A profile on Matt Payne written for the Oklahoma Venture Forum on the subject of The Community Effort to Grow Oklahoma’s Film Industry.

The domino of events for Prairie Surf Media’s formation started in 2000 when Gray Frederickson moved back to Oklahoma and started the Oklahoma Film Institute. Rachel Cannon and Matt Payne were among the first of those students. The two pursued film careers outside of Oklahoma, but they eventually found themselves back in the state.

“After a little bit of chat, and discussing perhaps the idea of making a film, or writing something together, [Rachel Cannon and I] decided that maybe it would be more exciting to begin to work to add to the existing infrastructure in Oklahoma so that we could have an even more robust and thriving film community here,” said Matt Payne, co-founder and co-CEO of Prairie Surf Media. “And we’ve been doing it ever since.”

On January 1, 2021, Prairie Surf Media took over the venue, formerly known as Cox Convention Center, through a tenant agreement with the City of Oklahoma City. The venue, now known as Prairie Surf Studios, boasts five flexible, state-of-the-art soundstages with all the amenities needed to create new worlds. Payne explained soundstages are soundproof rooms where productions can build their sets, avoid outdoor elements, and shoot in a more cost-efficient way. While the former Convention is ideal for soundstages, the facility has received upgrades to better suit productions over the past several months. 

“We pulled 10,000 pounds worth of buzzy lights and old speakers out of the ceiling, replaced it with LED lights,” said Payne. “We treated the walls with soundproofing, and we built vestibules on the far end of the building so that we create a barrier, an extra door barrier between the street and the sound-stage.”

In addition to building soundstages, Prairie Surf Media worked to build up the state film incentive and the local workforce. With partnerships with OCU, Oklahoma City Community College and several career techs, including Metro Tech and Francis Tuttle, Prairie Surf Media is training people. Students learn how to work and function on an actual film set. 

“Since then, about 30 of those individuals have gone on to work on different productions in Oklahoma,” said Payne. “It’s been a really successful program, and we take a lot of pride in the fact that we’re not only bringing an industry here, but we’re that industry is creating jobs, and giving paths to kids like Rachel and I, that want to get in the entertainment industry.”

Matt Payne will be speaking at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, December 8, 2021. The event will be open to guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM. Payne said they’ve been able to pursue this business by “standing on the shoulders of giants” from Oklahoma filmmakers such as Gray Frederickson, Lance McDaniel, and many others, including government officials.

“We’ve only been able to do this because of our partnerships with, particularly, Oklahoma City, and getting into this facility, and the state for putting an incentive in place, and state leadership, you know, Senator Roger Thompson, Chuck Hall, Representatives Fetgatter and Hill,” said Payne. “There were so many leaders that have played a role in getting us here. [Prairie Surf Media] is a very, very small start-up in a very big building, but, really, the truth is that this is a city, state, and community project that we’re all sort of proud of. And we think very much of Oklahoma as a whole, as our partner in this project.”