Oklahoma has seen booms before, mostly in the oil business. But right now, the state’s boom has more to do with celluloid.
Among several Sundance hits over the past few years, “Minari” and “Stillwater” shot in the state, and now Martin Scorsese is lensing his big-budget “Killer of the Flower Moon,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, there while Oklahoma’s Sterlin Harjo will shoot Season 2 of his groundbreaking FX series “Reservation Dogs” (pictured above) using a lot of local talent and crew.
Keys to making Oklahoma attractive to filmmakers include the $30 million cash rebate available — set until 2031 — a base rate of 20% with the opportunity to reach 38% in a rebate. The state legislature passed this program in July. Equally important is the stability of those incentives.
The state started to gain traction with its 2014 program, which although it has exhausted its funds, showed producers that Oklahoma had stable incentives and “we started to get consistent business,” says Tava Sofsky, director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Office. The program reboot over the summer opened more doors for film and TV creatives. “I’ve been here seven years, and … we have people coming for their seventh and eighth production now. So it’s just consistent work.”
The July reboot just upped the ante, while the state film office’s community outreach has eased red tape across Oklahoma’s cities and towns.
“You know, we recognize we had something special. People were coming here because partly of the hospitality. Yes, the incentives were there. But our diverse landscape is really solid. So the state started leaning in and we did a deep dive and we said, ‘We have an incentive. We have a crew base, but what are we missing?’ We were missing soundstages. And so the industry stakeholders have been hard at work. And we have built three new [facilities] in the past 18 months.”
Those studios include nine soundstages and 280,000 sq.ft. of production space, while the state boasts diverse locations beyond what most people picture as flat prairie, including caves, swamps, Ozark forests, lakes and thousands of miles of shoreline as well as mountains.
Because of its competitive incentives and film-friendly atmosphere, Scorsese has the luxury of actually shooting the film in the state in which it’s set.
The state was one of the first to open back up after the COVID shutdown in 2020, when Gov. Kevin Stitt declared the film and TV production business an essential industry. The state hosted 34 productions in 2020, and worked hand-in-hand with unions and the studios on COVID protocols.
“The fact that there is such a direct and easy communication with the governor’s office, which is not obvious in other states, is truly helpful. You know, you have a problem. Let’s figure out a solution and address it,” says Dylan Brodie, associate production on FX hit series “Reservation Dogs” and owner of Eleven Hundred Studios Collective in Tulsa.
The film commission is part of the state’s department of commerce, so targets job creation as well. “We were very proactive in this space right now,” says Sofsky. “We have really great relations with all the universities, and have some programs with the community colleges” as well as Oklahoma’s 29 career tech schools and even dedicated film and TV academies.
“A union show is going to be hiring off roster first,” says Brodie and there is a strong push to grow the Indigenous crew in Oklahoma. Brodie adds that the film office talked with IATSE “and they were very understanding. … So, as long as we had quality folks at the top training up crew, we would be able to train a new workforce even if they weren’t in the union. And we have created so many new crew members on reservation that are going to now be able to share their gifts with others. A lot of them went on to ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ and [‘Yellowstone’ prequel] ‘1883.’ So yes, they’re already out in the world, learning even more and spreading their knowledge.”
In 2020, productions contributed more than $32 million to the Oklahoma economy. “We want people of all levels in their career to come here and join in the action,” Sofsky says.