After nearly two decades in Hollywood as an actor and producer, Oklahoman Randy Wayne felt not only the tug of his state’s roots, but the frustrations that come with living in fast-paced Los Angeles. So, in 2019, Wayne and his partner, Talia Bella, brought their skills to Oklahoma to launch a new production venture: Thunderbird Films.
The production company was created to assist Oklahoma’s burgeoning filmmaking industry, which the state is encouraging with a generous tax rebate. The unique name came about from a desire to exude power and true substance.
“The Thunderbird is known to create rain, which watered the earth,” says Wayne, who grew up in Moore. “Water is essential for growth.”
Wayne says that while the film industry is growing here, it lags behind in infrastructure, equipment and qualified crew. Thunderbird Films, he says, can bridge that gap, by providing turnkey production services; movie cameras; grip and lighting gear; and production equipment.
“Movie makers come and hire us,” he explains. “We make the budget for the film, hire the crew, find locations and help them with the state tax rebate forms.”
He refers to Oklahoma’s Film Enhancement Rebate Program, adopted in 2001, which offering filmmakers a 35% rebate on qualified expenditures.
In addition to producing several movies so far – including one that was a week from completion when the COVID-19 pandemic hit – Thunderbird Films has rolled out commercials for Tulsa’s GameStop and Cox Communications.
After graduating from Moore High School, Wayne spent a year at a Kentucky college on a swimming scholarship before moving to Los Angeles in 2003 to launch what has been a noteworthy acting career. There, he met Bella, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, who has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Buenos Aires’ Communication and Media program. She has produced more than 100 commercials, including several for companies like Apple, Nike and Oakley. Wayne branched into movie production 10 years ago. Among his producing credits are Rudderless, directed by William H. Macy and starring Billy Crudup, Anton Yelchin and Selena Gomez; and Trust Me, directed by Clark Gregg and starring Sam Rockwell, Allison Janney and Felicity Huffman.
During this time – despite a successful career – Wayne was yearning for his home state. Oklahoma had so much to offer, after all, including a less-hurried life, cheaper costs of living, stunning landscapes and “the nicest people,” he says. “Besides, it’s my home state, and I have pride in being here.”
His goal now, he says, is to pitch Oklahoma City and Tulsa to his contacts in California.
Thunderbird Films currently has no other permanent employees, but hires 30 to 60 cast and crew members for each production. They try to hire as many locals as possible. Next up for the company is to build a studio for stage and television shows, with a green screen and sound stage.
Although production shut down over the summer due to COVID-19, Wayne says he and Bella are ready to get back to work. They have a film project they hope to start this month.
“People are still wanting to film,” he says. “We think we can do it safely.”