While no one will mistake Oklahoma for Hollywood, the state does figure into the movie industry. Most recently August: Osage County, starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, was largely filmed in Osage and Washington counties.
While August certainly accentuated Oklahoma’s potential as a location, there are several film production companies based locally that routinely use Oklahoma locations and Oklahoma talent.
One such company is Zenawood Entertainment, LLC, based out of Zena, Okla. Joshua and Matthew Miller, brothers, started the business in 2010.
“Oklahoma is a good location for independent filmmakers for a variety of reasons,” says Joshua Miller. “Depending on where you choose to shoot, this state can be very diverse.”
Support from the state is another key factor. One such encouragement comes in the form of a financial incentive for filmmakers, says Jill Simpson, the director of the Oklahoma Film & Music Office.
“The Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program offers filmmakers a 35 percent cash rebate on taxable transactions made in the state attributable to their production,” says Simpson.
Zenawood has benefitted from the rebate program in the past, for example on one of its recent films, called The Cook which is currently in post production.
The Cook, as described by Miller, is a “horror pop dressed as a psychedelic, slasher flick.” The story line follows a young TV actor who holds a memorial party for his deceased sister in a small town when, unbeknownst to the gathered friends, a cultist drug lord becomes bent on making the group pay for their “sins.” The film definitely delves into the dark side of human nature as the drug lord extracts his penance from the group.
This is the kind of film the filmmaker hopes to focus on.
“Zenawood is a Disney of darkness building a magic kingdom of demonic gods, psychopathic killers and paranormal oddities,” says Miller. “We are the carnival of fear spreading our special plague of psychedelic nightmares across the world. Our disease is spreading, slowly turning you and your loved ones into an entertained horde of Zenawood zombies.”
However, the kind of movies being made by independent filmmakers is as diverse as the Oklahoma landscape.
For example, another independent filmmaker, Tracy Trost of Tulsa’s Trost Moving Pictures, focuses his projects exclusively around faith and family.
Trost also praises the rebate program.
“Since we try to focus on using local talent, we get to take advantage of the rebate,” says Trost. “We have been able to recoup an average of 29 percent of our budget.
“Many think this is money that we get back and stick in our pockets,” adds Trost. “The opposite is true. It allows me to increase the quality of production and create a higher quality project for a smaller budget. Any money we receive back goes into the project and subsequently goes to hire more local crew and talent which helps the base of film business in the local area.”
Most recently, Trost completed A Christmas Snow starring Catherine Mary Stewart. In fall 2010, his company filmed The Lamp starring Jason London and Lou Gossett Jr. Supporting cast was filled by local actors.
Trost says Oklahoma is a great location to film because of the three hardest things to find in filmmaking – location, crew and equipment.
“In Oklahoma you can find desert, forest, modern city, old city, contemporary and traditional architecture,” says Trost. “Tulsa and Oklahoma City are filled with high-quality, experienced crew as well.
“As the industry is growing more and more, people are getting into the business and the base continues to grow,” adds Trost. “Tulsa and Oklahoma City have great supply houses that have everything from grip gear to electric and camera equipment. There are also several great postproduction houses and music writing and recording houses in Oklahoma. You can make a high-quality, complete feature film from start to finish here.”
However, the business landscape for movie making in Oklahoma might be in jeopardy, says Simpson. The rebate program is scheduled to sunset in 2014.
“Unless the State Legislature votes to extend that sunset date during upcoming sessions, the program will come to an end in about 18 months,” Simpson says. “If that happens, the film industry growth we have experienced in recent years will come to an abrupt halt.”
Simpson says Oklahoma gets a notable return on its rebate investment and, with an annual cap of $5 million, the rebate is a comparatively small incentive.
However, historically, for every dollar the State of Oklahoma is paying out in rebate money to the films that qualify, productions are spending close to $3, she says.
For example, Simpson says, August: Osage County is projecting Oklahoma expenditures at $14.96 million. They will be receiving a projected $5.5 million in rebate.
“When you then consider the economic multiplier of 2.53, which was the result of an economic impact study done in 2011 by Oklahoma City University’s Meinders School of Business, the impact of the original $14.96 million grows to just under $38 million,” says Simpson. “Jobs are being created and new dollars are being infused into our economy. The film industry diversifies Oklahoma’s economy.”
According to Simpson, without the rebate program, films will not come to Oklahoma. Currently, 46 states offer film incentives.
“Had it not been for our incentives program,” says Simpson, “August: Osage County would have undoubtedly been filmed elsewhere.”
Brent Ryan Green, with Toy Gun Films, an independent film production company based out of Oklahoma City, says the rebate program is essential.
“Without the incentive it is nearly impossible,” says Green. “The rebate is so important in productions not taking direct advantage of the rebate, too. For example I shot a short here last week that I would not have had we not been pre-approved for the rebate for next year’s feature.”
For now, movie-making in Oklahoma won’t be fading into the proverbial sunset.
“There is definitely a future for film in Oklahoma,” says Trost. “I consider myself a very fortunate man. To be able to do the projects and work with the people we have in such a short time is amazing.