How the Classic #OregonMade Film “Coraline” Came To Be Set In Ashland, OR

Coraline,” the first feature created by Hillsboro-based animation studio, Laika, was released in 2009 to much critical acclaim and box office success. Recently, Oregon Film reached out to the film’s screenwriter and director, Henry Selick, to find out how the movie, based on a book by Neil Gaiman, came to be set in the small southern Oregon town of Ashland.

Selick said, “I began writing my screenplay for “Coraline” years ago at my home in Northern California. Early on, I decided to move the setting from England to the U.S.  there was just one problem. I wanted to keep Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, Coraline’s eccentric neighbors and Shakespearean actors, British. So where, in all of America, would these two unique ladies be living? Then I remembered beautiful Ashland, Oregon, and its famous Shakespeare festival. I’d visited many times over the years, my wife and I had even considered moving there at one point. So I had my new location.  

Some years passed – studios were afraid to make “Coraline” saying it was too scary for kids – when an executive from what was still called Vinton Studios in Portland, reached out to me. They had an in-house short film they wanted me to direct. I said I’d do it if they would let me develop “Coraline” as an animated feature film. The executive agreed.  

So, I moved to Portland, my family soon to follow, to direct their short film with a team of animators, the best of them named Travis Knight. After the short film was completed, I was ready to develop “Coraline” but the executive reneged, telling me, “Coraline” was “dark, darker, darkest!” and would never be made at the studio.  

Travis, son of studio owner Phil Knight, disagreed. In time, I got to make “Coraline” the animated movie with full artistic support from Travis – as supervising animator, and Phil at the newly renamed Laika. The film was a solid hit when released and remains a favorite of fans to this day. 

It was a joy to build sets inspired by the real Ashland, Oregon, with characters in costume for its Shakespeare Festival on its streets to greet young Coraline and family. Setting the movie in and around Ashland gave it an authenticity that made this fantasy believable. I never imagined when I first set “Coraline” in Ashland that I would be making the movie in the same state.”

Coming soon to Ashland are two more Oregon Film Trail signs, one of which memorializes Ashland’s special inspiration for “Coraline”.

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