
The Oregon Production Investment Fund offers qualifying film or television productions a 20% rebate on goods and services paid to Oregon vendors and a 10% rebate on wages for Oregon and non-Oregon residents.
While the financial incentive isn’t as hefty as in Georgia or New York, they provide a sizeable return on investment, says Lisa Cicala, executive director of the Oregon Media Production Association.
“We have $14 million of financial incentives and the state receives $200 million in economic benefit,” says Cicala, who maintains that in addition to providing jobs, and generating business for food and hospitality, luring film projects to Oregon has benefits for a wide array of businesses both inside and outside of Portland.
“The people in the props and costumes are shopping at the vintage shops. People who build sets need to buy lumber. When a truck needs maintenance they hire Oregon mechanics,” says Cicala. “That’s the story we’ve been telling the legislators.”
Oregon’s burgeoning film industry also creates tourism and has helped to bring outside money to rural communities.
“There’s this desire to find new views and new locations, and since everything is so accessible, it’s easy to get there,” says Tim Williams, executive director of the governor’s Office of Film & Television.
“We just had Dave Franco shoot a whole movie down in Bandon. Trinkets, a new Netflix show, went out to the Oregon coast to shoot their last episode there. We’ve found people aren’t just shooting in Portland.”
The 2017 film Lean on Pete, based on the book of the same name, was also shot on location in the small city of Burns in Eastern Oregon.
In fact, the financial incentives offered by the state increase the further away a film shoots from Portland, ultimately making the prospect of producing a film or TV show in rural communities more lucrative.
David Cress produced Portlandia and now works on Shrill, a Hulu series now in its second season. The show is based on the book of the same name by Lindy West.
Cress says the Oregon film incentive has paired well with the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Disney+.
“Oregon is a good match for these more modestly budgeted TV shows,” says Cress. “These longer-running series are more homegrown. They support lighting designers, costume designers and lots of other family-wage jobs.”
Another reason a studio might choose to shoot in Oregon is the wealth of local talent. Oregon has multiple Emmy-winning production and costume designers, which means shows don’t have to import as much talent from New York or Los Angeles. “Typically, a production will hire a 90% local crew,” says Cicala.
Roland Gauthier is executive producer of Portland-based animation studio Hinge. His company began with just three people sitting on crates. Now Hinge has worked on projects for Cartoon Network, Nike and Activision.
For Gauthier, even industry competitors have been open and helpful. He says that Oregon’s supportive arts culture creates an environment in which creators can do their best work.
“I’ve had colleagues who have gone to places like LA and New Zealand, but it’s more cutthroat and less nurturing than it is here,” says Gauthier. “We all came here to do great work and to thrive here.” Like Stanton, Gauthier says he hopes there will one day be more homegrown projects in Oregon.
For that to happen, however, the project would need a substantial amount of funding from elsewhere. Still, funding for a film project doesn’t have to come from a Hollywood studio any longer. More independent producers, as well as those in the business community, including dating website Christian Mingle, seek to produce original content all their own.
“It might happen that a web series from here gets picked up by a streaming service,” says Williams, when asked whether he sees a future for homegrown series in the state. “I think it’s inevitable.”
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