Should L.A. actors hit the Oregon Trail? Backstage asks Lana Veenker about state film tax credits

Sean J. Miller of Backstage recently asked Casting Director Lana Veenker to comment on Governor Kitzhaber’s proposed increase to the Oregon Production Incentive Fund and the implications for actors living in Los Angeles. His big question: Is it worthwhile for them to move to a burgeoning regional market instead of slogging it in Hollywood?

Certainly, there’s less competition in Oregon in terms of numbers, but our clients still hold us to the same standards when it comes to quality. Therefore, very strong actors with a slew of lead and guest star credits may find it easy to book whatever they go out for up here (particularly actors of diversity, as there’s a dearth of them in the Northwest), while the less experienced will still face significant competition…albeit with fewer traffic and parking headaches.

State Tax Credit Programs Give Actors Tough Choices
By Sean J. Miller | Posted Jan. 24, 2013, 7:58 p.m.

The tug of war between California and states with lucrative tax incentive programs—which are designed to lure productions away from Hollywood and into new territories—shows no signs of abating, with new players still emerging to challenge for a piece of the entertainment industry.

In the last few years, tax credit programs have been the favored tool for new production centers to grow and bring Hollywood to their hometowns. New York, for instance, has one of the richest incentive programs in the country, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week proposed extending the Empire State’s $420-million annual tax credit program for five more years in his new budget.

Other states are following suit. In North Carolina, which has recently played host to features such as the “Hunger Games” and series including Showtime’s “Homeland,” lawmakers are pushing to eliminate the Jan. 2015 “sunset clause” on the state’s film production tax credits in order to make them permanent.

And in California’s northern backyard, Oregon is looking at doubling its modest tax credit program to $12 million. That money, combined with the state’s accessible location and talented crews, could lead to a serious jump in the number of productions calling Oregon home.

“I think this is going to be our busiest year yet as long as the budget [with the incentive increase] goes through,” said Lana Veenker, president of Portland-based Cast Iron Studios.

And that presents Los Angeles-based actors with an important question: Is it worthwhile to move to a burgeoning regional market instead?

Veenker, a casting director who relocated to Portland after launching her career in London, says yes, albeit with a caveat.

“It depends on the actor,” Veenker, who casts NBC’s “Grimm” and worked on TNT’s “Leverage,” told Backstage. “There are some categories that we’re slim in. Specifically diversity is very tough in the Northwest.” She noted that strong Asian, Latino, and African-American performers can be especially hard to find. “We’re on the hunt and it’s not easy,” she said.

Veenker typically casts co-star or guest-star roles for the series she works on. For “Leverage,” the producers only flew up an average of one to two actors per episode over four seasons. “Grimm,” meanwhile, budgets for three L.A. actors per episode. “We are sometimes casting up to 20 speaking parts locally,” she said, so there are opportunities for the journeyman performer in a regional market like Portland.

Actors with stunt experience are also prized in regional markets.

“Strong actors who can do stunts, and strong stunt performers who are strong actors, it’s hard to find both,” Veenker said.

Portland’s popularity has grown recently as series such as IFC’s “Portlandia,” which is shot there, have parodied the local arts scene. But the city’s counterculture can also work in actors’ favor.

“In a place like Oregon and maybe Portland specifically, the independent film scene is through the roof,” Veenker said. “I’ve seen actors produce, direct, and act in their own projects and go on and be successful at film festivals.”

Still, reversing the well-trodden regional-market-to-Hollywood path isn’t a good idea unless a performer’s credits make them stand out.

“I wouldn’t say every actor who’s struggling in L.A. is going to make it in Portland,” said Veenker. “Every market has its fair share of mediocre actors. We don’t need more.”

Link to original article.

3 Responses to Should L.A. actors hit the Oregon Trail? Backstage asks Lana Veenker about state film tax credits

  1. greg marks says:

    Diversity? I know that there are not ton of divers actors in WA or Oregon…but speaking for myself I have worked very hard to get to where I am with very few acting parts that even cast divers people unless they are background or cops.
    It seems as if I would have to be above and beyond other non divers actors to even be considerd,this may not be true but it’s what it seems like. Not only here in Wa and Oregon but in the industy period. I was pleasently surprised when Morgan Freeman was cast in Dolphin Tale when in actuallity the true person that he was portraying was caucasion.
    I was raised to not base people by color but by character and I do the same in actng it’s not about my color it’s about my acting so when there are good parts for me to audition for I work extra hard to do my best.
    I just think that you called out divers people implicating that there are not any here in Oregon and WA that are good enough to get acting jobs when in reality there aren’t many to audition for honestly.
    It’s like only the elite actors get the work…and SAG-AFTRA not even something we can think about because we don’t get the chance to.
    I have a huge amount of respect for you and what you have done and I don’t comment on too many things like this I just think it is kind of an unfare statement without stating all the facts.
    My name is Greg Marks

  2. Gretchen Black says:

    Wow! I was instantly drawn to this article as it invoked a series of mixed emotions. As a working Northwest Actor, I am among many who anxiously await the coveted audition request to read for Grimm, Leverage and/or Portlandia and have a huge amount of respect for the work that Lana does for our community. This article tells me two things:
    1. The Northwest hosts a population of low quality actors who are only suitable for bit parts and roles requiring depth, range and a high level of believability are reserved for actors who must be flown in from Los Angelas.
    2. Quality actors with an ethnic background are difficult to find.
    This concerns me deeply. After attending a workshop with Janet Hirshenson and offering a performance in which she had “no notes” to give me, she told me that the Seattle market was her favorite market to cast from. She loved the high concentration of high quality, dedicated actors. I was proud to give her a solid performance and to join the ranks of this elite talent pool. To hear that Ms. Veenker is struggling to find that quality raises the questions, “Where is she finding her actors?” “Who is keeping them from her?”
    Regarding the ethnically diverse actors in our area. Again, I am baffled and I appreciate the views of Greg Marks on this topic. I am a caucasian woman and find myself in the minority on each and every audition. I feel honored to have worked with some intensely talented, fearless actors who fall into the “ethnically ambiguos” category. How are these gems in our community being passed over? Why must these shows take the extra time and expense to pull from an LA market when diamonds are shining all around them waiting to be discovered?
    I hope that the upcoming season proves to be a fruitful one for both casting and for our Northwest Talent. We are here folks! We are ready to show you what we’ve got!

  3. admin says:

    Quick reply to both Gretchen and Greg: There are fabulous actors of all kinds in the Northwest, but there’s no question that it’s a small market in comparison to LA, with an even smaller number of diverse actors. We heartily agree that there are diamonds shining all around and we bend over backwards to campaign for them in every casting session, as any of our clients will attest. The hard truth is that relatively few in our talent pool have the long list of major credits our producers and the networks insist on when hiring the heftiest roles, so we sometimes lose those battles and are left filling out the smaller roles.

    The size of our market does not pose as much of a problem on feature films, but when casting 22 episodes a season with sometimes up to 20 local actors per episode, this equates to casting a new feature film every eight days. Since we can rarely reuse actors who have already appeared on a show, we are required to come up with new actors of the same caliber every single week. Simple math shows that this can be a challenge. Our colleague Janet, whom we respect and totally agree with, would be in the same boat if faced with this task on a weekly basis.

    The good news is that with all the production happening in the Northwest, our actors are becoming savvier, doing better in auditions, and gaining those coveted credits that help convince the network bigwigs to place their trust in them.

    Thanks for your comments!

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