Jill Simpson saw the change happening. In 2009, director Michael Winterbottom and stars Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba came to Guthrie to film “The Killer Inside Me,” a hard-edged film noir based on a classic Jim Thompson pulp novel.
Back then, Winterbottom's production was only able to spend about half its budget in the state. The rest of that money was spent in other states.
But in the years that followed, Simpson, director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Office, tracked some incremental changes. There are more skilled sound technicians, boom operators, hair and makeup artists and equipment providers in Oklahoma, and it made a difference when bigger-budget productions such as Terrence Malick's “To the Wonder” and John Wells' “August: Osage County” rolled into Bartlesville and Pawhuska.
“Since then, we've grown crew base and services in Oklahoma,” Simpson said. “And now, some of these films are spending 60 or 70 percent of their budgets here. We're at an interesting point, because up until the last two years, we've been doing films that were $5 million or below for the most part. As we're starting to get these bigger-budgeted films coming in, it's bringing up the point that really the best way to train crew is a steady flow of work.”
Steady work, it seems, begets more steady work. Simpson said that as the crew base enjoys more job opportunities, the technicians naturally become more practiced and skilled in their professions and become more attractive to productions willing to locate in the state. More crew and more equipment means more films on location in Oklahoma.
“It's a continuum,” she said. “The more crew we have and the more companies set up shop, the more production companies can spend money in Oklahoma. They all feed into each other.”