Savvy Portlanders have probably already noticed the telltale signs; craft services trucks, wardrobe vans, and Star Waggons filling up downtown parking lots and taking up side streets in Northeast, industrial-sized theatrical light rigs outside office buildings and hotels, the occasional celebrity sighting.
Portland may not be Los Angeles, but in the last couple of years, it has been the home for a number of film and television productions.
“Portland is one of the few cities on the West Coast that can play for many different cities,” Vince Porter, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Film and Television, explains as to why so many productions are shot in Portland.
Beyond offering a chameleon-like façade that can be molded to take on the appearance of a number of places, Porter and the Office of Film and Television employ a couple of big-time incentives that have also helped Portland become an attractive location for productions both large and small.
“Our office's primary tools for project recruitment are the Oregon Production Investment Fund and the Greenlight Labor rebate. Both programs combined allow us to compete with over 40 other states with film incentives,” Porter says.
According to OregonFilm.org, the Oregon Production Investment Fund offers qualifying film or television productions a 20 percent cash rebate on production related goods and services paid to Oregon vendors and a 10 percent rebate of wages paid for work done in Oregon by both Oregon and non-Oregon residents. The Greenlight Oregon Labor Rebate offers productions that spend more than $1 million in Oregon a cash rebate of 6.2 percent of Oregon-based payroll.
These two incentive programs can be deployed in tandem, offering a qualifying production an effective payroll rebate of 16.2 percent.
“Although our programs are on the lower end in terms of the size of the available incentive, they allow us to have a conversation with the productions when we work to sell all the other benefits of filming here,” Porter says. “Right now there also seem to be a lot of projects written to be set in Portland. That makes the sales job easier,” he adds.
Oregon Film’s ongoing effort to bring shows and movies to the city and its surrounding area means we get to see our neighborhoods and some favorite haunts on the small screen, and sometimes even on the big screen.
Here’s a brief rundown of some of the productions, both television and film, that have been shot in Portland recently:
Leverage on TNT. Photo: TNT
When it comes to television programs that have been shot in Portland, TNT’s Leverage is the best place to start. A heist and adventure drama that premiered in December 2008, Leverage has used Portland as its backdrop since the show’s second season.
Leverage’s Oscar winning star Timothy Hutton is a regular at Blazers games when the show is shooting, and the production has commandeered a number of buildings and parking lots downtown and in the Pearl District. Leverage recently wrapped shooting for its fourth season, which began its 18-episode run on June 26 of this year.
TNT is taking a break from Leverage to cover Major League Baseball’s postseason, bringing back new episodes of the show on November 27.
If Leverage is the jumping-off point for Portland-based television productions, Portlandia is the unquestioned superstar. The brainchild of Saturday Night Live stalwart Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, one of the founders of the seminal Riot Grrrl band Sleater-Kinney, Portlandia has the city of Portland as a central character as well as a setting.
The show’s first season—which began its run on the Independent Film Channel in August 2010—brought a number of A-listers to town. Guest stars in the initial six-episode run included Steve Buscemi, Heather Graham, Jason Sudeikis, and Aubrey Plaza. Local folks got in on the action too. Mayor Sam Adams made an appearance, as did local comedian Ian Karmel and veteran sports writer Dwight Jaynes.
Portlandia’s first season featured locations across the city including In Other Words bookstore on NE Killingsworth and the Gilt Club on NW Broadway. Portlandia recently wrapped on its second season, an expanded run of 10 episodes that will begin airing on IFC in January 2012.
Expect to see some of the same locations from the first season as well as some new ones. Also some more local favorites are getting involved; one of them Trail Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge. #putablazeronit
The newest show to come to the Rose City is NBC’s Grimm. Set in present-day Portland, Grimm is a police drama with a dark and fantastical twist. Grimm has yet to air, but its pilot has already wrapped, and NBC has picked up the show for at least its first block of episodes.
Grimm began shooting in March and will continue shooting episodes in the city throughout the coming months. The production has already put out a number of open casting calls for extras and featured extras. It may not be the road to stardom, but anybody interested in a little extra spending money and the chance to be on television might want to look into it. Grimm’s pilot is set to air on NBC on October 28 with following episodes airing on Fridays on NBC.
It’s not just television programs that have been shooting in Portland in the past few months. Gone, a major Hollywood picture staring up-and-coming “it” girl Amanda Seyfried, just finished its Portland shoot. Currently in post-production with a theatrical release date set for February 24, Gone is a thriller that no doubt will take advantage of Portland’s less than perfect weather.
Cold Weather isn’t the type of star-studded movie that makes headlines when it comes to town, but it is the kind of film we might see more of if the movie-making business starts to build on the foothold it has already established in Portland.
Written by locals Aaron Katz, Ben Stambler, and Brandon McFadden, and shot on a shoestring budget—Katz directed with Stambler and McFadden serving as producers—Cold Weather premiered at South by Southwest in 2010 and was released in the United States by IFC Films in February 2011.
Cold Weather is a mystery that is classified as mumblecore, an emerging genre of film that is primarily defined by limited budgets, location shooting, and amateur actors. Receiving positive reviews across the board, Cold Weather has helped to draw attention to the community of independent filmmakers that call Portland home and is currently available on Netflix Instant.
For more information on projects that have been filmed in Portland over the years, and to list your home or place of business in Oregon Film’s location database, visit Oregon Film’s official website.