Prairie Surf Studios Presents New Opportunities for OCCC Students

By Caleb Barrick

In less than a year, Prairie Surf Studios has become perhaps the biggest voice representing filmmaking in Oklahoma.

However, make no mistake, while some might think Prairie Surf to be the new kid on the block, for the co-founders, this is far from their first rodeo.

Co-founders, Matt Payne and Rachel Cannon both have years of experience in the film industry in Los Angeles and before that, got their start working under Gray Frederickson who started the Digital Cinema Production program here at OCCC.

After coming back to Oklahoma, Payne and Cannon started Prairie Surf as a way to bring more films to Oklahoma, as well as bringing more jobs in film to Oklahomans.

One big way that Prairie Surf is providing aspiring Oklahoma filmmakers with opportunities at getting into the industry is their intern program.

“Workforce is the core of the success of this business. We’ve got to have people working as construction, grip, camera. But the other piece is that we are creating opportunities for students to come and learn,” Payne said of the internship program. 

Within the process of hiring interns, there are three main categories interns can be placed in, depending on their interests.

The first category is content creation. This is for people who are interested in the writing, shooting and editing process.

“What they’re all doing is they’re helping us create our content, they’re helping us create our social media assets, our promo videos,” Payne said.

The second category is for people who prefer the hands-on aspect to filmmaking. Interns will be placed on sets working in grip, electric and camera departments, getting hands-on experience.

The third category is for people who are more corporate or executive-minded and what this group focuses on is working with people and organizations, often doing things like event planning.

There are several interns and employees at Prairie Surf who are former students at OCCC.

“The OCCC students are extremely impressive. The program that Gray Frederickson created at OCCC has given students access to equipment and has gotten students used to thinking like production people,” Payne said.

Hunter, a former OCCC student in the DCP program, said the program is a great opportunity. 

“Going through the program at OCCC will get you the opportunity to be on a set. They recognize the validity of students who come from OCCC. Just keep ensuring that you’re not only completing the task you’re doing but look for other places to help,” he said. 

Hunter is now a studio manager at Prairie Surf.

“There’s no chance I’d be here had it not been for OCCC,” Hunter said. “OCCC gave the skills to be on sets, and the biggest thing is to not slow a set down.”

Hunter’s interests lie in the production side of film. He spoke about how working at Prairie Surf has helped him to pursue his passion.

“By getting in on the ground floor at Prairie Surf, it’s allowed me to really see the productions from the stage manager perspective as well as network with some of the biggest people in the industry,” Hunter said. “It’s growing my network as well as allowing me to understand the production needs from a logistical standpoint.”

Payne noted a big opportunity is available for Oklahomans who want to get into the film industry locally.

Oklahoma City Community College is partnering with Prairie Surf to put on a Grip and Electric Intensive at the beginning of 2022, starting Jan. 3.

“It is, to me, the single most important partnership that Prairie Surf has. We have to address a shortage of available workforce,” Payne said.

The intensive will be a five week, five days a week course, running from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“If your objective is to work in film, this is the program for you. Think if you could get a four-year college degree, and at the end, you got the job of your dreams and you could do it in two months,” Payne said.

Anyone interested in the Grip and Electric Intensive can sign up at: https://www.occc.edu/grip-electric/

Payne emphasized punctuality and initiative for students and hopeful filmmakers in Oklahoma. 

“If a line producer is looking at resumes and ‘OCCC graduate’ is on there; someone who’s been through the entire program, it tells me that they have a fundamental understanding of sets so that will get you considered. What will get you the job, is persistence, assertiveness, and then doing the job once you’re there,” Payne said. 

Payne is extremely excited and hopeful of Oklahoma’s future in the film industry.

“My hope is that in five years, the content that is being shot in Oklahoma is written, directed, and stars Oklahomans and that those projects are then distributed internationally in a way that changes the way the world thinks about Oklahoma for the better,” he said.