Ashland, OR. - MovieMaker Magazine has designated Ashland, Oregon as the #2 Top Town in the US to Live and Work as a Moviemaker. The award was based on a number of factors including the frequency and quality of filmmaking, the established infrastructure for the industry, community support for filmmaking, and overall arts scene, cost of living and quality of life. Frequently appearing on national lists for its arts and theater, outdoor activities, culinary amenities and more, being recognized for filmmaking is a first for Ashland. With a population of only 20,000, far smaller than the #1 finisher on MovieMaker’s list of towns (under 100,000 people), steeped in culture and home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University, Ashland has successfully created a top environment and economic platform for film and video production and media education.
To be sure, Ashland has attracted moviemakers for years but the past several years have brought significant growth in the frequency of films, particularly ones with recognizable stars: REDWOOD HIGHWAY, a film conceived, funded and partially shot in Ashland by local filmmakers (the entire film was shot in Southern Oregon), stars award-winning actors Shirley Knight and Tom Skerritt; NIGHT MOVES, another production with Oregon roots, stars Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard; and the latest film, WILD, starring and produced by Reese Witherspoon based on the book by Cheryl Strayed. Look for all of those movies to be released sometime this year. Add to this many other independent features, short films, documentaries, and a robust slate of commercial and corporate projects, and the future is clear. Ashland will become more popular as a place to live and work as a filmmaker, and enjoy the benefits from this growing sector of its economy.
The recognition comes in large part to the efforts of Southern Oregon Film and Television. Commonly known as SOFaT, the five year-old organization is a non-profit professional association committed to the support and expansion of media creation across the entire region through networking opportunities for its members, marketing the region to outside producers, and creating support for the industry here at home. That support has been particularly strong in Ashland, as evidenced by the enthusiastic call to action for the MovieMaker competition. President Mary Cullinan of SOU and Ashland Mayor John Stromberg penned letters of support for Ashland filmmaking. The Ashland Chamber of Commerce contributed highly convincing materials, as did the Ashland Independent Film Festival, itself a MovieMaker award-winner, named one of the 25 Coolest Festivals in the World in 2013. Acclaimed actor Catherine E. Coulson wrote in on behalf of the local acting community, and newly relocated documentarians and SOU film instructors Robert Clift and Hilary Demmon wrote highly of their new community.
Beyond the actual filming of movies, the potential for an active economy in post-production also exists in Ashland. “Modern post production is possible here because of Ashland’s fat pipeline”, states Gary Kout, Executive Director of Southern Oregon Film and Television, referring to Ashland‘s broadband capacity and the need for moviemakers to move very large digital files over the internet. This same capacity was noticed by Google last May, which named Ashland as Oregon’s First Google e-city in 2013. Perhaps that will be the next area of rapid growth for the film industry in Ashland.
Until that happens, Ashland will continue to do what it does: encourage, support and welcome filmmakers, such as Gary and Anne Lundgren of Joma Films. Not long after the former Southern California-based couple made their second film in the area, the coming-of-age baseball comedy CALVIN MARSHALL, they packed up and moved north. They have since made other films, notably the aforementioned REDWOOD HIGHWAY, and become active content creators for local, regional and national clients.
While the MovieMaker award highlights the Ashland community and its filming strengths, the recognition benefits all of Southern Oregon. “A win for Ashland is a win for the whole region,” says SOFaT’s Gary Kout. “In truth, very few large projects stay within the bounds of one town or another. Everyone is going to benefit from the economic activity that we expect this award will bring.”
To learn more about filmmaking in Ashland and Southern Oregon, or to become a member of Southern Oregon Film and Television, visit www.filmsouthernoregon.org.