A house on Wimer Street became a movie set this week as Oregon Shakespeare Festival actors dramatized Scott Blum's upcoming feature film "Walk-In."
Behind the cameras, lights and sound booms were five Ashland High School and Southern Oregon University graduates who have returned to the Rogue Valley in the past six months to work on film projects here as the industry grows.
Ashland's film industry experienced considerable growth last year, said Jackson Rowe, first-assistant director for "Walk-In."
"With the talent pool and the Shakespeare festival, it's now a sweet spot for independent filmmaking," he said. "As far as small towns in Oregon go, it's definitely the most popular place to shoot, by far."
Rowe, 25, moved to Portland after graduating from Ashland High School to work as an assistant director on film projects. But, increasingly, work has brought him and his colleagues back to Ashland to shoot projects here, he said.
"I've done about five or six feature films here now," he said. "The work is coming in more and more often."
Blum, who moved from Los Angeles to Ashland five years ago, said the co-producers of his film originally wanted to shoot it in Southern California, but he convinced them to do otherwise.
"I talked them into doing it here and I think everybody's happy we did, now that they've seen the quality and what we've been able to accomplish," he said.
"I really wanted to do it locally, because the books are based here," said Blum, who wrote and is directing the film, based on his novel "Summer's Path." "And we have the opportunity of all this talent, so it just made sense to me."
A host of state rebates and incentives can cut production costs by up to 30 percent, compared to California, said Rowe, who has worked on big-budget films across the U.S.
The Southern Oregon community has also been supportive of film projects, Blum said. The Talent Police Department parked a patrol car outside the Wimer Street house Thursday to assist in a law enforcement scene. Local restaurants have also offered free food to crew members and businesses have donated clothes for costumes, Blum said.
He is also looking for dozens of extras to appear in four crowd scenes, the first of which will be shot Sunday. For more information, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In an attempt to reach out to the community while the film is in production, Blum's co-producers, Frank McEnulty and Mike Wojciechowski, have developed a website that allows people to watch the raw footage of the film as it's being shot. To view the footage visit imadeamovie.com.
The connections film students developed years ago in Ashland have lead to a surprising number of jobs in recent months, said Danielle Eddington, the second assistant camerawoman for Blum's film.
Eddington attended Ashland High School and graduated from SOU in 2008 with a film degree. She initially moved from Ashland to Portland to pursue filmmaking, but now splits her time between the two cities, she said.
"In the last six months, the work has definitely picked up," Eddington, 27, said. "It's great to come back."
Southern Oregon's film industry is considerably less cutthroat that of Los Angeles or some other big cities, Blum said.
"Whereas in some of the bigger cities, people are more competitive for jobs, here people are bending over backwards to help each other," he said. "They're nurturing the talent here."
Rowe is helping to supervise nine SOU interns working on "Walk-In," teaching them how to shoot a feature film.
Meanwhile, Gary Lundgren, the award-winning director and screenwriter of "Calvin Marshall," a 2009 comedy shot largely in Ashland and Medford, is preparing to teach a screenwriting class in Ashland this month, to help hone new talent.
Lundgren, who operates Joma Films LLC, hopes his class, which begins Tuesday, will encourage more locals to pursue filmmaking.
"I think we all want to see better films made and if I can be a part of that, to help projects get off the ground and help screenplays get better, then I want to be," he said. "I know this is a good place to shoot films, so I'm hoping, through this process, more projects come this way."
For more information on the class, which is sponsored by Southern Oregon Film and Television, visit jomafilms.com.
Blum began shooting his film two weeks ago and plans to finish in mid February. Lundgren will edit it this spring, when he will also begin shooting his next feature film.
"Ashland is evolving from one-off projects and starting to become a filmmaking industry," Blum said. "We're seeing movies being shot closer together."
Typically films shot in Ashland travel on the film festival circuit in the hopes of being acquired by a major studio, Blum said. He hopes to begin showing "Walk-In" at film festivals in July or August, and to screen it at the Ashland Independent Film Festival next year.
Blum has already written a screenplay for his second film, based on his book "Waiting For Autumn," which he also hopes to shoot in Ashland.
"I think the industry's definitely burgeoning right now," he said. "It's an exciting time to be making movies in Ashland."
Local actors have also noticed an increase in film roles in Southern Oregon in recent years, said OSF actor Liisa Ivary, who plays a police officer in Blum's film.
"This is the fourth independent film I've been in the last five years in the Rogue Valley, and they're all SAG-scale (Screen Actors Guild)," she said. "It's pretty remarkable, because we usually have to travel."
OSF actor Brad Whitmore, who also plays a police officer in the film, said he expects the industry to continue to grow.
"We all like to think there's a market for this," he said. "Oregon could be a leader in making independent films."
Ashland resident Bill Rowe, Jackson's brother, who is the second assistant director of "Walk-In," said crew members jump at the chance to work in Ashland.
"Jackson, for example, he's been so successful, he could go anywhere, but he chooses to stay in Oregon," said Bill Rowe, 27, who recently worked on an upcoming Francis Ford Coppola film. "If the work is here, anyone would choose to live here."
Filmmaking in Ashland is a collaborative experience, unlike in many larger cities, said Jackson Rowe.
As OSF actor Miram Laube prepared to reshoot scene 90 of Blum's film Thursday afternoon, she checked with Jackson Rowe to make sure her tears from the last take hadn't spoiled her makeup.
"You're good," he said. "Let's roll."
Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or email@example.com.