BY LINDA BAKER // ILLUSTRATIONS BY RYAN LOGHRY
Oregon's relationship with the film and television industry has always run a bit hot and cold. In the 1980s, the state did a brisk business as a location for network movies of the week, but that trade eventually went away, a victim of sea changes in the broadcasting industry. A spate of made-in-Oregon movies — Stand by Me, Free Willy — helped support a film economy through the 1990s, then much of that business disappeared to Vancouver, B.C., now one of the major film-production centers in North America.
In 2012 the local industry is once again on a roll. Fueled by state incentives, the industry spent $130 million in Oregon in 2011 producing film, television and TV commercials, up from $62 million in 2009. Three television shows — Portlandia, Leverage and Grimm — are shooting in Oregon at the same time. Some might say the current flowering of activity, with the television series as Oregon’s product du jour, is just another example of the market’s historic ebbs and flows. And yet the signs also point to a new stage in the evolution of the local industry — a stage marked by a focus on homegrown productions and on the business, not just the art, of film and media production.
To be sure, Oregon has always been more than a back lot for L.A. studios. Laika, the Portland-based animation studio, released its second major film, ParaNorman, just last month, and Portland has long been an epicenter for independent filmmaking. And yet, a decade ago, most of those filmmakers were content making movies for the festival circuit that may or may not have been commercial successes. Today, the presence of Grimm and other Hollywood shows, not to mention the technological upheaval occurring across all media channels, is changing the paradigm.
“There’s been a real shift in focus,” says Harold Phillips, a local actor who writes the blog Oregon Film and TV Dollars. “I’m seeing a new credence in the local industry to the business of producing.” Still vulnerable to market ups and downs, Oregon is far from becoming a Hollywood North or a Vancouver South. “But something new is definitely going on,” says Tom McFadden, executive director of the Oregon Media Production Association (OMPA). “We’re at a tipping point, a watershed. People now understand that making money is within their grasp.”
There are definite signs of changing times in the film and new media industry: the Hollywood-fueled small-business boom; the new market-oriented independent filmmaker; the merging of the technology and creative storytelling sectors; and the push to get banks and investors to fund a sustainable, made-and-produced-in-Oregon ecosystem.
Collectively, these people, projects and initiatives point to a sprouting celluloid forest, as well as the challenges associated with making it grow.