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Landmine productions mines film business in Southern Oregon

Soundstage is biggest in state

Two young men are converting vacant pear storage buildings on Medford's Fir Street into Oregon's largest motion picture facility.

After two years of preparation, John Foote, 28, and Dave Culbertson, 30, have opened Landmine Productions for business.

The facility has already had a fair amount of use.

Where We Live Productions of Ashland has just wrapped up a children's video, The Ruby Princess Runs Away.

The studio was used for Budweiser commercials featuring eagles from Wildlife Images in Grants Pass.

They wanted to fly the eagles to Florida for the filming, but the guys at Wildlife Images wouldn't go for that, said Culbertson. So they came here to film the commercials.

The studio's special effects pit was used to produce 80 explosions for the television series, Babylon 5.

EMMA Creative used the studio to film commercials for Mitsubishi, Valley of the Rogue Bank and Asante.

Landmine occupies parts of two buildings just south of Larson's Superstore and two additional buildings are available for expansion. The total space exceeds 110,000 square feet _ larger than Medford's Target store.

To meet building codes, the 50-year-old warehouses required a fair amount of work, including an $18,000 fire wall and a handicapped-accessible bathroom. The fabric insulation had to be tested for flammability and asbestos.

The cold-storage warehouse is ideal for a sound stage with all of the insulation in here, Foote said.

The space within the buildings is free of posts that get in the way of filming, said Lynn Reynolds, producer of The Ruby Princess Runs Away.

The children's video is the first in a series based on The Jewel Kingdom books by Ashland author Jahnna N. Malcolm. It's the story of Roxanne, who is spirited and courageous but not ready to be a princess until she has an adventure and learns some important lessons.

I'm grateful this is here, Reynolds said. I saw it before they started and they've done a lot. They leveled the floors and repoured the concrete. There's still a lot to be done: soundproofing walls, a lighting grid in here.

A blue screen the size of a basketball court occupies one corner of a cavernous room. Other features thus far developed include dressing and makeup rooms, wardrobe rooms, prop rooms, a set-building shop, the special effects pit, plus two full-production stages and plenty of post-free space for sets and filming.

A producer thinks of efficiency, he said. The sound stages in L.A. are so big that you have to go off the lot for set building. We can put it all in one place.

Foote is a 1988 graduate of Crater High School who started learning about the industry when his parents worked at Freedom Productions in Medford.

He went to California to learn more and worked as a grip and lighting specialist. He was lighting director for California lottery productions, but grew bored with that.

In six years, he worked his way into motion pictures as a set director and prop master. He worked on Fatal Crossing, Stargate and The Mike Tyson Story.

I wanted to pursue directing, so I came back to Oregon, he said. He got in touch with Ken Jensen, a former resident of Eagle Point who's been a carpenter in the movie business for 10 years. (His father, John Jensen, was art director for a number of major movies.) Jensen was heavily involved in the first year of building Landmine; he's since returned to California to get married.

We started looking for a facility where we could direct and produce in Oregon instead of just coming back here for Christmas, he said. We sort of stumbled across this building _ that's why we call it Landmine.

Dave Culbertson, a third-generation Rogue Valley orchardist, said the studio's main building had been used for pear storage and packing for decades, but the equipment became antiquated and the production was moved elsewhere.

Nobody wanted to buy the building, he said. Nobody even wanted to look at it. I pulled it off the market ...

Then John came to me with a vision and he's made it work, Culbertson said. It fills a niche and a need and a desire.

When we came in, the building was a dusty, drab, cold pear packing facility, but Dave saw the profit potential, Foote said. Oregon has always been film country, but we've never had a sound stage down here.

A smaller motion picture sound stage is in Portland and Chambers Communications built a sound stage in Eugene which is primarily designed for television, not motion pictures.

He said past efforts to start a studio in Southern Oregon have generated the cash flow to sustain a business, but there's never been a property and infrastructure.

Rogue Studios raised several hundred thousand dollars and never got past a business plan and a grip truck. The entrepreneurs who proposed Dream Valley Studios, an elaborate complex at the former Del Rio Orchards, didn't get that far.

Landmine has the property and is developing as cash permits.

It's slow, but we don't want to be burdened by debt service, Culbertson said.

The studio is operating with a minimum staff. Along with the principals, Foote's mother is production manager and Chris Leveroni is a shop hand.

They're doing a good job, said Gordon Safley, executive director of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. (SO-REDI), which loaned Landmine $25,000 in the early days.

It's a first endeavor, a step in the right direction, but it has a long way to go. It's a great opportunity.

Jason Erlich of EMMA Creative says there's nothing like Landmine's facility in Southern Oregon.

It's been a godsend to us, he said. John is just fantastic at set building and set design. He's easy to work with and he knows his stuff.

He said the sound stage _ coupled with the number of film industry workers who've moved here from Southern California _ are bound to bring more production business to the area.

Foote says the Rogue Valley can attract film producers because of the weather and the natural beauty. But he says Landmine doesn't plan to rely on the kindness of outsiders.

Foote is starting a record label _ Mental Records _ and is shooting a music video for a local group, Virus 9.

It gives kids the chance to get some exposure and it gives me the opportunity to be a music video director and an independent producer, he said.

We're counting on this also being an educational facility, Foote said. We offer set-building, grip and lighting instruction. Kids can come in to do internships. Southern Oregon University has restarted its film-making program and we're hoping them or Rogue Community College will look at us.

We know we can keep growing if we keep our overhead down, he said. We feel comfortable about our survival.