Featured Stories

Portlandia wackiness a big hit in city's economy

Show's success shines a bright light on Rose City TV production industry
by: JAIME VALDEZ “Portlandia” stars Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen filmed a scene last week with actor Kyle MacLachlan (left) in a Northeast Dekum Street neighborhood.

Television's fantasyland of Portlandia - where it never rains and neighborly left-leaning oddballs abound - is putting the real Portland on the TV world's map.

IFC's popular series 'Portlandia,' which last week wrapped up filming 10 episodes for its second season, has opened a door for the Rose City into the television production world that is creating jobs and helping local creative companies thrive.

'It's a funny thing about that show,' says Vince Porter, executive director of the Oregon Film and Video Office. 'Compared to others, in terms of the money they spend, it's pretty modest. But the overall impact has been bigger than any other production we've ever had here.'

In other words, 'Portlandia's' full-goose-bozo portrayal of Portland and the show's growing audience has caught the eye of TV production companies across the country, bringing the possibility of more series and films to Oregon's doorstep, Porter says. 'Honestly, people won't stop talking about the show.'

Since July, Porter has averaged one serious film or TV show inquiry a week. Before that, one serious call a month was more common.

'Portlandia' has joined local TV series granddaddy, TNT's 'Leverage,' and NBC newcomer 'Grimm,' as mainstays of the Portland area's video production industry. 'Leverage,' which just finished filming its third year in Portland (the show's fourth season) is coming back for another season. 'Grimm' is a big budget fractured fairy tale/police procedural with a crew that Porter says is more than twice the size of 'Portlandia's' entire staff and bigger even than Dean Devlin's Electric Entertainment crew for 'Leverage.'

Film and TV production companies don't usually divulge their budgets, but Porter told the Legislature in March that since 2007, companies have spent about $178.5 million in the state. With more projects coming here, Porter told lawmakers that total could be pushed to more than $275 million.

As an example, 'Leverage' hired about 471 local people - crew members, vendors and others - during its third season of filming. The TV series also spent about $350,000 on local actors and extras.

'Grimm' also has hired several local companies for key elements of its production, Porter says, including a local special effects firm, something that is unusual for the industry. The show is filming its pilot and 12 more episodes in the city, probably finishing around December. If it is picked up by NBC, the show could film 22 episodes in the city, creating more opportunities for local businesses.

'We've never been able to get people to try out these local companies, and this is kind of a first,' he says.

'Portlandia' Director Jonathan Krisel says his show's entire fabric is woven into the local creative community. Just about every actor used in the show (aside from the stars and guest stars) is found locally to preserve the local flavor and avoid 'cartoon characters,' Krisel says.

'This show is a special thing,' he says. 'It's so small, and everyone's friends. Everything's so relaxed. If Portland did make a show, this is how it would be made. It's totally right.'

Krisel and 'Portlandia' stars Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein and Kyle MacLachlan met with reporters Sept. 15 after filming in a Northeast Dekum Street neighborhood and raved about the city and the quality of its local production crews and talent.

'Portlandia' debuted with six episodes in January. Andrew Singer, senior vice president with Broadway Video - Lorne Michaels' New York production company that owns the show - says IFC is negotiating for between 10 and 20 more shows in its third season.

Porter says the local TV production industry could be poised for a big expansion. CBS is talking about filming a new series here. Southeast Portland animation firm Bent Image Lab has landed a Hallmark Channel Christmas special. Commercials are also being shot across the state every month, he says.

'I think people (in Southern California's television production companies) have taken a look at us and they are taking us seriously now,' Porter says.