Expanding Southern Oregon’s Visual Literacy: Local Filmmaker Gary Kout Tells Us What We are Looking At
It isn’t just where we watch films that has revolutionized over the past couple decades, but it is where those films are made.
Time was when movie theaters were the only place to indulge in the adventures of the Lone Ranger and Flash Gordon. But then came the convenience of in-home VCRs, and suddenly Star Wars was in our living room. But nothing could have prepared us for this brave new world when the stories projected onto the screen are available not only in our own homes, but just about anywhere, on our individual hand held devices.
Martin Scorsese calls all of this “watching,” visual literacy. We “see” stories told everywhere—in 30-second commercials, in television shows and documentaries as well as in the movies. When I met with local film producer Gary Kout recently, he told me “Because of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, the opportunity for filmmakers to have their films seen is greater than ever.” Kout offered insights into the changes in film production that are being demonstrated in Southern Oregon.
“The film industry used to be the purview of only Los Angeles or New York. Now it thrives in off-the-beaten-path areas all across the country, opening the door for a much greater bandwidth of talent and content. Moviegoers have morphed into the visual consumer, driven by a wave of technological force,” Kout said. And that momentum has pushed us forward into new mediums for the age-old art of storytelling.
That Kout would graduate from University of Southern California’s film school came as no surprise to family and friends in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. He had, after all, made his first film at the age of six and attended summer programs for young filmmakers at Northwest University and Mercer College throughout several summers of middle school and high school. He returned to Georgia after USC to work production on a Disney film, and then headed to New York where he continued to hone his skills and abilities.
Kout’s resume lists everything from commercials to documentaries to feature-length films, well rounded by big names such as Disney as well as smaller independent production houses. In 26 years he can boast credit on over 400 commercials as a production coordinator and production assistant, and over 200 commercials as a producer. Add to that, twelve movies and you’ve got yourself a filmmaker.
“Coming to Southern Oregon, was a quality of life move,” Kout told me. “I never really expected there to be a film community here, and I was prepared to commute to Los Angeles for my livelihood. When I was introduced to Dennis Connors of Jackhammer Moving Pictures, in Ashland, my eyes were opened to all of the media opportunities here.”
As Kout became friends with Connors, the two began to work together. In a short amount of time he was pulled him into a feature-length independent film; a docudrama about the life of Ashland author and motivational speaker, Neale Donald Walsh—Conversations With God. Working on that film convinced Kout that he could have a film career in Ashland, and unlike flying into L.A. to work, he’d get to go home at night and be with his family.
Just as the book publishing world has been challenged and inspired by the self-publishing phenomenon, so has the film industry broadened its brush stroke, by stretching its reach to include places like Southern Oregon. As Kout points out, “Southern Oregon has incredible locations for filmmaking, experienced crews and a better price tag for those things than why you’d find in Los Angeles.”
Ashland, it turns out, has a robust film industry thanks to film producers like Gary Kout who have seized the potential of visual literacy right here, at home.