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A New Frontier in Filmmaking

Oklahoma is becoming a production destination, thanks to new incentives and infrastructure programs.
May 5, 2022

Joseph Chianese

EP BLOG_WIDE-Filming in Oklahoma

Oklahoma is quickly growing into one of the top production hubs in the US! This is in large part due to new legislation, the Filmed in Oklahoma Act that increased tax incentives and opportunities for filmmaking in Oklahoma from $8M to $30M.

Expanding sound stages, cash rebates, and film training programs are just a few of the opportunities available to productions coming in from out-of-state and to local Oklahomans. The response is impacting not just the economic future of Oklahoma, but it’s also setting up a model for other Midwest states to follow, as studios look beyond existing major film hubs, such as California and New York, to meet the ever-increasing demand for new film and television content.

With the success of ‘Reservation Dogs’ (FX/Hulu), created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, which will premiere a second season later this year; Martin Scorsese’s soon-to-be released, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’; and Lionsgate productions, ‘The Unbreakable Boy’ and ‘American Underdog’, we sense that Hollywood has plans to make Oklahoma a more permanent filming destination.

Benefits of the Filmed in Oklahoma Act

Oklahoma Senator Chuck Hall, who helped pass the Filmed in Oklahoma Act, projects that in 2022 an estimate of 33 film and TV productions will be made, creating over ten thousand local jobs with a direct economic impact of $161.7 million. Confirming this trend, in 2021 Movie Maker Magazine ranked Oklahoma City as #13 out of the top 25 big US cities for filmmakers in their annual “Best Place to Live and Work” list.

Senator Hall explains, “We now have more sound stages and post-production facilities that have come online and are ready to capitalize on this enhanced rebate package—make no mistake, this legislation will boost entertainment production right here in Oklahoma, creating thousands of jobs for Oklahomans and supporting local hotels, restaurants and other Oklahoma businesses.”

Some of the incentives now offered through this legislation include a cash rebate of 20-38% to encourage filming in rural counties, small cities, post-production facilities, long-term business from television series and multi-film productions, and certified soundstages, including:

An additional benefit of growing Oklahoma’s film industry can be seen in strengthening alliances with Native American Reservations. Relationships with the reservations, and organizations including the Cherokee Nation Film Office, have opened up vast terrain options and resources for filmmakers on a mission to increase the presence of Native Americans both in front of and behind the camera. And as we’ve seen with the success of Hulu’s ‘Reservation Dogs’, audiences are hungry for more authentic storytelling and Oklahoma is providing the content that Hollywood needs to deliver on.

Apprentice training programs for Oklahomans

Not only is Oklahoma offering financial incentives for productions coming to film from out-of-state, but it also aims to increase job opportunities by training locals in film production skills. 

Each production approved for the Filmed in Oklahoma Act rebate program must hire a certain number of apprentices, depending on their direct qualified production expenditures (QPE) as follows:

  • Less than $7.5m Direct QPE: 2 apprentices
  • $7.5m – $15m: 4 apprentices
  • $15m – $25m: 8 apprentices
  • Greater than $25m: 16 apprentices

Instead of moving to LA to “climb your way up the ladder” or attend an expensive film school, Oklahomans can now pursue a more accessible path to gain real-world experience on film sets that lead to a reliable film career. Since these opportunities are financially achievable for creatives who might otherwise not be able to move to the coasts, it opens doors for diverse perspectives in every department. These types of training programs amplify the voices of historically underrepresented storytellers and help them achieve their dreams of working in Hollywood.

“In filmmaking, there's a job for everyone,” explains Trevor Rogers, Executive Director of the Film Education Institute of Oklahoma (FEIO). “We want to use the film industry as a vehicle to give Oklahomans a better life. Now to see it change so drastically in such a short amount of time is both incredibly exciting and slightly overwhelming for us who are playing catch up. I want everybody else here in this state to have that opportunity as well, because it is such a unique industry.”

Film Education Institute of Oklahoma-2021 December Workshop.jpg
Students of the Film Education Institute of Oklahoma 2021 December Workshop

Rogers and his team of working film professional instructors at FEIO work closely with the Oklahoma Film and Music Office to grow a qualified training program to provide these apprentices for productions.

To date, FEIO has trained close to 600 individuals, with about 100 of them still actively working on productions in Oklahoma.

Students who come through the FEIO program have the opportunity to jumpstart their experience on a simulated film set in a soundstage where the FEIO team identifies their interests. From there, students rank their department of preference and have the option to advance in that department with more specialized training and the support of industry advisors. These advisors serve as a lifeline to the students, mentoring them through the training process as they get hired as apprentices for productions filming in Oklahoma.

When productions come to Oklahoma to film, they reach out to Rogers for apprentices. They may need a PA for lighting, sound, or costumes, and thanks to FEIO, Rogers accesses a database of students with specific skills that can be placed for those jobs.

Building a resume in film can be challenging when starting out, so Trevor is jumpstarting the process for FEIO trainees with not just the skills, but also the continued mentorship to succeed, as he explains, “We help build their resume so they can have the tools that they need to find themselves employed on a production after they finish their training. We’re using the film industry to empower people's lives and instill a new way of thinking, giving students skills and confidence that they didn’t know they had.”

A new chapter for the Midwest

This boost of confidence, starting from the apprentice level, is soon to touch many more lives, in Oklahoma and beyond. With the rise of the film industry in the Midwest, more and more states are growing their incentive programs and establishing themselves as a home for film and television productions alike. Thanks to the support of new legislation and partnerships like that of the Cherokee Nation Film Office and FEIO, Oklahoma is no longer just a “flyover state,” but now a production destination that echoes the FEIO mission of “empowering through filmmaking.”

To get involved and find out more on filming your production in Oklahoma, visit the Oklahoma Film Office to and see if your production qualifies for their cash rebate program.

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