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Wapato jail attracts film industry

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Linda Baker
Wednesday, May 01, 2013


“It is madness to have such a perfectly built and fitted prison facility lying idle.”

So says Christopher Toyne, a Portland-based actor who serves on the board of the Oregon Media Production Association. The madness in question would be the taxpayer-funded $60 million Wapato jail in North Portland, which has yet to be used for its original purpose. The facility, which was built in 2004, costs Multnomah County $300,000 a year to maintain.

But if inmates have never occupied the jail, Hollywood is filling the void.

Toyne, whom I interviewed for my September cover story Celluloid Forest, is currently shooting an out-of-state feature, “The Dark Place,” at the jail.

According to Multnomah County building manager Mark Gustafson, about five film crews have used the jail this year; 12 took advantage of the perfectly built prison in 2012. The county doesn't charge a daily rate, as that would constitute a subsidy of the film industry. Instead crews pay “cost recovery” charges: i.e., extra staff time, security guards, janitorial services. 

Such costs can run as low as the Dark Place rate of about $300-$500 per day, to the estimated $3,500 daily rate incurred by NBC’s Grimm.

Many other film and television productions have used the facility, including Cell Count, Lucky Hogg, Train Master II, and The Watcher.

Since the cost recovery charges don't yield income for the county, the economic payoff comes from money film crews spend on car rentals, hotels, food etc.

"That's where the county benefits," said Gustafson, who spoke to me on the phone from the county's Inverness facility. "It's a jail that actually has inmates," he said.

In related news:

Gov. Kitzhaber has proposed expanding funding for the Oregon Production Investment Fund, a tax rebate program designed to help recruit film and video businesses to Oregon. However, the Joint Ways & Means Committee has reccommended against the increase. The film and video industry is planning a rally tomorrow at the state capitol in support of HB 2267, which would double the rebate program from $6 million to $12 million.

Linda Baker keeps tabs on public policy and CEO issues.


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