Interview by Daniel Grignon (Menominee), with Margaret Sagan,
Film and Video Center, NMAI
I read in an interview that you grew up listening to music from
your parent's generation, what are you listening to today? Does
this translate into your films or influence your soundtrack?
SH: It was small-town Oklahoma; I wasn't really exposed
to much music, so I listened to all my dad's and them's favorite
musicJanis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, whatever. After I left
[home] I got into punk and stuff like that. It just sort of opened
up a door into all the music that was out there. I listen to everything
music definitely has an influence on everything I write. Because
I listen to music when I write, I usually find a few songs that
kind of fit the tone of the project that I'm working on; I put
them on a loop and play them and write while I'm listening to
music, usually like Tom Waits and Bob Dylan.
DG: What are some goals as a writer/director that you
would like to accomplish?
SH: I would like to be able to work on scripts as a rewriter
I'd also like to direct TV; I would love to do episodic TV, get
a chance to work on a series.
DG: A Native series?
SH: A Native series, yeah, but I just want to be able
to make films that I want to make, usually involving Native people.
I want it to reach a bigger audience than it has so far, and I
think that if we can tap into the mainstream a bitit's going
to have to be the right project to go hugebut I think that
if something does go big, then the rest of us will be helped out...and
more people will come see them because there are Natives in them.
DG: Are you guys going to start something predominantly
in Oklahoma, with other filmmakers, or do you guys basically work
We're working on a project together but also with another Native
filmmaker in Oklahoma right now, Nathan
Young, a documentary project. He's also got a feature screenplay,
that were not collectively working on (points to Sterlin) but
that I'm working on. But yeah, we would love to see Oklahoma step
up and more filmmakers rise to the surface [who we would] be able
to work with and have that community there.
SH: It's funny because people think we do have a community,
but we really don't.
DG: It sounds like you guys are gaining momentum though
CB: Yeah, we have these two films; this feature helped
out tremendously. And Nathan has a pretty good documentary project,
I think, chances anyway.
SH: Also, with more projects, I think it will get more
people interested in coming to Oklahoma and helping out working
on filmsI would go work on Blackhorse
Lowe's films in New Mexico just to help out, just like he
helps me. We try to help each other in that way, so there is a
community, but we're not all in Oklahoma. It would be nice if
we were, instead of LA.
DG: What other genres do you hope to explore as a filmmaker?
SH: I would love to do a horror film. I don't know if
I have one in me that I could write, but I'd like to do one. Also,
I would like to do straight comedy.
DG: I saw your Superfly
shorts and I wanted to ask how was working with youth when
they developed films from your story "Fish?"
SH: It was cool, I wasn't a direct mentor, I just wrote
the script....but it was cool going [to Seattle] and seeing the
films that they all made. They were all different and they were
all really cool. It was really satisfying
I would love to
do it again.
DG: Was it more than what you envisioned it to be?
SH: It was. I didn't think the films would be that good.
They only had like 36 hours and they were just going around the
clock. I was pretty blown away to see the films, better than I
expected for sure.
DG: Do you want to mention distribution for Four
Sheets to the Wind?
CB: The film has been picked up for home video and the
pay cable market. It comes out...November, December, somewhere
around then. We're still looking for a theatrical release.
DG: What was your experience in the Feature Film Labs
at the Sundance Institute?
SH: It was cool. It was like going to boot camp. I learned
so muchyou're working all the time. I never had worked with
a crew before...I couldn't have made a film without that experience.
I wouldn't have wanted to, I learned so much. A lot of it is a
confidence thing, you get confidence because you're asked to come
do this thing.
DG: How was the application process?
SH: I met Bird Runningwater [Sundance Institute Native
Initiative program] when he spoke at the University of Oklahoma.
I told him I had a script; I sent it to him. It was the first
script that I wrote, it wasn't that good. I didn't get in, but
they liked it enough to keep in touch with me. And he asked me
to submit when I had another one. So I had another one and I sent
it in and got in.
DG: It seems like a lot of young Native people want to
do stuff but don't think they will get in if they apply.
SH: You know, you have to try. I was just 23 or 24 whenever
I got in; I was in collegeI'm still surprised.
CB: You know it's not anywhere near the support [needed],
but those organizations or groups out therethere's opportunity
there...you go up and hand your script to somebody, pretty soon
it'll get passed around, someone says something to someone else
andIndian Country is small, we're a tight group.
SH: Pretty soon you're showing your movie at the Smithsonian.
CB: Yeah, next thing you know you're all over the place.
DG: That's a part of what our Website is about, trying
to get young Native people to take advantage of the opportunities
that are out there. Do you have any advice for any aspiring directors/filmmakers?
SH: Yeah, you've got to get your work out there. Don't
be shy about it not being good, because it's not going to be good
at the beginning, it's not gonna be perfect. And that's what it's
all about: the process of learning. But you have to take the initial
steps to try and get your work to somebody. You just can't be
shy about it. That's what I think is the biggest issue.
CB: I agree. Use whatever you can and don't be afraid
to talk to people. Self promote and push yourself a little bit,
which seems like an inherent contradiction to a lot of Indian
people. Don't be shy to ask for help.
SH: Especially being Native, you kind of grow up not being
too proud or whatever, but you really have to break that habit
and stand tall and say "Hey, I got work that I want people
DG: I think that's about it. Margaret, any questions?
MS: I'd like to hear about that tax incentives program
a little bit.
CB: Sure, my company is called Indion Entertainment Group.
I got idea back in law school, looking at guys doing energy projects
in Indian Country, taking advantage of Federal incentives. I decided,
"Film is a business, why couldn't we bring film into Indian
It got taken away from the Federal side and put into the state
business credit, which has nothing to do with Indians at all.
We've gone in and structured a model under Oklahoma law that allows
us to take advantage of state business credits that were not created
for film but were created to bring businesses into Oklahoma.
Basically, it gives money up front to film projects. [In] a lot
of states right now have a spend it to get it, a kind of rebateyou
come in and spend X amount of dollars and at the end of production,
once they can verify you spent everything, they will give you
a check back at a percentage of what you spent.
Whereas ours is: if your budget is a million dollars, we give
you 15% upfront so you don't have to go raise that 15%; you just
have to come in with 85% of that budget, we provide the other
15%. And then ours works with the state's filmspecific credits.
So, between our private credit and the state's public credit
it makes Oklahoma pretty attractive. I think were sitting at about
25 to 30 %, depending on what you spend, which in the national
"race" to incentivize film and to bring it into the
state. Thirty per cent is as high as any of them have gotten except
for Puerto Rico. So, we're in the race; we're trying to bring
films in now, we have one were doing now and were looking for
MS: With the Centennial coming up is that bringing more
CB: No, no (laughs). We got approved in the fall and just
since the fall we've been really pushing it. The state just revamped
their film incentive program so that it's made the state more
attractive to lower budgeted films. We're getting a lot of callsa
lot more people are calling wanting to make movies in Oklahoma,
but it takes a little while for films to get everything together.
We hope more films will be there.
SH: He'll be the next Bob or Harvey Weinstein. (laughs)
Image credits: Sterlin
Harjo and Chad Burris - photograph by James Kinestino (Saulteaux);
Chad Burris and Sterlin Harjo - photograph by James Kinestino
(Saulteaux); Sterlin Harjo - photograph by James Kinestino (Saulteaux);
Chad Burris - photograph by James Kinestino (Saulteaux)