The Inland Empire

A Q&A with Rich Cowan of Spokane’s North by Northwest

By Tim Robinson, Director of Communications & PR, Visit Spokane
Photos courtesy of North by Northwest

If there’s a gravitational pull in the film industry, you could say that North by Northwest Entertainment, located in Spokane, Washington, has the g-force of the sun. This 24-year-old company has risen (and risen) from humble beginnings to being a major player.


One of North by Northwest’s recent Spokane productions.

Recently, we sat down for five questions and answers with company co-founder and partner Rich Cowan. Rich’s creative career started early—while he was in high school, he directed some productions for Seattle’s KING 5 Television. A bit later in life, he started working for KHQ in Spokane as one of its key production folks. Eventually, he wanted more and he thought Spokane was just the place to find it.

What is it about Spokane that made you think, “I can start a film company here!”?
Rich Cowan: There are so many reasons, but one that stands out in my mind is the locations. This is such a great, diverse place and we have so many natural and man-made gifts. Deserts, mountains, lakes, the Palouse—and it’s all within such an easily commutable distance. We can do East Coast here. We can do Midwest and, of course, West Coast. Very few regions have as much diversity.


Another North by Northwest film, shot at Gonzaga in Spokane.

Is there a difference between doing a production on the east side of the state versus the west side of Washington?
RC: There are awesome locations all across Washington, but I think the logistics that go into making a film work really well over here. You don’t have to fight traffic or parking, things like that. Those two aspects alone can make a shoot so much more efficient. It’s a very accommodating area that really makes it easier to do all the work that goes into a production. Because it’s easier, you get a longer shooting day, which means fewer shooting days, which means you save money.

Looking at North by Northwest’s impressive resume of films and productions, some people might be surprised that you’re so successful in a relatively small town.
RC: The size of the area and the population actually work in our favor. We’ve got an extremely talented pool of production people and actors throughout the region and they are veterans because they’ve been tapped to work in so many productions. Spokane’s got the Civic Theater, Interplayers, for just a couple of examples. For a community of our size to have the kind of talent we do is impressive. And getting back to the diversity of locations here: you can shoot farm scenes, forest scenes, you can shoot inner city. We’ve done films set in New York City—all shot here. That’s because of the great architecture and our parks and everything else. And because the film business is a relatively small industry, people know about Spokane.

What’s the latest production that you’ve done?
RC: We did a film called West of Redemption. It’s in post now. It stars Billy Zane and is directed by Cornelia Moore. The shoot went great.

And what’s on the horizon for North by Northwest Entertainment?
RC: We’ve got some very exciting projects on tap that, we think, will be great for the region. Even though it’s still early, 2014 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for us and we look forward to sharing more with this terrific community and the great filmmaking community throughout Washington.

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