Although far from Hollywood, most Columbia County residents are familiar with movie makers coming to local towns, such as St. Helens: from Twilight (2008), to Halloweentown (1998), to Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006), the place is rife with filming spots, many of the spooky/horror genre.
Now, Clatskanie is part of the latest filming effort for a web series, produced by Crypt TV, called “The Birch,” and broadcast on Facebook Watch, at: https://www.facebook.com/watch/thebirchshow/2699333366784923/.
The first season is already available. The second season will have 14 new episodes, and will be released Oct. 11.
Some might say the show’s premise is scary. According to the series’ Facebook Watch show page, “The Birch” follows the lives of three teenagers who have been forever changed by the Birch, a blood-thirsty monster deep in the woods.
“Once you summon her protection, you never escape,” the synopsis reads.
Film producers did not return requests for comments on filming, saying they wanted to wait until 2021 to talk about the show.
However, a trailer is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxQj0DumF8Y.
The trailer reveals a show that may not be suitable for children. There’s a warning on the video the content may be inappropriate for some viewers. “Viewer discretion is advised” is written below the warning.
But a watered-down version could be described as thus: a misfit teenage boy, being tormented by the school bully, finds escape in the woods. As he’s walking, a hoarse voice narrates: “Some people believe that the forest cares for nothing but itself. That’s not true. If you listen carefully, you can hear its voice. Its tortured heart. It can feel our pain too.”
It’s later revealed that the narrator is the boy’s grandmother, who lies on her death bed as she gives her grandson a book, saying, “When I’m gone, she will look after you. Protect you. Just as I have always done. Just as she did for me. Look for her mark in the forest.”
The camera then reveals the teenage boy being confronted by the bully in the woods, and all of a sudden, help comes in the form of The Birch: a 20-foot-tall tree-like creature, with a skeleton-like face, and a nest-like structure enveloping its head.
The last shot implies that The Birch, in answer to the boy’s summons, kills his tormentor.
It was a location scout from the filming company who reached out first, about two months ago, to Columbia County Economic Team interim executive director Paul Vogel.
Vogel then put them in touch with Rachael Barry from the City of St. Helens and Doug Hayes from the Port of Columbia County. He was also able to put the company in touch with the South Columbia County Chamber of Commerce to use their building as a film production site.
According to an email from the City of St. Helens Community Relations Representative Crystal King, the city received an email in July with questions about available sites for filming. King added that the city has an agreement with the Port of Columbia County to market their industrial sites.
So far, filming has taken place in many places in the county: at Bundy’s Café Drive-In in Clatskanie, at the former Boise Cascades site in St. Helens and in other places, according to Vogel.
However, Vogel said he doesn’t know exactly where the crew is filming on a day-to-day basis. Filming locations can also change based on the writers’ whims, Vogel said. One week they might be looking for two to three specific locations, and then they change the script and then need to look for something else, according to Vogel.
Vogel said he has no idea how many people are involved with filming, or even exactly which filming locations are being used.
“They haven’t told me any of that. They’re afraid I’d show up and want to be an extra,” Vogel said, jokingly.
Acting as liaison has been Vogel’s primary role: getting the film production company in touch with other city and county leaders so they can communicate about using sites for filming locations, and also pointing them in the right direction for getting the licenses they need for filming.
“These folks are being very professional and going by the book and getting licenses, they’ve been good to work with,” Vogel said.
Filming in the county is good for economic development, Vogel said.
“Any kind of filming like this, done right and safely is really good for business. They buy stuff: food, office supplies, gas, all kinds of stuff, it’s a nice little shot in the arm,” Vogel said.
However, both Vogel and King said that the community will not receive any or very little, direct revenue related to the filming.
Clatskanie City Manager Greg Hinkelman echoed other county and city leaders’ statements that filming brings in business for the city. He also said that the filming in Clatskanie is a form of economic development, but not one he would count on consistently.
Bundy’s is the only filming location in Clatskanie that the show will use that Hinkelman said he knows of.
Hinkelman is a little bit camera-shy and does not have a role in the movie, even as an extra.
“The mayor and Jim Helmen are kidding me to go walk on and do a cameo, which is a ‘hell, no’ for me,” Hinkelman said.