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OU’s People, Places Connected to Oscar-nominated Film

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Monnet Hall in the background, featuring actors Cillian Murphy, Lily Gladstone ,and an Academy Award overlaying the building.

OU’s People, Places Connected to Oscar-nominated Film

March 12, 2024

NORMAN, OK – Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of the author David Gann’s 2017 book Killers of the Flower Moon entered the 96th Academy Awards with 10 nominations — and multiple connections to the University of Oklahoma. 

Principal photography took place April to October of 2021 in Osage County, Oklahoma, primarily within Bartlesville, Fairfax and Pawhuska. Scorsese and his production crew took advantage of OU’s proximity to the filming locations, using several OU Weitzenhoffer Family College Fine Arts students, alumni and faculty during various stages of filming.

School of Music musicology professor Jake Johnson was hired as a principal actor for a 1920s-era pianist. 

“The scene was a big outdoor dance party, and our band was seated on a band stand in the street,” he said. “My old upright piano was stuffed with moving blankets so I could press the keys, but no sound would come out.”

Preparation for the scene took a week while Johnson and the rest of his fictional band – musicians located across the country – spent their downtime jamming and improvising together. In honor of their week spent in a Ponca City hotel, the band dubbed itself the Poncatones.

Two nights of filming in the hot Oklahoma summer in Pawhuska resulted in only a quick appearance in the film following the inevitable editing process. 

Johnson enjoyed the opportunity to appear in a major motion picture and to be “within throwing distance of (Robert) DeNiro, (Leonardo) DiCaprio and Scorsese.

“I was really tickled to see my name in the credits,” he added.

In addition to Johnson’s shot, Killers of the Flower Moon required many scenes that called for 1920s-era Oklahoma extras. The production company employed the services of Freihofer Casting, an Oklahoma-based casting office for film, television and commercials in the state and beyond led by Chris Freihofer, Helmrich School of Drama acting instructor and alumnus.

Freihofer’s involvement with Killers lasted two years, picking up steam from February to September of 2021, when he was hands on in the day-to-day process of production. 

“We did extras casting, open calls, some principal casting coordination and more,” Freihofer said. “We had several School of Drama students and alums who worked for multiple days as extras.”

Freihofer’s extras casting associate, Jennifer Rader, who graduated from the OU School of Dance, earned a small role as Sarah Butler in the film. 

A shot of Monnet Hall can be seen in the film’s introduction in which actors in Native American dress are shown shooting bows and arrows at targets on campus. Noting that shooting for the scene required two days, political science professor Michael Crespin, whose office is near the front door, jokingly requested a film credit during shooting.

“I told people where the bathrooms were located when they would ask,” Crespin said with a laugh.

The university’s special research collections are also connected to the winner of the 2024 Best Picture award, Oppenheimer. As this story from Oklahoma City ABC affiliate KOCO shows, Crespin worked in archives at the Carl Albert Center to explore the connection between Oklahoma Senator Elmer Thomas and the Manhattan Project.

Senator Thomas held the position of Chairman on the Subcommittee on War Appropriations during World War II. His job tasked him with managing the war's finances. The development and production of the atomic bombs were among the projects he helped fund.

“I think behind any big thing that we read about or what happens,” Crespin told KOCO. “There are a lot of people who appear to play a small part, but actually has huge consequences.”

Oppenheimer took home seven of the 10 awards they were nominated for. Killers of the Flower Moon came up empty handed, but members of the Osage Nation Tribal Singers featured in the film’s finale stole the show with a performance that earned them a standing ovation.

While the film blazed a trail on multiple levels, namely for representation of Indigenous actors and issues, the impact it had on the state of Oklahoma’s film industry will reverberate for years to come. 

About the University of Oklahoma

Founded in 1890, the University of Oklahoma is a public research university located in Norman, Oklahoma. As the state’s flagship university, OU serves the educational, cultural, economic and health care needs of the state, region and nation. OU was named the state’s highest-ranking university in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent Best Colleges list. For more information about the university, visit ou.edu.


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