Seattle’s Strong Summer

By Paul Nevius, Communications Coordinator, Washington Filmworks

Despite the uncertainty surrounding Washington’s motion picture tax incentive and the future of filmmaking in the Evergreen State, summer of 2011 represents one of the busiest and most productive shooting seasons in recent memory. Cities around the state played host to four feature-length films that showcased the variety of locations and the depth and talent of Washington’s crew base. To better understand the impact these films had on Washington and how they came to be made in our home state, the filmmakers were asked to share their experiences.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the incentive was central to the producers’ decision to film in Washington. “We created a detailed tax incentive analysis to compare the film incentive programs in Washington and California, and the Washington Filmworks funding assistance was the winner by several thousand dollars,” said Jacob Mosler, one of the producers of Eden.

Eden tells the harrowing true story of a young Korean-American girl who is abducted and forced into prostitution by domestic human traffickers and comes to join forces with her captors in a desperate plea to survive. At the helm of Eden was director Megan Griffiths, a Washington native and rising star of the indie scene.

The incentive was also an integral part of what attracted producer Rick Rosenthal to Seattle to make Fat Kid Rules the World. Adapted from the novel by K.L. Going about an obese 17-year-old who becomes drawn into the world of punk rock and becomes the drummer of a punk duo, Fat Kid also marks the directorial debut of Matthew Lillard.

Rosenthal, an industry veteran with decades of experience in filmmaking, said, “The incentive was vital. We would not have come to Seattle without it. We would have gone to Portland or even NYC because both have strong incentives that have remained in place. I think it is imperative that Washington bring back the incentive if they wish to stay competitive and stimulate film production in the state.”

Australian director Richard Grey of Mine Games acknowledged that the incentive made filming in Washington possible. “Otherwise we would have filmed in California. The extra costs to bring cast and key crew to Seattle (including accommodation, flights, per diems) were directly offset by the incentive. It made everything possible.”

Filmed in the Ape Cave located in Snoqualmie National Forest, Mine Games is a psychological thriller about a group of young friends who make an incomprehensible discovery in an abandoned mine, but find the more they try to change the future, the more they seal their fate.

The unique scenery in Washington was also a compelling factor in attracting these productions. To make their directorial debut, Scott Moore and Jonathan Lucas, writers of The Hangover, selected the University of Washington, basing their film, 21 and Over, on the iconic Husky campus.

To replicate the look of the American Southwest needed for Eden, producers Mosler and Colin Plank filmed in the eastern part of the state, spending time in Spokane, Ellensburg and Enumclaw.

Mosler noted that the services and amenities for the production were top-notch, even when filming was done away from major production centers. “We were able to house our cast and crew in everything from luxury hotels in downtown Seattle, to cozy independent hotels when shooting in the remote desert. The greater Northwest is truly a land with a vibrant economy supported by strong resources that are clearly reflected on screen and added great production value to our film.”

For Fat Kid, New York City was replaced by neighborhoods and homes in the Ballard district of Seattle. Said Rosenthal, “Great neighborhoods and diverse locations, coupled with a solid local crew and some talented local actors. A plethora of great restaurants—Ballard seemed to be the favorite hangout neighborhood, along with Capitol Hill.”

The Mine Games team had a similar experience. Said Grey, “Locals were very helpful and friendly, crew recommended others, and our Washington team came together very quickly. We found a perfect place to stay at the Red Lion in Bellevue, which catered for all needs. Catering we sourced surprisingly from Enumclaw, and they, too, were very good.”

As the shooting season comes to a close and the features transition into post-production, it is time to look ahead to what the future holds for filmmakers in Washington. Without the film incentive in place, it will be a tall order to bring filmmakers here to take advantage of the variety of locations and the pool of professionals that make Washington their home. It remains to be seen if the Washington legislature will take the steps to ensure that this season is not the last season for making movies here in the Evergreen State.

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