Image: Behind the scenes of “Reagan”. Photo Credit: Matthew Little/MJM Group
As Oklahoma’s film, television and music industries continue to adapt to the present health and safety challenges, the Oklahoma Film + Music Office (OF+MO) wants to highlight the pivotal work OF+MO and many others are doing to innovate and diversify the state’s workforce and businesses. While Oklahoma’s film and television industry continues to grow into one of the leading hubs for production in the United States, the local music industry continues to remain resilient in this new environment by producing performances and educational content through digital platforms.
The numbers speak for themselves as OF+MO recruited 34 film and television projects that utilized the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program in Fiscal Year 20 (July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020), which employed 3,960 Oklahomans and contributed a direct fiscal impact of more than $32.8 million to the state’s economy. Presently, in Fiscal Year 21 (July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021), OF+MO estimates the creation of 10,218 local jobs with a direct fiscal impact of $161.7 million from 33 film and television productions utilizing the state’s incentive program. This impact does not include the 150+ productions outside the state’s incentive program, comprised of commercial projects, music videos, student films and more. The impact of Oklahoma’s film and television industry was recently recognized by MovieMaker Magazine by ranking Oklahoma City #15 in its top 25 list of big cities and Tulsa as #7 in its top 10 list of small cities/towns for the Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker in 2021.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt deemed the motion picture and recording industries essential businesses, averting future shutdowns in this sector as the state’s borders and businesses remain open to the global film and television industry. The health and safety of those working in the state’s film and television industry has never been so important. Last year, OF+MO published its own “Considerations for Filming in Oklahoma” to be used in conjunction with the Industry White Paper, a set of production rules issued by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which establishes recommendations for safely resuming motion picture and television production activities within each jurisdiction once government authorizes production to resume. With respect to these guidelines, businesses such as Oklahoma Set Medics, OSU Labs and MCI Labs have been instrumental in adhering to the industry’s strict COVID-19 testing regimens, keeping those working on film and television productions in our state as safe as possible.
“Since June 2020, we have facilitated over 30,000 tests over a span of nineteen film and television projects to date,” said Emily O’Banion, owner of Oklahoma Set Medics, whose company has exponentially grown from a one-woman show to now employing over 30 full-time health and safety crew members. O’Banion has further advised on curriculums for additional local training in the health and safety fields, most recently with Metro Technology Centers, which, through its relationship with OF+MO, hosted a COVID-19 protocols certification course last year to further develop our local workforce and plans to offer similar opportunities in 2021.
“Our office continues working closely with statewide health experts as well as industry leaders, serving as a conduit for resources to ensure our essential workers in the sectors of Oklahoma film, television and music have direct access to the necessary tools being offered to safely resume working,” said OF+MO Director Tava Maloy Sofsky.
While there have been many successes, the state’s film, television and music industries have not been without their share of hardships for many impacted by COVID-19. A number of local programs aided in relief efforts last year, such as the Cherokee Nation Film Office, which provided multiple scholarship opportunities for continued learning; the Red Dirt Relief Fund, which supplied more than 700 grant recipients with pandemic assistance totaling over $260,000 and counting; and the Tulsa Office of Film, Music, Arts and Culture (TulsaFMAC), which spearheaded the Tulsa County Film Recovery Program and Play Music Tulsa.
“Tulsa County Commissioners supported the recovery programs for Tulsa’s film and music industries, awarding a total of $462k of Tulsa County CARES funding to launch the Tulsa County Film Recovery Program and the music recovery program, Play Tulsa Music. Both programs were created to drive an economic boost within the film and music sectors,” said Abby Kurin, Executive Director of TulsaFMAC. “Since launching the film recovery program, four applications have been approved to date, awarding a total of $80,000. These funds helped create 380 jobs for local film crew and generated more than 3,000 room nights in Tulsa County hotels. Through Play Tulsa Music, $190,000 was allocated to 24 Tulsa County venues, helping the venues hire both local talent and tech positions to create 700+ live performances.”
Additionally, through the efforts and collaboration of OF+MO, programs like Community CARE Partners (CCP) were able to include film and music career training among the individual and family assistance they provided to eligible Oklahoma City metropolitan residents who were facing housing crisis and eviction due to loss of wages or COVID-19 related hardships. In 2020, $1,632,178 in CARES funds was spent on retraining, skill development and workforce development in the film and music industries for 239 Oklahoma City residents who qualified for assistance under the CARES act. OF+MO was proud to usher participating CCP partners, including Onyx Lane, Searchlight Music Group, Green Pastures Studio, Castle Row Studios, Nathan Gardocki Production (NGP), Film Education Institute of Oklahoma (FEIO), Boiling Point Media and GC Recordings.
“For all the challenges of the past year, we’ve actually seen significant progress in the growth of our local film industry,” said Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt. “I’m especially proud of how OKC worked to channel its CARES Act resources towards job retraining efforts that included the opportunity for our residents to prepare for employment in the film, television and music industries. These efforts, along with the opening of multiple new film production facilities, gives OKC the chance to emerge from the pandemic with new advantages in this space.”
Workforce development has been further realized through Oklahoma’s growing infrastructure, including new organizations such as the Film Education Institute of Oklahoma (FEIO), Red Clay Studios, Prairie Surf Studios and Green Pasture Studios, home to the Oklahoma Film and TV Academy (OFTA). With the support of city and state leadership, Prairie Surf Studios opened earlier this year in downtown Oklahoma City featuring the largest clear-span soundstages in the Midwest with over 1.3 million square feet of facility space and five soundstages. Additionally, OFTA, which opened its doors in October 2020, has enrolled 235 students in their program, graduating eight slates (groups) of students with over 80% actively placed in paid positions with nearly a dozen films shooting in Oklahoma. OF+MO was proud to partner with OFTA to offer 100 scholarships for their Film Crew 101 Podcast series, as well as three scholarships available for students to enroll in OFTA’s Set Ready Course.
“We’ve been retraining some amazing people from all walks of life, including those let go from the oil and gas industry, the hospitality industry, and folks transitioning out of the military,” said OFTA co-founder Richard Janes. “Within a few weeks, they are back earning money again and working across a variety of film departments, from construction and transportation to production office and grip/electric. The talent pool here in Oklahoma is incredible, and the feedback from producers has been fantastic. Even with all our graduates, we can’t fill positions fast enough”
With the rise in digital content and virtual engagement during a time that sees many traditional gatherings unable to safely be held in-person, OF+MO curated and created valuable training and educational resources through panel participations, workshops and discussions, most of which were free, to further develop the state’s local film and music workforce. Since June 2020 to present, OF+MO has worked with over a dozen national and local partners, such as Entertainment Partners (EP), the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI), deadCenter Film Festival, SeriesFest, AmericanaFest, WoodyFest, Norman Music Festival, The Journal Record, Junior Achievement, and the recent Sundance Film Festival at Tulsa’s Circle Cinema, to create work, performance and education opportunities for Oklahomans. These virtual events have allowed OF+MO to reach more audiences than ever before with impressions on content from events such as WoodyFest drawing over 80,000 views. Additionally, OF+MO is continuing to virtually preview its 2021 Oklahoma Film and Music Conference with monthly releases of their “Pivotal Work: Early Access Series”, a free video series that invites audiences to tune-in virtually and join some of the state’s leading industry professionals to learn more about careers opportunities within the state’s film and music industries.
“The season we’re in has been arduous, but a true testament of both our state’s resilience and our industry’s innovation when faced with challenges in keeping the safety and wellness of its statewide members our top priority,” said Sofsky. “We’re incredibly proud to be able to bring continued opportunities for work, education and relief resources to our local industry members, and grateful to our city and community partners, small businesses, filmmakers and talent for their efforts and collaboration as we continue building the future of Oklahoma’s film, television and music industries.”
WATCH: The Oklahoma Economic Impact Reel
For more information on the economic impact of the film and television industry in Oklahoma, visit okfilmmusic.org/economicimpact.
For more information on Oklahoma’s film infrastructure, workforce and other resources, visit okfilmmusic.org.
About Oklahoma Film + Music Office
Created in 1979, the Oklahoma Film + Music Office (OF+MO) strives to share all that Oklahoma has to offer by welcoming filmmakers and music professionals to the state and by creating a network of support to develop Oklahoma’s film and music industries. For more information about the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program or the Oklahoma Film + Music Office, visit okfilmmusic.org.