By Leah Gibson Southern Oregon Film and Media (SOFaM)
The first narrative film shot in Southern Oregon was all the way back in 1914. It was a 44-minute silent film called Grace’s Visit to the Rogue River Valley. The film featured Broadway actress Grace Fiero alongside a cast of Southern Oregonians. The purpose of the film, shot entirely with a hand-operated Ernemann 35mm camera, was to promote the area for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. A copy of the film is archived in the Southern Oregon Historical Society located in Medford, Oregon, and is available on DVD.
Flash forward 100 years, and the film industry in Southern Oregon is still going strong, having hosted well over 100 feature films, short films, television episodes and more (view a partial list at www.filmsouthernoregon.org/pages/list-of-films). What brings all these productions to the area? For starters, Southern Oregon is renowned for its beautiful and diverse landscapes, from rugged coast to lush valleys, from green forests to high deserts. Add to that four distinct seasons, none of them extreme, dozens of small towns filled with quaint neighborhoods, historic downtowns, and some of the nicest inhabitants you’d ever want to meet. The region is replete with great outdoor and indoor activities: hiking, biking, rafting, skiing, wine tasting, theater-going, fine dining, and art galleries.
Access to this virtual paradise couldn’t be easier. Conveniently located halfway between San Francisco and Portland and bisected by Interstate 5, it’s easy to reach by car. Medford/Jackson County Airport makes Southern Oregon easy to reach by air, as well, with direct flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Las Vegas.
But what is that secret ingredient that makes this region truly special in the world of film and media? It’s the numerous film industry professionals and services that call Southern Oregon home. From directors to production assistants, from grip trucks to wardrobe rentals, productions can find just about everything they need for a successful production. And that includes an incredibly talented community of actors, attracted to the region by its award-winning theatre companies.
With all of these advantages, Southern Oregon’s popularity as a filmmaking location for the past 100 years is easy to see. Celebrating this centennial is the fact that Southern Oregon graced more screens big and small in 2014 than ever before, with three nationally released feature films that shot entirely or in part in Southern Oregon, several TV episodes, and many commercials and corporate videos.
Redwood Highway was released nationwide in April 2014 and starred Tom Skerritt and Shirley Knight. The film focuses on one woman’s 80-mile journey walking from the Rogue Valley to the coast along Highway 199, also known as the Redwood Highway. The locally financed film was made by the team of filmmakers and crewmembers who made Calvin Marshall, released in 2010 and also shot entirely in Southern Oregon. In Redwood Highway, moviegoers were introduced to many of the region’s lesser known communities and attractions, such as Cave Junction, Lake Selma, Great Cats World Park, It’s a Burl Woodshop, the redwoods of Jedidiah Smith State Park, and Whaleshead Beach and Harris Beach State Parks, just to name a few.
Immediately following that release was the latest film by critically acclaimed indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt: Night Moves, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard. This dark thriller tells a cautionary tale of eco-activists who get in over their heads to protest the damming of a local river. The film shot all over Southern Oregon, including Ashland, Medford, the Applegate region, and Lake of the Woods. After gracing the big screen at festivals and theaters across the U.S., both Redwood Highway and Night Moves are now available on DVD and online.
Culminating this banner year was the much-anticipated film Wild. Shot all over Oregon, Wild exposed viewers around the nation and the world to the extraordinary beauty of Oregon’s wilds, such as Crater Lake National Park and the unforgettable sights along the Pacific Crest Trail. In Southern Oregon, Wild shot right in the heart of Ashland at three locations, including its signature gathering spot, Lithia Plaza. Even though quite the list of Hollywood actors has shot in Ashland throughout the year, the town was abuzz with star Reese Witherspoon there. Wild brought most of its crew and cast wherever it filmed, but employed many Southern Oregon film professionals for its prep and shoot in Ashland.
The small screen is also benefiting in 2014 from what Southern Oregon has to offer. The independent locally produced film By God’s Grace, much of it shot in the beautiful heritage town of Jacksonville, is currently for sale in large retail stores and online. The reality makeover shows Hotel Hell and Restaurant: Impossible both came to the area to improve a couple local businesses. Budweiser filmed one of its winter holiday commercials in Southern Oregon. Other national, regional and local commercials for TV and web—for companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Motorcycle Superstore, Husky Liners, Asante Health Systems, Sauce Labs and many more—used Southern Oregon as their backdrop and local professionals for their crew and cast.
It’s already looking like 2015 will show no sign of slowing down. Four feature productions—Black Road, Brother in Laws, Besetment and Courage of Two—which all shot in 2014, will be released in 2015, and we’re sure to have a busy year in TV, shorts, commercials and web content. This continuing discovery and growth of Southern Oregon for culture, adventure and now filmmaking brings an excitement for wonderful things to come and kicks off another century of putting Southern Oregon on big and small screens everywhere.
Leah Gibson is a freelance special effects makeup artist and the Executive Assistant to Southern Oregon Film and Media. For information on filming in Southern Oregon, visit www.filmsouthernoregon.org.