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June 28, 2024

Oregon on Screen: Tim Williams’ Spotlight on the State’s Cinematic Evolution

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Welcome to On Production brought to you by Wrapbook. Today I'm really delighted to have Tim Williams, the executive director of Oregon film, also known as the Governor's Office of Film and Video. But Tim brings a wealth of experience having worked with notable companies and studios such as Fox Searchlight, HBO and BBC, but currently, and has been instrumental in enhancing Oregon's film industry through strategic initiatives and incentives. Tim, thanks for being here. Thanks for having me. So I'm really curious, can you describe your transition from producing in places like London in New York to leading Oregon film?

1:02  

Yeah, probably just happy happenstance. The catalyst to it was I was working for a very short time at Fox Searchlight with a woman named Liz Sayre, who runs production for Fox Searchlight. And I was helping her and it turned out that one of the projects I was helping her with was this movie Wild, a good friend of mine was producing it at the time, and it was going in Oregon, so I helped with it. I'd never been up here before. So I sort of helped and came up here early on in that project. I wasn't here for the whole thing. But I was here early on the prep. And then I went back and started doing work on other things in LA. I was in LA at the time. And lo and behold, I got an email at some point in time that Oregon was looking for a new film Commissioner. And I was like, Well, I'll try that. So I put in an application. And lo and behold, a couple of months later, I was headed up here. Oh, that's so interesting.

1:50  

I'm so curious what the transition was like, what what were the unique challenges that you faced in this kind of new role from being in a career of production for so long?

1:59  

Well, I have to say part of the unique challenge is a part of what attracted me to it, to be honest, is I love to production. I had done it for many years, I had done it in theater I've done in TV, and film. I've done it in many states in many cities. And that worked with a lot of film commissions. And I knew what they did from the producing side. But sort of being able to draw on 25 years of producing content and bringing it to another arena was really interesting to me. And that other arena was state government. And so there was a whole bunch of things I had to learn, like, how does the legislature work, how's a bill get passed, I kept thinking about the, you know, Schoolhouse Rock, you know, and how that all happened. It started with that, as you know, but it was a steep learning curve to figure out how the politics of Oregon work and how the politics around our program work. To be honest, it was just like producing the movie to be a you know, it was you have to communicate, you have to be clear, you have to solve problems, you have to tell a story. You have to you know, connect people with other people, you have to move things forward. It's very similar in state politics as it is. So I'm set and I was happy to be able to learn a new thing, later part of my career. And that's

3:05  

what they need. Now, at Wrapbook. We have a VP of production incentives, Ryan Broussard, who, you know, he told me that Oregon has recently had a big uptick in production activities. I'm curious to what do you attribute this growth? And how have the incentives played a role? It's true. We

3:24  

have had in the last two years before this one here and 2024 in the last few years, but this one has been tough last year for everyone because of the strikes the year before that, we had a couple of things that played against us in terms of mergers and companies downsizing, and also played against the the type of product we do. And so I spent the better part of last year working with colleagues and the Portland Film Office in particular, to try to figure out how do we communicate what is positive about orient not just incentives? Because yes, incentives are important. But we are a state that does really well at certain things, like we're not going to pull things out of Vancouver, BC, we're not going to pull things out of Georgia, because we don't look like Georgia. So we do really well with certain types of projects. And so we started to try to focus on that, you know, we asked, we have an incentive. And yes, it's easy to use. And yes, we offer a lot of things that other state offices do. But at the same time, we're the Pacific Northwest, and there is a look and feel that comes from that we're two hours from LA and if you're shooting here, you're gonna stay in good hotels, and you're going to eat good food, and you're gonna have a really good coffee, because that's what we're known for. And so that was something we sort of pushed through a lot. I did a lot of meetings in LA, we did a lot of advertising, which we don't usually do, but I can't actually say that, you know, put my finger on one thing and say, Oh, we did this, and that's what happened. I think it's a cumulative thing. And I think where we are to be honest now is that after the strike, projects have gotten smaller, and they have budgets have gotten more tight. And so those projects that may have gone to Vancouver BC. Now can't because a they can afford it or be they'd be too small and they'd lose crew or see they don't want to go international. Same thing with Europe, Europe's been a big pole for projects as well. And I think we're really good at sort of the large indies small studio projects. And we're really good at delivering really high class projects at those budget levels. And I think we're in an era right now where those budget levels are being done a bit more that and, you know, I think we had several projects that were queued up before the strike that didn't go and happily, they were able to find their footing and go post strike and a lot, that's not true for everybody. Because I know a lot of people had casting problems after the strike, because so many actors had so many different projects to do. So. You know, a lot of its luck, a lot of its that Oregon is a good place to shoot, a lot of it is that were easy to get to from LA and a lot of it is probably messaging that we you know, did that help support that, but I can't point to any one thing. And I think our incentives are good. I think they're easy to use, but they're similar to many other states. You know, I look at Washington, I look at Montana, I look at Utah, and that's really our group up here. And I wouldn't say we're competitors, we're actually all pretty much you know, what rising tide floats all boats. So we talk to each other a lot. And we all have very similar programs. So we try to maximize what the region brings, rather than, you know, steal from each other. Because I think we all believe, if we get a product that likes to be in our states, it's going to come back, you know, we're not jamming a square peg into a round hole, we're gonna get repeat offenders, and we're gonna get producers and studios coming back. And that's really the thing if you're not getting series that are coming back. If you're getting Netflix's $12 million movies every year, that's a really good thing. You know, so you want to make it as good experience as possible to bring them back each time. So we think about that a lot. That's wonderful. Yeah,

6:50  

I mean, you just mentioned a while ago, you know, productions are going overseas, we had the opportunity, I had the opportunity here on production to chat with a wonderful film Commissioner out of Baton Rouge, Katie Pryor, who has Film USA. And like, it makes a lot of sense. There's all kinds of stories to tell, and all different types of locations. And so bringing the film commissioners from all over the United States to really just tell a compelling story about filming in the United States is great. So it makes a lot of sense. You know, part of the work that I do here, at Wrapbook, I do like to think as is as a producer, it's making these payroll processes less complex, and getting people access to the tools that they need to push a project forward, you've done the same thing as a producer, you're now doing that in your role, you know, but still, folks can find the process of obtaining and utilizing film incentives as complex changes state to state in many cases, the audit requirements are different. Can you walk us through the typical turnaround time for receiving incentives in Oregon any tips for navigating this process efficiently?

7:58  

Yeah, it's a great question particularly appreciative of what Wrapbook has done, you know, as not only just as a payroll company, but as an end to end sort of product. And I think a lot of small companies and small projects here have utilized that. And I think it has been really beneficial for people to understand that. Not only do you have these things like payroll and workman's comp and all this other stuff, but you have to understand the process. And you have to understand why in the house. And I think I've actually written a bunch and thought about a bunch of this because as a producer, I use so many different, you know, incentive programs, and they're all so different, like, what they look for what they want, how they want it. And I think as a producer, you have to understand, like, why is the state giving you money? And what are they looking for from you to do that, because if you understand that, you're going to have a great relationship. So I flipped that around and say, as a producer, former producer, or recovering producer, whatever the right term is, I want to make our incentives easy to use. And I also want to make sure that they're being utilized by projects that want to be here in Oregon, and they're getting the most out of Oregon, because I'm going to get the numbers for jobs. I'm going to get numbers for spending from that. But I'm also going to get a long tail annuity of projects going out that are celebrating Oregon, and that's going to have an impact. Over time we're going to get as we always do, people visiting the Goonies house, we're going to get people visiting the Twilight house, they're going to people going to Brownsville because the stand by me and trying to pick the penny off the road. You know, we embrace that as an annuity that comes from our industry. So I want to make sure a the project wants to be here be it's easy for them to use and see that we're responsive, and we talk quick. We respond quickly to what people need to do. So to that end. The process with us is pretty simple. If they're interested in coming here, I will review a budget. I'll go through it, I'll tag it for you, I'll get you an estimate number I'll go come back to you and tell you what my assumptions and my restrictions are for that incentive number. And also if we have the money available, because like many states of our size, we have a capped incentive. So we often run out of money and I want to make sure you Don't go through the application process unless we have money and it's a good fit. If that all seems good, and you're financed, and you're ready to go, I'll walk you through the application process, the application comes to me, I do the contract, they send you the contract, we then walk you through and get you here and connect you with local people. Because I think that's the key is finding a local line producers, supervisor UPM, that's gonna get you vendors and crew right out of the gate, because they're all here, you just have to, you know, get them engaged. And then at the other end, we do our own audits. And we turn those around, usually within four to six weeks, and it's a cash rebate. So a lot of times productions are using our rebate as something to help them finish their project, if they're not doing post here. Or if they are doing post here, they're getting more money, because post counts. So you know, I look at that as a sort of flowchart of, you know, if you're a producer, and you want to be here, I want to make it the best possible experience for you. And I also want to make sure that you're not waiting on us, you know, that there is so much we wait on in production, that we want to be part of the solution, that part.

11:01  

That's fantastic. And filmmakers are lucky to have a resource, like your office, Tim, to help them kind of navigate this. That's fantastic. You know, it's it's interesting, when I talk with a lot of legislators, they're always keen on these incentive programs, because they have an impact, oftentimes in rural communities within the states. Because these rural communities offer great locations. They're very film friendly. I'm curious if you could speak to rural communities and how they play kind of a unique role in productions? Like how important is it for these communities to get involved? What benefits do they stand to gain on both kind of the production sides incentives, which is like, hey, I need good locations, friendly people, you know, is it's a hilarious thing. I always enjoy filming in Los Angeles, still, but a little bit of the magic has left I think, for most LA residents, versus that's not the case when you're filming remote. curious if you could just speak to that? Well,

12:04  

It really depends on the project itself. We've both seen and we've all seen nightmare projects that are not well run that can come in and you know, crash and burn any sort of location, whether you're in Portland, or whether you're in Grants Pass. So a lot of it again, comes back to that thing, why do you want to be in this region? What do you hope to get out of this region? And then if that all matches up, who are the people you should talk to down here, when you're doing this, I use the example of the benefit. And this is this has worked really well. For us. We have many other examples. But the sci fi movie 65 Adam driver was in a couple of years ago, it basically that prehistoric forest was Southern Oregon, you know, it was on the Oregon coast and they went down, they went down just post COVID and 2021, and two gold Beach, which is Southern Oregon coast, and they spent about 465,000, just in hotels, you know, down there, and I'm like, you know, it's a moving RV, if you will embrace it, it's going to spend a lot of money there. And that was in February. So it wasn't like they were fighting any kind of tourism. But in order for that to happen, you know, I reached out to the Chamber of Commerce, I reached out to whoever I could down there to say, Hey, this is coming, you should be aware of what it is, do you have any questions of how you should deal with it. And we also have, you know, we rely very strongly on our local locations, people, you know, and that they are we're interacting with the people that they need to be interacting with a lot of times, we'll get questions from people they're talking to, you know, we provide a service here in Portland, but otherwise, where these locations guys will go out a lot with a letter from me that says, I know this person, and if you need to talk to me about this person, call me and I get calls all the time saying this kind of showed up on my door, and he wants to use my house what is and I'm like, Well, you know, I've known him for 10 years, I know what he's doing. And if you want your house to be considered, please do. But if you don't, don't, you know, so a lot of it is communication that comes back to where we started, a lot of it is producing it, you know, from the backside and making sure that people understand what it is and, and also produce it and communicating that back to the producers. Like, you know, if somebody we had a great project that shot out and Burns for a long time and PETA was called and it was out there for a while in Eastern Oregon and they they basically shut down the bar every night, you know, and you have to be able to sort of tell people this is coming and it's going to be there and it's going to be a good thing. And then if there is a problem and there is pushback and there are certain things that the locals don't want to do you have to communicate that back to the producer say okay, here's what they're sensitive to. You have to be able to look out for this so that it's a symbiotic relationship. It's not just I want this I want this and I'm I'm a movie I should get it.

14:36  

That's fantastic for filmmakers considering Oregon as a location, you know, what advice would you offer to ensure they they fully take advantage of everything that Oregon has to offer their production? Well, that's

14:48  

kind of one of the first questions I ask projects when they come here like why Oregon you know why us you know, we're not a we're not Georgia, we're not California. We don't have you know, several millions of dollars to give out we have a limited about money. And so it really is important what the answer to that question is, you know, is it the locations is the crew? Is it? Is it proximity? You know, what is it, we're not a state, you come to if you're just chasing money. That's I mean, we're easy to use. And I like our incentive, but we're, you know, we're not going to be the highest incentive the route, we're going to be very competitive. So that really is a big question to ask as a producer, I wrote a LinkedIn article about this, like, how do you compare state incentives? What are the things that are important to you, because there are tax as you well know, there are tax credits, there are tax rebates, and there are grants, and there are credits that become rebates. And there are things that are different about each one of those, and that there are things about different about how they get paid, who pays them how long it takes to pay them at, some can take three to five years to pay out. And you need to be aware of that as a producer. And you need to be aware that that's the price of whatever it is you want. And I have those discussions all the time with producers. And there's a lot of times where something just doesn't feel like a fit, and it doesn't work. And there's a lot of times where it's the perfect fit. And I'm like I'll do everything I can to make sure you're here if I have the money to get here.

16:12  

That's fantastic. You know, one of my last questions for you, Tim, is how do you envision the future of film production in Oregon? Are there any new initiatives or strategies that you're excited about implementing?

16:24  

It's a good question, because we are at the moment, I feel like we are in a strong position. But we're also in a rebuilding position. Like many states, the pandemic and the strike and the interim in between those two things have really changed the landscape for many, many states. So people have moved around, what was a local crew base is now elsewhere, what wasn't a local group base has moved in here. You know, we need to reestablish ourselves as a destination. We've had a film industry here since 1909. And we had silent movie studios here before Southern California did and then they discovered that it rained in the winter and they went to Southern California. So it's it's it's in Oregon's culture to be cinema, cinematically friendly. And I have I've been here almost 10 years, I will have been here 10 years in September. And when I got here, the incentive program was about seven or $8 million, we're up to $20 million, or $25 million. Now. We are at a point where we need to address the next step of our evolution. And that next step is probably going to be about infrastructure, you know, do we have the sound stages that we need? Is there a way to get those sound stages? If we do get sound stages? Do we need to increase the incentive to be competitive and fill those sound stages? And I think we probably would have hit that three or four years ago, if it wasn't for the pandemic and the strikes, you know, putting us back a little bit. So we've, we've had to redefine what it is we are, how it is we want to do it, and also what we need to get further on. And I think we're right at that point right now, where, okay, how do we have these conversations, and it has to come internally, to be honest, we're not a state, where outside investors are going to come in and say, we want to do this or we want to do that because we don't have a big enough incentive program. But if we get internal investment that understands the infrastructure and sees that as a symbiotic process, both with the incentives and with the building of it, I think we can build ourselves into an industry that's a very viable alternative to Vancouver that's in the United States.

18:32  

That's awesome. I want to plug something really quick, which is the Governor's Office of filming video in Oregon, has a wonderful newsletter written by somebody named Tim Williams, who is fantastic. We've really enjoyed getting it here at wrap up getting the updates about what's going on in the state. Highly recommend people subscribe to our newsletter. Are there other ways for people to follow you, Tim? I mean, you mentioned LinkedIn, what are great ways to stay plugged in with what you're working on and what's going on in Oregon.

19:02  

It's a really good question. Thank you for asking. And thank you for reading the newsletter. We send it out all the time thinking well, no one's ever seen this. So it's nice to know someone actually reads it. We have a blog, we actually have a community board a blog that it's called Oregon Confluence, and it's oregonconfluence.com. And a lot of what we put in the newsletter comes from oregonconfluence.com. And we get the question all the time, I don't know what you do, or I don't know what you're working on. And so two times every year, I write a very long sort of piece about who we are and what we do and the things that we that we put together and how we do it. We're doing because we're doing things through nonprofits. We have workforce development programs, we have grants, we have training, we have education, we have the Oregon film trail, you know, we have 3042 signs around the state that people can visit, which I think is the first in the nation, if not in the world, in terms of physical trail that you can follow. And we're working with other places to do that. And Katy Pryor and Baton Rouge is a good example that we're in Utah we're talking to them as well out You can do it in your state. And I think we try to put as much of that as we possibly can into the confluence. We also have Instagram, we also have X, we also have Facebook, I do probably a weekly or two times a month sort of expanded post on LinkedIn about certain aspects. Like I said, I did how to compare state incentives. I did something just last week about we haven't have a bunch of projects that are out now that have been made in Oregon in some way, shape, or form. And so I did a big post about that there's probably five or six that are out at the moment that that are Oregon-made. And then a bunch of the effects. I'm doing one right now about the VFX that are being done here. Because shows like Shogun and Fallout and Nan Han and Superman and Lois, the effects are done here. And I don't think a lot of people know that. And then on top of that, the one thing that is really huge here and has been huge here for more than 50 years is stop motion. And I don't think people understand that either. You know, Pinocchio, which won the Oscar not too long ago, last year was done here. You know, and it all goes back to like and before like, it goes back to Will Vinton and his California Raisins. You know, it all started up here in Northwest Portland. So, you know, that's a big industry for us that a lot of people don't recognize and I anecdotally without proof say we're the largest stop motion animation destination in the world. I'm sure you know, Nick Park and Bristol would get angry about that. And I'm sure London would get angry about that. But you know, I like to claim

21:30  

it. That is so funny. The California Raisins. That is a swift swift nostalgic kick in the back, though good What a funny funny thing and Tokyo Wow. I mean, that was really so beautiful. I mean, stunning, stunning piece of cinema. Well listen, Tim, thank you so much for being passionate about film, passionate about Oregon, passionate about helping filmmakers tell stories. I really appreciate you joining me On Production. Thank you.

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