A version of this story appears in Sunday’s The Oklahoman as part of a package on the state of film in Oklahoma. To read more, go to NewsOK or pick up a copy of The Oklahoman.
Oklahoma-made film ‘Rudderless’ is a dream come true for Edmond screenwriters
It took writer/producers Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison and Oscar-nominated actor William H. Macy about four years to get the musical drama off the ground.
When they started writing screenplays a dozen years ago, Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison would never have guessed that Oscar-nominated actor William H. Macy would one day become their collaborator and champion.
More than four years into making their musical drama “Rudderless” with the Emmy-winning star, the Edmond filmmakers still kind of can’t believe it.
“It’s a daily pinch-yourself-event. Every day you gotta pinch yourself and go ‘Yeah, this is really happening,’” Twenter said a few days before principal photography began April 21 in Oklahoma City and Guthrie.
“Rudderless” stars Billy Crudup (“Big Fish”) as a grieving father who discovers a box of his deceased son’s original music and forms a band hoping to find peace in the aftermath of tragedy. The cast also includes Macy’s Academy Award-nominated wife Felicity Huffman, Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne and up-and-comers Selena Gomez, Anton Yelchin and Jamie Chung.
The film marks Macy’s feature film directorial debut.
“It’s hard to put into words how much it means to us,” Robison said. “It’s an extreme honor. “This has been a very long journey … and the fact that it’s actually happening and with somebody we admire so much, I don’t even know how to put it into words,” Robison said.
In fall 2008, the writer/producer pals spent about five months honing the script for “Rudderless” and then contacted Creative Artists Agency, one of Hollywood’s top talent agencies. They happened to get Macy’s agent on the phone, and within a week, he sent them an email about their story. A week after that, they were on the phone with the esteemed actor.
It then took about four years to get to principal photography.
“It’s really hard to get a big film off the ground. A lot of them take six years, eight years,” I’ve read where people are like ‘We started this process 15 years ago,’” Twenter said. “There’s ups and downs … especially when we’re trying to do something lofty like ‘Rudderless.’”
Still, Macy remained a steadfast collaborator. When Twenter and Robison decided to shoot their own directorial debut, the thriller “The Jogger,” in Edmond during one of those down times, Macy gave the script a read and a few notes. He even attended the world premiere of “The Jogger” in March at the LA Indie Film Fest, where it won best narrative feature.
Both “Rudderless” and “The Jogger” were made in Oklahoma using the state’s 35 percent Film Enhancement Rebate. Without it, the filmmakers said they wouldn’t have been able to make either movie in the state they call home.
“Honestly, that’s why they decided to go ahead and film ‘Rudderless’ in Oklahoma, because Casey and I applied for the rebate and had been accepted. We wouldn’t be in Oklahoma if we didn’t have that,” Robison said.
While they set the drama in Oklahoma from the start, “Rudderless” is a universal story. But making it here wasn’t a hard sell, Twenter said, and Macy was open to the idea, especially after a couple of scouting visits.
The production spent five and a half weeks this spring shooting in familiar spots like Lake Hefner, Bricktown and Nichols Hills.
“The cast and crew that weren’t from Oklahoma absolutely fell in love with the state,” Robison said in a follow-up email. “Bill had been here a few times while we were trying to raise money, so he was a little more familiar with the state, but even he was amazed by the support we received. … We’re just blessed to live in, in my humble opinion, the greatest state in this country. Nothing beats Oklahoma.”
Filming wrapped on May 27, just three days after the state House of Representatives voted down a proposed extension of the rebate program, which expires next year. For Robison, the vote was disappointing. and baffling.
“Even on ‘Rudderless,’ which in spite being an independent film many would consider to be ‘Hollywood,’ roughly 75 percent of the people working on it were Oklahomans, people who make their living in film,” he said. “It would appear that we’re allocating money to something that appears very glamorous, but most of the people from Oklahoma who work in this industry are manual laborers. They work their tails off.”
“Rudderless” is in the editing phase, and after seeing the first 30 minutes of a first cut, Robison said the film is coming along even better than he hoped. A French company purchased distribution rights for French territories during the Cannes Film Festival, and The plan is to debut the full film at a festival in early 2014.
“Everyone associated with the movie is hoping we’ll get accepted to Sundance. That would be a dream come true,” he said.
For Robison and Twenter, though, the real dream is to keep making movies in Oklahoma. They’re just not sure if they can without the rebate.
“From a business perspective, if you can make your money stretch, you do. … Louisiana’s got a very competitive tax incentive program, and there’s quite a few other states that do, too,” Robison said. “But being from Oklahoma — and I’m very proud to be from Oklahoma and I love this state — I just really would like to showcase it.”