By Leah Gibson Southern Oregon Film and Media (SOFaM)
Envision a special place that embraces green forests, snowcapped mountains, blue lakes and hastening rivers. This is an enchanted land where citizens enjoy the good life in a small quaint town. Located just 15 miles north of the California border in the Rogue Valley, right where the Siskiyou and Cascade Mountains intersect, is one such town: Ashland, Oregon. This dynamic hamlet of 20,000 souls boasts a vibrant and artsy community where natural spring water literally bubbles to the surface through fountains in the welcoming downtown hub the locals refer to simply as “The Plaza.”
Ashland is known for many things: world-class theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a top-notch liberal arts education at Southern Oregon University, and the beauty and solitude of Lithia Park, designed by John McLaren of Golden Gate Park fame. What Ashland hasn’t been known for is filmmaking. But that is starting to change.
After quietly producing quality productions of all types and sizes for years, Ashland was recognized in 2014 by MovieMaker magazine by being named the #2 town to live and work as a filmmaker in the nation. Then it was kicked up one more notch to #1 in January of 2015. To be sure, this esteemed position is partly due to its extraordinary locale, cultured atmosphere and high quality of life. These aspects of Ashland land the town atop many lists. The recognition for Ashland’s filmmaking is specifically thanks to the numerous letters of support from local businesses and community leaders. This town’s support runs deep, as evidenced by its film-focused economic development grant two years running.
Wondering if you’ve seen Ashland on the big screen? In 2014, it was hard to miss. The picturesque town was featured as one of the stops along the Pacific Crest Trail in the acclaimed Reese Witherspoon film, Wild. The town was prominently featured in Night Moves, the indie eco-terrorism thriller starring Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning. And Ashland was where Shirley Knight took her first steps towards the Oregon coast in Redwood Highway.
It’s important to note that it’s a rare production that only takes place in Ashland and relies solely on Ashland resources. In truth, another thing Ashland has going for it is the robust and varied region of which it is a part. The Southern Oregon coast and the high desert to the east, along with many small towns, have all hosted productions. These are where many of the region’s crews and cast call home. Located 13 miles north of Ashland, Medford is the area’s biggest town and the location for many of its productions. Medford also supports the industry with economic development money. When taken as a whole, the MovieMaker designation of Ashland as #1 really applies to all of Southern Oregon.
Making and watching movies overlap at the region’s many film festivals, including the Siskiyou FilmFest (focused on environmentally themed films), the Klamath Independent Film Festival (focused on locally shot films and films by local filmmakers), the Killer Valley Horror Film Festival, and the Southern Oregon University Student Film Festival. Of course, the Ashland Independent Film Festival is a highly regarded and nationally known festival that MovieMaker magazine also recognized as a festival “worth the entry fee.”
The festival, known as AIFF, attracts top-quality long and short narrative and documentary films from all over the world. Recent keynote participants have included Morgan Spurlock, Julie Taymor, Barbara Kopple and Ty Burrell (who attended college in Ashland). In a nod to the robust local film and media industry, AIFF has a Locals program and a student film competition that lets local filmmakers, both budding and veteran, experience the excitement and energy of having audiences watch and comment on their films. These individuals also get the invaluable opportunity to connect to the wider community of award-winning filmmakers.
Shepherding and supporting the local industry is Southern Oregon Film and Media (SOFaM). With its office in Ashland, SOFaM is a membership-based non-profit that promotes the region to both local and out-of-area producers and works to connect productions with local film professionals, actors, equipment and resources via its online directory. Open to industry participants, businesses, students and general supporters, SOFaM membership offers access to digital newsletters, networking opportunities, job postings, free and discounted admission to special SOFaM events, and reciprocal benefits with sister organizations across Oregon. With its large database and deep reach across the entire region, SOFaM is the starting point for any film or media need. SOFaM has been instrumental in bringing high-profile projects to the area in its eight-year history, such as a recent Budweiser commercial filmed in Jacksonville and the upcoming feature comedy Brother In Laws from producer Lorne Michaels, which shot in and near Klamath Falls.
But it’s not just these and the previously mentioned productions that define the Southern Oregon film and media industry and keep its members busy. The area sees a great number of local, regional and national commercials and corporate videos, television projects, short films, music videos and many independent features, all taking advantage of what earned Ashland and Southern Oregon the top spot on the list of places to live and work as a moviemaker.
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.