Lights, Camera, Oklahoma: A Look Behind The Scenes Of The State’s Booming Film Industry

Wednesday, March 10th 2021, 10:24 pm


Some of the biggest A-list names in Hollywood – DiCaprio, DeNiro, Scorsese - will begin shooting the big budget “Killers of the Flower Moon” in Oklahoma in the next few months, but that's not the only movie magic being made in Oklahoma. 

According to the movers and shakers in the Oklahoma Film Industry, the scene is set for a blockbuster.

Richard Janes, an Emmy winning producer who formerly worked for Disney and his wife Amy Janes, a documentary film maker who was with Paramount moved to Oklahoma from Hollywood on a whim.

“Fell in love, stayed here for three days and moved three months later,” Amy said.

“We love Oklahoma,” Richard said.

Here they met Melodie Garneau, a former Air Force medic and owner of the Paramount OKC. She had been looking for some time for a place to build a sound stage. She introduced them to Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell, who works closely with the Oklahoma Film and Music Office, pitching movies for the state.

“They call it show business for a reason,” Pinnell said.

Right now, the movie business is big business worth billions of dollars for the state - and the stars have aligned for action. Streaming services all need content and lots of it. The challenge was getting industry big wigs to turn their lens on Oklahoma. But then COVID-19 hit, and Governor Stitt named the film industry an essential business.

“Because of the pandemic, so many of the filming capitols have shut down,” said Richard. “And what that’s meant is for a period of time this past year, Oklahoma became the number one filming state in the country.”

The Reagan biopic shot in Guthrie was one of the first movies shot in the U.S. during the pandemic and the film keeps rolling. Oklahoma's landscape is currently dotted with film sets. According to the Oklahoma Film Commission, there are at least 12 active productions with a total of 20 movies and TV shows scheduled to shoot between now and mid-summer.

“The sky’s the limit and some state and some city is going to take advantage of this, and I firmly believe that Oklahoma could be the state that takes advantage of it,” Pinnell said.

The plot twist: Oklahoma doesn't have enough infrastructure like sound stages or crew members to keep up.

So, this summer, Garneau, Richard and Amy purchased Green Pastures Elementary in Spencer.

“Except for the occasional donkey across the street it’s pretty quiet around here,” Garneau said.

They are converting it to Green Pastures Studio and Film school.

The gym is now a sound stage, and classrooms will soon be standing sets for a police station, hospital, bar, and a school.

“What, in the school lingo here, used to be the cafeteria is now about to become Studio 2 where we are all building a cyclorama and motion capture,” Garneau said.

Weekend and weekday classes at the film school have been underway since September and graduates are immediately getting jobs on film sets. 

Denard Hunt happened to just be riding his horse through the area one Sunday with his son.

“We just stumbled upon Green Pastures Studio and hey, it’s been life changing ever since,” Hunt said.

He recently lost his job in the oil field because of the pandemic so he decided to take some classes. He said the oil industry taught him all about long days and teamwork. Amy and the rest of the instructors helped convert those skills to the movie industry where he's now working.

“I’ll take picking up a camera any day over picking up a sledgehammer,” Denard said. “There’s a big difference.”

“Just talking to them afterwards and getting kind of an understanding how it’s changing their lives has been just outstanding, has been out of control,” said Amy. “It’s what fills me.”

Another group, Prairie Surf Media, is converting the Cox Convention Center into a massive sound stage and studio. Green Pastures, along with studios in the Tulsa area, banded together to form the Oklahoma Motion Picture Alliance.

Pinnell said he's spreading the word that our state now has the cast, crew and locations.

“I’m starting to fill up my calendar in 2021, getting back out there and making sure that people know that Oklahoma is the place to be,” he said.

“Give us 10 years, we’ll be bringing in $9 billion if not more,” Amy said. 

That would be the Hollywood ending for Oklahoma that Amy and Richard envisioned when they found theirs.

“This is phenomenal, this is the life. This is very much the American Dream I believe,” Richard said.