The deadCenter film festival kicked off in Oklahoma City on Thursday, June 6, 2019. (Brand Rackley)

While the 2019 deadCenter Film Festival officially kicked off on Thursday, June 6, one could argue Gov. Kevin Stitt unofficially began the festivities May 7 when he and the Oklahoma Legislature gave the state’s film industry its biggest gift in recent memory: a high-impact bill that will provide two incentive packages for film productions of sizes ranging from $50,000 and beyond. The intent is to keep local productions in Oklahoma, while attracting larger productions from outside the state.

SB 200 is a gesture that has quickly ignited the hopes of Oklahoma’s seasoned film artists. With the chance of incurring less financial risk, it may be a bit optimistic to hope Oklahoma’s social and artistic benefactors find it in their hearts/wallets to make a meaningful investment in the art of Oklahoma’s moving pictures beyond just the yearly celebration surrounding it. But you can’t blame an Okie for dreaming, right?

Though it may not help many local filmmakers, who must make smaller, “no-budget” films because they lack self-financing or investors with deep enough pockets to qualify for the incentives, larger in-state and out-of-state productions could greatly benefit.

This might afford casualties of the state’s “artistic brain drain” (creatives who have moved elsewhere to follow their artistic dreams) an opportunity to support their home state, fulfill their cinematic passions and do it all without adding college debt.

Some Oklahomans may argue the merits of whether such a heist of native creatives is taking place or ever has. I would counter by saying it not only exists, but that it is substantial enough to warrant a shorts block titled “Okie Expats Shorts.”

Home with a view of the monster

Three such artists that could one day fall into this “expats” category make up a group of wunderkind brothers. Okie natives who, after creating a slew of well-received short films, lit out west for the coast in search of film fulfillment. They are Adam, Alex and Todd Greenlee, and their first feature film, Home with a View of the Monster, was shot here in Oklahoma and premiered at this year’s deadCenter Film Festival.

The movie’s deadCenter synopsis reads:

After placing their secluded lake house on a vacation rental app for years, Dennis and Rita return to discover mysterious clues left behind by their recent guests. They slowly begin to uncover what transpired in their home, while revealing their own secrets that lurk within the walls.

You may infer by the title and this synopsis that it’s a “scary movie” or “horror movie,” and it is, but not in the traditional sense. It may have the fear trappings, but like all genre films worth their salt, they fulfill their cliches while laying a track of subtext, and in some cases direct text, for the topics the filmmakers really want to present. View of a Monster touches on the prospective scariness and horrors of loss, anger, depression, substance abuse and marriage.

Not least of which is the crisis of conscience associated with raising or bringing a child into the bizarre modern world. I could go on a Howard Beale-esque rant for several thousand words about my beliefs, feelings and physical reactions regarding the subject, but I’ll spare you from that, dear reader.

Home with a View of the Monster ultimately culminates in a post-modern, supernatural ending I found very entertaining.

Alex Greenlee emphasized that he, his film fraternity and their production company, Homefront Pictures, would love to return to Oklahoma with their next flick, for which he said the script is already finished.

He lamented that he and his brothers could have used the incentive, as it stood before the increase, to save a sizable chunk of their budget, but with sources for financing so sparse or sporadic, they weren’t able to perform the submission process soon enough. In the world of indie film — REAL indie film — one must take what one can get, when they can get it, forms and submission deadlines be damned.

Bring some Okies back home?

Ever since the days of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, California has beckoned to Oklahomans looking for greater opportunity, whether it be a fair wage for an honest day’s work in the fields or a chance to offer their talent, creativity and point of view to the conveyor belts of Hollywood’s dream factory.

With fewer obstacles and more resources, perhaps we can bring some Okies back home from the West Coast and every other region of the country where states have valued and invested in the artistic necessity and economic diversity and advantage of film and TV incentives.

At the very least, I know for a fact it would make this former Okie expat happy. I think it might even make the ghost of Tom Joad smile. Wherever he is, still fighting for us out there.

(Editor’s note: Brand Rackley served as a screener for the 2019 deadCenter film festival.)