OKC rapidly becoming a film set
The hum of generators providing power to houses along the quiet streets of the Mesta Park historic preservation district became commonplace in the days following the ice storm. But at a charming old green house on 19th Street, the generator was joined by a trailer, a few orange cones at the curb, and then a few folding tables in the driveway. During the day and into the night, a crew of about 50 people moved quietly and efficiently about the property and another house directly across the street.
The two houses had become the set of a movie – yet another major film production happening in Oklahoma City as the state’s film industry continues to blossom at least in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Killer Infatuation is an independently produced thriller feature film from Stephanie Rennie, Amanda J. Strachan, and Markus Bishop-Hill – a group that has produced dozens of films premiered on Lifetime Network, Hallmark Channel and in theaters.
The production is being handled locally by Oklahoma-based Thunderbird Films, founded in 2019 by Randy Wayne and Talia Bella. The two industry veterans had spent years in the film industry in Los Angeles before deciding they could do what they do even better in Oklahoma.
“I’m from Moore,” said Wayne, who spent 17 years in Los Angeles, appearing in 100 movies as an actor and gaining experience as a producer on some independent films. “I left LA four years ago, so tired of the rat race there. I knew there is a market in Oklahoma for serious film production.”
Film companies from California and Canada that he’s worked with are often surprised to discover how efficiently they can make a production in Oklahoma and how extensive Oklahoma’s film industry infrastructure has become, Wayne said.
Some aspects of the industry in Oklahoma are still being built up. For instance, in California a database exists where a filmmaker looking for a certain type of house can connect with someone who owns such a house that would offer it to be used for a film. Without such a database in Oklahoma, Wayne just went to a neighborhood where he knew he could find old houses and started knocking on doors.
“I knocked on a lot of doors,” Wayne said.
Then the ice storm hit. The production crew usually uses a generator to power film equipment anyway, but it has been a bit of a hiccup not having residential power to run incidental appliances like hair dryers. Still, the production has continued successfully, he said. Talent in the film includes Ryan Francis, the actor who played a young Peter Pan in the 1991 film Hook – who is scheduled to start on another production in Tulsa in the near future.
Next, the production will film scenes at Classen Coffee in Oklahoma City, at El Reno Public Schools and a few local university campuses and local businesses.
About 85% of the crew is from Oklahoma, Wayne said.
“There are so many job opportunities on a film set – electricity, catering, assistant directors, art,” Wayne said. Hires for this production came through word of mouth, seeking for individuals with the needed skill sets. The Oklahoma Film & TV Academy that recently launched at Green Pastures Studio in Spencer is also becoming a source for trained workers for the film industry, he said.
And they’ll soon need more workers. An investor from Atlanta has a production scheduled for January to film in northeast Oklahoma City, and “he wants to shoot a bunch of stuff in Oklahoma City,” in the future, Wayne said.
Markus Bishop-Hill, the film’s main producer from Los Angeles, said filming in Oklahoma was surprisingly successful.
“I thought we’d have to create a film production from scratch in Oklahoma, but I was relieved to learn about the solid local film crew and resources that were available to us in the area,” Bishop-Hill said.
Thunderbird Films was quickly able to provide the equipment, staff, locations and vendors needed, he said, and “a Rolodex of talented actors” was available to work on the project.
“Throughout our shooting schedule, we were up against the elements of COVID-19, ice storms, and location power outages, but none of that deterred from wanting to come back and shoot with Thunderbird Films again,” Bishop-Hill said. “The increasing interest and magic of movie-making is alive and growing in the state of Oklahoma, and that alone is a film producer’s dream.”
State officials are taking note of the growing film industry in Oklahoma and looking for ways to support it. During the upcoming legislative session, Department of Commerce officials are looking to add film production to industries that are eligible for a number of quality jobs incentives, said Executive Director of Commerce Brent Kisling on Wednesday.
“We are getting a lot of attention from film production companies, especially out of California,” Kisling said. “We’re the only ones that were open during the pandemic, so if you see a movie it was probably filmed in some part in Oklahoma.”
Read the story at The Journal Record.