Even Movie Stars Need a Two-by-Four

The Intern Report: How Oregon Businesses Profit From Local Productions

Hello, and welcome back for the second installment of the Intern Report! This week’s article takes us down to a hardware and lumber supplier in Southeast Portland for an interview with the Besaw brothers, Steve and Dave.

Michal Orczyk

Oregon Governor’s Office of Film and Television

52nd Ave Hardware

Many businesses benefit from the film industry’s presence in Oregon, but 52nd Ave. Hardware in Southeast Portland is something of a juggernaut. To the passerby the store and its neighborhood wouldn’t seem remotely connected to Hollywood or the film industry. There are the usual hardware store sights like pickup beds covered in sawdust, and lumber propped up against every vertical surface to be found. While I’m parking some spindly youngsters run down the street with water guns. But all told, just this one store has seen over a million dollars worth of revenue from Oregon film and television productions in the last 11 years.

Steve Besaw, with a saw...
Steve Besaw, with a saw...

Though 80 year old Gordon Besaw is still the patriarch and titular head of the establishment, his sons David and Steve own and run the business. The two brothers say that working with producers is nothing like working with their other usual clients –contractors and homeowners. Contractors are of course known for rarely finishing projects right on time, but production budgets and schedules are very tight, and few days’ delay could send the whole affair into chaos. One time a producer for a Capital One commercial called the store demanding ‘vintage’ wood panels for a Viking village. The brothers took some photos of something they thought would work, sent them the producer for verification, then hauled away their own fence. The brothers both share this sort of dedication, creativity, and efficiency that makes them a great resource to film crews. The only glaring difference between them is above their desks –one massive poster above David’s –yellow and green, and the other above Steve’s -orange and black. Yes, despite their wonderful teamwork in steering their business through a recession, some irreconcilable differences remain between them, and college football seems to be one of them.

The recent recession dragged many American businesses through stress, sacrifice, and sometimes even greater losses. Because the housing market was at the center of the downturn, Steve and David experienced an especially rocky period for their business. The otherwise cheery brothers turn slightly dour as they start talking about the sacrifices that were on the horizon just over a year ago. They have always provided medical coverage to their employees, and their first plan was to jettison some or all of that coverage. If that didn’t suffice they would have to lay off an employee. “We’re a small business, everyone’s very close to one another,” David says,” I can’t imagine having to do that.” But the brothers credit the high demands of the film industry in recent times to a reversal of fortunes -the store in fact added two full time employees, and retained all their benefits.

Sometimes a production can provide more than what the brothers need to simply stay on budget. One morning Steve and David got an odd call from the producers of Twilight. The forested location they had scouted on a beautiful summer day had now sponged up enough rain to sink a ship, and their dollies and other equipment couldn’t move through the several inches of mud. Wanting to one-up Mother Nature, the producers explained their plan to build platforms from hundreds of square feet of plywood and over a thousand re-bar stakes. “Can you do that?” they asked. Steve said yes, certainly, we can help, no problem. He hung up and started frantically plotting with David. Some hairs turned gray, no doubt, but the Plywood Highway was built the next day. Their dedication paid off: Twilight brought the business an unprecedented $250,000 dollars. And that money isn’t just going to Steve and David’s store, but to the suppliers that the brothers got their rebar and plywood and other raw materials from.

Steve and David Besaw

Currently Season 3 of Leverage is the biggest production in town. It has brought in $57,000 for Steve and David just since this February, with more to come before production wraps in August. And the benefits are mutual –David says a lot of set designers and builders love working in Oregon because of the easy access to materials from local hardware suppliers, as well as the low transportation costs –no sitting corked up on the freeway to Santa Monica.

Near the end of the interview David asks me about future productions. He says that the set builders on Leverage are wringing their hands, worrying about what they will do once Leverage wraps. “Are there any projects lined up?” he asks, “What about the next Twilight movie?” I wish I had some answers for him and his friends.

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