In the days before this weekend’s annual BendFilm Festival, one of the movies that had organizers excited was the critically acclaimed “Meek’s Cutoff.”

Filmed last year in the Harney Lake area near Burns, two hours southeast of Bend, the full-length feature debuted last month at festivals in Venice, Italy, and Toronto. It was scheduled to show Saturday, at the Tower Theatre, one day after its U.S. premiere showing in New York.

The film stars Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano and Will Patton. It was directed by Kelly Reichardt and written by Jon Raymond, her frequent collaborator. It recounts the story of a misdirected wagon train seeking an Oregon Trail shortcut in 1845.

Although the Burns area’s desolate, High Desert landscapes don’t lend themselves to widespread tourism, serious film buffs may soon be wandering off Double O Road in search of recognizable scenery. With direction from locals, they may even be able to find some reminders of the ill-fated Stephen Meek party.

Blogging from mid-September’s Toronto International Film Festival, Fernando Croce described the cinematographic vistas as “half Wyeth prairie, half lunar surface” and as a “transfixing American void.” That should be enough to draw tourists to the area, once “Meek’s Cutoff” goes into general distribution in 2011.

Major motion pictures contribute to local economies before, during and after film production. Vince Porter, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Film and Television in Portland, said his agency’s mission is to assist filmmakers in securing production locations throughout Oregon.

“Oregon’s in-state film and video industry has been growing steadily,” Porter told me in a meeting at his Portland office. “Out-of-state dollars are spread throughout the business communities in filming locations.

“That includes hotels and restaurants, of course, but also lumber yards, hardware stores, office supplies, antique stores, retail shops ... and wages to Oregonians.”

Popular locations

Beginning with “The Fisherman’s Bride,” shot in Astoria in 1908, more than 300 major motion pictures have been filmed in different parts of Oregon. A comprehensive listing of these movies can be found at Additional information on Oregon film projects is available from the Oregon Film Museum in Astoria.

The largest number of movies have been created in the Portland area, in part because it is easy to get to, and thus less expensive than other locations. But the Willamette Valley and northern coast are also popular among film companies. A substantial number of movies have also been made in central and southern Oregon.

More than 40 silent films were shot in Oregon during the 1920s. Most of them have been all but forgotten, but one movie — Buster Keaton’s 1927 Civil War classic, “The General” — left a short-term legacy in the evergreen forest near Cottage Grove, where it was filmed. According to a Wikipedia entry:

“The climax of the film includes a spectacular moment when a bridge collapses as a railroad train crosses. ... Five hundred extras from the Oregon National Guard (were) all dressed up in Union uniforms and were filmed going left-to-right, (then changed) into Confederate uniforms and were filmed going right-to-left. ... The production company left the wreckage in the river bed after the scene was filmed. The wrecked locomotive became a minor tourist attractions (until) the metal of the train was salvaged for scrap during World War II.”

The 20-odd movies produced in Central Oregon have brought many famous actors to the Bend area: Kirk Douglas and Walter Matthau for “The Indian Fighter” (1956), Douglas and Robert Mitchum for “The Way West” (1967), Tim Conway and Don Knotts for “The Apple Dumpling Gang” (1975), Tom Berenger and Anne Archer for “Love at Large” (1990), and Jennifer Anniston and Steve Zahn for “Management” (2008).

Stark desert-canyon landscapes have been highlighted in such movies as “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” (1993), with Uma Thurman and Keanu Reeves, and “The Postman” (1997), with Kevin Costner and Will Patton. Smith Rock State Park has never appeared the same since John Travolta shot and killed Sam Shepard as he cast a fly in the pristine Crooked River in “Swordfish” (2001).

Smith Rock also played an important role in the John Wayne-Katharine Hepburn film “Rooster Cogburn” (1975). A building at the park entrance, a longtime home to the Smith Rock Climbing Guides, was built for the movie as Kate’s Saloon. Mountain scenes in “Rooster Cogburn” were shot in the Cascades west of Bend; the river scenes were filmed on the Rogue River west of Grants Pass.

Mount Bachelor and the South Sister were key players in “St. Helens,” a 1981 film that earned actor Art Carney an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of irascible lodge owner Harry Truman. The main lodge at the Inn of the Seventh Mountain (now Seventh Mountain Resort) became the Mount St. Helens Lodge; in fact, a “7th Mountain” logo inadvertently appears in one movie scene. Sparks Lake was used to represent Spirit Lake.

For film lovers, these are a handful of other notable movie locations around Oregon:

Filming in Portland

Oscar-nominated director Gus Van Sant makes his home in Portland, so it’s no surprise that the streets and buildings of Oregon’s largest city may be seen in many of his films. These include “Mala Noche” (1985), “Drugstore Cowboy” (1989), “My Own Private Idaho” (1991), “Elephant” (2003) and “Paranoid Park” (2007).

“Elephant,” which starred native Portlander Alex Frost, was shot at the former Adams High School, since demolished. In “Paranoid Park,” Burnside Skatepark became the fictional Eastside Skatepark, illegally built by skateboarders. Ironically, Burnside was also built illegally, but was subsequently approved by the city.

This wasn’t the first hell-on-wheels production in Portland. Back in 1972, Raquel Welch played a roller-derby queen in “Kansas City Bomber.” Other notable movies have included “Body of Evidence” (1993), with Madonna and Willem Dafoe; “Zero Effect” (1998), with Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller; “Pay It Forward” (2000), with Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey; “Jackass: The Movie” (2002), with Johnny Knoxville; and “The Road” (2009), with Viggo Mortensen.

Portland schools are popular film locations. Many scenes in the 1994 Richard Dreyfuss movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” about a high-school music teacher, were shot at Grant High School. In “Into the Wild” (2007) scenes of Chris McCandless’ (played by Emile Hirsch) graduation from Emory University were actually filmed on the front lawn of Reed College.

Reed also was a primary filming location for “Feast of Love” (2007), with Morgan Freeman and Greg Kinnear. Knowledgeable Portlanders may recognize the college’s Blue Bridge, its front lawn and its Eliot Circle. Jitters Café, a coffee shop owned by Kinnear’s character, was actually the Fresh Pot on North Mississippi Avenue.

Portland’s South Park Blocks, near Portland State University, show up in William Friedkin’s “The Hunted” (2003), with Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio del Toro, and several other movies. “What the Bleep Do We Know?” (2004), with Marlee Matlin, was mostly filmed in Portland. Some memorable scenes were committed to film in an IMAX mass-transit tunnel, and a Polish wedding was shot in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in northwest Portland. (Built in 1889, the church traditionally serves a largely Irish-American parish.)

Since 2008, Portland has been the home of “Leverage,” a well-received TNT television series starring Timothy Hutton. The company has a soundstage in Clackamas, but episodes are filmed throughout the greater Portland area.

Outside the city

The Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at Oregon Health&Science University was the major setting for the 2010 movie “Extraordinary Measures,” starring Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser. Nike World Headquarters allowed CBS Films to shoot part of the movie on its Beaverton campus, donating the location payment to the Doernbecher hospital.

Beaverton is one of many Portland suburbs also used as film sets. Most recently, “Thumbsucker” (2005), starring Keanu Reeves and Tilda Swinton, was set in the fictional town of Beaverwood, with locations in both Beaverton and Sherwood, as well as Tualatin High School.

Gresham was the home of young Haley Joel Osment in “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (2001), also starring William Hurt. Estacada was the setting of “Mean Creek” (2004), with Rory Culkin. The since-razed nuclear power plant at Rainier hosted “Men of Honor” (2000), with Robert DeNiro, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Charlize Theron. Both “Halloweentown” (1998), with Debbie Reynolds, and “Twilight” (2008), with Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, were filmed in St. Helens.

At least a dozen movies have been filmed in the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland. Most notable was “Maverick” (1994), featuring riverboat gamblers Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and James Garner.

Mount Hood may be best known for the exterior scenes of Timberline Lodge used in the 1980 horror classic “The Shining,” starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. But several other movies have also been filmed on the mountain, including “Bend of the River” (1952), with James Stewart and Rock Hudson. The mountain became a Korean War set for “All the Young Men” (1960), with Sidney Poitier and Alan Ladd; and it represented the Tibetan Himalayas in the musical remake of “Lost Horizon” (1973), starring Peter Finch, Liv Ullman and John Gielgud.

Willamette Valley

Perhaps no movie filmed in Oregon has stirred more controversy than “Animal House,” a 1978 John Landis vehicle starring John Belushi. Many campuses rejected the filmmaker’s location request, due to the raunchy content of the script, before Eugene’s University of Oregon approved it. Then-President William Boyd even allowed his office in Johnson Hall to be used as that of Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon).

The movie’s Delta House was an early-20th-century Eugene residence that served as the home of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity from 1959 to 1967. Although it was demolished in 1986 and replaced by a suite of doctors’ offices, a large building outside the new building bears a plaque that commemorates the Delta House location.

Many of the interior scenes were filmed within the adjacent Sigma Nu house, which still stands today on East 11th Avenue; the exterior of the frat house was cast as a sorority house through whose window Belushi peered at half-naked coeds.

And the Erb Memorial Student Union fishbowl, though extensively renovated some years ago, is still easily recognizable as the scene of a notorious “Animal House” food fight. The movie’s climactic parade scene, featuring actor Kevin Bacon’s film debut, took place in downtown Cottage Grove.

Eugene and Cottage Grove also figured in “Stand By Me” (1986), based on a Stephen King novella, “The Body.” Most scenes of the River Phoenix movie were shot in tiny Brownsville, standing in for the fictional Oregon town of Castle Rock.

The scenes along the railroad tracks, where the four main characters discover a body early in the movie, were filmed near Cottage Grove, along a railroad right-of-way that is now the Row River National Trail.

Other films shot in Eugene have included “Rachel and the Stranger” (1948), with Loretta Young and William Holden; “Shenandoah” (1965), with James Stewart and Katharine Ross; and “Five Easy Pieces” (1970), with Jack Nicholson and Karen Black. In “Getting Straight” (1970), Elliott Gould and Candice Bergen were students in revolt on the Lane Community College campus. In “How to Beat the High Co of Living” (1980), Jane Curtin and Jessica Lange shopped at the new Valley River Center. “Without Limits” (1998), largely filmed at Hayward Field and at The Pad tavern in Eugene, featured Billy Crudup as distance runner Steve Prefontaine and Donald Sutherland as his coach, Bill Bowerman.

“Quarterback Princess” (1983), featuring Helen Hunt and Tim Robbins, was set in McMinnville. “Bandits” (2001), a road movie with Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett, was shot in Silverton and Salem. Opening scenes of “Seraphim Falls” (2006), starring Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan, were filmed at Sahalie Falls on the upper McKenzie River.

The best-known movie to have been shot in Salem was “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), based upon the novel of the same name by Eugenean Ken Kesey. Starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, both of whom won Oscars for their roles, it was filmed almost entirely at the Oregon State Mental Hospital (2600 Center St. N.E., Salem).

The Oregon Coast

The movie version of Kesey’s second novel, “Sometimes a Great Notion” (1970), starring Paul Newman and Henry Fonda as gritty independent loggers, was filmed in several locations on the Oregon Coast, including Newport, Florence and Toledo. Mo’s Chowder House, on the Yaquina Bay front in Newport, became “The Snag,” a popular local bar where much of the action took place. Tiny Kernville, near the mouth of the Siletz River south of Lincoln City, was the location of the Stamper family home.

Astoria may forever be known as the home of “The Goonies” (1985), which this summer drew visitors from around the world to the movie’s 25th anniversary celebration. Starring Sean Astin and Corey Feldman, both of whom came back to Astoria for the festivities, the adventure-comedy tells the story of a group of teenagers in search of an ancient pirate treasure.

It’s easy to find “Goonies” locations in Astoria. Visitors can start at the old Clatsop County Jail, out of which Mama Fratelli broke her son, Jake, in the movie’s opening scene. The jail is now the Oregon Film Museum, which opened on June 4, the first day of the “Goonies” anniversary party. And while its displays highlight the entire state’s film heritage, there is a special “Goonies Gallery” just for fans of that movie.

Maps will send you to the Captain George Flavel House Museum (441 Eighth St.), the historical museum where Irving Walsh, the father of Mikey (Astin) and Brand (Josh Brolin), worked. They will direct you to the Walsh home at 368 38th St., from which Data (Ke Huy Quan) zip-lined to Mikey’s window from his house next door (370 38th St.).

The John Jacob Astor Elementary School is just a few blocks away, at 3550 Franklin Ave. In fact, it’s almost impossible to get to the “Goonies” houses without passing this school. During the summer of 1989, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Kindergarten Cop” (1990) was filmed here, using many students and staff as extras.

Numerous other scenes from the movie were shot around Astoria, and a school picnic was set at Ecola State Park, 25 miles south near Cannon Beach. But Ecola is best remembered as a setting for Kathryn Bigelow’s “Point Break” (1991), a surfing adventure movie starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves.

Many “Point Break” scenes were also filmed at Wheeler, a tiny Nehalem River community. The village of Nehalem itself figured heavily in “Shattered” (1991), with Tom Berenger and Greta Scacchi, along with adjacent Neahkahnie Mountain and Oswald West State Park.

Around the state

In Southern Oregon, “The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid” (1972), featuring Robert Duvall as Jesse James, was filmed in the old gold-rush town of Jacksonville. The Jacksonville Inn and Bella Union Restaurant&Saloon are easily recognizable.

In the alien-abduction epic “Fire in the Sky” (1993), with Robert Patrick and D.B. Sweeney, the historical community of Oakland (north of Roseburg) subbed for Snowflake, Ariz. Several scenes from “The River Wild” (1994), with Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon, were filmed on the Rogue River. “Dead Man” (1995), a self-described “acid western” starring Johnny Depp, was shot in the Grants Pass area.

Director Gary Lundgren chose Ashland as the location for his new movie “Calvin Marshall,” which was scheduled to show twice during this weekend’s BendFilm festival. Starring Alex Frost and Steve Zahn, it is the story of a zealous but not especially talented college baseball player, and a good example of how a film company can affect a community.

Many scenes were shot at the athletic facilities of Southern Oregon University, where about 200 extras stood in as sports fans. Sports fields in Ashland (North Mountain Park) and Medford (Harry and David Park) were also employed, as were local homes, the Whiskey River Café in White City and the Rogue Valley Family Fun Center in Central Point.

In Eastern Oregon, perhaps no location is more identifiable than the Anthony Lakes Lodge. During the filming of “Paint Your Wagon” (1969), a ribald musical that starred Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, a central location was the saloon of Starbottle’s Hotel. Built of wood from a 19th-century miner’s cabin, the fictional hotel was eventually dismantled, but the “Starbottle Saloon” sign still sits on a wall within the small ski area’s main watering hole.

The Pendleton Roundup grounds were the main filming site for “8 Seconds” (1994), in which Luke Perry portrayed champion bull rider Lane Frost.

John Day and Canyon City are nearly as removed from the Oregon mainstream as is Burns. This is not a part of the state where many film companies venture. But one 1972 movie — Walt Disney’s “Napoleon and Samantha,” starring young actors Michael Douglas and Jodie Foster — had a lasting legacy.

The movie is about two youngsters and their pet, an aging ex-circus lion. Foster was 8 when the story was filmed in 1970; it was her first movie role. But during the filming, she was attacked by the lion; according to, she still has faint lion-bite scars on her stomach and back. Not surprisingly, she also has had a lifelong fear of cats.