From Portlandia to Professional

Spoiler alert! Ducks who worked on the set of the sketch comedy are launching film careers

Brownstein (left) and Armisen on the set. “Very down to earth people,” one intern said—“Carrie has her dogs on set every day and Fred’s always telling funny stories.”

On a quirky show like Portlandia, interns get asked to do quirky things. This is why Maddie Dunkelberg found herself going door-to-door in downtown Portland one summer day in 2014, asking total strangers if she could go up on the roofs of their buildings.

She calls it “rooftop scouting”—producers wanted the perfect backdrop for the show’s spoof of a rock video by supergroup U2. Dunkelberg plunged in.

“You’re just going from building to building, asking, ‘Can I go onto your roof?’” said Dunkelberg, a 2015 graduate of cinema studies and Spanish. “In Portland, people are like, ‘Sure, use my apartment for free, go up on my roof, see what’s up there.’ You don’t get that experience on every show.”

Portlandia is the Emmy award–winning sketch comedy series set and filmed in Portland, starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein and entering its final season in 2018.

Portlandia creator and co-star Fred Armisen has routinely made himself available on set to answers questions from cinema studies interns such as Laura Brehm (left) and Jordyn Roach.

The UO Cinema Studies Program has fostered a close relationship with the show over its seven-year run, owing to the shared interest of faculty members and Portlandia producers in launching careers in film. Producers and crew have regularly given their time to cinema studies students, both on the set and when traveling to Eugene to speak in classes and teach workshops.

Students, meanwhile, capitalize on once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to work on the set. More than 20 have served in internships, using that experience to launch entertainment careers in Oregon and beyond. Interns often support production, working long days while they run errands, haul tables and other equipment and keep curious passersby from wandering into a shot.

Dunkelberg has parlayed her internship into a job as a coordinator for NBCUniversal, working with young writers in Los Angeles. She helps them hone their craft through mentorship programs and acts as a go-between for meetings with movie executives. Dunkelberg credits her experience with Portlandia for guiding her to the right niche within the sprawling entertainment industry.

“You really have no idea what you want to do,” she said, “until you jump in and actually see what it’s like to work with people.”

Another UO alum, Cam Krutsinger, found that his calling is people—namely, “talent,” the actors, extras and others who appear on camera.

The 2012 cinema studies graduate started as an intern on Portlandia in May of that year, assisting the extras coordinator. He worked with talent agencies in helping the show find actors and others for nonspeaking roles.

He soon got his big break—the extras coordinator left and Krutsinger filled in admirably, resulting in his full-time hire. He was with Portlandia for three seasons and then moved to the set of Grimm, an NBC drama series also shot in the city.

Krutsinger now works for Simon Max Hill casting, finding actors for clients such as Nike and Adidas when they film commercials in the Portland area.

“A lot of my job is schedule coordination and communicating between agencies and clients about what they want in actors, when they want it and whether people have the availability to do it,” Krutsinger said. “It’s task management, organizational skills and learning what to do in a priority order. It’s a lot of things that you get better at during school.”

Krutsinger’s success is exactly what producer David Cress has in mind when he talks about the show’s commitment to “giving back to education.” This is why he recruits interns from the UO, but he also sees the UO-Portlandia partnership as a two-way street.

“For us, there is constant turnover with people moving from one project to another. It’s a real plus when you can get talented people like Cam who move quickly into the job,” Cress said. “For students, there are so many jobs (in film) but they are all highly sought-after. This is a way to get your foot in the door.”

—Matt Cooper

image at top: Augusta Quirk/IFC