New Film Office Director Prioritizing Partnerships and Sustainability for Oregon Media Production
By Mary Erickson Guest Editor
Tim Williams visited Oregon to scout locations for the film Wild while working at Fox Searchlight. Working with the Oregon film office on this project, he was struck by the possibilities and opportunities in the state and the level of creative work happening here. Then Vince Porter, the former executive director of the Governor’s Office of Film and Television, left to pursue a position as one of Governor Kitzhaber’s economic policy advisors. Williams seized the opportunity to transition 25 years of production experience into work that would be more consistent in a place that is, as he mentions, “a lot more beautiful.”
Since taking the helm at the Oregon film office on October 1 of this year, Williams dived into getting acquainted with filmmaking communities across the state. He has been encouraged at the depth of the creative community.
“There is a passion and an insight to so many different creative processes here,” he says, “and I’m excited to see how we can help them out to grow into something forceful.”
Williams is committed to growing the sustainability of media production in the entire region. One strategy is to make the state’s film incentives—OPIF, i-OPIF, Greenlight Oregon—work for the entire state. Working with various regional industry associations will ensure solid distribution of the incentives across the state. Oregon’s film incentives have been very successful, attracting and retaining high-profile productions, such as Grimm and The Librarians.
Williams says, “The incentive program is working really well and it is benefiting a great deal of companies both in-state and coming from out of state. And it’s created a nice balance of work in the state, and the smaller indigenous work that’s going on.”
But the incentives have topped out quickly this year: the $10 million for the 2014 OPIF incentives were distributed within the first month. Even i-OPIF, the production incentive fund for indigenous, or locally-grown, films, capped out within a week for the first time this year.
“This limits our ability to use incentives for many of the things we’d like to do,” says Williams. “We have about five different projects every week inquiring about shooting in Oregon. And that’s been happening since July… But with no incentives left to offer, the conversation stops there.”
So much interest in media production means larger-scale productions, and more brick-and-mortar companies expanding and moving into larger spaces to accommodate the increase in work. Williams’ role in fostering conditions to keep this momentum going includes looking at models in other states, such as New York, California, Louisiana and Georgia, examining what works and what doesn’t work.
“We’re looking at what they are doing right,” he says, “and what they are doing that we probably wouldn’t do, and what they are doing that we can learn from. It changes with each one of those jurisdictions.”
As the next legislative session approaches, beginning in February 2015, Williams and the film office hope to address the gap in what the incentives can offer and what the filmmaking community is asking for.
“We have a growing list of projects that are inquiring about Oregon and because we’re not on a level playing field with other states that have incentives programs with more money, these productions go elsewhere,” says Williams. “Addressing this gap is right up at the top of our agenda.”
He adds, “I am hopeful we can expand the incentives in a way that will continue to help the sectors.”
To complement the incentives and continue strengthening Oregon’s production community, Williams hopes to pursue partnerships with both government and non-government agencies.
“I’m seeing a lot of opportunity for partnership to help the internal creative companies of Oregon, the ones we call brick-and-mortar companies,” says Williams. “Media is now a broad term, rather than just TV or movies or commercials. It’s now branded content, digital content, digital storytelling. Everything is crossing over everywhere, so this partnership aspect is really important.”
Williams is approaching this strategy of partnership by examining other states’ activities. “We’re also looking at what some of the state agencies in other places have done,” he says, “like the Arts Commission in New York and what they have done with rural theater and rural filmmaking. What can we learn from these types of partnerships?”
In the meantime, Williams is getting to know the state, visiting both the Eugene International Film Festival and the Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival in Portland in November.
“I’m excited about Oregon’s diversity of film offerings and its different agendas and needs,” he says. “Now we are working on marrying all of these things together in a way that makes people feel like we are here to help without diminishing one side or the other of the equation.”
And at the beginning of December, Williams had his first major film premiere as head of the film office. Wild, the film that first brought Williams to Oregon, boasts more on-location shooting in Oregon than any other feature film, shot in Bend, Ashland, Crater Lake and points in between. The film opened in December in theaters across the country.