At Film Casualty, it's important that provide insurance products to filmmakers and also feature and connect filmmakers to other passionate professionals in the industry. To do so, we've been reaching out and interviewing film commissioners in places like Florida and Alabama.
Continuing the series, we spoke with Tava Maloy Sofsky who leads the film commission in Oklahoma. Taking the time to hear from such a passionate film professional did not disappoint. Perhaps more importantly, we learned a tremendous amount about why Oklahoma is a place to seriously consider bringing or building a production business or film.
With that, let's take it away!
Who are you?
My name is Tava Maloy Sofsky, and I’m the current Director of the Oklahoma Film + Music Office (OF+MO). Many states only have a film commission, but with Oklahoma's rich musical heritage we run both a film and music office.
I was born and raised in Oklahoma. I got the filmmaking bug in my junior year at the University of Oklahoma and jumped right into the entertainment industry after graduation. At the time, there wasn't much of a film industry in Oklahoma so I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles to begin my professional career. I started working as a Production Assistant on commercial productions to major motion picture films with studios, which led to producing as a freelance filmmaker.
Over a long career in Los Angeles, I found myself working with a producer from Oklahoma, Doug Claybourne. Doug produced pictures like “Apocalypse Now”, “Fast and the Furious”, “The Mask of Zorro” and many other studio films. Doug was a great mentor and we had the opportunity to work on a variety of movies around the world, which involved working with some of the most successful talents in the business, including Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Robert Rodriguez, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Williams, Antonia Banderas, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Columbus, Gale Ann Hurd and many more industry professionals. After being away from Oklahoma for 20 years, my husband (who I met in the business) and I decided to move our family to my home state (Oklahoma).
It’s been an eye-opener moving back home witnessing Oklahoma’s burgeoning film and music scene and actually wanting to be a part of the movement that is currently happening here. My predecessor, Jill Simpson, passed the baton to me in 2014 and I became the Director of the Oklahoma Film + Music office. August (of 2014) just happened to be the same month that our state’s incentive program was renewed for a ten-year period.
Since then, there are no two days alike, which keeps it interesting. Much like the entertainment industry as a whole, it’s very hard work but also rewarding to be able to support an industry where stories can be told through media to audiences around the world but to also have a role in fueling Oklahoma’s overall economy, creating jobs and impacting local businesses of all types.
One role we take on is supporting the local film and music industry members, connecting those industry members to our local resources and promoting the talent and infrastructure we are so proud of. Sometimes that means helping an Oklahoma filmmaker connect with local services, assisting a director to find locations he or she desires or sharing information about our rebate program. It's also important to me, to our office, and to our state to continue training and building up our indigenous filmmakers and production infrastructure as a whole.
That’s awesome. Tell us what the Oklahoma Film + Music Office is working on?
Our office crew is so busy right now, as we’ve seen a tremendous growth of production activity and economic impact since our (rebate) program renewal. At home, we focus intensely on mentoring filmmakers and music-makers as they grow and as we grow as a hub in our nation’s entertainment industry. Both (film + music) industries are growing at a steady pace and so it's important for our team to be actively partnering, building, and sharing all of the resources we have for filmmakers and music-makers in and out of the state.
We also recruit filmmakers. Annually, we make visits to Sundance Film Festival and South by Southwest (SXSW). We have co-hosted panels with Entertainment Partners and have even put on live webinars right on the Main Street of Park City, Utah, at Sundance. We shine the spotlight on Oklahoma and its amazing resources as a destination for filming, as a destination to work, and especially as a place to visit and live.
On the music side of things, we showcase Oklahoma’s talent in cities like Nashville, Los Angeles, Austin, Kansas City, Park City, even Oklahoma City and Tulsa, among other U.S. cities, where we also speak on panels educating the community at large of our rich musical heritage and current lively music scene. Oklahoma people are very hospitable and generous. We are willing to receive people into our communities, whether it's a major metropolitan area or a small town. We're really proud of our communities, our locations, and our landscapes.
Oklahoma has some of America's most diverse terrain and a lot of people are very surprised when they see and hear what we have to offer; from lush forest to deserts to the prairies and the plains — did you know we have mountains? A lot of people just don't know Oklahoma has (12) eco-regions. “Come See For Yourself!”
Why do people come to film in Oklahoma?
I’ve seen it happen over and over. Producers find themselves very surprised when they come to Oklahoma and fall head-over-heels in love with our people, our culture, and our locations.
And then, of course, our competitive (cash) rebate program incentives filmmakers to create in Oklahoma. The importance our state places on the film and music industry is attractive. The history and the future of Oklahoma’s film and music industries keep people here and like a boomerang – it keeps people coming back!
Here’s the thing, it is a huge investment making a film. We get it. There's a lot of financial risk involved, and in Oklahoma we really focus our incentive program to be an attractive way to get productions to consider Oklahoma — help producers maximize their dollars in our state - but they really do end up coming back time and time again.
We've been seeing so much repetitive business and a lot of it is word of mouth referrals. We meet directors at Sundance and then three years later, they find the perfect film to bring here. We meet producers or studio executives in Los Angeles and all over North America at film and music events, who want to bring their projects to Oklahoma.
That’s fantastic. Tell me more about filmmaking in Oklahoma.
Our industry is growing on all levels. Expatriate writers, directors, producers, production managers, accountants, even PA's – are returning home to either bring their own projects home or they are choosing to move home, which deepens our crew base.
We also partner and collaborate with our universities and community colleges who have film and music programs. Many film and music students are feeding into the industry and growing the industry from all sides is an important element for the growth of our industry.
Producers and directors also rave about our talent and crews. They're very skilled, you would not believe how often I hear, “that was the best crew (and talent) I've ever worked with” from multiple directors and productions.
Something that I find incredibly cool about Oklahoma is that our film crews are able to work on so many different kinds of pictures; from film, television, and smaller indie films. We even have short films and are a hub to major commercial productions so the crew’s skill sets are uniquely diverse.
Let's talk the film incentive program.
Producers get 35 percent on their qualified expenditures and that can actually jump to 37 percent. Producers get a bonus of 2 percent if they record music in Oklahoma or if they license music that was recorded here. That’s a total of 37% cash back based on their qualified Oklahoma expenditures.
We host productions ranging from $50,000 up to $25 million dollar budgets. $500K-$2.5M use to be the average, but as of lately, we’re seeing significantly larger indie films coming our way. The program is fantastic, not only for filmmakers but also Oklahomans. Over 80 communities across 40 counties in the state have been impacted in the past five years.
We conduct economic impact studies and reports to show our lawmakers. It’s a win/win/win for incoming filmmakers and Oklahoma’s film industry but also the rest of Oklahoma due to the induced spending paid to CPA’s, accountants, lawyers, recording studios, gas stations, restaurants, antique shops, grocery stores, museum’s and other local business around the state.
One thing to point out is that our rebate program has a rolling annual cap; so the rebate queue never closes. We can use the money that's appropriated through 2024 – hence, Oklahoma is open for business for projects ranging in size and scope.
What is it like for producers to work with the Film and Music Office?
We always answer the phone and we always get back to filmmakers and producers. We’re customer service oriented and dedicated to making sure that the program is very well-structured. It’s a pleasurable place to work! We look to attract all kinds of filmmakers and we strive to connect them to a variety of resources they need – from crew to film-friendly communities, and from talent to the rebate program. We spend a lot of time answering questions to make sure producers understand the entire process before they get on the ground and start hiring personnel and rolling cameras. It is important they can spend wisely as they invest in the people of our state, which maximizing their dollars.
What kind of insurance is required to film in Oklahoma?
Leading up to pre-production, we require to see proof of general liability. We require coverage in place at least 10 days prior to pre-production. Insurance requirements may also vary from location to location if they require anything additional. Additionally, productions are going to need to hold workers compensation coverage to protect crew and production employees.
Great! So, if a filmmaker is determined to work in Oklahoma, what is the experience going to be like?
First, I suggest that even if you’re curious about filming or working in music here is to connect with us. We've got office hours Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Central Time.
We really do have some incredible assets to show off our state’s beauty and abundant resources. Folks can view our new digital LOOK-BOOK and learn a lot about our thriving industries on our website (OKFILMMUSIC.ORG).
We also like to know a little bit about people calling, where they’re coming from, and the scope of their project. We want to know about the producing team, the director and the talent. The more we know, the more helpful we can be.
Sometimes producers even send us their scripts if they're unsure about Oklahoma. Our office will read a script build a customized location package, which provides a sampling of the diverse locations we can offer - - which often times propels filmmakers to purchase a plane ticket to come and scout and visit our office. We can also connect producers with local crew, and local producers if needed. Another value we add is to introduce incoming producers to producers who have already filmed here. It means something for them to hear from the ones who have gone before them to hear from their positive experience.
Come on out to Oklahoma to tell your story. We have incredible people, resources, culture and all of the tools you need to make compelling content.
Thank you, Tava, for your time and for sharing your passion towards the people of Oklahoma. It is because of the expertise and work that you and your team (Jeanette Stanton, Lindsey Flowers, Yousef Kazemi, Katie Lovasz and Lillar Barton at the Oklahoma Film + Music Office), do that attracts filmmakers from around the world and keeps Oklahomans on the track for success.