Author Archive

Northwest Film Center turns 40!

It’s hard to imagine the independent film community in Portland without the Northwest Film Center. In it’s 40 years, the festivals, classes, workshops, screenings, internships, and other services have benefited local filmmakers in immeasurable ways. It’s only now, during this time of retrospection, that some of these stories are starting to come forward and be told.

In 1971, there were very few places a local filmmaker could have their work seen and connect with an audience. In the intervening years, as film festivals have sprung up everywhere and online distribution has allowed more people to create visibility for their work, the NWFC has transitioned into more of a curatorial role, using their respected status to promote local films to an interested and receptive audience.

I recently spoke with Thomas Phillipson, Regional Services Manager at the Film Center, who says that both filmmaking and music exploded in Portland in the 90’s. The digital revolution made filmmaking (or rather, moving image making) so much more accessible and thus ripe for a DIY groundswell. Where Portland’s music attention plateaued to some extent, filmmaking here continues to expand exponentially. New voices are coming into the Northwest and the short subject filmmakers of a few years ago are now making their feature length films. The film community here both fuels and borrows resources and energy from Portland’s great creative burst of the last decade.

The Northwest Film Center’s education programs fill an important role in Portland’s film and television production infrastructure, bridging the gap between amateur and professional, helping to train the next generation of crew for local production at all levels. And the Northwest Film Center fulfills a cultural role as well, helping local film-lovers connect with all kinds of movies, from the classics to experimental works, and bringing the best of international cinema to Portland every year with the venerated Portland International Film Festival.

For more information on the Northwest Film Center, visit www.nwfilm.org

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December 15, 2011 at 7:01 pm Leave a comment

Interview with Paul Culp, Studio Director at Supergenius Studio

Supergenius Studio in Oregon City, a few minutes outside Portland, provides creative and production support to the video game industry. We recently completed an interview with Paul Culp, Studio Director.

Could you tell me a bit about your background?
I’m actually from a town called Prunedale in the dead center of Monterey Bay, California between Monterey and Santa Cruz. You drive through it on the 101 on your way to LA. You blink, you miss it. I got a job there right after high school working for an entrepreneur out of an old converted house designing screen savers to compete with After Dark, the old fish tank screensavers for Windows. I was given a 386 PC and a catalogue of all the available media software at the time. It had Photoshop, Painter, 3D Studio Release 1, everything a digital artist could ever want but could never afford, or learn how to use, for that matter. The boss let me pick out whatever I wanted, so I did. I picked all of it and went to work. The only thing we ever actually shipped was a screensaver of my faerie art done in Painter. Images of half naked faeries in the woods, called FantaSee. His name. Not mine. It was pretty dumb. But it was my first product to hit the shelves. I was proud of it at the time.
That ended for one reason or another and I went to work in web design in Saratoga. This was before most people knew what the web was. It was a thankless job. No money in web. All the cool kids were doing video games. My buddy owned a game company in San Francisco called Blam, which was a garage style game shop in an old converted Victorian, and he offered me a job doing concept art and storyboards for a Zelda clone on the Playstation called Monkey Hero. I happily left the world of web design.
Blam was great. I have a million stories from there. The game tanked and we never made any money but I cut my teeth with one of the true garage shops of the 90’s and learned everything I know about game development, character design, game design, etc. The ironic part is all my friends in the internet business were making millions now and I was slogging away barely able to pay my bills. I wouldn’t trade it for the world though. I loved those guys at Blam. I ended up Art Director there and wrote a lot of original designs for EA, Mindscape and helped design an RPG system for Stormfront Studios. We drank a lot. Embarrassed ourselves and others at E3 and GDC a lot. We pitched games right and left. Made a lot of friends. Got in a few fights. The industry was a lot smaller then and you kind of knew everybody. You’d be out drinking with guys at E3 debuting their game for the first time, and six months later their game goes on to be the biggest seller of all time. Now they’re sickeningly rich and you’re wondering why it wasn’t you. Well, that was my story at least. Those were interesting times.
Blam eventually went under. One of the partners left to help start a small publishing division of Take Two called Rock Star Games and they offered to buy Blam for a dollar. The remaining partner refused and the studio went under. None of us had any idea what would eventually become of Rock Star.
Luckily, I was long gone by the time it went completely under. I was burnt out and my paychecks were bouncing. I had a new kid on the way and I just couldn’t afford to keep screwing around, trying to make the next big hit. This was late 1999-early 2000. One of the artists at Blam and I decided to branch off and start a studio of artists that would help game developers who needed extra art help. Lord knows we needed that many times at Blam. We called ourselves Liquid Development. This business model was unheard of at the time. There was a lot of general skepticism from our friends and colleagues. This was the beginning of art outsourcing studios. The model we built, project management software, processes, all of that is standard now in the industry. At the time it was all a blank canvas, which for us was really exciting.
Liquid was very successful, despite how much beer we drank and general lack of maturity when we began. We were all kind of shocked by how well it did right out of the gate and how many developers were in need of more and more artists. We planned on that being the case, with the next gen consoles, but I don’t think we expected to be that accurate. At least I didn’t. My business partner probably never doubted it. We eventually moved the company to Portland, Oregon, because I had gone to see one of my favorite bands play there when I was younger and I thought it was cool. Plus, we could all buy houses and live like normal people. I had a wife and kids and I was sick of renting a crappy house two hours outside the city and commuting four hours a day. This was in 2003.
My partner weren’t getting along so well, so I ended up selling my portion of the company to him and I bummed around for about a year. I kind of lost interest in the industry and business in general at this point. I was disenfranchised, you could say. I tried a few little ventures here and there but all I really wanted to do was play in a band and do art. This was me just going native in Portland. I was in retirement mode at 28. Not very realistic for someone with three kids but I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had no drive at that point and wasn’t getting the kind of kicks I used to from work. Plus Portland had no game industry at the time. It was weird for me not to be surrounded by my industry. I never really thought of myself as qualified to do anything else.
I ended up taking a job at a friend’s studio in San Francisco called Shaba, which was a part of Activision. Shaba was right where Blam was at the same time, only Shaba made it. So it seemed fitting to go work there. Unfortunately my family was still in Portland so I commuted back and forth between SF and Portland for two years. Shaba was great, but that particular life sucked big time. I shipped two games with them, Shrek: Super Slam and Tony Hawk: Project 8. I also recorded an album in their basement. It was an interesting time in my life and I made some great friends, but I needed to get back to Portland. Fortunately I was mercifully laid off after Hawk. Activision shut the studio down shortly after. This was around 2006, 2007.
I did a lot of freelancing after I got back. I worked on The Watchmen Motion Comic for a while. I was completely resigned to leaving the game industry at this point. I knew I wanted to be in Portland, but there’s nothing here for games, which is pretty much what I’m most qualified to do. I ended up answering an ad for a project manager position at a film company called Funnelbox in Oregon City, where I met Robb Crocker, the CEO. He happened to have a small team of 3D animators in the back working on cinematics for A Night at the Museum game. It was a strange encounter with fate and I ended up taking on the team.
And what are you currently doing/working on?
I’m working on SuperGenius. That’s where I spend all my energy. It’s a great studio, and we’ve done a lot of cool things since we began. We went from four animators to over twenty animators, artists and producers in two years. We pretty much have our grubby little hands on every Telltale game that gets released, which keeps the animation team very busy. They are doing something very original right now with the episodic thing and I think it’s just going to get bigger and bigger. We’ve shipped Tales of Monkey Island, Sam and Max, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park and Poker Night at the Inventory with them so far. We have done a LOT of work on the Marvel Super Hero Squad license for multiple games. We worked on the trailer for Spike TV’s the Deadliest Warrior which debuted at the VGA’s. We are also working with a few other clients on some awesome titles which I can’t divulge at the moment, as well as a few internal projects.
Why Oregon?
Oh man, where do I start? I love Oregon. Portland, in particular. This is the first place I ever lived where I wasn’t plotting my next move in two years. It’s home now. The creative energy of this place is like no other place I’ve been or seen. People here don’t work for the sake of working. They seem to come here to make something. To work on something. To create something. Not everyone, exactly, but enough to warrant a generalization like that. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re from here so you know what I’m talking about. I like to be surrounded by people who are motivated for reasons other than being upwardly mobile. They do what they do because they enjoy it and care about their work.
What inspires you?
People who do things and make choices based on something other than fear.
What’s next for you?
Building SuperGenius to be the greatest thing ever. An institution of sorts. Where amazing things happen, and people come here to be a part of it. People work with us to be a part of it. We push people here to be at the top of their game, both creatively and technically and I think it’s infectious. We have an incredible motion capture studio in the works, as well as an education branch to help cultivate some of the raw talent this place has to offer. We have some of the best artists and animators I’ve ever worked with. We are expanding in all kinds of new directions. We are part of the 8th fastest growing company in all of Oregon, which is exciting in its own way. Especially considering the state of the world. We are on the verge of building something this place hasn’t seen before and I’m honored to be a part of it. I just want to make sure I’m worthy of that honor every step of the way. I’m definitely getting my kicks again.

October 23, 2011 at 8:01 pm Leave a comment

Peter Richardson, documentary filmmaker

Peter’s documentary, How to Die in Oregon, won the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize.  The film premiered on HBO this past May. Peter’s previous film, Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon (his home town), debuted at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Richardson was the cinematographer on Saving Pelican 895, Irene Taylor Brodsky’s documentary that aired on HBO in April.

Here’s what Peter has to say about living and working creatively in Oregon:

Portland is a great place to be involved in the creative industry. It has a lot to offer for a city this size – it’s a west-coast town with an independent spirit. I’m lucky to live in a city that’s so supportive. There’s an independence and a diverse atmosphere for creative people, so there’s all kinds of creative expression – it’s not an “industry town”. Oregon values quality of life over other things, and that lends itself to being creative.

I’m inspired by different things at different times. I have all these different elements, and how do I combine them to tell the story of what I experienced while making the film? Finding the theme of a scene has a lot to do with music, finding the track that shows the mood I’m feeling or trying to convey. I’m trying to share with other people universal elements of the human experience. Documentary storytelling isn’t about issues, it isn’t single-focused. It’s the human element, the experience that person is having. The subjects inspire me while I’m filming, and then my co-editor (RV note: I didn’t jot down his name. What was it?) was really a part of the storytelling process. I mean, I was 27 when I was making this film, and people ask my why someone so young would want to tell this story about death. But it wasn’t about death, it’s a human story about what those people were going through.

When I was young I wanted to be a doctor or scientist. In high school I got into writing, photography, filmmaking; in high school sometimes I would make a film instead of writing an English paper. But I didn’t think I’d get into documentaries – I thought I’d be more of a narrative filmmaker. In college, I was assigned as a photographer and photo editor for the student newspaper. And I became really interested in meeting people, in finding out what they were working on, getting a window into their world, and then capturing that in a photograph. And it’s that impulse that led to my documentary work.

September 26, 2011 at 1:15 pm Leave a comment

Oregon a perfect fit for Grimm

Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt are in Portland producing the first season of NBC’s Grimm.

They are also keynote presenters at this year’s Portland Creative Conference on Saturday September 17th.

Jim co-wrote Rush Hour starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker for New Line in 1998, Snow Dogs starring Cuba Gooding and James Coburn in 2002, and Taxi staring Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon in 2004. He has also worked in television, producing and writing with David Greenwalt for Angel (WB) and writing and producing on The Handler (CBS). In 2004 his last Disney release was National Treasure which Jim wrote and starred Nicolas Cage, directed by Jon Turteltaub and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.  National Treasure 2, which is based on his characters, was released in 2007. Jim has also Executive Produced and written for the CBS TOUCHSTONE/DISNEY series Ghost Whisperer, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, during its first two seasons. In 2011 Jim has written TV Pilots for Fox Cable (Buck) and NBC (Grimm).  In March of 2011 Jim produced the pilot for Grimm in Portland, Oregon with his partners David Greenwalt, Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner.  He is presently working on Grimm, the series for NBC, filming in Portland.

David’s credits include three Disney TV movies – Help Wanted Kids, Exile and Double Switch — (all of which he directed), PROFIT, which he co-created with John McNamara, Buffy The Vampire Slayer (exec producer, writer and director) Angel (co-created with Joss Whedon)  Miracles for ABC, Jake 2.0, and many other projects. His current venture is Grimm, coming to NBC this October on Friday nights. He and his long time partner Jim Kouf wrote and produced the pilot and are running the show with Hazy Mills producers Todd Milliner and Sean Hayes.

Despite their hectic schedules, they recently had a few minutes to talk about what they love about working in Oregon

Oregon is like another character in the show. We love the mossy trees, the quaint archtecture, the chic downtown; like our show, it’s half storybook, half modern. There are so many looks and scenes available to us within our shooting zone. And we love the rain; we shoot no matter what the weather is. The rain adds a moodiness that is consistent with the feel of the show.

Everyone here is so conscious of the environment- you see people everywhere on bikes and with their reusable grocery bags. It’s great that people care so much about taking care of the local ecology.

There’s a wonderful talent pool available here with cast and crew, and everyone is so friendly. Even people who aren’t working on the show are welcoming and happy to have us here. Everyone is enthusastic about the project, and, of course, excited to be working in this economy. And we’re happy to be spending lots of money here in Oregon.

Grimm premieres October 21 at 9pm on NBC, and you can catch Jim and David at the Portland Creative Conference on Saturday September 17th.

August 30, 2011 at 6:33 pm Leave a comment

Portland Architect Robert Thompson is a Featured Speaker at the Portland Creative Conference

Robert Thompson– Founder, Principal & Design Director, TVA Architects–is a featured speaker at this year’s Portland Creative Conference.

Robert’s buildings are featured around the world (including headquarters for Proctor & Gamble and Sony Ericsson) and his most well-known Portland-area buildings include the Nike campus (he has designed over 30 buildings for Nike), the Fox Tower, the John Ross condos and the Umqua Bank Store in the Pearl. One of his most recent projects is the Matthew Knight Arena on the U of O campus. TVA Architects has won more than 55 awards for excellence in design including 42 local, regional and national awards from the American Institute of Architects. In anticipation of his upcoming appearance at the Portland Creative Conference, I recently interviewed Robert at his office in downtown Portland.

Robert is a native Oregonian, so we spoke for a while about his choice to live and work here:

Oregon is beautiful, and offers the ocean, mountains, an urban center large enough to attract rich culture, and is wonderful from the standpoint of raising a family. Portland is scaled in a unique way, and people just fall in love with it.

Portland is one of the world’s leading cities from the perspective of industrial design. We have world-class footwear, apparel, advertising, architecture firms all working here. There’s a wealth of creative professionals for design at all levels. It’s attractive to young people who want to be part of it. Portland supports and nurtures the creative economy, supporting young, innovative, entrepreneurial people, although of course they could always do more to support clean, green businesses. But look at the food carts: a lot of cities would have gotten rid of them. Portland nurtured them, embraced them, and now uses them as a marketing tool.

We also discussed his early creative history and decision to pursue architecture:

From an early age, I had a proclivity for drawing, painting, and building things. My parents supported and inspired me, enrolling me in just about every kind of fine art class that ultimately led to the decision to be an architect. I’m really fortunate in that respect; it allowed me to live an inspired life, doing what I want to do. I have an enormous passion for the creative process, and the busier I am, the more work there is to do, the happier and more fulfilled I am. It’s harder to be not busy.

Robert is inspired by all kinds of design:

Cars, boars, sailboats, the sculptural aspects of finely designed objects, of things that are thought through to the finest detail, the minimal number of moves. Things that are elegant, things that are graceful.

At the conference, he’ll talk about his creative process in the architectural world:

It’s all about design, from the macro to the micro level. The evolution starts on day one, at your first meeting with the client, and doesn’t end until the last contractor pulls off the job a couple years later. Architecture is a fine art, it’s all about creative problem solving. We’re designing the whole spaces, buildings, furniture, light fixtures, down to the napkins on the table. It’s holistic, creating entire environments from thin air, all the way down to the silverware in the restaurants we design. It’s not phased, it’s an ongoing engagement for years on any one project.

Architecture is a lengthy process. If you’re sculpting or painting, it’s just you. But architecture happens within constraints: the client, the jurisdiction, the code, schedule, budgets. But really, those things aren’t constraints. They define and frame the solution.

Good projects depend on good clients, clients who are emotionally engaged in creating good work. Engage clients in the design team as a participant, and then they can share in the authorship of the work. You are building a relationship, you aren’t just hired to complete a job. TVA has some of the greatest clients in the world: Apple, Nike, Eriksson, Nike, and we’re engaged with the highest level of leadership, people who want to create environments that reflect the brand strategy and support their internal creative process on a daily basis. Clients bring their own ideas to the table; the ways they’ve thought of to solve their problem, and then we pose creative solutions that they haven’t thought of before, solutions that solve their problem in an enlightened way. Architecture, all design really, is about solving the problem in ways they haven’t thought of, showing them many ways to solve the problem.

It was a fascinating interview, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say at the conference in September.

August 17, 2011 at 7:20 pm 1 comment


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