Self-taught filmmakers driving local industry

Brian Willoughby

Beth Harrington, a director, writer and producer who recently completed The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes, and the Course of Country Music, has lived in Vancouver since 1996 and has been closely involved with the regional film scene since she arrived here. She has produced numerous documentaries for Oregon Public Broadcasting and has received extensive national praise for The Winding Stream. But, she said, “I’ve never worked with people in Southwest Washington. For a while it felt like I was the only filmmaker in Vancouver. I know now that I’m not, but if there’s a film industry here, I don’t know about it.”

At the time that Harrington moved here, even the local media were confused about a filmmaker living in Vancouver.

Ryan Erlandsen“When I first came here in ‘96,” said Harrington, “I had a new film out, The Blinking Madonna and Other Miracles. A reporter from the Oregonian called me. She dialed my 360 number and we had a long interview about the film and what brought me out here. Then the article came out and the headline read, ‘Canadian filmmaker to screen new film.’ She just couldn’t wrap her head around the idea that a filmmaker was living in Vancouver.”

While Vancouver is more likely to be recognized as a city that actually exists in the United States, the number of filmmakers living on the north side of the Columbia River is still small. We are seeing a few video production teams, and a small handful of men making independent horror and suspense films.

Nick Hagen, who had been working locally in video production, created an online sensation with the web series “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl.” The YouTube series followed a teenage girl exploring the paranormal activity in her house, and developed a strong following when it was released in 2010. Hagen’s company, Coat Tale Productions, recently signed a book/production deal with the Weinstein Company, so there is a strong possibility that the series will go even further.
Hagen shot that web series in his home, which is somewhat the standard for hobby filmmakers in Southwest Washington.

Ryan Erlandsen recently celebrated the premiere of his first film, Unmarked, which screened at the Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver to an audience of nearly 250 people. He shot that movie on a set he built in his backyard, and other locations throughout Clark County.

PropErlandsen is a photographer by trade, but self-taught when it comes to filmmaking. “With digital cameras now, it’s a natural progression from photography to filmmaking,” he said. “I just learned from my mistakes as I went.”

With one short film under his belt, Erlandsen’s company Marble Mountain Films is now working on Dead Lake, which will be feature-length and will have its principal shooting in Ridgefield. With his co-writer and co-director Amanda Goff, Erlandsen is at least hoping to raise enough funds to cover food and gas expenses for the people involved. He has started an Indiegogo campaign (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dead-lake) and hopes to raise $20,000. “But,” he said, “that’s the dream amount. We can do it with less, but the $20,000 will make it all easier and faster.”

Dan Wyatt, who owns the Kiggins Theatre where Unmarked premiered, looks forward to seeing the local industry develop.

“All of these guys are self-taught,” he said. “They’re trying to figure it out, and that’s good, but it can lead to a lack of larger perspective; it’s good that these small filmmakers are slowly finding each other and building their skills.”
Wyatt was pleased at the large turnout for Unmarked’s premiere because it was a positive for his business and for the people involved in the film.

“I love helping the local filmmakers and giving a good venue for them to show their work. It’s a big deal for them, and I want them to have a great experience,” he said.

As the turnout for a premiere of a small, locally-produced short film demonstrates, there is a market in Southwest Washington for independent film. As more people enter the field and the technology becomes more accessible, we are likely to see this industry continue to expand and diversify.

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