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Saturday November 18th 2017

Left of Center and Right about Oklahoma Films

Oklahomans driving down Interstate 77 are traversing through an area where director Dave Norman shot a physiological thriller a couple of years ago.

This film, “Left Center,” grew from his appreciation for the landscape and talent that exist and continues to thrive in the Sooner State. Shot in 2011, its plot follows the lives of a small town police chief and a state trooper — played by Jason Wilkinson, Bryson Baker, respectively — as they converge in the effort to solve a series of murders along the desolate highway.

Norman has made several short films, but “Left of Center” is his first full-length feature film. Originally from Florida, he said the muted brown land in Oklahoma struck him because it differed from the lush, green scenery that is common in his home state.

“Just driving down this road — the landscape is beautiful,” Norman said. “It’s totally different than I am used to, but I found the beauty in this landscape and it inspired me to sit down with a writer and say ‘hey, can we tell a story about this road?’ There was something inspiring — I can’t my finger on it — about I-77.”

Norman and encapsulates this fascination for this road through a series of creative shots in the film: some are smooth and creative while others are distorted and iconic of the genre. One even melds the edge of the street with a searing sunrise. These images compliment a script written by Glencoe resident Brandi Jenkins, someone who

“I started seeing the amazing locations that it had to offer and meeting the amazing people there,” Norman said. “I had always enjoyed film and I had always wanted to pursue making a feature film, and the stars sort of aligned when I got there because I met the right people. My day job was in videography, so I was technically capable of making film — I just didn’t have a story to tell.”

After the producer read the script, Norman explained, he wanted to seek out a star-studded cast. But Norman wanted to retain the authentic feel of the film movie by only opening auditions to homegrown talent.

“These guys both came in and they read for different parts, and immediately they stood out because they had such good chemistry,” Norman said. “I don’t think that if we had gone to Hollywood, we would have found the caliber actors that they were. There’s a lot of talent in Oklahoma. Everybody thinks you have to go to Hollywood, but I don’t believe that.”

Norman said the residents of both Glencoe and Stillwater were supportive of his endeavors from the start; in fact, the local police department donated uniforms for use and several others contributed resources as well. Momentum and funding for “Left of Center” increased through a Kickstarter campaign. As the production of the film hinged on its success, Norman arranged for locations and began auditions. Shooting from sunrise to sundown, it took nine days in March to complete principle photography.

“We had everything lined up where as soon as February came around we were able to hire a producer, fly him out and get all our locations in order. Once we got the funding, we were ready to go,” Norman said. “It was the most intense thing I had ever been a part of.”

The story is similarly enthralling— it effectively combines several struggles: man against man, man against self and man against society. Its tagline is a double-entendre that effectively juxtaposes these men and the conflicts they encounter with the roads they take to search for the truth, and the lead actors induce chills with their performances.

And according to Norman, Wilkinson and Baker and the rest of the cast confronted the elements and added an off-screen man against nature conflict to the production.

“We put them through very extreme situations — especially weather situations,” Norman said. “It was very cold when we shot; it was below freezing and you know how the Oklahoma wind can be.”

Peppered with premonitions, twists and a fresh take on tropes found in other movies, the film keeps the audience in the moment and on the edge. The score also swells at pivotal moments. Brooks Ball, a musician with roots in Texas and Oklahoma, captures the mood and pays homage to the region.

“We really believed in keeping it an Oklahoma film as much as we could, so we found somebody who understood the landscape and what we were trying to do —and that was important in every decision we made,” Norman said.

Now that post-production is complete, Norman said he is planning to submit “Left of Center” in film festivals in Oklahoma. He credits the success of the film to the people who helped make the story about a road possible.

“This is a testament to those that made it happen,” Norman said. “I’m not a native Oklahoman — I’m from Florida and I grew up on the East Coast, but there’s no way I could have made this film without them.”