Trish and Harold's Weblog

News, information, and random thoughts from the busy lives of Trish Egan and Harold Phillips.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Step Towards A Sustainable Oregon Film Industry

So, my friend, Animus Cross Co-Star, and all-around good guy Jerry Buxbaum and I were talking the other day... and, as so often happens, our conversation turned towards the state of our local film industry. While we're both very happy with the forward momentum we've seen in recent years, we were also both a little (just a little) concerned.

Now, don't get the wrong idea... things are going great here in Oregon, especially in Portland. If you've been following my twitter feed, the blog here, or the news in general, you know that we've had a banner year with Leverage, Extraordinary Measures (formerly the "Untitled Crowley Project"), and Gus Van Zandt's new film Restless, which starts shooting in Portland soon. Even more production is headed our way next year, with Leverage returning for a second year, and the just-about-confirmed news that the fourth Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn, will be returning to Oregon. A lot of jobs and money have come into the state from out-of-town production, and we're all very grateful for it.

The thing is, though... these are all "out-of-town" productions. These productions are coming here because of the talent and locations that Oregon has to offer... but they're also coming here because they're getting a good deal from our state's very generous film incentive program. As Jerry pointed out, these things are cyclical... eventually, the out-of-town producers are going to be offered a better deal from somewhere else, and they're likely to move on to those locales. Again, don't get me wrong - I wouldn't blame them. These are business people after all; if they can get a better deal somewhere else that increases their profit potential in a VERY speculative business, why wouldn't they?

We both agreed that now, while the industry in Oregon is booming, it's the perfect time to be training and building the capacity of our local filmmakers - the ones who will still be here when the boom inevitably fades; the ones who have always been here, making films and web series and television properties. See, we've got lots of talented, creative people here in Oregon with the drive, experience, and knowledge to make quality films and television... but they lack a couple of key elements:

1) Investment in their projects, which allows these filmmakers to fund their projects from the beginning, and...

2) Distribution and sales expertise so that, once the project is finished, the filmmakers can get their creation out to an audience.

Obviously, this conversation has been happening between a lot more people than just Jerry and I. Two events are coming up in the next couple months that address some of these issues, and attempt to get local filmmakers the information and resources they need to close these gaps.

First, on November 6th and 7th, the What Is Film Conference (hosted by the University of Oregon at Portland's Turnbull Center) looks at the future of Film as a medium, how the digital age is affecting audience and distribution, and the state of the industry here in Oregon. The program for the conference is choc-full of Portland-area film workers discussing how they make a living in the medium and the challenges that our region is facing. I'm definitely going to make time to attend this conference (registration is just $20, after all!).

Then, on December 5th, the OMPA and OPA are hosting their second film financing workshop, focused on Movie Marketing. As the materials point out,

For decades all a filmmaker had to do was make a great film, license it to the highest bidder, and sit back while the distributor figured out how to market it, booked it into theatres, leveraged the ancillary rights and collected the money.

Today, traditional one-stop pick-up deals have all but vanished as the costs of theatrical distribution escalate and a new frontier of digital opportunities emerges. Making back your investment, much less making a living at filmmaking, now requires savvy marketing to compete on the festival circuit and attract a mix of viable distribution partners, as well as paying audience.

Look, any industry depends on the exchange of money - it's Economics 101. Whether you're making shoes or shows, the fundamentals are still the same: something is created to sell to someone else. In order to make that something, you have to have facilities, personnel, marketing, and distribution to the customer. Our industry is just like any other in that respect... and here in Oregon we're close to making that industry truly self-sustaining, and able to compete globally.

These events are an opportunity for everyone working in our industry here in Oregon. The only thing that we lack is the expertise to close a couple of gaps... and we'll have a financially thriving film industry in this state, as well as a creatively thriving one. I really hope that people in our industry take advantage of these opportunities so they can work together to achieve what we all know is possible.

Keep your eye on the "Big Picture," folks...