Plans for moviemaking generate excitement in Osage County

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Excitement began to bubble last week as Pawhuskans sensed the long-awaited movie project to adapt the book "Killers of the Flower Moon" to film is on the brink of beginning.

Pawhuska business owners and emergency personnel from the area met last week with Location Department personnel associated with the upcoming "Gray Horse" project in Osage County, and got a better idea of the scope and schedule of the effort.

Location Manager Mike Fantasia, a veteran of about 30 years in the movie business, met with emergency services personnel on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 27, at the Pawhuska Community Center. He also met Thursday evening at the Ag Building at the Osage County Fairgrounds with business owners.

Fantasia told emergency services personnel -- including emergency management, fire, police and emergency medical representatives -- to anticipate an overall filming project of about 93 days, beginning about April  12, in Pawhuska, Fairfax and places in between.

Steve Tolson, of the Tolson Agency on Kihekah Avenue, said that business owners were told to expect perhaps 20 to 25 days of work in the downtown Pawhuska area.

"I think there was an excitement in the room," Tolson said of the Jan. 28 meeting for business owners. "They have made a commitment to the community and I am excited to have them coming."

In the downtown area, the portion of Kihekah Avenue between about 6th Street and 8th Street is expected to become a movie set for a while. There will be dirt on the street, and Fantasia said he anticipates an engineer will be consulted about the fine points of drainage.

Fantasia said preparatory work had already been done regarding Osage County weather patterns. The National Weather Service had been consulted, and there will also likely be consultations with private weather forecasters, he said.

"Weather can really throw us a curveball," Fantasia said.

He added that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the moviemaking operation will work. What was already a safety-conscious industry has become even more attuned to potential health threats, Fantasia said, noting "very, very strict guidelines that our studio has given us."

"It's like a Western," Fantasia said of the film, in that it is a rural project. He said there is concern about tornadoes, other big wind events, thunder and lightning.

Fantasia asked Jan. 27 about fire districts, ambulance service districts, and coordination with responding agencies. The Osage County Sheriff's Office said movie crews can call 911 and the proper response organization for any particular film shooting area will be dispatched.

Fantasia indicated some details, such as cellular telephone service, would be tested for various locations. Also, instead of shutting down roads and highways, movie crews will coordinate with law enforcement for traffic control services as needed, he said.

"A lot of times we have a police officer every day," Fantasia said, adding there would likely be conversations with law enforcement about hiring some of their personnel on a temporary basis.

In Pawhuska, Fantasia mentioned plans to build a train station at the site of the old station. There may be 400 to 500 extras on Kihekah at times, he said. Probably there will be some night work on Kihekah Avenue and in Fairfax, he said. The film crews will work Monday through Friday weeks for the most part, but perhaps work on five or six Saturdays, as well, he said.

"Extras are never left unattended," Fantasia said, explaining that extras recruited for the filming are given thorough guidance. Filming in downtown Pawhuska should be concluded well ahead of events such as July 4 celebrations, he said.

Fantasia said he expects this will be an "epic" film project, with a top director, first-rate filmmakers and a great script.

Tolson said that Fantasia made a firm offer of cooperation with local business interests.

"He was very adamant about their willingness to work with the local businesses if there are any issues," Tolson said.

About 95 percent of the movie will likely be shot in Osage County, and the work in Pawhuska is anticipated to include the erection of the train station structure across from Allen Brothers Feed & Supply, Tolson said he had learned.

Cody Garnett, owner of the Ben Johnson Cowboy Museum at 6th and Leahy, said he is excited about the movie project and thinks it will be good for local tourism for a long time to come.

"I think we're going to have visitors forever because of this movie," Garnett said.

The film will focus on the events that author David Grann researched for his bestselling book, "Killers of the Flower Moon," which dealt with the murders of citizens of the Osage Nation by individuals intent on separating them from their oil wealth.