Martin Scorsese and Great American Family visit Cherokee Nation

Producer Gerald Webb visited Claremore (Okla.) to film “A Christmas … Present” He knew that the production would be a great success in small-town Middle America and more important, it would also bring in a lot of money. 

Because Claremore is located within the Cherokee Nation, which covers 7,000 square-miles in the northeastern corner of the state, the telefilm (which premieres Nov. 27 on the Great American Family Network) not only qualified for Oklahoma’s film and TV rebate, which can range from 20% to 38%, it was also able to take advantage of the tribe’s incentive program, which includes a 20% cash rebate on wages for Native American below-the-line workers, with an additional 5% uplift for Native Americans who are members of the Cherokee Nation or reside within its borders, as well as 20% on all local spend.

What Webb didn’t expect were the frozen treats.

The shoot took place at Claremore’s First Presbyterian Church. “we came out for lunch and the pastor said, ‘We got a snow cone maker here as a gift to your production for being so kind to us,’” recalls Webb. “When you’re working 12- and sometimes 14-hour days, any little bump is really great for the energy of the set.”

Cherokee Nation’s government staff is equally eager, ready, and able, above all, to make shooting as easy and fun as possible.

“I can pick up the phone and call our chief [Chuck Hoskin Jr.] and say, ‘We’ve got a film that wants to close this county road,’” Jennifer Loren is the director of Cherokee Nation Film & Original Content. “We’ve never had to say no because we just have this tight-knit organization with lots of connections.”

The Cherokee Nation was put on the production map along with the rest of the state in 2021 when the Filmed in Oklahoma Act was signed into law, upping the annual cap on the state’s film and TV rebate from $8 million to $30 million, attracting more and bigger projects, including Martin Scorsese’s upcoming period epic “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Starring Leonardo DiCaprio. “Tulsa King.”

The Cherokee Nation’s incentive is a substantial sweetener to the state’s program in terms of raw percentages, but its $1 million annual cap means it can only provide impactful additional savings to low-budget productions.

The tribe also has many other offerings, such as Cherokee Film Studios and Owasso Campus. This 27,000 sq.-ft. complex is located just 15 minutes from Tulsa Airport. The complex, which opened its doors in July 2017, features a 9000-square-foot extended reality soundstage that has an LED volume and Vicon Vantage Mocap technology.

Apart from the famous grassy plains and rural towns, The Cherokee Nation has a range of picturesque settings. The Ozark Mountains are located to its east with the evergreen forests, creeks fed by springs and waterfalls. You can also find a small portion of Tulsa within it, which is possible to use as a second city.

The Cherokee Nation further demonstrated its commitment to becoming a production hub last month when it hired Oklahoma Film + Music Office director Tava Maloy Sofsky to be the new tribe’s film commissioner and director of the Cherokee Nation Film Office.

Sofsky points that while the incentive’s primary goal is to create industry jobs for citizens of the Cherokee Nation, it also offers cash rebates on the wages of non-Native below the line workers — 10%  for state residents and 15% for out-of-state residents.

 “We have a lot of training initiatives that we’re supporting and we need the experts in the field here working, no matter their background,” Sofsky. 

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