A fateful decision is afoot -- one that will shape the future of Oklahoma's still embryonic film/music development and promotion initiative.
Here is what UTW film critic Joe O'Shansky wrote last September about Oklahoma's now threatened film/music rebate effort:
"The Oklahoma Film and Music Office's rebate program, passed in 2000, was the plan to bring in outside industry to augment job opportunities for Oklahoma filmmakers and craftspeople -- attracting big, budget Hollywood productions (as well as smaller ones) -- while spending money in the state on human resources and logistical necessities. (Hotels, restaurants, set equipment, etc.)
Capped at $5 million per year with a 37 percent reimbursement, recent productions such as The Killer Inside Me, starring Casey Affleck and Jessica Alba, which shot in Guthrie, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Cordell and Enid are among many that have filmed here since the program's inception. According to the Film Commission's website, The Killer Inside Me producers spent just shy of $3 million in Oklahoma of which they stood to be refunded $449,000. For every year, (since it was truly funded, more on that later) the program posts positive economic impacts ranging from $11 to $25 million dollars..."
Oklahoma's dead-end, nearly moronic obsession with low tax levels means that our public schools and a whole range of other services suffer mightily as a consequence. The State legislature's dual front attempt to cut or destroy the film and music rebate program is simply reactionary and another reminder of the anti-intellectual, delusional animus that hobbles our collective futures in Oklahoma.
UTW readers should call the Capital and demand an end to this mindless assault. The rebate project is a lean, rigorously audited, carefully crafted investment project that has paid outsized yields for nearly a decade.
Recently, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. and City Counselor and business guru Blake Ewing announced creation of a Tulsa film and music advisory board. This is a good thing: it will highlight the strategic import of a high-yield sector that could -- if we supply the chutzpah, political capital and imagination -- be central to a shinier future -- one that could multiply the nearly $170 million stack that came last year from Oklahoma's film/music sector.
One thing is clear: a carefully crafted, ambitious and thoughtful local film, music and entertainment initiative needs to be a leapfrog initiative -- a gambit that entails aggressively exploit emerging tendencies in the common spaces that define new consumer technology, film and music production and imaginative talent development. Talking about Oklahoma's good topo, the many wonderful scenics for film-shots, and how we have something akin to slave labor wage rates is not going to be good enough. Jonesing on about our long, legendary and very inventive role in music production -- whether it's in the Blues, Gospel, Folk or Country -- is a much better conversation, but even there we are competing with other folks with similar claims. So the road ahead to a successful, genuinely high-yield film and music initiative surely starts and ends with a signature initiative or a bundle of breakout efforts.
Our Tulsa challenge is to identify those opportunities still in play where we could gain an outsized advantage.
UTW's O'Shansky has highlighted the vital importance of local firm festivals in fueling film and music development. Last year's Tulsa International Film Festival was a great effort that needs to be replicated every year and supported financially by the City, the downtown community and the Metro Chamber.
Here are other candidates that yours truly and other souls have in mind -- all are an admixture of next step hard "infrastructure" and softer talent development thrusts that have leapfrog potential. The ensemble sketched here would give Tulsa a sort of multidimensional film studio without walls and provide the same on a co-op, public access basis best described as a film/entertainment production "collaboratory."
Tiny and not so tiny physical models -- think the giant ship fleets in the film Troy, parts of the Paris Train Station in Hugo or some of the planes in Red Tails -- can be crafted using the novel fabrication and "rapid prototyping" technologies at the core of Tulsa's Fab Lab on North Lewis (a new "micro factory") and at the Helmerich Advanced Materials Center at OSU/Tulsa downtown.
Special Effects, Digital and "Performance" Animation
I've written at some length about a supercomputing project as a game-changing dues ex machina in T-Town. The Oklahoma Institute for Innovation (OII) supercomputing project is called the Tulsa Community Supercomputer. A supercomputer is an extremely high performance computation engine, or an array of lots of conventional processing devices ganged together as a seamless, ultra capable gizmo. "Supers" will be used increasingly in classic and animated filmmaking, and not just in fantasy or sci-fi films. Many, many contemporary films use a host of backdrop effects that provide dimension or extra narrative power without a cast of thousands or the extra millions of dollars required for onsite shooting in exotic locations. Having a publicly available "Super" could give Tulsa artists, special effects folks, animators and directors a wild card advantage in our region. Intensive special effects, so-called performance animation (wonderfully employed in the Golem scenes in Lord Of The Rings, and more recently in the Rise of The Planet of The Apes and the documentary film Nim), advanced digital animation and hybrid work that includes music, video, interactive games would, overnight, be available to local creatives -- and few cities are targeting this arena. Moreover, OII has a tentative plan to mount a supercomputing training initiative, linked to TCC -- so we have excellent potential for a singular advanced animation and special effect initiative.
Robotic Shot Taking/Exotic Filming
Imagine exotic new shooting and filmmaking techniques including imaginative use of drones for outside shooting, aerial photography and related tasks. And folks, the people at the OSU aerospace and engineering departments are at the front edge of aerial robotics/drone tech -- this is a real deal for Oklahoma. Nick Winfield, a New York Times tech writer wrote about these strange but breakout prospects:
"...Drones could help them (filmmakers) get a lot of different shots that would normally require more expensive or complicated pFILMieces of equipment, including dollies for tracking shots, Steadicams, cranes and traditional piloted helicopters. A skilled drone pilot could begin filming indoors, then send the bird out a window and soaring into the sky for an aerial view, providing a continuous shot that would be very difficult to get other ways."
In a couple of weeks, I'll elaborate on some of these leapfrog items, a couple of additional pieces and how we might fund a really vibrant Tulsa film and music effort.
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