Julie Porter is a good person to know. As Deputy Director of the Oklahoma Film Commission, she is well-connected. She is also one of the most knowledgeable people in the local film industry field. With a great set of credentials, a friendly demeanor, and determined know-how, Julie is helping to transform Oklahoma into a landscape where film, art, and industry combine. In this 10 question “Job Envy” interview, I had the pleasure of talking to Julie on a variety of film related subjects. Read on to find out about the local filming rebate initiative that was recently implemented and for advice on how to break into the local film scene.
Grace: Tell our readers how you got your awesome job.
Julie: After graduating from OU with a degree in Film & Video Studies (FVS), the only two things I knew were I wanted to stay in Oklahoma, and jobs in film were few and far between. I’m not a production person, my degree is based in film theory and writing, so I knew I’d be lucky to find anything even remotely in my field. A friend suggested I set up ‘informational interviews’, whereby I would meet with people who had careers I was interested in, and see what advice they had for me about my resume and where to begin my career search.
That turned out to be the best idea ever; everyone is happy to share their experiences and offer advice that might have been helpful to them when they were getting started. I met with Mick Cornett, before he was Mayor Cornett, because he had a successful video production company. I met with Brian Hearn, Film Curator for OKCMOA, who has ended up being a very dear friend. In all, I think I went on about ten of those interviews.
The most important meeting was with a woman who had moved back to Norman after 18 years in Los Angeles, working in the industry. I had asked her to speak to the OU FVS Speakers’ Series when I was programming that, so we had already met a few times. She became a mentor to me, helping me a great deal with my resume and providing lots of encouragement. At the time, she was working for the Oklahoma Department of Tourism. The Film & Music Office (OF&MO) is a division of Tourism, and the OF&MO had an opening for a part-time employee. She recommended me for that position, and that was my first job with OF&MO. Late that year, she was named Director of the Film & Music Office, and Jill Simpson and I have worked together since. It was a great turn of events and a fun story that I ended up working for one of my most important mentors.
G: What are your favorite things about being Deputy Director of the Oklahoma Film Commission?
J: We have a tiny but mighty team and I love working with each of them. I truly believe we are making a difference in our state: the film and video industries had an economic impact of $30M on our state’s economy last year, and there are more job opportunities now than there were just a few years ago. It’s personally important to me that I believe so deeply in the work we’re doing and the potential it has to positively impact our state’s economy, provide quality jobs for our creative class, and bring economic development opportunities to every county in Oklahoma through the film and music industries.
G: Tell us about the rebate program that was recently launched in Oklahoma. Has it gotten the attention of the film industry? Is there now more interest in filming in Oklahoma?
J: Film incentives have been a game-changer for film commissions across the country. In the nineties, the United States was losing productions to Canada and many other countries that were offering serious financial incentives for filming. States got into the incentives game to help keep productions in the US and help build their film industries and introduce a new economic development opportunity to their communities. In 2003, three states had film incentive programs. Today, over 40 states have film incentives. Beginning in 2005, we offered a 15% rebate, but it was not competitive with neighboring states like New Mexico and Louisiana, which were offering better incentives and had more infrastructures to support the needs of productions. We were able to pass a 35% rebate that went into effect in July 2009, with an additional 2% rebate for music recorded in Oklahoma. Word traveled fast about our new rebate, and we immediately saw an increase in inquiries about filming in Oklahoma. We saw an uptick that first year, but it has really been just in the last six months or so that we have had productions coming in based on the new rebate. Our fund is capped at $5M a year and we have already assigned all the money we have for FY11 to productions filming between now and the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2011).
G: Have you gotten to hobnob with any cool celebrities? Care to share any fun stories?
J: I get most excited about meeting the producers and directors, and I love the opportunity to work with a director very early on in the process of scouting. Meeting Cameron Crowe when he was here scouting for and then filming Elizabethtown was probably my favorite moment of them all. As a kid, growing up writing and dreaming about making movies, his movies were always at the top of my list, so hosting them in Oklahoma was amazing and a memory I’ll always treasure.
G: What is lacking the most in the Oklahoma film/movie scene?
J: Investors! We have a lot of very talented filmmakers here and so many great stories to tell, but movies cost money, even those with micro-budgets. There are different ways to invest in film projects, and we can help provide information to people who are interested in investing in Oklahoma films.
G: What, as you see it, are the major problems do you think the film industry (as a whole) is currently struggling with?
J: It is helpful for people to understand that the entertainment industry is just that- an industry! Film jobs are good jobs, and many Oklahomans make their living making commercials, industrial films and feature films. These Oklahomans pay their mortgages and raise their families with the wages they earn in our industries.
The entertainment industry can be an important part of the economy. For example, New Mexico’s film industry was very similar to Oklahoma’s film industry around 2000. New Mexico passed competitive film legislation early on and today they see about $500M in economic impact from the film industry. Imagine how that kind of money could help diversify Oklahoma’s economy! We have a competitive incentive in terms of the percentage, but with only $5M available per year, we are limited in the number of projects we can recruit.
G: What are the biggest challenges you face as Oklahoma Film Commission Deputy Director?
J: Our challenge is also our blessing: we are so busy! We support two statewide industries. The more successful we are at marketing our programs, the busier we become. With a total staff of five people, it often comes down to a simple issue of the number of hours in a week. But our team works very efficiently together, and we’re able to accomplish a great deal.
G: What can one do if they want to start working in the local film industry?
J: Those who are interested in our programs can sign up to receive our monthly report and weekly newsletters at Oklahoma film.org. We also have a links and resources section that may provide some ideas. If someone is looking to get started in working in the industry, registering as an Intern on our online database is a good place to start. If someone is just trying to learn more and test the waters, getting involved in a local film festival is a good place to start and meet other aspiring filmmakers. In Oklahoma City, deadCENTER Film Festival is a wonderful, inclusive organization with events throughout the year and lots of volunteering and networking opportunities.
Most importantly, just start making films- low budget, no budget, just get together with friends and make videos- they’ll evolve into more as you keep learning.
G: What are your top five favorite movies right now?
J: My all-time top five movies (what movie is that from?)
- Amelie, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
- Millions, directed by Danny Boyle.
- Almost Famous, directed by Cameron Crowe.
- The Lady Eve, directed by Preston Sturges.
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, directed by John Hughes.
G: That’s from High Fidelity! One of my all-time top five movies. One final question, Julie: What is one movie released in 2010 that you think everyone should go see?
J: Waiting for Superman, directed by Davis Guggenheim.
(c) 2010 Grace Gordon All rights reserved.