Tom Skerritt and Shirley Knight with director Gary Lundgren on the set of Redwood Highway.

Independent Feature Filmmaking Roars Back into Southern Oregon

Tom Skerritt and Shirley Knight with director Gary Lundgren on the set of Redwood Highway.

By Gary Kout, Founder & Executive Director, SOFaT
Photos by Gary Kout and Gary Lundgren

Southern Oregon has been the backdrop for many feature films, starting all the way back in 1914 with Grace’s Visit to the Rogue Valley. Though generally an uncommon event, a strong flurry of filming began in 2000 with at least one independent film being shot every year in the area. Then in 2010, filmmaking came to a screeching halt with no films being made, and in 2011 there were only two micro-indies with budgets in the $100,000 range or less.

Those keeping tabs on the industry know that private equity, the usual source of funding for indie production, had become incredibly difficult to procure. The distribution models for independent films had also been going through a fundamental shift, with fewer and fewer theatrical opportunities, skewing everything towards the less lucrative digital markets. Finding money and making money had dropped through the floor.

Redwood Highway films at It's a Burl.

But late 2012 saw a dramatic change in the production landscape as not just one, but two good-sized independent films, both with strong creative talents and recognizable casts, filmed in Southern Oregon. Eager to shake off the dust from their long break, the local industry rose up to meet the challenge.

Night Moves, the latest film from critically-acclaimed director Kelly Reichardt, was the first film to roll cameras. Reichardt’s last two films, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff, were both multiple award nominees and winners at major festivals. Continuing her preference for filming in Oregon thanks to its wide range of locations, film-friendly environment, experienced crews, and competitive incentives, Reichardt and longtime screenwriting partner Jonathan Raymond set their latest story of eco-terrorism in the small communities and beautiful landscapes of Southern Oregon. The movie stars Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Dakota Fanning (the Twilight series) and Peter Sarsgaard (An Education).

The second film was Redwood Highway, the follow-up feature from the creative team behind Calvin Marshall, starring Steve Zahn, which also filmed in Southern Oregon in winter 2007. Redwood Highway tells the story of Marie, a resident at a retirement community who decides to walk 80 miles down the Redwood Highway to see the coast of Oregon for the first time in 45 years. The movie stars award-winning veteran actress Shirley Knight (As Good as It Gets), with strong supporting roles by Tom Skerritt (A River Runs Through It) and James LeGros (Point Break).

Lining up a shot of Shirley Knight on the Redwood Highway.

Thanks to our familiarity with the local industry, director Gary Lundgren, my fellow producer James Twyman, and I cast several local actors, many of whom perform with the acclaimed Oregon Shakespeare Festival and have strong Hollywood film and TV credits.

Living up to its name, Redwood Highway filmed primarily along the actual Hwy 199, Southern Oregon’s main route to the coast. As travelers along the fabled highway know, many interesting and incredible sites await them. The filmmakers wanted to recreate that experience, making the movie a sort of greatest hits of the Redwood Highway. Their filming locations included Lake Selmac, Eight Dollar Mountain, It’s A Burl, Cave Junction, Great Cats, Rough and Ready Bridge, Jedidiah Smith State Park (in California), and the beautiful coast in Brookings, Oregon. Other locations filled out the production schedule, covering a large swath of Southern Oregon: Mountain Meadows Retirement Community in Ashland, Talent Club in Talent, the Applegate River Lodge, and downtown Grants Pass.

Night Moves also filmed all over the region, from as far north as Roseburg, east to Lake of the Woods, west to the Applegate Valley, and the main population centers of Medford and Ashland. All told, there wasn’t much of Southern Oregon that didn’t see cameras roll, nor feel the economic impact of feature filmmaking.

Southern Oregon Film and Television (or SOFaT for short), the membership-based local professional association and de-facto film commission for the region, assisted both productions. SOFaT provided strong recommendations about the filmmakers to local public agencies and private businesses, which helped to acquire locations, smooth the various permit processes, and perpetuate the already pro-filming attitude in Southern Oregon.

Director Gary Lundgren with actresses Michelle Lombardo and Shirley Knight on the set of Redwood Highway.

When both productions inquired about local crewmembers and services, SOFaT directed them to its online directory where many professionals in the local industry list their contact info, credits, and links to samples of their work. As a result, many SOFaT members were hired to work on both productions. Such employment not only contributes to the local economy, but it builds the resumes and raises the overall experience level of the local industry, making those members and the region more attractive to future productions.

SOFaT and the Southern Oregon industry hope that 2012 is merely the start of another busy decade of filmmaking, and is already working hard to springboard the results and ramifications of Night Moves and Redwood Highway into future filmmaking activity.

For more information about making your next project in Southern Oregon, visit SOFaT at www.filmsouthernoregon.org or contact us at info@filmsouthernoregon.org.

Gary Kout is the founder and executive director of Southern Oregon Film and Television and a producer on Redwood Highway, as well as having worked on four other feature films in Southern Oregon. He was the production supervisor on the 2011 Academy Award-winning animated feature Rango, starring Johnny Depp, and has line-produced over 100 national commercials.

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