A grim future for Portland's film industry?
A mystery worthy of Grimm hung over a discussion of the Oregon film and video industry last Wednesday morning.
To be solved, what is the next major TV series to be shot in Portland after the popular supernatural thriller on NBC wraps up its sixth and final season this year?
Lobbyist Janice Shokrian, executive director of the Oregon Media Production Association, said she has some clues but is sworn to secrecy. Although Shokrian said some new shows are in the works, the next Portland-based one might not be a conventional seasonal network show like Grimm or Portlandlia, the cult comedy nearing the end of its run on IFC.
"Traditional series are not something that many companies want to invest in anymore," said Shokrian, explaining that one-time and short-run series on such subscription-based media platforms as Hulu and YouTube Red are becoming more and more popular.
The question of what follows Grimm and Portlandia in Portland is not merely one about entertainment options. As the Portland Business Alliance learned at its monthly breakfast forum, such productions pump millions of dollars into the state, regional and local economies every year. Film and TV production companies have spent over $350 million on wages, supplies and services in Oregon over the past year and a half, said Shokrian, whose organization was formed in 1982 to advocate for more such productions in the state.
Shokrian spoke on a panel titled "Lights, Camera, Jobs!" Joining her were Rosemary Colliver, general counsel and head of business affairs of the Hillsboro-based Laika animation studio, and Lana Veenker, president of the Cast Iron Studios, a Portland-based casting company. All argued that the film and TV production companies are drawn to Oregon because of its visually stunning natural resources, varied urban and rural locations, and a surprisingly large creative community that includes actors, craft people and cinematographers and technical assistants.
"Portland has a wonderful pool of actors and production companies have learned they don't have to fly them back from Los Angeles," said Veenker. Beling closer than the movie tax haven of Lousiana also helps, as does not having the immigration hassles of working with Vancouver, British Columbia.
The local industry is expected to grow even larger in coming years, said Colliver. For example, she explained that Travis Knight, Laika's president, CEO and chief animator, is committed to expanding animation production in Oregon. Knight is the son of Nike co-founder Phil Knight, the company's co-owner. Laika's most recent stop-animation film, Kubo and the Two Strings, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Visual Effects.
"Travis wants to grow animation production in Oregon like his father did with sports apparel," said Colliver, explaining that the company has grown from around 300 to 550 employees over the past four years.
But competition for production dollars is tough around the country and the world, the panelists agreed. Many countries, states and cities offer financial incentives to help lure land them. Oregon's incentives are actually in the lowest one-third of those offered nationally, said Shokrian, who is lobbying the 2017 Oregon Legislature to pass House Bill 2244. It would expand a labor rebate for companies that incur $1 million or more in actual expenses for film, TV or commercial production in Oregon.
Veenker noted that even previous films and TV shows produced in Oregon continue to boost the economy, especially the hospitality and retail industries. On its 90th anniversary, people flocked to Cottage Grove to celebrate The General, a classic silent Buster Keaton movie, which was filmed there. All motel rooms in and around Brownsville were booked for the 30th anniversary of the coming of age film Stand By Me, which was shot there. Likewise for Astoria and the 25th anniversary of the adventure comedy "The Goonies." And St. Helens has monthlong community celebration in October inspired by Halloweentown, a Disney Channel film shot there.
Although Grimm and Portlandia are ending, another fantasy-adventure TV series produced in Portland was recently approved for a fourth season. The Librarians is broadcast on TNT. Its fourth 10-episode series got the go ahead in January. It has been filmed at various location in and around the city, including the Oregon Historical Society's large warehouse in Gresham, which was chosen because it makes a perfect "mysterious location," according to Kerry Tymchuk, OHS's Executive Director.