It may be a circumstance never witnessed again, but in an odd twist of fate, with all movie theaters shutdown across the country, an independent film made in Klamath Falls in 2018 was no. 1 in domestic box office nationally, thanks to an online ticket campaign.
“Phoenix, Oregon” – produced by Ashland-based production company Joma Films – was slated to open at select theaters across the country on March 20. By the release date, however, crowd restriction orders had shut down theaters and the film industry as a whole, and in an effort to salvage the film’s release Joma Films turned online. Tickets to see the film through a one-time link at a cost of $6.50 garnered what under normal circumstances would be considered a massive flop in box office revenue, but the coronavirus shutdown is anything but normal.
According to Boxofficemojo, “Phoenix, Oregon” domestic box office of $3,842 for its opening weekend of March 20-22 outpaced all other film releases, technically making the independent film the current no. 1 movie in America. This criteria is based on ticket sales, and due to the shutdown of the industry had only one other competitor – “Lost in America.”
While movie fans have turned attention towards Netflix and other streaming services while stuck at home during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the campaign behind “Phoenix, Oregon” going digital not only adds the film to the record books with an ironic asterisk, but also benefits theaters that have been temporarily shuttered. The owners of Joma Films, Gary and Annie Lundgren, vowed to split proceeds from the online ticket sale campaign with theaters that had agreed to show the film starting on the March 20 release date.
“Phoenix, Oregon” joins extremely rare company in the film industry as an independent film production with a budget of less than $1 million to top domestic box office ticket sales for its opening weekend. Only a handful of films in recent decades can make the same claim as “Phoenix, Oregon” – “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) and “Open Water” (2003) – two films that collectively made over $170 million in domestic box office ticket sales.
The film was brought to Klamath Falls thanks to the annual Klamath Independent Film Festival, which was screening a previous production by Joma Films, 2016’s “Black Road”, in 2017. During that screening at the Ross Ragland Theater the Lundgren’s met several Klamath Falls residents (Ryan Niemi, Ben and Kim Piper) interested in producing a film, laying the foundation for the film production to come to Klamath Falls.
The film was shot over roughly a month in May 2018 around downtown Klamath Falls, and key locations such as Hanscam Bowling Center, The Daily Bagel, Silver Tip Mobile Home Park, Italianna’s Ristorante, Rooster’s Steak and Chop House, and Rodeo’s Pizza and Saladeria. The cast and crew took up residency at the Cerulean Hotel during the production, and the adjacent Waffle Hut Eatery became a second home for the actors and film team.
The movie stars James Le Gros and Jesse Borrego as two lifelong friends seeking a change from their dead-end jobs and pool their savings to reopen a bowling alley that serves (in their mind) the world’s best pizzas. Joining the cast are familiar supporting actors in Kevin Corrigan, Lisa Edelstein and Diedrich Bader, in a quirky comedy that has been called by some critics as, “the best bowling film since ‘The Big Lebowski.’”
The film also included local cast and crew, many coordinated through Klamath Film, a Klamath Falls-based 501c3 nonprofit that coordinates the annual Klamath Independent Film Festival.
“Phoenix, Oregon” made its Klamath Falls debut in May 2019 with a special screening at Pelican Cinemas and audience Q&A with the film’s producers. The film would return later that year as the feature film at 2019’s Klamath Independent Film Festival. Thereafter the Joma team embarked on s cross-country roadtrip, showcasing the film at theaters and festival from coast-to-coast, while negotiating a distribution deal that targeted March 20 as the film’s release date.
Things may not have worked out quite as expected, but despite theaters being closed, “Phoenix, Oregon” has made its mark on the history books as the top-domestic box office film in the country in late March.
To view “Phoenix, Oregon” for yourself, a $6.50 online ticket may be purchased at www.phoenixoregonmovie.com.