Tulsa May Become a Movie Capital

Editor at Large

STAR CAST: Jim Stovall, second from left, and Tracy J, Trost with cast members as they plan for their next movie.

If two Tulsa-area entrepreneurs have their way, Tulsa may become Hollywood on the Arkansas River.

The idea of making Tulsa a hub of movie activity started on an airplane in Dallas. As Tracy J. Trost was going to his seat, he noticed Jim Stovall already seated. Trost, a native of Minnesota who moved to Broken Arrow a dozen years ago, is the president of Trost Consulting, a marketing firm whose primary client is TV.

Stovall is the author of 15 books, many of them of a motivational character, who has overcome becoming blind in his late 20’s to become one of the nation’s most widely sought-after speakers. Trost, who had attended some of his speeches, recognized him and introduced himself. The two chatted briefly.

They chatted more in depth a couple of days later when Trost saw him at a restaurant. Trost, who had directed a number of television shows (primarily live sports events) had become fascinated with movies and had turned out a super low-budget ($30,000) thriller about a kidnap victim called “Find Me” just to see if he could tell a story. He used local acting talent, a crew of about 20 people, filmed it in a week, and distributed it successfully through the Internet.

Encouraged by the results from his first effort, he had written a script called “A Christmas Snow.” He was budgeting it at just over a half-million dollars, which allowed him to bring in experienced actors and hire a larger crew.

It was a tale of spiritual uplift and he wanted to know what Stovall thought of it. Stovall loved it and came up with a marketing idea. He, a widely-known author, would write a novel based on Trost’s script and Trost would make the film. The film would then be released along with the novel. The double-whammy would have each treatment complementing the other.

Joe Jestus, a marketing executive with Trost Consulting, was given the duty of trying to turn that half-million into a profit. “Independent films have a hard time making a profit,” said Jestus on the set of “The Lamp,” a new film Stovall and Trost are making, this time from a novel originated by Stovall. “Most independent film makers make the movie then take it to film festivals hoping to find a distributor. If they do, they have to make the film prints at the cost of over $1,000 a print. The theaters take about half the box office, the distributor takes much of what’s left and the filmmaker hopes the remainder is enough to turn a profit.”

The Jestus scheme to make “A Christmas Snow” successful rested on several things coming together. The major decision was to put the film directly on , bypassing theaters altogether. By combining Stovall’s novel with Trost’s movie, they managed to get a better deal from a distributor. An initial run of 50,000 disks was ordered and initial sales have been brisk enough to anticipate another run. The willingness of the Oklahoma Film Commission to pick up 37 percent of the production cost for a film made entirely in Oklahoma and using Oklahoma talent helped lower the risk.

“The list price was $19.99, but most stores will sell it in the $15 to $16 range,” said Jestus. “We get a higher percentage of the and the distributor gets a higher percentage of the book. It works out well for both of us.”

The filmmakers have given discs to some churches and charities to spread the word. Jestus said Amazon was among the sellers along with the usual disk outlets and the initial response has been brisk.

As an additional cost saving effort, the movie was shot using the latest digital technology. No film ever went into a camera. By using disc technology, a scene can be reviewed immediately after it has been shot allowing the director and actors to see if they got a good result. No costly reshooting a day later is needed.

Speed is of the essence. “Tracy Trost is a genius,” said “A Christmas Snow” star Catherine Mary Stewart. “He is enormously organized and in an industry used to shooting a page of script a day he can shoot five.” For this reason, Trost says, he likes to use television and stage actors who are used to a faster production pace.

The Stovall-Trost production of “The Lamp” is currently being shot in the Tulsa area. It is their most ambitious project to date. It features academy award winning actor Lou Gossett Jr. (Best Supporting Actor, “An Officer and a Gentleman”). He recently came into town for four days of shooting and Jestus said that Gossett moves in and out of the action so much he’ll be a major presence in the film. Academy award-winning actors usually don’t come cheap and “The Lamp” is budgeted at $800,000. “The Lamp” is Trost’s third film, but he plans many more. He has an ally in Stovall. “I hope,” says Stovall, “I’ll be making movies with Tracy 20 years from now.”

Trost wants to make at least two films a year, and he and Stovall are planning a series of movies about a blind detective who, with the help of a secretary and a driver, solve mysteries. “We’re going to show it from the detective’s point of view, which literally ended when he lost his sight,” says Stovall. “I became blind in 1989, so when I try to visualize something I do so in terms of the last things I saw. He’ll do the same thing, with much of the photography being sketchy but fleshing out as he begins to understand the mystery.”

They want to do a series of films featuring the detective, called Jacob Dyer, and have entered into negotiations with a star who has had success in both television and movies to play Dyer.

Stovall and Trost say they have received incredible support from churches around the country and this has helped their inspirational films reach even wider audiences.

“My purpose in films,” says Trost, “is to get people thinking about how they can see things differently. Hopefully that thought process can bring a positive change in their lives.”

Updated 12-15-2010

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