Wallowa County has a voice in Hollywood.
The Oregon Film and Video Office hired Southern California native Kayla Thames-Berge in May to serve as its marketing representative in Hollywood.
Thames-Berge, a 15-year veteran of the film industry, was in Wallowa County Aug. 7 to scout locations and gather data toward the purpose of promoting the area and the state to film, television and commercial producers.
Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce Director Vickie Rosgen and photo shoot stylist and location scout Katy J. Bothum - home in Joseph for a while from her base in Las Cruces, New Mexico - took Thames-Berge all around the area. Stops included Imnaha, Wallowa Lake, the Lostine River canyon, Joseph Creek Canyon, and various farms and ranches.
Thames-Berge' visit and excursion was arranged by Oregon Film and Video Office local liaison Doris Woempner.
"This place is spectacular," Thames-Berge stated. "Is there anything here a producer wouldn't like? Each of the things I've seen today are like treasures. Places like the Imnaha Store and the post office - it's a picture postcard. ... It's all just breathtakingly beautiful. Places like Joseph Canyon are rare. And where can you find a lake like that right at the edge of town?"
When one thinks of Hollywood, one thinks of movies. Few big-budget movies have ever been shot in Eastern Oregon, but Thames-Berge said that the real bread and butter of the film and video industry is commercial advertising.
"The productions are leaner and meaner than movies, and they are lighter on their feet," she said. "Car commercial country? This is it. You look at the roads, the scenery of Wallowa County here. I'd imagine every kind of car would want to drive on these roads."
She observed that other productions that are interested in beautifully scenic areas that are relatively close to Los Angeles are TV series, TV movies of the week, music videos, still photography and magazine advertising.
She also added that one of the best things about commercials is that they are on a tight schedule.
"That means that they come in, set up, spend their money and do their shoot. And then they leave. It can be a real economic shot in the arm," she stated.
The old saying goes that timing is everything. With Thames-Berge' hire, Oregon is trying to get out in front of productions and be a presence in the project's decision making, before it's too late and projects go elsewhere.
"I'm actively on the ground in L.A. marketing the state, reaching out to the production community with established contacts, and I'm not afraid to cold call and put myself out there."
"You're sitting on treasure here and it's just a matter of waiting for the right project," she said.
Thames-Berge said her job is more than just marketing a state or given area. "I'm selling the landscape, the buildings, the people, the service - specifics," she said. "I'm also selling a dream. Something visual that can translate into someone's dream coming alive on the screen. You're really selling them on what the idea of Oregon is."
While touring the county, Thames-Berge shot a lot of pictures and said that interested producers and location managers in Wallowa County means getting the images and critical information into print and onto city and county Web pages for quick and easy access. In addition, Thames-Berge keeps track of things like crew base, transportation access, and logistics. The big challenge is gathering all of the information she needs and then delivering it to the right people, she said, matching up people who are doing projects that will fit the areas she's promoting. The fact that Oregon does not have a sales tax is a big draw, which can save a production company many thousands of dollars, even on a small shoot.
"The idea is to promote this place as a filming destination," she said. "There needs to be a list of services available ... The Chamber of Commerce is doing some of that and I'm also getting that information so I can route it to the right people. It takes a collective effort; we're all on the same team here."
The key is patience, Thames-Berge said. "You have to look at this as a development over time. You plant seed, you get people familiar with what Eastern Oregon has to offer and then when a project crosses someone's desk they're already thinking of Oregon instead of another state or country," she said. "It's a P.R. effort and Oregon's being aggressive in going after filmmakers."
The Road to Oregon
Thames-Berge always knew she would be involved in the film industry, and shortly after high school moved to New York City to get her career going.
She ultimately found that she was much more interested in what was going on behind the camera.
But home and family called, pulling her back to California. Wondering what she would do for work, a friend suggested she call up Oliver Stone for a job, as he was just starting work on his movie "The Doors."
Soon Thames-Berge was working for the location manager as his apprentice and gaining on-the-job experience.
After seven years she went back to school and began a job with the California Film Commission, working eight years.
Budget cuts and layoff ended that, but a friend came across the job listing for the Oregon Film and Video Office, based in Portland, and passed it on. Then resumes were sent, interviews scheduled, flights arranged and finally a job was offered in May.
"I have spent a fair bit of time in Oregon over the years, and each time I've come to Oregon there's something new and wonderful that I discover. Little by little, I guess I fell in love with Oregon and hadn't admitted it."