Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Into the Grimm Corners of Portland by Grace C.






Into the Grimm Corners of Portland

“The fairy tale keeps us firmly rooted in reality: at home, in the village, on the road, or in the woods” -Maria Tatar (qtd. in Grimm xxviii)

Monroe, Rosalee and Nick, hunched over a wooden table scattered with ancient books, flip furiously through the yellowed and crinkly pages. Amid the din of concentrated searching, Monroe, a wool-sweater-wearing and box-bearded character, exclaims,“Oh! I think...I think this is it!” After a closer inspection of the book, with a dejected face, he continues to say, “No, it can’t be it...”
Next to him, Rosalee, a petite, sophisticated and sharp-faced woman, leans over to see the inscription in the worn-out book. “Monroe! This is it!” she says. “You found the recipe to the potion that could save Juliette.”
“It is?” Monroe quizzically asks, but with a slight clear of his throat he recovers, “I mean, I thought this was it.” As Monroe and Rosalee look through the recipe, their faces turn grim as Nick, Juliette’s boyfriend, anxiously waits around for a potion to cure his brainwashed girlfriend. Monroe, with a look of defeat, looks up to Nick, “Oh dude...”
“Cut!” The whole warehouse exhales as crew members stretch from their frozen positions.  I hear a school bell ringing loudly throughout the high ceilings, signalling the cut.  The episode’s director, along with the camera crew, laughs as the group mocks Monroe’s final line: “OHHH DUUUDE.”  On set of NBC’s Grimm, a TV series based and shot in Portland, Oregon, I’m able to recognize the familiar faces of the actors and the commonly used sets in the dark warehouse. This scene is set in Rosalee’s Exotic Tea and Spice Shop, which is carefully constructed to have a musty and antiquated atmosphere.
With a set of headphones perched atop my head, I join fifteen other people in the back room to huddle around the monitors as we intently watch the action on set. A woman sits in a director’s chair with a heavy binder across her lap. She’s constantly checking the actors’ words against the script. Another woman standing next to me has a plastic shoulder bag stuffed with makeup brushes and powder, and pounces onto the set when an actor calls out for a touchup: “I need some lip!”
***
Grimm’s protagonist is Detective Nick Burkhardt, played by actor David Giuntoli. Nick is a descendant of the Grimm family and has the ability to see the Wesen (monsters) based off of the creatures in the fairy tales written by the Grimm brothers (“Grimm (TV Series)”). The first season of Grimm concerns Nick’s realization of and coming to terms with his Grimm blood, and the second season focuses on the people around Nick, as they come to terms with his supernatural abilities. Monroe, a character fittingly played by Silas Weir Mitchell, has been around since the show’s first episode. This loveable character is a ‘reformed’ Wieder Blutbad, a Wesen based off of the ‘Big, Bad Wolf’ (“Pilot”). You can count on this Blutbad to drop a sarcastic and sometimes cheesy remark in each episode, which adds to his typically quirky Portlander character.  Finally, Rosalee, like Monroe, is a ‘reformed’ Wesen, except she is a Fuchsbau, a type of fox mentioned in many of the Grimm fairytales (“Island of Dreams”). Played by actress Bree Turner, Rosalee owns the Exotic Tea and Spice Shop, so she is very knowledgeable in everything that has to do with potions and medicine. Monroe and Rosalee’s characters are comparable to Harry Potter’s Ron and Hermione, especially given their budding relationship. In fact, fans have given the couple their own mashed-up moniker: Monrosalee (Rose).  
I am surprised that the actors are not much different from the characters they play on the show.  Mitchell and Giuntoli joke around during short breaks. Picking up a vial of powder from the shop table, Mitchell asks, “I wonder what’s in these bottles. MSG or something?”
Giuntoli replies, “Ha! You know when my buddies and I went to Chinatown, we went to a restaurant and the owner straight-out told us that they put MSG in their food.”
“Gross dude!” Mitchell said, but then admitted, “It’s what makes Doritos so addicting, though.” This was one of several comments made by Mitchell when I smiled and internally laughed in agreement.
During quick position shifts, the three discuss the contents of the ancient books being used as props for the scene: “These pictures are everywhere!” Turner frowns as she flips through her dusty book filled with detailed diagrams of body parts. In fact, it is her first day back on set; she had been on pregnancy leave for a while.  Her maternal senses were obvious when she fixed my cardigan, which was slipping from my shoulder, as we chatted in the sprinkling rain. Having only seen these actors through the TV in my living room, seeing them interact like regular human beings just feet away from me made the whole Grimm experience seem even more realistic.
***
What is our attraction to this genre where fantasy and reality mesh together? By the age of seven, virtually all children in America have heard at least one of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales: “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Hansel and Gretel,” or “Cinderella,” to name a few. In kindergarten, kids play ‘make-believe,’ creating smoothies out of plastic foods, fixing houses by hammering a wall with a plastic hammer and playing ‘house’ with imaginary dogs and all. As our reading skills improve, we’re exposed to a burgeoning genre of books with vampires, wizards and witches, werewolves and myriad monsters. Sprouting from the popularity of fantasy books, movie and television show producers make films that cater to the target group of fans. These people will eat up anything that could possibly quench their insatiable thirst for a world beyond the one they live in. Grimm not only reaches back to our seven-year-old selves and retells these fairy tales, but also fulfills our need for an illusion that there is something beyond our human existence – something secretly coexisting with us.  
My favorite movie as a child was Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (a version of the Brothers Grimm’s Little Briar Rose) (Ashliman). By the time I was five years old, I probably watched the classic fairytale several times a week. The magic that Princess Aurora’s three helper-fairies used to complete house chores with a flick of a wand fascinated me.  At age seven, I watched my first Harry Potter movie.  This was the first time I experienced magic come together with reality. Since Harry Potter’s international phenomenon, I – along with millions of other fans – have been craving movies that provoke the feeling of a supernatural presence in our world.  I’ve seen all the Harry Potter and Twilight movies, the first Percy Jackson & the Olympians movie, and am eagerly awaiting the release of two more feature films based on fantasy genre books.  The pattern of popular books turning into motion pictures draws an already established fan base.  As an avid fan of each series, when I heard that Twilight and The Hunger Games were to be made into movies, I immediately became an enthusiast of the movies, too. To me, film adaptations of fantasy stories are satisfying conclusions to my lingering imagination of the stories. By adding actors, scenery, props and steady dialogue, these movies or, in Grimm’s case, TV shows, make my imaginings become a reality.  
***
At Grimm’s production office, just a minute’s drive from the warehouse where they were shooting, I had the special opportunity to sit down with director and executive producer Norberto Barba. The middle-aged New York native was seated in his large office chair behind his wrap-around desk, which faced the beautiful Portland scenery: the bridges and the Willamette River, the silhouettes of the mountains to the east and buildings peeking above the mass of thick trees.  Barba had a scruffy beard and feathery peppered hair, and was dressed casually in a simple long-sleeved shirt (sleeves rolled), jeans and thick-rimmed glasses.  
As one of Grimm’s many directors, Barba had the distinction of directing the show’s first episode after the “Pilot,” as well as several others. After receiving the script, Barba thought to himself, “Wow. This is something that I can probably sink my teeth into, both visually and thematically.”  Obvious from his résumé of having directed and produced other shows such as CSI, NCIS and most profoundly, Law and Order: SVU and Criminal Intent, Barba is very interested in police procedural genres, which was a big draw for why he agreed to work with Grimm (“Norberto Barba”).  “The fact that [Grimm] was a cross-genre piece,” Barba then continues, “that it was both a police procedural and a science fiction thing, interested me.”  As a child, his father was a big science fiction fan, so he naturally grew up watching The Twilight Zone and Star Trek.  
Called up to Portland from Los Angeles like many of the members of the high-ranking production crew, Barba has a lot to handle to make the Grimm production run smoothly. Walking me through the process, he explained how an executive producer creates an episode. On the first day, the heads of each department, the director of the episode, and the producers sit around a conference table with the writers in L.A. on the phone and go through the whole script. This ‘Prep Concept Meeting’ is assembled to make sure that everyone is on the same page before they continue to go about preparing details within their own departments. Throughout the week, the producers have separate meetings with each of the many departments, such as locations, art, visual and special effects, stunts, wardrobe, and casting, and go through the script to make sure that every detail is in place before shooting begins.  
“We cast here in Portland,” Barba says, “unless they’re big guest parts. Then we cast them out of Los Angeles. But we try to do an average of three or less actors from Los Angeles and the rest, locally.”  Barba has nothing but great things to say about the recurring Hollywood actors on the show.  “The actors are all wonderful; there’s no personalities or prima donnas,” he says with a hint of a New York accent. “They are very lovely people who care very much about the show and their characters and their crew.” However, Grimm is not only limited to Hollywood and local actors. In its recent Halloween episode, “La Llorona,” Kate de Castillo, one of Mexico’s most popular actresses, appeared as a guest star (“La Llorona”).
Because the show is shaped around these Wesen, which take human form but morph into their beastly shapes when evoked, there are a lot of special effects laid on the actors who transform from human figure into Wesen shapes.  If you go on Grimm’s official website, there are often albums documenting the creation of these intricate Wesen. You can see several makeup artists working on one actor as they transform him into a monster with molded rubber masks, grimy teeth and beastly noses and ears (“Behind the Scenes”). However, the special effects editors also use CGI (computer-generated imagery) to portray these Wesen. Since these specialists are in California, after shooting is done, the film is sent south for special-effects editing.  However, a heavily CGI-clad episode “can sometimes get in just days before it airs because sometimes there’s a lot of effects and a lot of time crunch,” says Barba.  Despite the short amount of time, the Grimm team manages to execute every week that the show airs; the show has a steady weekly audience of over 5 million viewers (Kondolojy)
***
Sitting awkwardly in the Burnside Starbucks with my latte, I waited for Katie Rasmussen. From her voice on the phone, which was energetic and cheerful, I expected her to be a young lady.  When an auburn-haired woman in her mid-twenties walked through the doors, I took a chance and asked if she was Katie. To my relief, she said she was. As a head location manager for Grimm, Rasmussen is the person who makes the “shiny and creepy sides of Portland” come to life. For a woman with a small, pixie-like figure, Rasmussen takes on more than one would imagine. Just to list a few things her job entails, she and her team of two others are in charge of finding all the locations that appear on the episode, negotiating compensation for their use, finding city permits, and relocating families whose homes are being used for shooting.  
This Portland native has worked in the locations department for movies such as Sex and the City 2 and Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon, but Grimm is the first time she’s taken on the head role as the locations manager.  From talking with Rasmussen, I realize what Barba said when he mentioned that “the Oregon crews are awesome. I have been so struck by the dedication and their enthusiasm, their excitement for challenges, and their morale. They have a very bright outlook doing this, and they’re very good.” Rasmussen reciprocates his appreciation: “The environment on Grimm is great because it all starts from the top down. The executive producers and producers are great. Everyone is very fair... It’s just about having a good sense of humor and having fun.”  
As the locations manager, Rasmussen does a lot of scouting around the Portland
Metro area. Except for recurring locations such as the police office, Nick’s house, Monroe’s house, the Exotic Tea and Spice Shop, and Aunt Marie’s trailer, all the locations are shot out in the real world.  In fact, I was only able to contact Rasmussen because she had scouted a friend’s home as a prospective shooting location and posted her business card on his front door.
“The script is usually around fifty pages. It’s the blueprint to everything,” said Rasmussen.  So through the ‘Prep Concept Meeting,’ when everyone goes through the whole script, Rasmussen gets a sense of what she needs to locate for the episode. Once the script asked for a serial killer’s house: “I let the guys take on that one,” Rasmussen said, chuckling. “It’s creepy to think about who might live in those houses in real life!”  In fact, Rasmussen says, “scouting houses is really the hardest thing to do.  You’re knocking on these people’s doors, and sometimes they swing open the door and say, ‘Sure, come in,’ and other times they’re asking for my ID.”  Not only do they move the whole family out of the house, but the crew also takes out all of the family’s furniture.
Though mainly shot on stage, Nick and Monroe’s houses, as well as the Exotic Tea and Spice Shop, exist in real life.  “We pay the homeowners every time we go to Nick and Monroe’s house,” Rasmussen said. “We actually go to their houses pretty often; every six weeks or so.”  She playfully dusted off her shoulders as she mentioned the Exotic Tea and Spice Shop because she was actually the one to discover its real location, which is on NW Couch near the Burnside bridge (Rasmussen).  The real location has a beautiful arched doorway donned with curling golden vines and intricately carved wooden door posts — something you would see drawn in a book of illustrated fairy tales.
***
The rough estimate of Rasmussen’s budget is around 100 thousand dollars per episode, which makes shooting on stage much more appealing, because it’s “much cheaper, faster and easier to do things in this controlled environment.”  Barba mentioned, however, that “there are times when we’re out there in the forest deep at night and there’s a huge storm and we keep shooting. It’s hard, but the shot turns out beautifully.”  
With the many factors that come along with shooting outside of a stage, Rasmussen has dealt with a couple of funny mishaps. While shooting an episode this summer, Rasmussen told me how it was a beautiful night and about one hundred families with their young children and picnic blankets came out to the local school to watch the shooting of a murder scene: “I was like, ‘Oh, wow this is a lot of crowd control!’” Other times, drunk people stumble into the shoot, and one time Rasmussen had to ask a marching band to move to another area because their music could be heard all the way to the set — but “everyone was super cool about it.”  
“After the Pilot aired, the people from Los Angeles thought we had enhanced the greenery because they couldn’t believe how green Portland truly was,” Rasmussen mentioned. From a tree topography of America, Portland lies on the strip of the “leafiest forests and tallest trees in America” (Boyle).  Barba praised everything this city has to offer: “Portland is such a beautiful city, surrounded by forest.” The enchanted and haunted forests are crucial to many fairy tales and the TV show because many of the forests mentioned in the Brothers Grimm fairy tales hold the “the essential truths about German customs, laws, and culture(Zipes 68).  
Grimm is not the first film production to accentuate Portland’s creepy nature. Oregon was infested with blood-sucking vampires for the blockbuster hit Twilight. Scenes were shot around Portland, St. Helens and Oxbow Park (“Oregon Film History”). Just a couple years ago, actress Amanda Seyfried came to Oregon to shoot the thriller Gone. The deep hole where a serial killer puts the bodies of his abductees is based on Forest Park (“Oregon Film History”). Though these films might make some Portlanders take an extra look over their shoulders the next time they walk through the forest, many take the production of films in Portland as an honor, and welcome the crew and actors with open arms.      
Thanks to Rasmussen’s hard work, Barba and other directors have been able to shoot in the “beautiful Northwest, Northeast, and Southeast neighborhoods, the Schnitzer, the Governor Hotel and Multnomah Falls.”  In fact, Turner tweeted, “I'm LITERALLY in the middle of the forest. #Grimm #badasscrew” at almost 9 p.m. on a cold October night (Turner).  According to Vince Porter, the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Film and Television, Portland is a great city to shoot in because of its “close proximity to Los Angeles.”  This makes it easier for both actors and crew members to go back to Los Angeles for various reasons (Suddath). In fact, Barba says he goes to visit his family down in Los Angeles every weekend (there was a list of all the PDX to LAX flight times tacked onto his office wall).  
The work days are “twelve to thirteen hours a day, so that’s over sixty hours a week,” Barba says, which is why he has such high praises for the whole crew; about 550 locals were hired last year for all purposes (“Film, TV Industry”).  Because Grimm is the only TV show currently shooting in Portland, Barba has the “top pick” of local crew.  However, if more productions start happening in Portland, he believes it’ll be harder to get the top pick of crew members. This is what is happening in Vancouver B.C., where Barba says the “talent pool of crew members is shrinking” with the over 20 productions happening there (“Film List”).  However, similar to British Columbia, Portland has very enticing tax incentives, which is why many more film productions have been happening in Portland in the past few years, such as Twilight, Portlandia, Gone and Leverage, to name a few (“Oregon Film History”).  
Oregon’s tax incentive, a 20% cash rebate on “all Oregon-based goods and services,” a cash rebate of 16.2% on the “wages paid to productions personnel,” and of course the automatic 7-8% savings on the Oregon ‘no sales tax’ rule, is a big attraction for show producers (“Incentives”).  Given these tax incentives, Grimm has contributed to the over 130 million dollars of total production money spent in the state, helping boost the Oregon economy (“Film, TV Industry”).  
Other than the actors, directors and producers, everything for the show, almost always comes from the city of Portland. “We use the lumber, the construction, the cameras from up here,” Barba says.  In fact, the show rents plants from Dennis’ 7 Dees garden centers, and by the estimates of Dave Etchepare, a manager of Dennis’ 7 Dees, the show has actually brought in $20,000-$30,000 for the local plant business (Turnquist). “So all the money is returned into the economy of Portland,” Barba proudly mentions. “It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”  
In fact, in the November/December edition of Explore the Pearl, a local magazine which highlights the many great aspects of Portland’s Pearl District, Sasha Roiz and Reggie Lee, two more leading characters in Grimm, were featured for their love of all the things that only the Pearl District offers. They talk about their favorite cafés, stores and restaurants around the Pearl: Andina Restaurant, Jimmy Mak’s, REI, Piazza Italia, and the Lizard Lounge (Filips 26-28).  
***
The ringing bell echos throughout the lofty ceilings of the cold, dark warehouse.  I squeeze my way through the partially opened door, which is carved out of the wall of the Exotic Tea and Spice Shop’s backroom. My headphones buzz with the scraping of moving furniture and the mumbling of crew members as they shift around the counter tops and bookshelves in the Exotic Tea and Spice Shop. I walk out of the shop set-up into the open warehouse to see Turner and Giuntoli sitting on their actors’ chairs. Mitchell has distanced himself to take a seemingly urgent phone call, Turner is surrounded by a couple of women who hand her a thick winter coat, and Giuntoli is snacking on a bag of cookies as he chats with an elderly man who, like me, is an excited visitor on the set.  As the elderly man parts with a shy, “Keep up the good work. I’m a huge fan,” Giuntoli gets up from his seat as if he had a ‘eureka!’ moment. “Is it lunch break?” he asks like an excited student. The wandering crew around him stop in their tracks to confirm his question. In a second, Giuntoli lifts his jacket from his chair and heads towards the exit. His co-workers follow behind as Giuntoli says, “Come on you guys! It’s lunch!”  Considering the ring of the bell as the ending of my day on set, I nonchalantly follow the three actors out the door. But I do not follow Giuntoli, Mitchell and Turner. Instead I’m following Detective Nick Burkhardt, Monroe the Blutbad and Rosalee the Fuchsbau. As if I’m a part of their team, I head out into the rainy Portland afternoon ready for whatever Wesen head my way.

Works Cited

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