Lights, Camera…Oregon! The Perfect Scene for the Film Industry

by Christian Kaylor

June 19, 2018

For most Oregonians, the closest we get to the movie industry is when we buy a ticket to see the latest blockbuster. Yet every year a few producers choose to film at least a portion of their movies here in Oregon. Oregon is a popular place for filming movies, commercials, and television specials. We offer mountains, beaches, deserts, forests, rivers, small towns and big cities.

Oregon is where Schwarzenegger went undercover as a "Kindergarten Cop," where the “Goonies” searched for pirate treasure, and Jack Nicholson struggled against Nurse Ratched in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." More recently, filmgoers have watched Reese Witherspoon hike across Oregon in the film "Wild" and Patrick Stewart terrify musicians visiting Oregon in “Green Room.” Families have enjoyed "The Boxtrolls" and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” animated films made in the Portland area at Laika Entertainment.

Oregon has become a major destination for the television industry. Until very recently, at least three major television shows were produced in Portland: “Grimm,” as well as “The Librarians,” and the appropriately named, “Portlandia.” These television shows shared Portland resources, including skilled workers, to produce their shows. In 2018 alone, three new television shows made in Portland were released; “Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists,” the HBO series “Here and Now” and the Netflix series “Everything Sucks.”

The actor on the screen is not the only job in the industry. It takes many skilled people to make that star shine. Scriptwriters, broadcast technicians, camera operators and others work to create a polished show. For Oregon, with our small industry presence, it can be difficult to gain the necessary experience. Typically, people gain experience by working in the Los Angeles area and using that reputation to continue working in Oregon.

The film and video industry is uniquely dynamic. Most film and video work occurs on a project-by-project basis. Creative talent is pulled from many different individuals and firms. These projects are done as collaborative efforts on an ad hoc basis. Once a project is complete, people individually seek new projects.

Oregon's Big Picture Data

The Northwest Economic Research Center at PSU recently studied the economic impact of the film industry in Oregon. Their research included the associated industries of television and radio broadcasting. Including indirect and induced multiplier effects, the study found a total annual economic impact of $1.4 billion dollars from the industry.

Oregon has an impressive film industry, but it's dwarfed by our neighbor to the south. California is the filmmaking center of the world. While California employs 138,000 people with an annual payroll of $12.5 billion, Oregon struggles to provide the necessary skilled talent that the Los Angeles area has in abundance.

Still, when Hollywood comes to Oregon it has a major impact on the economy. "The Hunted," an action film starring Tommy Lee Jones and Benecio Del Toro, was filmed in Portland in 2001. Employing 250 local crew members and hundreds of extras, the film contributed an estimated $30 million to the local economy according to the Oregon Film & Video Office.

You Oughta Be in Pictures

Actors are the most visible part of the film and video industry, but in reality make up only a small portion of sector employment. The credits at the end of a film or television show demonstrate the wide variety of workers necessary to produce a show. Formal training helps, but experience, talent and initiative are the most important factors in getting a job. Many entry-level workers start out by working on documentary, educational, or industrial films. The three most common occupations in Oregon's film and video industry are news reporters, announcers, and photographers.

Camera operators, photographers, sound engineers, and video technicians usually have either a college or technical school education, or they go through a formal training program. Computer skills are required for editing and special effects jobs.

Formal education and training is available throughout the state. Oregon universities offer degrees in multimedia design and media arts. Many Oregon community colleges offer courses in video editing and photography. Portland Community College offers a one-year certificate of video production.

The NW Film Center School of Film in Portland offers classes to the public on filmmaking. Available courses cover topics as diverse as screenwriting, sound design, animation and documentary video production. The school offers a certificate requiring the completion of 15 classes, two workshops, and a final film project.

For those determined to be in front of the camera rather than behind it, almost every Oregon community college and university offers drama classes. For those interested in beginning a career as an actor, Hrair Messerlian of the Screen Actors Guild recommends actors try practicing their craft at one of the dozens of community theaters around the state.

Local Talent

Every year, at least one major film studio comes to Oregon to shoot in one of our many beautiful locations. Almost all of these studios are based in Los Angeles. However, Oregon has a few homegrown production studios of its own to boast about, the best known being Laika.

Laika studios in Portland specializes in stop motion animation for feature films and commercial projects. Laika is a spin-off of the well-known Will Vinton Studios, an Oscar-winning group that produced a variety of successful projects for decades. You may recognize their work from the California Raisin ads in the 1980s.

Over the last few years Laika has produced several successful projects, including the feature films "Coraline" and "The Boxtrolls." In 2017, Laika released its newest creation, the feature film "Kubo and the Two Strings." The studio’s strong global success is matched by plans for even more films in the near future.

The greatest role the film industry plays in Oregon may be the hardest one to measure. Films made in Oregon provide visibility, literally, of what Oregon has to offer. In our modern global economy, what better way to promote Brand Oregon than to show our state to people all over the world.


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