Oklahoma Film rebate program brings Hollywood to Western Oklahoma
Coming soon to a theater near you, audiences will have access to “C.I.Ape,” a family-friendly flick about an intelligence agency operated by the animal kingdom. Director Ali Zamani and his brother Zeus both have decades of experience in major movie projects in Los Angeles and abroad, but recognized multiple benefits in bringing their last two projects to Oklahoma. Their latest project, “C.I.Ape,” was shot amid a brutal summer heat wave in Oklahoma. Filming locations included Oklahoma City, Guthrie and surrounding metro locales, but many of the vital scenes w e r e filmed in Western Oklahoma.
In June, more than two dozen cast members and crew streamed into an abandoned warehouse type building owned by New Liberty Church of Weatherford. With square footage equivalent to a 1990s Walmart, the location offered many benefits to the project. In addition to abundance of small rooms to allow production staff to organize and the on-site ambulance service through EMS Marq Lewis to safely provide medical care, vastly open spaces allowed for multiple scene set-ups.
Producer Zeus sat down at a stretched table in the receiving area to discuss the project. Most the staff in this area were wearing masks, himself included, while rushing to make the most of each minute. Some were actors, others were cameramen or boom operators. The EMT hustled water, Gatorade and snacks between scenes. Quickly it was apparent that the bulk of the employees were based in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Film Rebate Program is serving the intended purposes of creating new film, music and production jobs for regular Oklahomans.
“This is a funny and sometimes heart-warming story about an ape who works for an agency called Jungle Command. It is like SpyKids meets Sonic the Hedgehog. Of course, the ape is actually created in post-production with CGI technology. Families with children will love this light-hearted movie. But to me, that isn’t the big story here. It is the rebate program that Oklahoma now has. This is my fourth production here and I will say that rebate has had a big part in bringing us back. We are required to hire local people within the state from actors to the film crew to get the rebate. We must buy props from local stores, stay at local hotels and eat at local restaurants. Each production pumps money back into the local economy and that likely would not have happened without this special rebate program. Even Martin Scorescese is directing a movie in Oklahoma next year. It is not only bringing in new projects, but it is giving the crews constant and reliable work. Access to crews is one of the obstacles we faced the first time we shot here. But, more work opportunities also gives these crew members experience. When you are deciding a production location, having good staff is as important as the actors. This rebate program is building that job demand,” said Zeus.
The Oklahoma Film and Music Office agreed.
“The Sooner State should be on the radar of any filmmaker looking to shoot in America’s heartland, as it offered one of the highest base rebate percentages in the nation at 35%. An additional 2% can be obtained by utilizing Oklahoma’s bustling music and recording scene in the production and, with a low minimum spend of only $50,000 (at least $25k of which must be spent local), even small independent films will find the Oklahoma incentive easily accessible. There are no caps for how much a single project may obtain in rebates, but keep in mind the program has an annual cap of $8 millions, distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis,” said the group.
Zeus has already witnessed the benefits and job growth in Oklahoma for the up-and-coming industry.
“The first time we came here we didn’t have near the possible employees and talent that we do now. Each time has gotten better and the rebate program has kept many working between our projects. We live in L.A., so this type of crew is basically everywhere. But we have got to watch these random crewmembers grow into film crews that are as good as anything you see in California. I can tell you myself that it is creating jobs,” added Zeus.
Meanwhile, Zeus’s brother Ali was delivering his vision as director to the actors within the “Command Center.”
On set, actors went through take after take in attempts to capture the perfect scene. Meanwhile, Zeus’s brother Ali perched upon his director’s chair. The unmasked film veteran joked regularly, but also gave serious direction to his actors.
C.I.Ape then relocated to shorelines of Lake Lugert at Quartz Mountain. The crew worked in record heat, but the staff’s professionalism allowed the director to actually finish ahead of schedule.
“The diversity in locations is remarkable in western Oklahoma. We had a warehouse, a city square and literally a rocky shoreline that looked that it could be an exotic island. The potential is endless, especially now that production staff is becoming so developed thanks to the rebate program. Get ready for many more movies to be shot in Oklahoma,” Zeus exclaimed.
The Oklahoma Film and Music Office’s website explained that a base percentage of 35% is offered on qualified Oklahoma expenditures. Additionally if $20,000 or more is spent on music that has been recorded in Oklahoma by an Oklahoman or or Oklahoma production costs, an additional 2% is added to the total rebate on qualified Oklahoma expenditures for a total of 37%.
Additionally, land, business and homeowners can list their property as potential film locations.
To apply for the rebate or to learn about upcoming productions in Oklahoma, visit www.okfilmmusic.org.