Most people know the major areas where film thrives—Los Angeles, of course, and New York are the go-to production hubs. But in recent years, we've also seen big productions set up shop in other states.
Tyler Perry made Atlanta his studio home. Vince Gilligan brought Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul to New Mexico. You'll often see other TV and films travel to New Orleans, and Austin is where Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater like to work (and the city reared other indie darlings like Yen Tan, Kat Candler, and more).
For a long time, Oklahoma has strived to be another central film and TV hub, and it has slowly built up a solid infrastructure to support big productions like Martin Scorsese's upcoming movie, Killers of the Flower Moon. Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi's Reservation Dogs is currently in production in the state as well. Oscar-nominated Minari also shot there.
No Film School spoke with Tava Sofsky, director of the Oklahoma Film + Music Office, for some insight about resources available in the state.
Beyond the tools provided to connect out-of-state filmmakers with local crews, the state has put together some educational resources for those wanting to join the film industry. The Oklahoma Film & TV Academy launched in 2020 to foster the below-the-line workforce locally.
"What I love and what we're experiencing right now in the state of Oklahoma is how private sector, the public sector are coming together," Sofsky said. "How they're working together, they're linking arms and are working together to be visionaries and to really figure out how, if we're fast-forwarding, and a few years, what kind of industry do we want to build for the next generation? And the present and the future generation.
"And so it's really been neat to see how just everyone's coming together to work. There's so many new stakeholders around the state right now between the two urban cities [Oklahoma City and Tulsa]. Outside [Oklahoma City], there's now total of four new studios, which includes soundstages that have come on to the grid in the past year."
The state has just passed the "Filmed in Oklahoma Act." The new act offers a base rebate of 20% to qualified film and television productions with additional uplifts for filming in rural municipalities/counties, qualified soundstages, post-production, and television pilots/seasons. Eligible productions must have a minimum budget of at least $50,000 to qualify.
The former Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program had an annual funding cap of $8 million. The "Filmed in Oklahoma Act of 2021" increases the state’s annual funding cap to $30 million.
For more information, you can visit the office's website.
For low-budget filmmakers
Obviously, ultra-low-budget or low-budget indies will struggle to meet that minimum budget of $50,000 to qualify for the state's rebate. But Sofsky sees that benchmark as a goal filmmakers can and do reach.
"I've been there seven years, come August," Sofsky said. "And seeing the independent filmmakers, some of these very talented directors and producers and writers that weren't even eligible six years ago to use the rebate, and now they're utilizing it. And they're stepping up, which is just ultimately creating more jobs. And these are the people that have decided they are staying here to do their work. And obviously, the incentive is a draw. It's an anchor to keep them there. Otherwise, they'd go to Georgia or they'd go to New Mexico or Louisiana."
Chris Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch filming 'August: Osage County' in Pawhuska in 2012.Credit: Tulsa World
For those on low-budget productions, Sofsky encourages filmmakers to take advantage of the office's other resources.
"There's the production directory and a locations directory," Sofsky said. "And so we've got thousands. Thousands of locations to choose from. And then hundreds and hundreds of businesses and crew to pull from the local pool of resources and talent. And so it doesn't matter what size production. Everyone's starting somewhere. We always encourage, if we get a lot of inquiries for those beginners, 'How do I take my first step?' We always encourage people to connect with our office through social media, sign up for our newsletter and get our e-blast and our press releases to be in the know. So get connected with our office, and from there, there are networking opportunities galore."
Sofsky also recommended that beginning filmmakers sign up to be background and get experience as extras on sets.
If you want to bring a production to Oklahoma, check out the Oklahoma Film + Music Office for more information.
Editor's note, May 27, 2021, 1 p.m.: The article has been updated to reflect the state's new rebate program.