Tulsa and other Oklahoma communities should have a rooting interest during the 93rd Academy Awards broadcast.
“Minari,” a film shot in Tulsa, Sand Springs, Skiatook, Broken Arrow and Rose, is nominated in six categories, including best picture.
“Minari” is competing for the big Oscar prize alongside “The Father,” “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank,” “Nomadland,” “Promising Young Woman,” “Sound of Metal” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”
Still showing at Circle Cinema, “Minari” tells the story of South Korean immigrants who move to rural Arkansas because the father of a family wants to pursue his version of the American dream.
The film is semi-autobiographical. Lee Isaac Chung, who received Academy Award nominations for best screenplay and best director, is the son of South Korean immigrants. He grew up in Lincoln, Arkansas, near the Oklahoma border. Oklahoma “doubles” for 1980s-era Arkansas in the film.
“My father came to America believing in the romantic dream of what he saw in films like ‘Big Country’ and ‘Giant’ — this fertile land able to yield so much promise,” Chung said in production notes for the film.
“But what I saw is that it was a lot harder than that. The dirt is not forgiving. I remember him out at 2 a.m., in the snow, covering trees. There’s a constant level of risk in farming that so few movies let you feel. I wanted to show some of that, but also, by contrast, reflect on how nature so often offers grace.”
“Minari” also accumulated Oscar nominations for best actor (Steven Yeun), best supporting actress (Yuh-Jung Youn; already a SAG Awards winner) and best original score (by Emile Mosseri).
The awards haul for “Minari” so far includes a Golden Globes triumph for best foreign language film. “Minari” was shunted to that category at the Golden Globes because Korean is the dominant language in the film, which comes with English subtitles.
Tune into ABC’s Academy Awards broadcast at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 25 to see if “Minari” adds any statuettes to its trophy case.
In advance of the awards show, the Tulsa Office of Film, Music, Arts and Culture conducted a series of interviews with Tulsa crew members who worked on the film. The interviews and behind-the-scenes photos were shared with the Tulsa World.
Interview subjects were Andrea Drake (set PA), Clay Flores (camera utility), Stephen Hanan (2nd 2nd assistant director), Drea Carreno (hair department head), Dylan Brodie (unit production manager), Amanda Higo (set costumer) and Todd Ruffin, whose drone company — Midwest Drone Productions — helped with shooting.
Following are excerpts from those interviews. For the full Q&As with each crew member, click on their names above.
Describe your role on “Minari.”
Higo: “My role on ‘Minari’ was the set costumer. I was in charge of making sure every cast member was dressed in the correct costume for the scene we were shooting and making sure it looked the way it was supposed to during every take. For instance, making sure the right number of buttons were buttoned and cuffs were turned. If problems happened while shooting, like a rip, I would need to fix (it) on the spot.
“Since we film multiple different scenes during the day (and the scenes) take place over different days of the story, I made sure everyone was in the right costumes for that ‘story’ day. I’d set the costumes in the dressing rooms or bring changes to set, then clean the costumes at the end of the day and prep for the next day.“
Ruffin: “My company, Midwest Drone Productions, was hired for one day of shooting on July 22, 2019. It’s hard to go at this without mentioning Greg Bollinger. He was running camera on the drone as I piloted the drone. We often work as a team on big productions. It’s the only way to achieve the type of shots that are required. It also helps when there are two of us for communicating with the director of photography and others on set.“
Can you tell us about your experience working on”Minari,” as well as working in the film industry in Tulsa?
Flores: “My experience on ‘Minari’ was an entirely positive one. We had a talented group of individuals in the camera department, which was headed by the director of photography, Lachlin Milne.”
“The heat made for some challenging days but, the morale stayed high on this film. The professionalism and camaraderie of the camera team made for an enjoyable atmosphere, which allowed us to problem-solve quickly and position ourselves for success.”
“Tulsa has been an incredible place to learn the craft of filmmaking. It’s afforded me the opportunities to hone my skills and work on dream projects like ‘Minari,’ which ‘Minari’ was special because I was able to share the experience with many of my Tulsa buds. Most of us are freelance and work all over, so it was super fun to work alongside close peers for an extended period.“
Drake: “Even though I was not on each day of the shoot, I could tell that everyone on set had great energy and was excited about this project. It was great to be able to work on a set that everyone was eager to be a part of. Everyone was so genuine and inviting — it was a true honor to work with the crew!”
Brodie: “‘Minari’ was truly a labor of love. It was honestly the hardest project I’ve ever worked on, but without a doubt the most rewarding. Our cast and crew endured an absolutely brutal Oklahoma summer in 2019, but united to tell a beautiful and poignant story of new beginnings and the people in our lives who support those foundations.
“We united together with very little time and money to tell a story we all believed in. I can’t begin to say how proud I am of everyone that gave their all to share this story with the world. Our filming locations in and around Tulsa helped our outcome, as well.”
Hanan: “When I read the screenplay, it was so well-written I knew I had to work on this film. While the story was specifically about a Korean-American family, it felt universal to the American story. Then once the casting was completed, I was thrilled to be working with such a talented cast. We also had an excellent crew.
“I love working on projects in Tulsa. I don’t get to do it enough. Working in Oklahoma means traveling around the state to film. Tulsa has such beautiful locations and the people here are so friendly and receptive.”
Higo: “I loved working on ‘Minari.’ There was blood, sweat, and tears, but everyone came together to produce a beautiful film. Even with the language barrier for some of the actors and crew, we knew we were making something special and communicated with each other as best as we could.
“It’s so great when I get a chance to make a movie in Tulsa, because then I can sleep in my own bed at night. I love living here, and being able to make a living doing what I love to do in the city that I love is wonderful. It’s also like a mini-family reunion whenever other Tulsa crew are on set. We catch up with each other while we work and make new memories together.“
Ruffin: “We had a two-week notice about the opportunity to work on this film. We were really excited about working on a film in Oklahoma, near Tulsa, where we both live. Working on a film does not always mean you’re close to home. In the film industry you are on a need-to-know basis and we did not know much about the film until a couple of days out. Excitement started to grow when we found out that ‘Plan B productions’ and ‘A24” were making the film. Our time was the ‘magic hour.’ This time is usually when the sun starts to get lower in the sky and the light has more color and is less harsh. On this day the ‘magic hour’ was at 7:20 p.m. until sunset at 8:39 p.m. that day. For that time of the year, we got lucky in Oklahoma and had 10 mph winds and it was 82 degrees. During our time on set leading up to our shot we got to follow some of the action on set. Everything going on in front of us was so on track and moving smoothly.”
Do you have a favorite moment/anecdote from the production of this film?
Carreno: “I have so many favorite moments from ‘Minari.’ One of them is when we were filming the scene with Alan (Kim) and Yuh-Jung Youn where he brought her the Mountain Dew. I knew what was going to happen because of the script, but it was so funny seeing it play out. Another was when we filmed the scenes with Alan and Steven, and then Alan and Yuh-Jung Youn, when they were down in the creek with the Minari. Those were very special scenes. Another one of my favorite moments is everyone teaching me some Korean, but I definitely need to keep working on that.“
Flores: “To be honest, some of the best moments are when the day is done. The cameras are secure, the footage is ready for delivery, we’re off the clock and the camera team can finally chill, maybe have an ice-cold refreshment while rehashing the day.
“One moment definitely stands out to me, and that was the night Oklahoma decided to open up the rain clouds on us while we were burning down a barn. We could not film the fire in the heavy rain, and we couldn’t necessarily push the scene until the next day to wait for the weather to clear up. So, we put rain covers on the cameras and waited for the brief moments where the rain let up.
“It’s moments like that where you can see everyone working in tandem — grips, producers, directors, camera ops — to make sure that despite the odds, the production moves forward, making the most out of the sliver of time that nature afforded us. Those types of moments can be high-stress but, they are also exciting.”
Drake: “One of my favorite moments was right when we wrapped and everyone was so excited and kind and encouraging of one another. The crew was recognizing and thanking people from different departments for working on the film, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to work with one another. It was easy to tell that this film brought people together in a powerful way.”
Brodie: “Isaac Chung’s vision and script are the heart and soul of ‘Minari.’ In the production meeting just before filming began, Isaac told us a tear-jerking story of the people who come into our lives and change them forever for the better — how they can be the heroes that are never recorded in the history books, but we’ll remember them always. There was hardly a dry eye in the room and in that moment, Isaac crystalized the true spirit of ‘Minari’ in one speech.”
Hanan: “During filming, the subject of Cinco de Mayo came up and many of the Korean actors had never heard of it. So, on the last day of filming, a few of us did a surprise Cinco de Mayo celebration at lunch (despite the fact that it was the middle of August). We got decorations and served Mexican food.”
Higo: “One of my favorite memories was working with the young Alan Kim, who was 7 when we filmed. He was a ball of energy and would make the funniest faces every time I would have to take his costume continuity photos. I also had to come up with ways to keep him occupied, like (pretending) he was a dragon who was trying to eat me, or a robot who was malfunctioning. ... One of the craziest filming days was when we were filming the barn burning down during the night and we had a true Oklahoma thunderstorm roll in and drench us. We managed to get the coverage we needed, but we were a soppy, muddy mess at 4 a.m.“
Ruffin: “There were a lot of familiar faces from the Oklahoma film industry, and it made me proud. We spent a lot of time close to where the trailer home in the movie scenes are. I remember actually seeing some of the actors and also seeing the kid, Alan Kim, on set. They could only use him for so many hours because of child labor laws. When our time came, we hopped on some ATVs and headed for the pasture. There is just an old tractor parked in the field with the actor Steven Yeun climbing up on it. This would be the scene where he starts to plow for his crops.
“The DP told us he wanted the top-down shot of the tractor. That meant flying over the actor to get the shot, which did add more pressure as the pilot in command. We were probably about 50 feet over the tractor as Greg worked closely with the DP to make sure the exposure was good and composition was good. He then just let us do our thing, following the tractor. This literally took about 10 minutes for this shot. After the shot was over, they turned us loose for some landscape beauty shots following the sundown. It was all a big adrenaline rush for me and Greg. Even though we had a small part in the film we felt like it was something good to be a part of. We had no idea how good it would be until it won the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize Sundance Film festival in 2020.”
What are your thoughts on the future of film in Tulsa?
Flores: “I think Tulsa film is on a great trajectory. I have been involved in the Tulsa filmmaking community for the past 10 years, and it has been enjoyable to watch the type of film jobs diversify. There are many knowledgeable film professionals in Tulsa right now. I am happy to see that more production companies choose to come to Oklahoma and hire our local talent.“
Drake: “The future of film in Tulsa is promising. As someone who has been getting involved for two years now, the opportunities are so much more prominent than I had imagined. I have been in the perfect place to grow and learn in this industry. If you’re in Tulsa and you’re in film, you’re in the perfect place!”
Brodie: “Tulsa film is on the rise and, with the outpouring of support within our community, there’s nowhere to go but up. Each year, we manage to raise the bar a little higher, and I don’t see that trend slowing.”
Hanan: “I am working on a new series for FX called ‘Reservation Dogs’ in Tulsa right now. It is an amazing project that will hopefully bring more attention to what Tulsa has to offer a production.”
Higo: I’m so excited about the future of film in Tulsa. I think it’s only going to get better and busier. We have so many beautiful, unique locations in this area and I think as more infrastructure becomes available we’re going to see more creative projects being accomplished here. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!”
Ruffin: “The film industry is definitely strong in Tulsa and all of Oklahoma. I have been lucky to be a part of several small budget films being produced right here in Tulsa. We worked on the film ‘Unplugging’ and recently worked with three different entities on the Tulsa Race Massacre documentaries and features. Most of those people are from out-of-town big cities. They are really impressed with Tulsa and the professional crews we have here in Oklahoma. The diversity of the Oklahoma landscape make film scouting fun. There are old looks, new looks, rural, and city.”