Despite the recession, they just might get it. Oregon’s economy has always relied on timber and technology, industries that stand to suffer in this economic climate. The nation’s film industry, on the other hand, has performed relatively well amid financial turmoil—during the Great Depression, for example, a remarkable sixty million to eighty million Americans regularly turned to the cinema, an impressive audience, even if back then those numbers represented a considerable drop in attendance. “We have seen that, at worst, our product is recession-resistant, and at best historically has been up,” Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation SKG, told a meeting of studio executives in September.
In Oregon, more moviemaking means not only more revenue, but also more jobs. In 2007, the industry generated $1.39 billion (a 41 percent increase over 2005) and generated 13,336 jobs, according to the most recent ECONorthwest film industry report, commissioned by the governor’s film office. And every ten film and video jobs generate more than eleven jobs in sectors including restaurants, hotels, and utilities—and now tourism.
“The effect film has on tourism is remarkably strong,” says Michael Fine, liaison at the Mayor’s Office of Film & Video in Portland. Fine works with filmmakers who wish to shoot within the city limits, helping them secure locations and crew and ensuring they have the proper permits. Portland’s film permits are far more affordable and flexible than those issued by cities like Los Angeles and New York. The relative lack of red tape could make Portland all the more appealing to Hollywood producers.
Which raises the question: does Portland find Hollywood appealing? The city has been praised as a place where fame and fortune don’t matter, a sort of anti-mainstream metropolis where if you’re not starving, you’re not an artist. But as it turns out, many of the local filmmakers, alternative and otherwise, feel it’s possible to have their weird and work, too. Government courting Hollywood “brings money and jobs into the city and offers Portland some new excitement,” says Gretchen Hogue, director of the Portland Documentary and eXperimental Film Festival (PDX Fest), the city’s premier event for experimental, documentary, and otherwise obscure contemporary cinema.
A filmmaker herself, Hogue notes numerous Portlanders who make their living off the mainstream film industry as camera assistants, grips, sound engineers, and the like, while working on their own projects in the downtime. David Cress, a founding partner in the local production company Food Chain Films and a producer on Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, says that although he works on bigger films, he’s still able to oversee pro bono projects for Oregon Public Broadcasting, Portland Public Schools, the Salvation Army, and others. And Matt McCormick, founder of both PDX Fest and Peripheral Produce, an experimental film and video distribution label, says, “Plus, it’s just sort of cool to see your hometown [and] state in some fancy movie on the big screen.”
If the Legislature passes a bigger incentives package, Oregon might earn another pair of lucrative starring roles, in New Moon and Eclipse, two of the books that follow Twilight, for which Summit Entertainment has already purchased the film rights. Twilight ’s worldwide success means those films will have bigger budgets, which could exceed Oregon’s current incentives cap and cause the production company to look elsewhere. At the risk of giving away a vital plot twist in the Twilight saga, if Summit does decide to return, Oregon will have not only vampires to thank for pumping blood into the state, but also a handful of werewolves.