The Future of Film Video in The Northwest

At 50,000 feet, the future of the film and video industry in the Pacific Northwest is looking, well...up. But it's not exactly even-steven between the three major metropolitan areas that make up the

bulk of film and production work in the region. The British Columbia Film Commission's Web site posts seven feature fi lms, five "movie-of-the-week" TV series, two short films, and a myriad of commercials as it continues to reign as the heavyweight champion of the production industry here. It's clear that the rest of the region will need to do some fancy footwork in the future to lure out-of-state production dollars to their local communities -- but the dancing has begun.

Bob Schmaling, project manager of the Oregon Film & Video Office, talks about the

growing impact of three newly established production incentive programs in his state --

the "Oregon Production Investment Fund," which offers qualifying productions a 10

percent rebate on production expenditures in Oregon; the "Greenlight Oregon Labor

Rebate," which rebates approximately six percent of qualified wages to productions

and "Greenlight Oregon Vendor Rebate," a vendor-paid incentive program designed to

offer another 10 percent rebate on goods and services purchased from participating

vendors. Projections for next year are an estimated $12 million in revenue and $4

million in rebates.

Washington State has been without a feature film or network TV series for the

last three years and has seen its industry revenue decline from $50 million in 2000

to $13 million in 2004, according to Suzy Kellet, director of the Washington Film

Office. But now it's on the road to repair. Washington Governor Christine Gregoire

just signed a new competitiveness program, which creates a $3.5 million film fund to

rebate motion picture productions up to $1 million per project. Qualified productions must meet specific spending thresholds to guarantee that money is left behind in state, namely $500,000 for feature films,

$300,000 for television productions and $250,000 for commercials.

Beyond the dollars, there are some emerging trends and areas to watch. All three fi lm offi ces

talk about the switch from location-driven production work to cost-driven production work. What used to be location, location, location is now just location. And, if the budget calls for it, producers nowadays will do a "find and replace" in the script.

Newer technologies, like game development, are merging with film and video production --

with live action and animation marrying up to create digital motion pictures. And because this new combination of technology does not require facilities-based production resources, it levels the production playing field between the local markets.

The Pacific Northwest is also experiencing a vibrant indie film movement. While the monetary impact of this remains low, it has potential to burgeon. Pacific Northwest film offices report that adventure production is on an upward trajectory, as are reality-based TV programs -- as well as specials such as the "Subaru Primal Quest" and others. Foreign production is also on the rise. And fi nally, just

as you might expect, politeness, friendliness, and a strong work ethic will remain a high

priority for those involved in the film and video production business in the Pacific

Northwest in the future -- just as it is today.

On the ground and in the trenches, the future of the film and production industry in

the Pacific Northwest takes the form of the dream and vision of its leaders. Ask any one

of them the same question and you'll get a different, but interesting answer.

Matt Chan, president of Screaming Flea Productions, a Seattle-based fi lm and video production company that develops and produces entertainment programming for cable channels, such as "Knievel's Wild Ride" for A&E and "Gardening by the Yard" -- now in its

12th season for HGTV -- offers his thoughts.

"With new technologies and the ability to deliver programming through iPods, handhelds, and cable companies, there's a whole new world of opportunity for production companies who are able to develop and deliver signature programs. It's like the Wild West right now. If you've got a good idea,

and you know how to read the marketplace, you're in business." Per Chan, good ideas are the currency of tomorrow's production business, and derivative works won't cut it.

"So many people come to me and say, 'I have a show idea,' and it's just like (insert name

of an existing show)," says Chan. "So why would I want to produce it? It's already out

there, and believe me, the second version is never as good, or well received as the first.

It's the new ideas that will make the waves."

In Portland, Juliana Lukasik, the owner and executive producer for @Large Films, a full-service production company in the commercial arena with work for clients like Nike, Miller Paint and Taco Time, talks about growth potential for her company in the advertising and marketing world.

"For me, advertising is an indicator, and it's definitely on the rise here in Portland. We

just had our best year ever. Advertisers are looking for new and different ways to reach

people, and the door is open for us to partner with them in a new way. To be creative problem solvers for them. It's not just about the technology -- and the mass of choices in delivery mechanisms. It's knowing which director would best suit the project and how and where to deliver a particular message."

While Lukasik says new technology allows more people to enter the production business, and provides them with the chance to follow their passion, she says that knowing how to tell a story matters most.

"People think it's easy to make films, because the cameras are affordable, and portable,

and you can edit at home on your computer. But you have to know how to tell a story. True artists will always make it through, but I can tell you from experience that it's difficult to make a living at it and I don't see that changing any time soon." When asked what she would like to see happen in the future,

Lukasik says that she wants more director reels from women. "There just aren't a lot of

women directors out there now. Maybe the future will bring more."

The Web site for Food Chain Films opens with a picture of a raw T-bone steak.

The image provides a constant reminder, says David Cress, executive producer and

owner of the company, that the production business is competitive. "In this business,

you never know where you are in the food chain. People cycle in and out of popularity,

and you have to stay on your toes. To be successful, you have to be able to custom

tailor yourself to the new models and modes of communication. My hope is that the

most creative wins." Cress sees the future as interesting -- especially with regard to

content because the rules have changed.

"Time formats are different now, and so are the rules about what you can say or do in

a public forum. You don't have to be locked into 30-second TV commercial thinking."

Cress tries to keep his mind open and his thinking flexible when he talks with clients

about production and ways to leverage the work he does for them.

"We recently worked on a scratch ticket campaign with Border, Perrin & Norrander

for the Oregon State Lottery. It was a spoofy piece involving a fruitcake toss and some

original songs that were quite funny. As the work unfolded, new opportunities just

popped up along the way -- so we took advantage of them. For example, I included

a photo shoot in the production so that my client could get some still pictures of the

fruitcake. Then after the commercial aired, the agency put together a CD of the songs,

slapped the picture from the shoot on the cover, and sent it out to all the local radio

stations. People actually called in with requests for the fruitcake songs." Cress

says that advertisers of the future want integrated messaging and less intrusive

advertising. "What would you want to watch?" And that kind of pressure, he says, invites

new creativity for those in the business.

Deborah Narine, executive producer and owner of SpyGirl Productions, a Seattlebased film and video production company that produces commercials, corporate videos, documentaries and TV programming, says that the industry's new-found ability to be comfortable with newer technologies

both in developing and in delivering their work -- is driving a change in the type of content created. "Technology is allowing us to grow in ways we never thought possible,"

says Narine. "Just think how far we've come -- from "Roger Rabbit" to "The Matrix.

And the ways people receive messages is changing exponentially too. A good producer is tactical. The world is full of sophisticated consumers. Take a look at what they watch in the theater, on their iPods, or computer. We have to speak to them on a level they'll listen to, and we have to be relevant to their world," she says. Connecting with the audience is something Narine is passionate about.

"We were all affected by 9/11," she explained. "It made us come closer together.

People understand now that moments matter. While there's always room for the great rug pull (humor), the future I see is one where human stories are told. Through reality TV, and in producing film and video that allows people to make an emotional connection with what they're watching.

For Narine, it's the messaging that focuses on human truths that will make the most

impact in the future.

Because in a world immersed in commercials and constant change, all of us seek to find

that place where we can relate, where it's safe, and we can be happy. Narine believes

that advertising of the future will have to work harder, and also, that there's a new

requirement for producers -- to create real-life human impact, or it won't

be watched.

At 5:45 p.m. one January afternoon in Vancouver, B.C., Stewart Bethune, production manager of "X-3" (working title for the third "X-Men" by FOX Pictures) is just leaving his office for the day. "X-3" headed to post production in L.A. after a year of shooting and editing in Vancouver. The production crew is catching its breath, but only for a moment.