Oklahoma Film is Growing

By Aaron Siebert

Martin Scorsese has come to Oklahoma, and his arrival is huge for the state. His new film Killers of the Flower Moon, based on the book of the same name, is a sign of changing times for the Oklahoma film industry. 

“Of all the films shot in Oklahoma over my past 18 years living here, it’s certainly the biggest,” says Mr. Raphael, the JHS Filmmaking teacher. “So it will bring a lot of attention to the state.”

According to The Oklahoman, Killers of the Flower Moon is believed to be “the biggest movie production ever undertaken in Oklahoma” and possibly the biggest film made in the US this year. With a $200 Million budget financed by Apple films, there is an enormous potential of it issuing in a new decade of filmmaking in the Sooner State, pumping millions more dollars into the economy. 

“We are thrilled to finally start production on Killers of the Flower Moon in Oklahoma,” Scorsese said in an IndieWire statement. “To be able to tell this story on the land where these events took place is incredibly important and critical to allowing us to portray an accurate depiction of the time and people.”

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with the production a few times already,” says young filmmaker Halle Frieden. “I’m meeting so many talented people and passionate people that are helping me get my foot in the door.”

But this film isn’t alone in bringing movies into Oklahoma, if anything it’s just a part of the new movement pushing for more movies to be shot in Oklahoma. 

Martin Scorsese scouting locations in the Osage Nation.

Oklahoma is rising in lists of best places to film and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Recently the Academy Award nominated film Minari was filmed entirely in Tulsa, showcasing how beautiful our state’s landscapes can shape great film visuals. There is another upcoming film titled Stillwater, starring Matt Damon and directed by Tom McCarthy, that both takes place in and is being filmed in the actual town of Stillwater, Oklahoma.

An obvious question one would ask is why? Why Oklahoma? Well, there are a multitude of answers according to Yousef Kazemi, the Outreach & Production Manager at the Oklahoma Film and Music Office. 

“I’ve been in the office for ten years now and I’ve seen a lot of change over time, “Says Kazemi. “When I first started we might have five or six films in a year and we see that number at thirty-five. But it makes sense. We’ve got the Oklahoma film rebate program that has been incentivising more filming, but without a doubt the pandemic is part of the reasoning. Covid affected a lot of industries, but thankfully the film industry in Oklahoma stayed resilient due in part to our Governor Kevin Stitt declaring the motion picture and sound industry as an essential business. So Oklahoma was open and many studios looked to us because they didn’t have anywhere else. New jobs were created and interest has spread across the country for more filming in the state.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic most would anticipate a fatal setback for movie making in Oklahoma, but luckily that has been the opposite of the case. The Oklahoma Film & Music Office estimates that Fiscal year 21 for film will be even stronger than all years preceding it. 

It’s no wonder why people are attracted to Oklahoma with the diversity of filming locations. 

“There are areas of Oklahoma that are very varied in terrain,” says Mr. Raphael. “Here in Tulsa it’s called green country with a lot of trees, then there are landscapes that are very desolate, waterfalls, and plenty of large hills. So there are plenty of places that can be used for different settings. So I think that’s been an attraction.” 

“A lot of productions are allowed to get a bang for their buck in terms of the locations Oklahoma provides,” says Yousef Kazemi. 

Let’s hope the state keeps attracting studio’s because there’s an undeniable positive impact that a large film industry has on a state’s economy and arts. 

“There is a misconception that the film and television industries are both kinda fluffy,” says Kazemi. “But that’s not true. These are actual businesses and tangible jobs that bring real jobs and money into the state. This last fiscal year alone the industry created thousands of jobs and is estimated to have an impact of over $160 million from over 33 film and television programs.”

The opportunities being generated are great for both young filmmakers and young actors. Halle Frieden is a former Jenks Filmmaking student who was hired to be a production assistant on Killers of The Flower Moon at the age of 19. 

“Every production that comes to Oklahoma has to have a certain percentage of local filmmakers on the set because of the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate,” says Frieden. “If I started as a Production Assistant (PA) in LA, it could take me about 5-7 years to get to the top of the department, but in Oklahoma, I could be the lead of the department after just a few months.”

The film is still hiring extras to be in the film. Which is the first professional acting credit for many Okahomans. 

Link to opportunity to be an extra on Killers of the Flower Moon.

But the opportunities don’t stop there. 

“Recently governor Kevin Stitt signed Senate Bill 608,” says Yousef Kazemi. “Which established the ‘Filmed in Oklahoma’ act of 2021 which is further growing Oklahoma’s film incentive program. And that really only happened because the industry has proven itself in the state in terms of creating jobs, new workforce, and bringing business to the state.”

For years there were two states that were known for film: California and New York. Recently Georgia joined the ranks as well. But now is finally Oklahoma’s moment to rise up the ranks and become a safe haven for filmmakers everywhere both young and old. 

“The future of film in Oklahoma is looking really bright,” says Halle Frieden. “There have been so many great films made here, and I believe we are about to get a lot more incredible productions.” 

There is other great information about the Oklahoma Film industry at the Oklahoma Film and Music Office Website: 

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