One of the persistent criticisms of the rebate program – other than the nebulous-ROI theme – is that the money isn’t often available for smaller productions.
Kyle Kauwika Harris, the filmmaker behind “I Stand: Guardians of the Water,” has been making films in Oklahoma since 2012. In 2017, he released “Out of Exile,” which was a deadCenter winner. Since that time, Harris said making a film in Oklahoma has actually gotten harder, not easier, for small producers.
“We’re a branded content company,” Harris said. “We attach actors to a project, go get financing, and then make a movie. After ‘Out of Exile,’ all rebates have been denied by the Department of Commerce. Jeff Robison, who made ‘Rudderless,’ just got denied, so he’s going to Georgia. I am shooting my next one in Georgia. It seems projects that don’t come here from out of state are getting denied. I can’t afford to wait for rebates.”
Other small filmmakers mentioned the problem, with a couple saying they prefer not to go on record in case it affects their prospects to get funded later. One of the realities that helps answer the question of why the money isn’t available is to look at the point Cannon and Payne are trying to make: There is a limited pool, and one very large production eats up the funds.
“Will this continue to work?” Payne asked, to drive the point home. “Rachel and I have said ‘Tulsa King’ is a proof of concept. There isn’t enough money to fund all the productions, so we have to think about improving the environment long-term for the benefit of all filmmakers, small and large. I’m an independent filmmaker at heart; it’s why I left California to come home. I want students to stay here and make films. I want universities and career techs to build film-related programs. I genuinely believe that incentivizing big productions at first will have a benefit to Oklahoma in the long run. It’s a long-game approach.”
Rep. Brian Hill (R-Mustang) was one of five legislators who were key to increasing the rebate program, and he said the next piece of legislation they are working on is called the Employing Oklahomans in Film Act.
“It’s important to have a mechanism in place to ensure small films are being developed, too,” Hill said. “Those small productions serve as a training ground to help prepare a skilled work force, so that when large productions come to Oklahoma, they will find a qualified, sufficiently large workforce. This has to be Oklahoma grown, though, so it makes sense that filmmakers who want to work on smaller projects won’t be left out.”