Citing Ashland’s diverse filming locations, helpful local officials and businesses, state rebates and lack of sales tax, MovieMaker Magazine named the city No. 1 among Best Places to Work and Live for small towns for 2015.

Ashland was No. 2 last year, behind Asheville, N.C., but this year they swapped positions. They were followed by Santa Fe, N.M.; Missoula, Mont.; and Portland, Maine, in the category for towns under 100,000 population.

The magazine touted the presence of actor Bruce Campbell and directors Alex Cox and Gary Lundgren and noted Ashland’s film industry is “a big focus within its vibrant, artistic culture.”

The state gives expense credits and the city government gave the Southern Oregon Film and Media organization a $7,700 economic development grant, the magazine said, while pointing out film programs at local schools, from Southern Oregon University’s sprawling Digital Media Center to Ashland Middle School, which has 10 cameras, 20 editing systems, a TV studio with big screen and lighting grid. The article quoted SOU Professor Robert Arellano, noting that many of his students go on to make entries into the Ashland Independent Film Festival’s LAUNCH student program.

The story also lauded Ashland for being named Google’s eCity Digital Capital for Oregon for the second year running.

Gary Kout, president and founder of Southern Oregon Film & Media, said MovieMaker is looking for communities that are not just active in filmmaking but where filmmakers would want to live and raise children.

Kout, who submitted Ashland’s application for the honor, said, “We’re number one for many reasons, including AIFF, the many actors in our town from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, having SOU with its film program right in our town and having SOFAM to help grow the industry.”

Ashland is rich in shooting locations, as is the entire Southern Oregon region, said Kout.

“You can find so many different environments to film in,” he said, “and the community is very supporting of filmmaking, whether it’s a small student film, spec feature or professional picture with money to pay local business people and renters. The city is always helpful with permits.”

Post-production can be done anywhere in the nation. However, Ashland, because of its quality of life and “very fast pipeline” to the Internet, allows editors, motion picture graphic artists and music composers to be as creative here as anywhere in the country, Kout said.

Producer Gary Lundgren of Joma Films has done four films here and, in addition to the rich culture, talent pool and tax incentives, now finds the crew base deep enough that he doesn’t have to import many from Portland or California. The direct flights to Los Angeles are a plus for actors, he says. 

“All four seasons are on display in the southern part of the state and there's still plenty of sunshine,” said Lundgren. There's a timeless look and feel to the storefronts and neighborhoods. Very few strip malls, billboards and chains. There's a wide variety of locations across the entire Rogue Valley that are accessible and affordable.” 

Ann Seltzer, Ashland city management analyst, said the city council in February will address an updated ordinance for film activity in town, clarifying and streamlining the permitting process, which was last put in codes in 1984.

“The city firmly believes in the film industry and its potential here,” she said, “and seeks to attract more people from that industry.”

The Ashland Chamber of Commerce has partnered up with SOFAM to help with movie production, premiers (as in “Wild” in December) and other events, said Katherine Cato, director of the Chamber’s Visitor & Convention Bureau. 

The partnership and the national recognition, Cato notes, are “an important component of putting Ashland on the map, not just with tourism but with the film industry, economic development and quality of life.”

The towns were rated according to interviews with working moviemakers, said the magazine, and these critieria:

— Film productions last year, shooting days, money generated;

— Film community and culture, film festivals, film schools, independent theaters, film organizations; and

— Access to equipment and facilities, tax incentives, cost of living, lifestyle, weather and liveability. 

Filmmaker Courtney Williams is quoted in praise of the region's forests, wildflower meadows, mountains, “otherworldly dunes, the coast with its dramatic cliffs and rapids ... and multiple worlds in multiple time periods” — plus OSF’s giant costume collection.

MovieMaker’s Jeffrey Star, who worked on “Black Road,” said in the story, “The entire community banded together to support our small crew, in the form of donated meals, services and locations. This was smalltown filmmaking at its finest.”

The magazine notes films shot last year in Ashland: “Courage of Two,” “By God’s Grace,” “Brothers in Law,” “5 Women” and Lundgren’s “Black Road.”

Kout said Ashland is a hub for “artistic people with vision and passion for their art and a great place for families to raise childen, with a super strong public school system.”

The article is at www.moviemaker.com/archives/news/best-places-live-work-moviemaker-2015-top-five-towns.

Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.