New incentive program, changing economics draw 'Twilight'

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For the longest time, Oregon was the other flyover state.

Hollywood industry figures jetted above California's northern neighbor on their way to Canada's bustling entertainment center in Vancouver, where so many movies and series have made their home in the past two decades. But there are signs that some planes are taking a new flight path and landing in Oregon.

"Twilight," Summit Entertainment's adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's teen vampire romance novels, is the latest in a string of productions that have come to Oregon to shoot. The Catherine Hardwicke-directed production, with a budget in the mid-$30 million range, is in its third week of shooting in and around Portland, the state's biggest city.

Other recent movies filmed in Oregon include the Diane Lane thriller "Untraceable," Lakeshore's "Feast of Love" and the upcoming Jennifer Aniston movie "Management" from Sidney Kimmel.

In October, the state instituted a film-incentive program that includes a 20% rebate on goods and services and a 16.2% rebate on payroll, with no cap per project and including resident and nonresident crews. That was a bump from the initial legislation, instituted in 2005, which featured only a 10% rebate and had a $250,000 cap.

"It's amazing what incentives will do," said Steve Oster, a former co-supervising producer on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and now executive director of the Oregon Film and Video Office.

Oster said production jumped 50% when the first incentives were introduced. It has been up another 23% since the new programs were launched.

Most of the state's focus has been on attracting features in the $10 million-$30 million range, not TV series.

"We are not in the series business partially because our incentive fund is not large enough to accommodate them," Oster said. "We have a $5 million fund we work with, and a series can chew into that pretty fast."

But incentives are only part of the story. The strong Canadian dollar, which basically hovers around par with the American greenback, also has been a factor.

"Twilight" originally scouted Vancouver, but after the new parity, "Summit decided it more economical to shoot in Oregon," Hardwicke said during a break from shooting. "For the longest time, people went to Vancouver. Even if (Oregon) offered a rebate, Vancouver had the crews and the weak dollar. The dollar situation is very different now. I think it's looking good for Oregon."

Now if only the weather would cooperate.

Weathering the sun

Meyer set her story in Forks, Wash., which she discovered is the rainiest place in the continental U.S. It seemed like a logical place for vampires, traditionally averse to the sun, to set up camp.

The production was excited to learn that Oregon, being part of the Pacific Northwest, enjoyed rain and fog, with some stats claiming that in certain times of the year, the state can only see four days of sun a month. So imagine Hardwicke's surprise when the sun decided to show up for days on end.

"It's been pretty challenging so far," Hardwicke said. "We've got a delicate condition; for exterior scenes, we can only shoot under cloud cover. In a normal movie case, it is a beautiful sunny day, you go, 'Oh great, we get to shoot.' In our case, when it's a beautiful sunny day, we're like, 'Oh great, we can't shoot' because vampires can't be outside in the sun."

The production has turned to working under covered sets and even brought in rainmakers several times.

"It puts a smile on people when they see a rainmaker here," Oster joked.

Still growing

Oregon is in the process of building its infrastructure. It doesn't have its own soundstages yet, so productions have to make do with building sets in warehouse space. "Untraceable" and "Twilight" ended up using the same warehouse.

The rest of shooting for "Twilight" will see the production taking advantage of Oregon's scenery and environment. The town of Vernonia, outside of Portland, will stand in for Forks. A coffee shop in nearby Carver doubles for one in the book.

"We are just finding places all around," Hardwicke said. "We are using all these stunning locations. The forests, the waterfalls, the Columbia River, it is all visually very beautiful. I love it here."

For Oster, the biggest challenge is to keep that love flowing. He has, pending final approval, two more movies on deck for May shoots and is encouraged that the state's governor will be going back to the legislature with a proposal to expand the incentives package.

"One aspect we want to focus on is to increase the amount of money available, so we can continue to do the amount of business we are doing, add to that, and hopefully expand out to (television) series as well," Oster said.

Oregon: His own private workplace

It's no secret that it serves a state's film industry to have a favorite son, someone who consistently returns there to shoot movies. He brings in money and keeps local crews working.

Oregon's favorite son is Gus Van Sant.

Van Sant attended school in Portland, then spent time in New York and tried his luck in Hollywood, pitching ideas to studios like Universal. After stumbling in Los Angeles, the helmer moved to Portland in the late 1980s and began making movies there, starting with "Drugstore Cowboy" and then "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," "My Own Private Idaho," "Elephant" and "Paranoid Park."

"He brings production here, and he's an active participant in the industry here," said Steve Oster of the Oregon Film and Video Office, of which Van Sant is on the board of directors.

Although he's in San Francisco shooting "Milk," it won't be long before Van Sant returns to Oregon to make another movie.

"Portland is like the biggest one-horse town you can imagine," he told Interview magazine this year. "You see the city working in front of you -- everything's pretty much on the surface."
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