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Sens. Chuck Hall, Julia Kirt study film and media arts programs forK-12 students

Senators Chuck Hall, R-Perry, and Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, hosted an interim study Wednesday looking into film and media arts programs for kindergarten through 12th grade students. The study connected primary and secondary school opportunities with the rapidly expanding opportunities in Oklahoma’s film and production industry.

Oklahoma was one of the first states to offer a film incentive for productions to shoot in the state, but the program was nationally recognized when the sunset of the tax incentive was extended into 2024. Since the program was renewed in 2014, nearly 200 productions have been filmed in Oklahoma and the film industry workforce has grown by 260%.  

This rapid growth has led to a need for skilled workers to fill jobs, ranging from mechanics and painters, to set designers and hair stylists.  

According to Tava Maloy Sofsky, director of Oklahoma Film + Music (OFM), on-set experience can be a great form of education to fill these jobs, while some may prefer to study within film education programs through Oklahoma’s universities, colleges, trade schools and more. Sofsky noted that the state doesn’t currently have a sufficient workforce to sustain the number of shows and movies interested in working in Oklahoma.

Kirt and Hall want to ensure Oklahoma students are exposed to the 21st Century skills of media arts and are given the opportunity to consider these promising career paths. The study surveyed programs already in place in public schools, career technology programs and nonprofit organizations across the state.

“Film and media education prepares students to be engaged learners for the long term. Making these opportunities more available helps set up students for success with creativity, collaboration and technical skills,” Kirt said. “Given the burgeoning film industry in the state, we know there are many creative career paths and in-demand jobs available right here in Oklahoma.”

Dr. Elizabeth Maughan, State Department of Education director of fine arts, said there are only about 70 high school media production teachers across the state, and only about 12 percent of high schools in Oklahoma offer media production courses. Many educators incorporate film in other courses such as history or english. Maughan said there is a media arts working group currently meeting to develop programs schools could implement, but those course codes aren’t expected to be available until 2023. The goal of the working group is to define media arts, propose course types and create course competencies. Current proposed media arts courses include graphic design, photography, introduction to film and advanced film, introduction to broadcasting and advanced broadcasting, animation and multimedia.

Thomas Burney, media arts teacher at Ryal Public Schools, a K-8 school in eastern Oklahoma, shared how his media course exposes students to the world of media and film production. The students spend about 30 minutes a day in the course and learn animation, which integrates important reading and writing skills. Students have been able to work with Terry Thorn, producer of popular kids television shows “The Rugrats” and “The Wild Thornberrys,” as well as a voice acting coach located in New Zealand. Burney said the cost to the district is minimal – about $20 per student – and allows Oklahoma kids to develop as storytellers as they develop their technical skills.

“As we continue to grow the film industry in the state, it’s critical that we produce a sustainable workforce to take the jobs created by Oklahoma’s robust film tax incentive,” said Hall, author of Senate Bill 608, which established a $30 million cap on rebates for TV and film productions in Oklahoma. “This study gave us a better understanding of the current programs available to our students, as well as what’s needed moving forward to expand opportunities for Oklahoma students to have access to robust film and media education courses.”

Other study presenters included Chandra Boyd, Oklahoma Arts Council deputy director; Bryan Cardinale-Powell, Oklahoma City University professor of film; Cori Gray, Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education deputy state director; Afton Jameson, Canadian Valley Technology Center digital media technology instructor; Matt Payne, Prairie Surf Media co-founder and co-CEO; and Shawna Nord, Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education counseling and career development manager.