IFC's 'Portlandia' crew says joke won't be on our fair city
Published: Thursday, September 09, 2010, 8:39 PM Updated: Thursday, September 09, 2010, 9:10 PM
Kristi Turnquist, The Oregonian
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Faith Cathcart/The Oregonian
Fred Armisen of "Saturday Night Live" (from left) and Carrie Brownstein, formerly of the band Sleater-Kinney, with Jonathan Krisel, the co-creater of "Portlandia," answer questions from the media about their new comedy series.
Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein and the producers of "Portlandia" want to stress that the TV series, which has been filming in town for the past several weeks, won't be making fun of Portland.
Brownstein, who moved here in 2001 from Olympia, says there's no single, simple way to depict Portland.
The image that has taken hold in national media -- of our town as terribly hip and creative -- "even Portlanders find obnoxious," Brownstein says.
Since the announcement early last month that "Portlandia" -- scheduled to debut in January on cable network IFC -- would be based and shoot in Portland, locals have been wondering how our city will come off. Producers and stars of the show assure Portlanders it won't poke fun at the city or its people -- and they also point out that, while it films here, locals will fill most of the production's job openings.
"Portlandia" features Armisen, Brownstein and guest stars satirizing such alternative-culture types as the owners of a feminist book store, a bike messenger, a punk-rock couple, and an arty duo obsessed with putting little cut-outs of birds on anything they lay their hands on. Each half-hour episode will consist of interwoven short films, with some characters recurring from week-to-week.
Armisen, best known as a "Saturday Night Live" cast member, and Brownstein, best known as a member of the critically acclaimed, now-dissolved band Sleater-Kinney, talked about "Portlandia" on Thursday at a lunch/press event held at Besaw's, the Northwest Portland restaurant. They were joined by producers Andrew Singer and Jonathan Krisel, also a writer and director of the series.
The show has its roots in a series of satirical videos Armisen and Brownstein did under the name "Thunderant." After IFC announced the show last month, some OregonLive.com commenters wrote that the series sounded like it would focus on "Portland stereotypes," and called the creators "trend-sucking hipsters."
But Singer and Krisel took pains Thursday to say no offense is intended. Portland will not be the butt of the jokes, Krisel says. "Most of the time, these two" -- he points to Armisen and Brownstein -- "are the butt of the joke." He says Portland will get the last laugh.
Armisen says "Portlandia" won't be limited to hipster images or to humor. "We don't even know if it's necessarily comedy," he says.
Unlike "Leverage," the hour-long TNT series that films here but is set in Boston, in "Portlandia" our city will star as itself.
David Cress, the Portland-based line producer, says he can't reveal the "Portlandia" budget, but describes it as "pretty modest." He says most of the crew, from 40 to 50 people, are local. Beyond that, local extras and actors have been hired, and more than 100 local businesses have provided goods and services.
Cress, who also worked on Gus Van Sant's most recent film, "Restless," and the local director's "Paranoid Park," says it's not surprising to see creative cable TV projects shooting in Portland. "A lot of the best creative (talent) now is migrating to television."
After lunch, the cast and crew head to Elements Glass, a glass-blowing art gallery and workshop space in Northwest Portland, to film a scene. The warehouse has high ceilings, and shelves filled with items such as a glass unicorn and a glass bowl with little birds on it. A friendly black Lab, Hector, wanders around.
The crew crowds around Armisen, while visitors are seated at the opposite end of the space to watch on three small monitors. In the scene, Armisen, wearing a shaggy brown wig, talks about his character's artisanal glass light bulbs. Like most of "Portlandia," it's heavily improvised, as Armisen tries out various explanations of why the character, "Robert Wilson," is a light-bulb artisan.
His bulbs take six months to make, don't last very long, don't cast much light, and cost $68, Armisen says. He holds one up to the camera. "Isn't she a beauty?" he says. "I'm gonna call this one ... Rebecca."
The six episodes of "Portlandia" ordered so far will feature appearances by guest stars including Steve Buscemi, Heather Graham, Jason Sudeikis ("Saturday Night Live"), Aubrey Plaza ("Parks and Recreation") and Kyle MacLachlan, who plays the mayor of Portland. Portland Mayor Sam Adams has a small role in the first episode as the mayor's assistant.
During a break, Singer mentions that one of the episodes featuring MacLachlan focuses on his character being jealous that Seattle has a baseball team -- but Portland doesn't.
While that particular plot has the ring of current events in Portland, where the Beavers baseball team played its final game last weekend, Singer says that was "accidental happenstance." MacLachlan's mayor character, Singer says, "has a big chip on his shoulder about feeling inferior to Seattle."
-- Kristi Turnquist
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