SCENE: A SATURDAY NIGHT IN JANUARY. About 150 filmmakers, crew, and actors gather in a new production studio in Southeast Portland to toast the release of three locally produced feature films. In the 4,000-square-foot soundstage, actors—hair coiffed with enough gel to impale a casting agent—work the room. Conversations begin with “Who represents you?” They end with extended thumbs and pinkies: “Call me!”
There is no red carpet. The directors aren’t household names. But the size of the gathering and its venue, Indent Studios—a $2 million, state-of-the-art facility—speak to the escalating ambitions of Portland’s movie scene.
The local film industry is on the cusp of a banner year. Six features from Oregon premiered at January’s Sundance Film Festival, including How to Die in Oregon, a documentary about assisted suicide that nabbed a prestigious grand jury prize. This month, renowned transplant Todd Haynes hits the small screen with the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce. Homegrown director Aaron Katz’s sly, Portland-shot detective tale Cold Weather opened this winter to strong reviews and decent box office. Later this year, local icon Gus Van Sant will look for another idiosyncratic hit with Restless, shot in North Portland.
Oregon’s movie business has been big business for some time. A 2008 study found that film and television production directly contributed $709 million to the state’s economy in ’07. Given recent productions as varied as Van Sant’s feature, the satirical cable series Portlandia, and TNT’s crime drama Leverage, that number is likely growing. The Governor’s Office of Film and Television says it expects 2011 to be its biggest year yet.