Hollywood came to the Hill when the cast and crew of an Oklahoma-based film production company were at Rogers State University to film scenes for the FX series “Reservation Dogs.” The show filmed on campus May 15 and 16.
Executive produced by Taika Waititi and Holdenville native Sterlin Harjo, “Reservation Dogs” is an Indigenous American comedy-drama series that follows the lives of four indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma as they spend their days alternately committing crimes and fighting it. The series is the first of its kind to feature an almost entirely Indigenous North American cast and production team and the first to be filmed entirely in Oklahoma.
The idea to use RSU as a filming location was born out of the relationship between Harjo and RSU Professor Dr. Hugh Foley, whose primary areas of scholarship are American studies with an emphasis on Oklahoma music and culture, Native American studies, and cinema.
“I coordinate Native American studies classes here (at RSU) and have since 1998,” Foley said. “In that capacity, I invited Sterlin here to show his first feature film – ‘Barking Water’ – here on campus in the auditorium. That’s where I first met him.”
Foley said that he and Harjo conversed about various facets of the film, especially the Muscogee Creek hymns featured in the film. These were of particular interest to Foley due to his extensive background and historical research on the hymns.
Out of these conversations, Harjo gained inspiration for his project, “This May Be the Last Time,” a 2014 film about his grandfather who went missing in 1962 after his car crashed on a rural bridge in Sasakwa, Oklahoma. The film incorporates Seminole and Muscogee songs of faith and hope, about which Foley is interviewed and featured in the film. Through his involvement, he attended the film’s premiere with Harjo at the Cannes Film Festival.
Since then, the two have remained friends, even making presentations together over the years, so when Harjo had some specific settings in mind for the upcoming season of his series, he reached out to Foley about the possibility of filming at RSU.
“About a month ago, Sterlin’s location manager called me to ask about coming here to shoot some scenes (for ‘Reservation Dogs’),” Foley said. “They sent out a scout with a camera to take pictures of campus. They had very specific settings in mind, and they liked what they saw here. So then, the production designer came out to see if, based on the photographs, those spaces they liked would be appropriate for what they had in mind.
“After that, the artistic team came out. That included the director, Blackhorse Lowe, who directed a couple of episodes of the series, and lastly was the technical team, who worked out the details on where the equipment would go and how to best film the scenes,” he said.
Principal filming took place May 15 and 16 at Loshbaugh Hall, the Health Sciences Building and Markham Hall, with modifications made to the buildings’ interiors and exteriors as required by the script. The particulars of the scenes and their context within the overall series will remain under wraps until the episodes air, Foley said.
“So much of the cast and crew are from Oklahoma, so they work very well together, they have a specific attitude about the whole production and are all whipsmart,” he said. “You can tell they work together a lot. It may be cliched, but it’s a well-oiled machine and I’m sure that will be reflected in the finished product.”
Overall, Foley – who was used as an extra – said the feedback he got from the filmmakers was that the experience was a “very positive” one, with several remarking to him about the professionalism of those helping with the shoot and the ease of their time at RSU.
Does this mean the crew could be coming back to RSU in the future to film more scenes?
“I think it’s a little premature to speculate about future (filming) opportunities, but they were all very positive with regards to the location,” he said. “It’s possible that we have other settings that they might want to use in the future. We’ll have to wait and see.
“In addition to the notoriety of the crew shooting here, this was a great opportunity for us to make other people aware of what we’ve got going on here on campus. We have a really nice environment that’s certainly welcoming to those in the film industry,” he said. “One of our students was given the opportunity to shadow the crew, to work alongside them, which could set up a potential internship for his senior year. That’s certainly the best we could hope for our students.”
Season three of “Reservation Dogs” premieres Aug. 2.
Rogers State University’s Department of Fine Arts is equipped with art classrooms, studios, labs, darkrooms, rehearsal spaces and a gallery to meet students’ needs before, during and after the art-making process. The department currently offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in visual arts, an Associate of Arts in Native American studies, and minors in fine arts.
For more information about the university’s Department of Fine Arts, visit www.rsu.edu/finearts.