Moving beyond ‘The Goonies’

Landmark films have used Oregon for its rugged landscapes and moody ghost towns surrounded with gorgeous scenery to improve their visual character. "Five Easy Pieces," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest," "The Shining," "The Goonies," "Stand By Me" and "The Ring 2" were all shot in Oregon, and all employed its geography as a character – a force to be loved, appreciated, and reckoned with.

Thanks to a recent emigration of filming to Vancouver B.C. there has been a declining amount of large productions taking advantage of Oregon. This has left the local population of film lovers in hopeful limbo, waiting for the next Hollywood blockbuster to come in and turn our daily lives and cars right before our eyes. People busy reminiscing over the days of Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro tend to overlook the important work by emerging Oregon filmmakers.

The rise and growing acceptance of the "documentary" format has certainly given our local filmmakers the possibility to create a narrative and share bits and pieces of our home. And the ever-advancing technology of video has made it possible for anyone who can’t afford film to be creative and not go broke in the process.

Even in the worst of economies there are some local filmmakers who prove, given the drive and a strong creative nature, you can accomplish a lot with very little. One such person is highly regarded short filmmaker and founder of Peripheral Produce Matt McCormick.

With the intention of creating an outlet for experimental film and video, McCormick founded Peripheral Produce in 1998. Using small independent record labels as a model, McCormick compiles the work of selected filmmakers and packages it for easy consumption. In 2001 McCormick and P.P. created the annual Portland Documentary and eXperimental Film Festival (PDX Film Festival). He has screened three films at the Sundance Film Festival and won Best Short Film at the San Francisco International Film Festival, Best Experimental at the New York Underground Film Festival, and Grand Prize from the Media City Film Festival. He has collaborated with a slew of artist and musicians including Calvin Johnson, The Shins, Miranda July, and the Postal Service.

His short film "The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal," looks at the incidental abstract expressionism, minimalism, and Russian constructivism created by painting over graffiti. The film, funded at a much greater capacity than the arts in general, was also named one of the "Top 10 films of 2002" by the Village Voice and Art Forum. McCormick is also a regular guest teacher and speaker for workshops at the NW Film Center. What follows is short interview with McCormick that was conducted via e-mail on a rather nice recent Thursday.

How is it you came to directing short films? Do you prefer the short to the feature?

Matt McCormick: Well, it’s not as much about preference. I’d say there are two reasons: one is the obvious amount of resources that it takes to make a feature length film; a lot of time, money, and energy has to go into a project that big, whereas shorts are easier to make, allowing you to work on your own terms. But I also really find it annoying that 90 minutes has become this benchmark length for filmmaking. I have always thought that films should just be as long as they need to be, whether 5 minutes or 45 minutes or 200 minutes. I’ve always wondered how many films were ultimately ruined by forcing them into the 90-minute mold.

How long have you been making films? How long have you been making films in the respect and manner you enjoy?

MM: I started playing around with a video camera when I was in high school, so it’s been over 10 years now.

Do you feel being an independent filmmaker has allowed you to more easily work on the projects you want, or do find it more difficult to have your projects produced?

MM: It is actually pretty easy to make films on an extremely low budget if you allow yourself to. I have never had any money to sink into projects, so I have had to figure out how to make films for next to nothing. After doing that for long enough, you start to work the limitations into your creative process – focusing on the tools that are within your reach and blowing off the big budget spectacle stuff. I always think it’s silly when I hear people say they want to make a film, but can’t because they don’t have enough money. The fact is you can make a film for $40. Unfortunately too many people just see Hollywood films as their only role model, and believe they can’t make a film that doesn’t cost thousands of dollars to make.

Can you talk a bit about the Rodeo Film Co. (McCormick’s production company)?

MM: The Rodeo Film Company is my little iddy biddy production company. It’s just me and some occasional help. We have done a couple music videos and commercials, and of course all of my short films. On the hand, Peripheral Produce is another company that I started that is a distribution label that distributes short/experimental work of DVD in a similar fashion as a record label. Check ’em out at or

What are your impressions of Portland’s filmmaker community these days? What do you find important about the work coming out of Portland?

MM: I think there is some really exciting stuff happening here right now, and I see things as sort of in this weird state of limbo. A couple years ago everyone was making really scrappy, no-budget movies that were great. Now people are making projects that are more serious, and with a little luck, some very important films will be made. It will be interesting to see how the film community grows over the next few years.

Perhaps you could mention why you find your home in Portland in regards to the work you do and the art you create.

MM: Portland is a good place to live and work as long as you can be self-motivated. It is still relatively cheap to live here compared to the larger-market cities, and it is hard to argue against Portland’s livability. But it is also still a pretty sleepy town, and there isn’t the infrastructure that you find in a market like LA or NYC, so you are forced to do a lot of things yourself and create your own infrastructure to work within.

Selected epics by Matt McCormick

"Sincerely, Joe P. Bear," 1999
A dreamy and occasionally hand-painted look at how Polar bears love and sometimes lose.

"American Nutri," 2003
Who are these little bastards, how did they get here and how do we get rid of them?

"The Vyrotonin Decision," 1999
A summer blockbuster hand assembled from dumpster-found commercials.