Why I Make Movies in Portland

I’ve turned down the option to “Go LA” three times now: Once for school, once for no good reason, and once for a movie job. Each time it was harder and harder to stay in Portland, yet each time I turned down the chance I felt good about it. So, why would someone who wants to make a career out of film and video choose to stay in Portland, Oregon? Well, it’s not as strange as it sounds . . . Let me tell you why.


Smaller pond.

While Portland is far larger then the little town I grew up in, it’s still small enough for someone to make a name for himself or herself. In LA, I would just be another struggling moviemaker trying to scam a new deal. While I am that same person here, there are less of us and we tend to stand out more. Take promotions as an example.

If I lived in Los Angeles (or New York or any other “major” movie city) it would be a real challenge to get any form of promotion into a local newspaper, magazine, or television broadcast. In Portland though I can pick up the phone and within a few minutes have a very good chance of speaking to some local journalists and getting my opus mentioned. That’s not to say these smaller local publications aren’t any good, far from it. They’re just not yet jaded by the constant influx of letters and calls the “big city” media gets. Plus, even in a city the size of Portland the locals like to hear about one of their own “making it”.

The all mighty dollar.

Portland is just flat out cheaper then anything in LA. That goes for the talent, the equipment, the permits, and even the locations. In Portland I can put out a few requests on the local acting web-sites and get serious replies within 24 hours. Most of these folks really want to act and don’t care that all you can pay them is pizza, soda and a few percentages of the movie’s profit (assuming that even happens). Smaller cities like Portland have at least one or two equipment rental businesses. It takes a little more work but try mentioning that you’re a small local production, trust me, even these guys like to help out “their own”. I’ve often received cheaper rates with the promise of putting their name on some of the posters. If you’re lucky (as I’ve been once), you can get the equipment for free if you promise the company a “Presents” credit. I know that product placement is a dirty word for us artists, but you still gotta’ make money!

Locations are often cheaper in your smaller cities and towns as well. In fact most of the time they are down right free! This again stems from the fact that people in smaller cities and towns like to help out the local filmmaker. I’ve spoken to many friends in the larger film cities and have heard the horror stories about trying to secure a location. I cringe when I think about them shelling out a few hundred dollars because they accidentally filmed in someone’s backyard. Those stories are, thankfully, rare in the smaller towns and cities. I’ve often found that with a single phone call or knock on the owner’s door I can secure the site. Most of the people are so excited or curious about a movie being made in their house or business that they begin to help out. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a limitless supply of burger and fries while shooting!

This same rule applies when dealing with the smaller city and town governments. Although Portland is known for it’s near limitless bureaucracy, it has taken huge steps in helping out the local filmmaker. Unlike a contractor or other business owner, I can call one office and have every permit taken care of for me. And, since filmmaking is often considered a “non-impact” field the fees for said permits are fairly cheap. Check you’re local city hall, I can all but promise they will have some form of media liaison. Even the smallest of towns like to be close to the “glamour” of Hollywood, most will bend over backwards to help out and clear the permits.

Now, I would never endorse filming without a permit or any other form of guerilla moviemaking but that does lead to the other bonus of working with smaller city governments. Most of them don’t know or even care to know the rules regarding movies. In fact, most do not even HAVE rules regarding movies being made. I have found that as long as you don’t blow anything up or make the locals upset you can film to your hearts content!

Do I ever wonder what would have happened had I moved to LA? Of course I do, wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. But, I don’t ever regret my choice. Besides, when I think of my favorite and inspirational directors, LA is not the city I think of. So, if movies can be made in San Antonio, Detroit, and Red Bank then they can be made in Portland too. But, if you don’t want to believe me, believe the man who’s been making movies for over thirty years. You want to make a move then, “Make Your Own Damn Movie”! – Lloyd Kaufman.