By Paul Nevius, Communications Coordinator, Washington Filmworks
The red light of the Space Needle blinking against a starry backdrop, the snow-dusted peaks of the Cascades, the sun-baked highways winding through rolling desert hills, the endless shades of green in the rainforests. Few other places in the United States can match the diversity of Washington State. Boasting some of the nation’s most dramatic scenery, ranging from waves pounding on rocky beaches to the world famous Seattle skyline, Washington has always been a prime location for film scouts.
However, with the business of filmmaking changing to reflect today’s economic climate, it will be Washington’s ability to offer competitive incentives and support to productions that will continue to foster motion pictures in our state.
In 1930, legendary movie star Clark Gable came to Mt. Baker, Washington, to film The Call of the Wild. For over 80 years Washington has played host to stars from all eras of filmmaking, from Elvis Presley to John Wayne, Tom Hanks to Matthew Broderick, Johnny Depp to Sylvester Stallone. To recognize some of the remarkable and memorable works that have been made in Washington, we reflect back on the last three decades of Washington film.
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) – Widely considered to be one of the best films of 1982, An Officer and a Gentleman was one of the pictures that catapulted Richard Gere into the realm of stardom and earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor to Louis Gossett, Jr., the first African American to win an Oscar in that category.
WarGames (1983) – A true Cold War time capsule starring Matthew Broderick, WarGames was one of the first films to address the now-cliché movie trope of the “super-computer run amok,” as well as helping introduce the word “hacker” to the common lexicon and inspiring generations of high schoolers to try and change their report cards with their PC.
Singles (1992) – Set against the landscape of early ‘90s grunge rock Seattle, Singles was the first of many films targeted at the twentysomethings known as “Generation X.” While commercially and critically successful, the film was partially eclipsed by a soundtrack featuring Seattle-area musicians such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. After the film’s release, an attempt was made to turn the movie into a TV series and when director Cameron Crowe balked at the notion, the company proceeded with the idea, changed elements and characters, with the result eventually becoming the NBC sitcom Friends.
The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992) – A film with tremendous influence on pop culture, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle enjoyed a place at number one on the box office charts for four consecutive weeks, had a massive impact on American pop-culture and brought actress Rebecca De Mornay to the Hollywood A-list with her chilling portrayal.
Benny & Joon (1993) – A love story about two eccentric individuals, Benny & Joon was another critically acclaimed performance by a rising star named Johnny Depp, who brilliantly channeled silent film comedians Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
Sleepless in Seattle (1993) – Known by many as Seattle’s signature film, featuring locations from Alki Beach to iconic views of the Space Needle, Sleepless in Seattle featured performances by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan that set the standard for romantic comedies to this day. As a testament to this film’s lasting impact on the city, Sleepless in Seattle merchandise is still sold almost two decades after the film’s release.
Assassins (1995) – Written by the Wachowski Brothers, directed by Richard Donner and starring Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas, Assassins was a high-budget action thriller that showcased the two leads jockeying to kill each other across Seattle.
Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) – Receiving industry-wide acclaim for its cinematography, Snow Falling on Cedars highlights the Japanese-American population of Seattle’s struggle against prejudice in the time before, during, and following WWII.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999) – A late ‘90s teen adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew was America’s first introduction to the late Heath Ledger and a breakout role for the young actor.
The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising (2008) – A true home-grown gem, this low-budget indie featuring a cast and crew drawn entirely from Washington State has developed a loyal cult following and boasts fans all over the globe, showing the ability of Washington filmmakers to rise above limitations like budget and reach a broad audience.
World’s Greatest Dad (2009) – Directed by comedian Bobcat Goldthwaite and starring Robin Williams, this dark comedy shows Seattle’s versatility as an “Anywhere, USA” location, and was a smash-hit at Sundance.
The Details (2009) – With a star-studded cast, The Details is a story about raccoons destroying a yard, but the story of how the production overcame difficulties in financing is equally incredible. Debuting at Sundance, The Details was quickly bought for distribution by the Weinstein Brothers, becoming one of the most popular films at the festival.
Despite the boom of feature films made in the ‘90s, Washington has seen a decline in features in the past decade. A rapidly changing economic climate and the rise of state film incentives all over the country has created a highly competitive film industry where the bottom line trumps locations. These changes have seen Seattle- and Washington-set films such as Battle in Seattle, Twilight, and Love Actually going to Vancouver, BC, or Oregon.
With the bottom line now more important than ever, Washington’s filmmaking future seems uncertain and will rely on the willingness of state politicians to renew the motion picture incentives that drive the state film industry. More than bringing Hollywood to Washington, these incentives speak to cultivating the caliber of creative talent that has existed here for over 80 years and helping write a new chapter in the history of Washington Film.
For more information, visit www.washingtonfilmworks.org.