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Future of Oklahoma film industry goes out of focus

Oklahoma e filmmakers and their supporters are hopeful state legislators will be persuaded to restore the film production rebate program in 2014.
BY GENE TRIPLETT etriplett@opubco.com Published: June 30, 2013

Simpson emphasizes that supporting state-based filmmakers is as important to the film office as luring Hollywood productions to the state.

“There's a lot of talent in Oklahoma,” she said. “It can't just be one or the other. It's got to be a combination of trying to lift up your local filmmaker, as well as at the same time recruiting the films in to help you grow your crew base and your support services.

“But I think our goal here at the agency is at some point, possibly next year, to carve out, possibly separate the money out where there is a pot separate for the local filmmakers, that won't be diminished if a big film comes through.”

A case in point about such small, low-budget, strictly Oklahoma-made projects is “Skid,” a faith-based comedy about corporate spy Hank Hazard (played by Oklahoma-born actor Wil Crown), who flies incognito to evaluate the service of various airlines. The screenplay is by Moore-based author Rene Gutteridge, based on an installment of her “Occupational Hazard” series of novels.

Gutteridge is an Oklahoma native and award-winning author, screenwriter and playwright. She has published 18 novels and has been published extensively as a comedy sketch writer. “Skid” follows the antics of an eclectic cast of characters as they fly from Atlanta to Amsterdam.

“Yes, we've worked with the film commission, and it's been extremely helpful,” Gutteridge said.

She was talking during a break in filming on location at Metro Technology Center's Aviation Career Campus in Oklahoma City, which was allowing her cast and crew to shoot inside a retired jetliner parked on the apron outside the main building.

“You know, when you're an independent film, you count every penny, literally every penny,” Gutteridge said. “And it's made a huge difference and helped us.”

She said the program has helped her project “mostly through tax-exemptions and helping to buy food and supplies and that sort of thing. When you get that kind of a tax break it makes a huge difference. And of course you want your production value to be high, and so we're able to do that with the money we save.”

Producer-director Brent Ryan Green, co-founder of Oklahoma City-based Toy Gun Films, managed to prequalify for the film enhancement program before rebate funds for the coming fiscal year were tapped out. He still plans to begin filming his feature-length directorial debut — a science-fiction thriller titled “The Veil” — in Oklahoma this fall.

Production house

Toy Gun also has a second branch, Gray Hour Productions, which operates a production services facility that can be hired for any number of tasks, from preproduction to postproduction, including editing, special effects, color and audio correction and equipment rentals.

Working closely with the film office, Gray Hour has done work for local and Hollywood production filmed in the state, including director Nick Cassavetes' “Yellow,” which filmed here in 2012; the locally produced, faith-based film “Home Run”; Oklahoma City-based producer Gray Frederickson's “Just Crazy Enough” and “Higher Mission”; and Macy's “Rudderless.”

But if the rebate program is not resurrected in the 2014 legislative session, Green and his partner, writer-producer Jeff Goldberg, intend to move their operations to Los Angeles.

“It's unfortunate that the bill has failed,” Green said. “But the good news for our project, ‘The Veil,' is that it was prequalified as part of the film rebate program from last year, so our feature is still going forward in the fall and will be part of the film rebate program, probably the last film under the current legislation that gave rebate money.”

Green has worked only on documentaries and short films up until now, and his most recent work, “Running Deer,” won the Special Jury Short category at this year's deadCenter Film Festival.

“I'm sure they're not giving up, and just by their (film office) email blast, I saw that they'll make a run at it again next year, so I'm doing my feature here in Oklahoma no matter what,” Green said. “So hopefully the program cannot lapse too long, because they really need to keep it going, keep the momentum going before the work dries up and people start moving out of town, or taking out-of-town work. And it'll slowly die.

“I mean there will probably still be a group of core people that will always work here,” Green added. “But I think there will be another tier of people that migrate elsewhere to find work.”

Producer optimistic

One of those filmmakers likely to stick around, with or without the rebate program, is Frederickson, Oscar-winning producer of such films as the “Godfather” trilogy, “Apocalypse Now” and “The Outsiders.”

When he first returned to his hometown of Oklahoma City, Frederickson, working with then-Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin, the late state Sen. Keith Leftwich and others, was instrumental in establishing the state's first film rebate program, the “Compete With Canada Film Act,” which went into effect in July 2001.

Frederickson has since become an artist-in-residence at Oklahoma City Community College and head of its Oklahoma Film Institute, teaching hands-on filmmaking to aspiring moviemakers. During that same period, he's produced several of his own low-budget feature films in Oklahoma.

“Well, it's unfortunate,” Frederickson said of the failed rebate bill, speaking from a location near Guthrie recently, where he was filming a documentary on the history of the Chickasaw Nation.

“They won't come here for our fried chicken alone,” he said. “But all of those movies that I have done, I never got the rebate. Never. Other movies that have come in here, they've come in here without getting rebates.

“The rebate certainly helps attract people, but many times they come in here because somebody's from Oklahoma or it's set in Oklahoma or it's nice and easy to work in Oklahoma, it's inexpensive living, the cost of living is less here, and we are getting more and more crew which we are developing out of our community college programs.

“So we have some big crew people here now, so it's cheaper. They don't have to bring in a lot of people from Hollywood. So I think that even without the rebate, we can keep everything pretty exciting and moving forward. That's my hope.”

Macy's endorsement

Macy said his first outing as a director on “Rudderless” was made much easier than it might have been, thanks to the Oklahomans he worked with.

“I saw incredibly clever solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems,” Macy said in an email to The Oklahoman. “I saw a community who not only helped us at every turn, they practically adopted us.

“I understand the Oklahoma Legislature did not renew the film (rebate) program. I won't pretend to be qualified to comment on the financial wisdom of that decision. I've heard of states with incentive programs losing money, and I know of other states that have made a fortune. But I will say Oklahoma has a lot of what filmmakers are looking for, which includes varied and breathtaking landscapes, beautiful little western towns, and a particular personality.

“I found our crew in OKC to be incredibly hard working, dedicated and a delight to spend 12 hours a day with, and I come from Hollywood, which is practically the center of the universe when it comes to filmmaking. The Film Office in Oklahoma was outstanding in helping us get this film made, and I know they are aggressive in trying to get more films to shoot in Oklahoma. (Note to Oklahoma legislature — your Film Office is money well spent)

“I can't wait to come back to Oklahoma and screen our film, and hopefully make you all proud. I've been in this business my entire adult life, and my three months in Oklahoma will remain a standout memory for me 'till the day I die. Thank you Oklahoma.”


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