With major filming projects such as NBC’s Grimm (Seasons 1 and 2), IFC’s Portlandia (photo on left), and TNT’s Leverage shooting in Oregon all at the same time, it’s no wonder 2011 was one of the most lucrative years in Oregon’s film industry.
Last year alone, the film industry brought in over $130 million for Oregon. The boost in economy was not limited to the Portland-Metro area. Businesses as far as southern Oregon and the Oregon coast are also enjoying the positive impact of having more productions filmed in the state.
It would be interesting to note that Oregon’s relationship with the film and television industry has not always been smooth sailing. In the 1980s, Oregon was a popular film location for network movies of the week and coming-of-age films - such as The Goonies (1985) and Stand by Me (1986) - but the hot streak eventually simmered down.
In the 1990s, another set of beloved made-in-Oregon movies — among which were The River Wild (1994), Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995), Free Willy (1993) and Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home (1994) — again saved the day and supported Oregon’s film economy through the 1990s.
Not soon after however, filmmakers decided to move their productions to Vancouver, B.C., which has quickly become one of the major film-production centers in North America.
This year, Oregon’s film industry is once again running in the forefront. Backed by state incentives, filmmakers spent hundreds of millions in Oregon in 2011 producing films, television shows, and TV commercials.
Why Filming in Oregon?
With filming experience dating back to the silent film era, Oregon has consistently maintained its ebb-and-flow relationship with Hollywood. Over 400 feature films and television shows, as well as hundreds of commercials, have been shot in Oregon. As a result, the state’s local talent pool for crew and production support services is deep and wide.
All that aside though, Oregon’s best attractions for filmmakers are its lush, green landscape which ranges from rugged seacoast, high mountain passes, magnificent waterfalls and rivers, stony lava beds, to its rain-slicked streets. To top it all off, Oregon’s famous city Portland also has some of the most charming and colorful residential neighborhoods. A filmmaker’s delight!
Speaking of Portland, time and again, the city draws filmmakers to it more than any other Oregon towns. Scenic beauty aside, what constantly puts Portland on the movie-industry map is its “full-throttle, indie spirit fueled by industry devotees who seem not to care much about fame, fortune or the whims of the outside world.” Portland’s quirkiness (which reminds me of Austin, Texas) andpersonal devotion and passion for the art of filmmaking set the city apart from other Pacific Northwest locations.
Filmed in Oregon: GRIMM
One of television’s newest series Grimm is set and filmed in and around the Portland area. After a successful first season, Grimm is again filming its second season in Portland. To celebrate its continuing success, on May 29, 2012, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, joined the cast (David Giuntoli, Bitsie Tulloch, Silas Weir Mitchell, and Russell Hornsby) as they kicked-off Season Two of NBC’s fairy tale procedural drama on the Grimm set.
Grimm‘s Season 1 alone brought in over $50 million for Oregon while filming in the state. The production spent money on equipment, crew members, construction, lodging and many other film-related expenses. Last year Grimm employed more than 550 local workers, from carpenters who constructed the sets to people who set-up plants for the show. The production also hired local trainers for the animals used in the show. “It’s just a good industry for the state,” Kitzhaber said, “and “Grimm has been a real success.”
A strong supporter of Oregon’s film and television industry, Governor Kitzhaber confidently stated, “I think things like a tax credit are very, very important now, (but) there will be a time when that won’t be necessary when we have the critical mass and certainly that’s our objective.”
Grimm is an eerie, supernatural crime drama that revolves around a police detective (played byDavid Giuntoli) who has the power to see the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale creatures hiding out as humans, something a normal person can’t spot. The show combines procedural crime drama with mythology, and has been “the little show that could” for NBC, said Bruce Evans, senior vice president of programming for the network.
As creative and interesting as Grimm‘s fantastical creatures are however, the show’s most haunting character is its atmospheric, fairy-tale like settings. Grimm’s executive producers and writers David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf said in a joint statement, “Rain or shine, Portland has been the ideal setting for fairy tales with its enchanting layout. It is its own character in our show with the perfect mix of urban and rural settings.”
Bitsie Tulloch, who plays Juliette Silverton in Grimm is from Los Angeles. But since her role inGrimm started, she has made Portland her new home. “There’s so much love I have for this city,” said Tulloch. “The people are friendly, the food is amazing, and there’s no sales tax.” The actress is especially happy for her four-legged friend. “My dog is up here with me, it’s such a dog friendly city,” Tulloch said with a smile. “I can pretty much take him with me, almost anywhere.”
Filmed in Oregon: Portlandia
Before writing this article, I’ve never seen a single episode of Portlandia. But for the sake of research, I Netflixed it the other night and was surprised at how original, quirky and funny the show is.
Portlandia is an award-winning (Peabody Award) satiric sketch comedy television series. And yes, it is actually set and filmed in Portland and its surrounding areas. Portlandia‘s cast includesSaturday Night Live cast member Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, lead guitarist and singer for Wild Flag.
Even though it is a new series, Portlandia has garnered quite a following which in turn has prominently put Portland on the pop-culture map. The show gives the audience “an exaggerated, dreamy version of Portland, Oregon,” explains Armisen. “It’s a very ecologically sound city with a lot of artists, musicians and concerned parents who grew up on punk and are just trying to do the right thing. It’s like a utopian world.”
When asked why they picked Portland to be the main character of the series, Brownstein says it’s because of her hometown’s “incessant optimism.”
“Portland, I think, is a city that feels very good about itself. But it’s very sensitive, and people go to extreme measures to show how nice they are,” shared Brownstein in her interview with NPR’sFresh Air.
Portland residents seem to be loving how their city is portrayed in the comedy series even though the show does occasionally poke fun at its namesake. Even Portland’s Mayor Sam Adamsgives the show his stamp of approval by appearing in Portlandia as the show’s fictional mayor’s assistant and campaigning in a video urging people to “put an Emmy on it.”
As of March 2012, Portlandia already had 16 episodes produced and aired for its first two seasons. The Independent Film Channel recently announced a third season which will include 12 episodes and will premiere in January 2013.
Portlandia has filmed and continues to film throughout Portland and its surrounding areas. Below is a brief look at a few of those filming locations.
ACE Hotel Portland
Portlandia charmingly shows viewers the wackier sides of life in Portland. Each clip in the series is filmed at a real location in and around the city. One of my favorite sketches is the “The Deuce Hotel” (in Episode 5, Season 1, currently available on YouTube). For this episode, Portland’s ACE Hotel stood in for the fictitious Deuce Hotel.
ACE Hotel is a chain of hip and trendy hotels headquartered in ... you guessed it ... Portland. It has hotels in a few other major cities around the country, including New York (ACE Hotel New York is on the Reel-Scout’s location database in case you want to check it out), Palm Springs, and Seattle. Known as “the country’s most original” hotel, each ACE hotel is styled and furnished to reflect its location. ACE Hotel Portland, also featured on Reel-Scout’s location library and listed on theNational Register of Historic Places, is the former Clyde Hotel where Drugstore Cowboy (1988) was filmed.
The Gilt Club
The Gilt Club is the setting for the restaurant in the “Farm” episode (Episode 1, Season 1). Having the restaurant starred in Portlandia‘s “Farm” has placed much limelight and publicity on The Gilt Club. That scene alone “has brought an awful lot of people through the door, asking us about chicken,” says Gilt Club owner and manager Jamie Dunn. “I’ll be honest with you, I was very surprised by how many people did see it, or comment on it.”
Located in Portland’s Old Town, The Gilt Club surprisingly was not the first location of choice for the scene. Portlandia director Jonathan Krisel wanted a list of diners to look at as possible locations for “Farm.” But the location scout threw the Gilt Club into the mix, even though it’s not a diner. And in the end, “the director chose us,” Dunn says.
Dunn says the Portlandia effect on the restaurant has been tremendous. “Our last three months have probably been our busiest in the last three years. For every one person who walks through the door and says something about it, my guess is there would be 10 other people who are there because of it but don’t say anything. We get people who come in and ask us, ‘Is Colin on the menu tonight?’ at least a half-dozen times a week. And we get people who come in and ask, ‘Is this where Portlandia was filmed?’ And their other question is, ‘Does that waitress really work here?’”
The outdoor patio seating area of Firehouse Restaurant was the setting for Portlandia‘s “Whose Dog Is This?” sketch (Episode 1, Season 1). The show’s producers love the restaurant so much they came back to Firehouse to host a special luncheon for the cast and crew after Season 2 filming was over.
In Other Words Bookstore
Portland’s independent community center/bookstore In Other Words is the film location ofPortlandia‘s hilarious “Women & Women First Bookstore” sketches (such as “Feminist Bookstore” and “Customers Only”).
In the show, In Other Words stands in for “Women and Women First Bookstore.” In real life, In Other Words is a non-profit, volunteer-run, feminist community center. Their mission is to support, enrich, and empower the Portland feminist community through literature, art, and educational and cultural events. In Other Words is also a book store, a lending library, and a venue for feminist events all rolled into one storefront.
Katie Carter, co-director of In Other Words, says that Portlandia‘s feminist-bookstore skits have raised more awareness for their organization which is a huge positive impact. “It’s spurred a lot of discussion,” says Carter. “We’re a small organization, and ‘Portlandia’ has gotten a lot of national exposure. It was a surprise—people outside of here care about ‘Portlandia’? And feminism is not a concept that is seen much in mainstream media.”
Filmed in Oregon: Twilight
And now, let’s revisit an oldie (if you consider four years is a long time) but goodie phenomenon called Twilight (the first installment of The Twilight Saga) which was also filmed in Portland and its nearby towns. Like Grimm, Oregon’s dark and lush natural beauty is one of the main reasons whyTwilight producers decided to make the movie in Portland.
Madison High School, Multnomah Falls, Oxbow Park, and the town of Corbett are among the many locations used for the rainy, ominous setting of Forks, Washington. Portland’s Madison High School was the setting for several of Twilight‘s high school interior shots (such as the cafeteria, science classroom, and hallways scenes).
For the exterior shots of the high school, Kalama High School stood in as Forks High School.
Gorgeous, woodsy Multnomah Falls and Oxbow Park are where Bella and Edward share some of their intimate moments.
Twilight was the first No. 1 box office movie filmed in Portland. Almost $20 million of the production’s $37 million budget was used during filming in the Portland area. Filming also took place in other Oregon’s locations including Vernonia, St. Helens, and Carver.
The Carver Café
The diner scene with Bella and her father was filmed at The Carver Café, a small, old-fashioned diner in the town of Damacus. The cafe prides itself on being a “dying breed” kind of restaurant and has been in operation since the 1950’s. On their experience being a film location for the blockbuster movie, the owners were exuberantly enthusiastic. “Having Twilight filmed at Carver Café was an unforgettable experience! We never dreamed that something this awesome could happen at our restaurant,” shares the owner Kris Stafford on the restaurant’s website.
“We met dozens of interesting people, including the author of the book series Stephanie Meyer,” states Stafford. “The Twilight crew transformed the inside of the café which was wonderful. We love it and the customers love it as well. It fits so well with the area and the logging photos are in some ways a tribute to our start.”
For its starring role in Twilight, the production team did some interior remodeling to The Carver Café. They added wood paneling, repainted a few things, and hung up various paintings and historical photos of the city of Forks.
During the remodeling and filming periods, The Carver Café stayed closed to the public. When the production finished, the owners Sarah Boden and Kris Stafford decided to keep the restaurant’s new look - just as you see it in the movie. The filmmakers also left behind photos and many interior decorations from the set, as an expression of their gratitude.
Sarah and Kris, along with Kris’s daughter Brianna were also extras in the movie (in various background scenes filmed at The Carver Café). They had such a fun time that the owners said they would do it all over again “in a heartbeat.”
Today, The Carver Café is still in business. Starring in Twilight has generated much publicity and interest for the restaurant. Tourists and customers love to sit at the table where Bella and her father Charlie sat in the film.
Sarah and Kris have completely embraced the celebrity status of their café. They proudly display all the film mementos on the walls for fans to see and even added a few of their own personal collections. The café also offer Twilight t-shirts that proudly proclaim, “I got a bite at the Carver Café.”
Film Location Tours
As a Twilight and Portlandia fan, I can’t wait to visit Portland one day to embark on my own personal movie location tours of these two productions. Promise to document each step of the way and photograph all the famous filming spots for you, Dear Blog Reader.
Oregon’s Film Incentives
Unlike many other states’ programs, Oregon’s incentives are cash rebates as opposed to tax credits. This means productions get their checks quickly and efficiently. Oregon’s generous incentive programs includes a 20% rebate on Oregon-based goods and services, and an additional cash payment of up to 16.2% of wages paid to production personnel.
Additionally, there is no sales tax on goods and services in Oregon which in turn immediately saves filmmakers at least 7 to 8 percent.
Oregon Film Office
The Oregon Film Office’s mission is to foster the state’s film, video, and multimedia industry. It also aims to increase the industry’s revenues, profile, and reputation within Oregon as well as internationally.
The Film Office features several collections of Oregon’s locations on their website, including many of the state’s most scenic roads, the filming locations of TV series Leverage, and a beautiful tribute video to movies filmed in Oregon.
For more information on filming in Oregon, visit the Oregon Film Office’s website.