A film crew is in Astoria this week and the historic Flavel House has a starring role.
It’s a first for the stately Victorian, the former home of bar pilot and entrepreneur Capt. George Flavel. The house-turned-museum was covered in scaffolding in the 1980s and barely appeared in the 1985 cult classic “The Goonies,” which was shot in several locations on the North Coast and still draws hundreds, if not thousands, of fans to Astoria each year.
The house is a character in its own right in the film in the works now, complete with creeping, crawling vines pinned in place by set dressers.
“The Mortuary Collection,” directed by Ryan Spindell, is a “Gothic horror anthology film,” according to a Kickstarter fundraising page for the project. While some of the plans have changed since the Kickstarter page was created, the film will be a collection of stories. Think “The Twilight Zone.” It’s a small production with a crew of around 40 people, according to producer Justin Ross.
If it succeeds, the film will join the ranks of other films that used Oregon — and Astoria, specifically — as both a backdrop and an inspiration.
Not only is the Clatsop County Historical Society allowing the crew to use rooms inside the Flavel House, moving furniture around from room to room, a number of artifacts from the society’s collection are on loan as props, things like medical equipment and medicine bottles. It’s a big undertaking for a small staff to take on.
“Our curator’s main mission is to catalogue and take care of our artifacts and this is certainly pushing the comfort zone of a curator,” said McAndrew Burns, executive director of the historical society.
“It’s the biggest artifact we have,” added Sam Rascoe, the historical society’s director of marketing.
“And it’s irreplaceable,” Burns said. “There were questions like ‘Can we paint the walls?’ Well, no, you can’t because these are the original colors … and the woodwork has never been touched.”
But the historical society also operates the Oregon Film Museum out of the historic Clatsop County Jail just next door to the Flavel House. So Burns and Rascoe love that not only is a film shooting in Oregon, it’s shooting in Astoria, at one of the city’s most recognizable historic landmarks.
“It would probably be easier for us not to participate,” Burns said. “Probably it would be easier for them just to build a set, but, you know, it wouldn’t be real.”
To accommodate the crew, museum staff and film crew will move furniture around — in the large music room on the ground floor almost everything, including a piano, will be shuffled around — stashing pieces that won’t be used as props around corners, in hallways, in other rooms, and even up in the tower. It’s somewhat in keeping with history: the Flavels first moved into the house in April 1886.
“So it’s moving day,” Burns said. “It’s just we’re interpreting moving day from 1886.”
The Flavel House, in pristine condition and with its massive rooms, high ceilings and wide hallways, was an ideal workspace for a film crew. Oregon offers incentives for companies that film in the state, including rebates for using Oregon-based goods and services, but producers of “The Mortuary Collection” have also credited Rascoe with selling them on Astoria. Rascoe took location scouts and producers on a tour of the city, showing off a variety of potential locations, not just historical society properties. They now plan to film at spots across Astoria and Clatsop County.
“One of the things we recognize is just like a visitor doesn’t come to town for one thing, a film company’s not going to come here just to film in the Flavel House,” Burns said. “And, you know, rising waters.”
Ross said the company has looked around Clatsop County for some of its crew, even bringing in high school students to prepare sets. Calls have gone out locally for film crew candidates and even for old cars.
Burns would not disclose how much the film company is paying the historical society for the use of the Flavel House and museum artifacts.
“They are an independent production and they’re paying us appropriately,” he said. “Certainly enough that we are being closed to the public. If we were going to lose money for lost admission income, we wouldn’t do it. We’re a nonprofit, we can’t afford to do that.”
The Flavel House was closed to visitors on Monday, marking the first time Burns can ever remember closing the museum to the public for any reason other than weather. It opened Tuesday, but will be closed again for the next three days as filming continues. A section of Eighth Street was also closed Monday to allow film crew to move around safely and get exterior shots, but will likely be open for most of the week as filming moves indoors.
A museum staff member will be on site at all times to make sure the house is respected and the artifacts taken care of during filming.
“As much as I’m saying things like that and it seems like we’re going to be tough guys, they’ve been very aware that they’re filming in a very precious, one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable artifact and a significant piece of local history,” Burns said. “They’ve fallen in love with Astoria, they’ve fallen in love with the house and so far they’ve shown a great deal of respect.”