News Column

Locals watch Oklahoma premier of 'August: Osage County' at Circle Cinema

November 7, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 07--The highly anticipated film "August: Osage County" made its Oklahoma premiere Wednesday night, and it didn't matter to those in attendance that neither Meryl Streep nor Julia Roberts was on hand to walk a red carpet.

Oklahoma itself was the star of this evening at Circle Cinema, where many in attendance arrived from the communities of Pawhuska, Barnsdall, Bartlesville and more where filming took place. Some were local officials who helped facilitate the production shoot, while others who were chosen to be extras in the film were excited to see themselves on the big screen -- if they made the final cut.

All were excited to be among the first Oklahomans to see the movie, which is already being touted as an awards-season contender, and most were not disappointed, citing the acting of many stars -- especially Streep in the scene-stealing role of family matriarch Violet Weston -- and the writing.

The Oklahoma Film & Music Office set up the screenings as a thank-you to those Oklahomans who helped make the production a reality in the Osage County area, which is the setting of Tulsa native Tracy Letts' play about a family tragedy bringing everyone together, only to see various sins and secrets tear them apart.

One of the playwright's biggest proponents was among those excited to see "August: Osage County" on the big-screen for the first time at the Circle Cinema on Wednesday.

"The movie was very powerful, and it made me cry. So many of those stories are true," said Billie Letts, the playwright's mother, whose own book "Where the Heart Is" was adapted into a film. "I have no more secrets."

Also invited to Wednesday night's screening -- and a simultaneous showing in Oklahoma City -- were a number of state legislators, who will be asked to reconsider allowing the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate to expire.

The state offers up to 37 percent on Oklahoma expenditures to qualifying companies filming in the state, and the production of "August: Osage County" spent about $15 million in Oklahoma during filming, Film Office Director Jill Simpson said previously. That resulted in more than $5 million going back to the production in the form of tax rebates.

Lawmakers who came to see how the state's money was spent had varied opinions on the film, as well as the rebate.

"I am a major proponent of the film program. I can remember when 'Twister' was shot and the farmers made more off their land being hit by a tornado than they did from what they were producing," said state Rep. Steve Vaughn, who represents Osage County.

"I know why we're here, and I can tell those from other parts of the state that when something like this comes knocking on your door, you'll be sitting here like me saying it's a great thing."

As for the family dysfunction on the screen? "I know there's dysfunction everywhere, but those didn't look like any Osage County families I know," he said.

State Rep. Sean Roberts, who also represents Osage County, was impressed by the acting in the movie, and "those hills, and seeing the Triangle Building in Pawhuska and the oil well on Main Street in Barnsdall -- that's Osage County," he said, adding that he's "still thinking about" the film enhancement program.

State Rep. Eric Proctor said he was disappointed after watching "August: Osage County."

"I was disappointed in the film and the way that it portrayed Oklahoma in a negative light," Proctor said of the project as a film rebate choice. "If it's an independent film and they come here and spend their own money, that's one thing, but when tax dollars are involved, they have to be held to a higher standard."

"August: Osage County" won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and multiple Tony Awards on Broadway before becoming a star-studded film produced by George Clooney and featuring an ensemble cast that also includes Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis and Benedict Cumberbatch.

The cast and crew made their way to Oklahoma for two months in the fall of 2012 to shoot largely in the rural Boulanger area of far northern Osage County at the Boulanger House, named after the original owner.

The "August: Osage County" production company purchased it (listed for $249,900) because the 1918 Sears kit home so closely resembled the three-story house employed in Letts' play.

The cast lived for eight weeks in Bartlesville, where the director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau acted as a local liasion for the production.

"They were great to work with, and for all that time it was those people eating out in our restaurants, buying things they needed," said Maria Swindell-Gus, who had experience with the Ben Affleck film "To the Wonder" prior to assisting the "August: Osage County" cast and crew.

"Having a film in our community is like having a really long convention, with people needing to eat and somewhere to stay and needing necessities."

Richard and Deborah Foster, a Tulsa directing/producing team whose movie "So This is Christmas" was shot in Tulsa and received Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate dollars, praised "August: Osage County" ("This is the kind of movie that you want to have made in your state," Richard Foster said.) and spoke bluntly about their next film project.

"We're already working on it, and it will make a big difference if the film rebate comes through," he said, adding that even though Tulsa is his home, the rebate is so important to independent filmmakers that if it isn't continued, "we would have to consider going somewhere else, maybe Louisiana, that does have the rebate."

"August: Osage County" is scheduled for release in theaters on Christmas Day.

REVIEW

The look of "August: Osage County" just felt right while watching the Oklahoma premiere of the film on Wednesday night, and it was something more than being in a communal auditorium with people applauding the appearance of longtime Pawhuska favorite Sally's Cafe on the big-screen.

It was in the beautiful images of wide-open spaces and those golden summer sunsets. It was in Chickasaw artist Mike Larsen's mural on the side of a downtown building. It was Meryl Streep on the porch, telling one of the saddest stories you will ever hear, while competing to be heard among the call of the cicadas.

The gravel roads, hay bales and wildflowers are those that any Oklahoman could recognize, but you can't help but smile when the authenticity runs deeper than that: It's one thing to see Julia Roberts wearing a Sooners football T-shirt, but when you see lunch being served on Frankoma pottery, you know that someone with this film production did their research on our state.

Some Oklahomans will also recognize the deeply dysfunctional Weston family and the family get-together that goes all wrong, while some may not recognize the people they see on screen and will wonder why Hollywood would depict our state in such a fashion.

But that's the power of "August: Osage County," which was written by an Oklahoman about Oklahomans: Go beyond the particular sins, and you find something universal: the pain that has touched many families, and which has resonated with audiences around the world who have seen Tracy Letts' play.

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(c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)

Visit Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) at www.tulsaworld.com

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