WALLA WALLA -- A new "Walla Walla Film Office" launched today sets the scene for future film, television and commercial productions in the community.
The Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce has started up the new endeavor, capitalizing on the film and television background of the business organization's Chief Executive Officer David Woolson, who also announced Walla Walla will be a featured location in a new reality television show in the works.
Through the Chamber, Woolson and the Walla Walla Film Office will serve as a recruiter and point of contact for production companies scouting locations for filming.
The potential economic development impact to the community can be millions of dollars, Woolson said. As former head of the Oregon Film Commission, Woolson recruited upward of 70 productions to the area, from car commercials to films such as "Mr. Holland's Opus," "Maverick" and the "Free Willy" franchise. In addition to bringing jobs, plus lodging, dining and other tax revenues during filming, the benefit includes global exposure that can have infinite economic potential.
Woolson said the new move is a piece of his organization's Chamber Works Project, which has established the development of Walla Walla's "creative economy" as one of its key initiatives.
Woolson was executive director of the Oregon Film & Video Commission in the 1990s, recruiting a record level of film and television into Oregon.
He later became president of Big Catch, a talent and business affairs company that specialized in celebrity negotiations, rights acquisitions and clearances, and music publishing and licensing. He had also been a senior executive and attorney with Paramount Pictures, Orion Pictures and Dick Clark Productions.
Before becoming the Chamber's CEO, Woolson served as CEO of the Metropolitan Exposition Recreation Commission in Portland, where he provided strategic leadership and operational oversight of the Oregon Convention Center, Portland Center for Performing Arts and the Portland Expo Center. He oversaw a $40 million annual budget and led 550 employees who put on more than 2,000 events and performances each year, according to the announcement.
The new film office through the Chamber allows him to explore an untapped side of economic development in an area where he has numerous contacts and knows just what production companies need when considering locations.
Woolson said the Walla Walla Valley has a rich landscape for endless possibilities for shooting, from its bucolic "Any Town U.S.A." neighborhoods, to its rolling hills and downtown culture. Waitsburg, he said, is prime for a 1930s setting, for instance. "I think you take one Pepsi sign down and you're pretty much ready to shoot," he marveled.
The masterfully revitalized and maintained architecture and carefully crafted walkways provide a sense of neighborhood unfamiliar to many communities. "I think it's one reason there's such a visceral reaction by tourists," he said.
There's also college campuses, waterways, nearby mountainous areas and numerous community events from car shows to live musical performances that lend themselves to the big and small screens.
"All of those things are production elements that filmmakers can use," Woolson said. "The bottom line is to get the resources in their hands and let's see what we can get."
The industry proved for Woolson to have big results in some of the Oregon communities that were filmmaker destinations. Astoria is one example. The coastal town has been the base for numerous films -- "Goonies," perhaps most famously, but also "Kindergarten Cop," two "Free Willy" films and the third installment of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." Tourism exploded after the films came out, he said.
"They had a lot of European tourists that came through Astoria -- particularly from Germany -- because on camera it was like 'what is this exotic location?'"
He said he and other Chamber executives will serve as points of contact for the film office. They will also assist with location advising and permitting and act as a concierge to assist with filming.