The kid (from Ardmore) stays in the picture
Dinner and conversation with James Payne, a Tulsa-based filmmaker and co-founder of FieldGuide Media.
“I’ll have a cheeseburger,” I say. “With sweet potato fries. And a beer.”
James Payne, my supper companion, ordered a beer and a salad.
“Oh, are you a vegetarian?” I ask. Then I add, clumsily, trying not to sound like Jerry Seinfeld, “I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
“Nah,” Payne says. “I’m just in detox right now, after all that barbecue down in Austin.”
Payne and I were dining back in March, a few days after his return from the fabled South by Southwest (or “SXSW”) yearly music and film bonanza in Austin, Texas.
The 2009 SXSW was a pretty big deal for Payne, actually — and for FieldGuide Media, the film and video production company he co-founded in 2006. With dual offices in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, FieldGuide handles productions for both commercial and TV broadcast programming, as well as Web content and original films.
I’d heard the general story, but I ask Payne to give me the SXSW specifics. I was also curious to learn how he got into the film production biz to begin with.
For openers, most of the films on which FieldGuide works are documentaries.
“Asking questions, seeking out the truth — it’s simply the kind of storytelling that I enjoy the most,” he says. “As the storyteller, or as the listener.”
Enter SXSW. During that festival, FieldGuide presented two feature-length documentary films: “Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo” (for which Payne was the producer) and “Winnebago Man” (which he co-produced). The former profiles several female inmates in the Oklahoma state prison system as they compete in the yearly prison rodeo in McAlester. The latter is a “This American Life”-like saga about a filmmaker who sets out to find and interview a certain salesman who unwittingly became the star of one of the most widely viewed viral videos ever circulated.
Reviewers had been kind to both films. Things were looking up.
‘“Sweethearts’ did especially well at the festival,” Payne adds. “An agent in New York had been working to position the film for sale upon its completion. And as luck would have it, during South by Southwest, a large cable channel purchased the film for U.S. broadcast.”
Which cable channel, you ask? He couldn’t say. Not at the time, anyway.
But such good news got me wondering, as second beers were being ordered and plates were being cleared, about how Payne first got into the film game, and when.
Born and raised in Ardmore, he studied geology at the University of Oklahoma, thereafter working for the Environmental Protection Agency, and later as an environmental consultant.
“But I got tired of the corporate side of things,” he admits. “I guess I’m still sort of a science geek at heart, but I’ve been into films — and into sound and lights and cameras, all that technical moviemaking stuff — for quite a while, too.”
Payne worked in a video store while at OU. He also ran with a crowd of creative types, most of them movie buffs and film students. He says he was trained “on the job” while constantly helping out on their various film projects.
Some of these, in turn, eventually would become critically acclaimed films. A few examples of such include the FieldGuide projects “Okie Noodling,” “The Creek Runs Red” and “The Flaming Lips: U.F.O.s at the Zoo.”
Given that kind of track record, and given his hands-on and homegrown training in filmcraft, I ask Payne, just after our checks arrive: “So do you see yourself as a part of some sort of emergent Oklahoma-based filmmaking scene?”
“I absolutely do,” he answers. “There’s cool stuff happening; I think you could say that the productivity and quality have really risen as of late. And I’m reminded of the term ‘new-regionalist,’ which has been used to describe some of the films I’ve produced and co-directed with Bradley Beesley. While these films sometimes deal with subjects that are specific to Oklahoma, they also suggest broader themes and larger meanings. And that’s pretty much what I love about documentaries — that broader, larger potential. “
Scott Gregory hosts “All This Jazz” on Public Radio 89.5 KWGS, where he also serves as the producer and editor of “Studio Tulsa.”