KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – Despite the noise of road construction and gawking onlookers complicating matters, final scenes were completed in October on a feature film being made in Klamath Falls; the latest example of professional film productions seeking locales in Klamath County.
A Portland-based film crew and actors descended upon Klamath Falls all last week for a feature-length film titled “Back Seat Driver,” expected to debut sometime in early 2024. The film marked the latest in growing interest among regional filmmakers and major film studios to conduct their film productions in the Klamath Basin to take advantage of the area’s variety of unique landscapes, settings, and accommodating weather.
A general increase in film productions in the region has been trending upwards for several years, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, to an average of 8-10 films, documentaries, TV shows, and commercials filming in Klamath and Lake counties every year. While still small in nature compared to hotbeds of film production outside of Hollywood like Atlanta, New Mexico, and Vancouver, BC; for a rural area not on a major interstate the growing increase in film productions means not just a boon to cultural impact, but a palpable bump in economic growth as well.
States like Georgia and New Mexico that have invested heavily in film incentives and facilities over the past several decades are now garnering hundreds of millions of dollars added to the state economy each year related to the jobs, lodging, catering, security, trucking, and other needs associated with most film productions.
While every state is different in its incentives to entice film productions to their area, the Oregon Film office sweetens the pot of financial benefits for film crews that choose to film in areas outside of the greater Portland metropolitan area. That emphasis on rural film production, as well as local efforts to establish relationships with filmmakers and studios to actively promote the region, are starting to see results.
Earlier this year a BBC documentary film crew wrapped production on a feature-length film about Klamath Falls-raised iconic filmmaker James Ivory, and other feature-length and short films throughout 2023 have also selected the Klamath area for filming. Already two feature-length films are slated to shoot in Klamath County early next year, pending resolution of the ongoing Hollywood actor union strikes.
The romantic-comedy film “Back Seat Driver” follows the story of two individuals, both of whom happen to have imaginary friends who can hear each other, that over time fall in love unbeknownst to their living compatriots. Locations used around Klamath Falls for the film included the Back 40 Café, the OC&E Trail, Veterans Memorial Park, Linkville Cemetery, and the Linkville Playhouse. Production recruited an assortment of local actors and extras to participate, including a handful of students form Klamath Union High School, through coordination with Klamath Film – a 501c3 nonprofit that serves as the film liaison office for Klamath County and, among other ventures, coordinates the annual Klamath Independent Film Festival.
For Rollyn Stafford, Portland-based actor, writer, and director; the decision to bring his latest work hundreds of miles south from the familiar confines of Portland to Southern Oregon was a result of his affiliation with Klamath’s film festival. Stafford has had at least one film in the festival every year since 2019, including winning the Best Northern Short award at the 2021 rendition, for his film “Zombie Walk.” With each visit to Klamath Falls to revel in the festival’s activities, the idea began brewing to make a future project in the area.
“The scenery is gorgeous here, especially this time of year, and in Portland I wouldn’t find people that were so welcoming to filmmakers,” said Stafford. “I have never been to a town location where everyone welcomed us to come film in their store or business or street. It was so easy to film here, I don’t know anywhere else in Oregon that I would find that.”
Klamath Film worked closely with Stafford and his team to assist in location scouting, working with the city and county for site permissions, professional equipment needs, housing and catering, and finding local crew members, actors and extras to appear in the film.
“I would say it is worth the trip to scout these locations, because everything from my point of view it is relatively easy to film here,” added Stafford. “I have a feeling the Klamath Independent Film Festival will be blowing up soon; it almost feels like an early version of Sundance. It could get big very soon.”