In Production: The Burning Plain

City, coast will be backdrop for new film
by: ©2008 RICHARD FOREMAN, Mexican writer and director Guillermo Arriaga hopes to wrap filming on “The Burning Plain” this week.

On a blustery morning last weekend, the Mexican novelist turned filmmaker Guillermo Arriaga was at the west end of the Steel Bridge, bundled up against the chill, preparing to shoot a scene.

After half an hour at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park, with the swirling, swollen Willamette River behind him, he gave his actors a quick breather, and Oscar winner Charlize Theron headed across Naito Parkway to her trailer, looking anything but Hollywood glamorous in a full-length quilted parka.

It turns out Arriaga, who wrote the screenplays for the movies 'Babel' and '21 Grams,' had Oregon in his head long before he ever got here.

'This is the second time I mentioned Portland (in a story) without even knowing it,' he says. 'I think there is something mythical in Oregon. It has the woods, the mountains, the high desert.

'I'm really happy. I think Portland and Oregon give a texture to the film.'

Arriaga is making his debut as a feature film director. Today, weather permitting, his crew will wrap filming of the movie 'The Burning Plain' in Depoe Bay after a week on the Oregon Coast. The movie is scheduled for a late 2008 release.

'Part of the story is sort of inspired by the four elements,' says executive producer Ray Angelic, a New Yorker who, like Arriaga, made his first visit to Oregon for the film. The movie's production company, 2929 Productions, moved north after shooting the fair-weather portion of the film in New Mexico.

'Guillermo wanted to be by the sea, but we also needed a city,' he says. 'Portland and the Oregon Coast were what he was looking for.'

Somewhat sheepishly, Angelic admits he didn't even realize Portland wasn't on the coast at the start of production. 'That's the first thing we learned,' he says.

Angelic says the team is thrilled with the visuals here, which provided just the contrast they'd hoped for.

The plan this week was to spend the first three days shooting interiors in a Lincoln City restaurant. Thursday and today have been set aside for exterior shots, some of which required good weather. Talk about a gamble.

'We're carrying 150 people. It would be costly to stay another day,' he says.

Arriaga, a tall, elegant man with the bearing of an athlete - he played professional soccer in Mexico - doesn't mind taking some credit for the return of Mexican cinema, an industry he says was nearly killed by corrupt practices and the hegemony of American film.

'After the '70s, it declined,' he says.

He says the growing popularity of filmmakers like Alfonso Cuarón ('Y Tu Mamá También') and Guillermo del Toro ('Pan's Labyrinth') was aided by the success of the groundbreaking hit 'Amores Perros,' for which Arriaga wrote the screenplay.

'There has been a resurgence in Mexican cinema,' he says. 'We can have our own voice, our own fans. It's possible to go anywhere.'

Angelic says moviemakers should keep coming to Oregon, with its scenic beauty and pro-active film industry.

'The (Oregon) Film Commission's been great,' he says. 'I would put Portland on the higher, good end of the scale.'

- Eric Bartels