Austin Gill is a film crew member born, raised and based out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He works regularly in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa as a Key Grip and Lighting Technician on everything from artsy indie shorts to big budget union productions with the same enthusiasm no matter the job. A few of his credits over the past few years include “Minari,” “Agnes,” “Stillwater,” “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Reservation Dogs” seasons 1 and 2. When he’s not working, he spends his time hanging out and working with Oklahoma artists of all varieties, largely including the online art company Prismatic Rabbit Hole based out of Tulsa.
How did you get started in the film industry?
Well, my brother Lance has always been a huge film buff and a filmmaker. He’s been filming shorts and stuff for as long as I can remember. In grade school at Union Public Schools, he told me I should take the theater and stagecraft classes, which I did, and I loved. Once he went off to college at Oklahoma City University (OCU) for their film program, I started spending time there. My senior year of high school I would spend my weekends driving to Oklahoma City from Tulsa and working on the student projects. So, once I started at OCU, I already knew people, and had a little bit of experience. Because of that, I was able to talk to the students that had already started working in the industry and convince them into getting me on sets – the occasional local commercial and stuff. By the end of my freshman year of college, I was able to get an internship on the movie “Bringing Up Bobby” where I was able to further meet people on set, make connections and prove I was willing to put in the work. By my sophomore year, I was working on commercials, shorts and other projects in OKC regularly all throughout the year.
What are some of your most recent successes (credits or accolades) related to your career in the industry?
Recent credits include “Minari,” which won a Golden Globe. I’ve also recently worked on “Stillwater,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Agnes” and “Reservation Dogs.”
What has your career in the state’s film industry taught you?
If my career has taught me anything it’s most likely to just be willing to put yourself out there. Care about the work you do and make sure you are having fun while doing it. When it comes to Oklahoma’s industry specifically, I’d say that I’ve learned about the vast variety of talented artists that this state has to offer. People from outside Oklahoma don’t typically think of great artists when they think about us, but that’s exactly what we have here. An amazing community of people who like to help each other and watch each other succeed. It’s great to know that we have that here.
What is the highlight of your career thus far?
A highlight in my career is probably being part of “Reservation Dogs.” I Key Gripped Sterlin Harjo’s film “Mekko” several years back, and have worked on several shorts and other projects done by him and/or “Reservation Dogs” Associate Producer Dylan Brodie. I’ve been lucky enough to work on several Native made projects and help tell their stories, which as an Oklahoman not only feels important, but is also very eye opening. To watch Sterlin make project after project, and then create this amazing show that’s garnered so much success and respect—while also having this huge cultural impact on a community that’s not only been under-represented in media, but also who’s land so many of us have spent our entire lives living and working on—is absolutely incredible and a complete honor.
What is your favorite aspect of working in Oklahoma’s film and television industry?
My favorite aspect of working in the Oklahoma film and television industry is probably the people in it. We have so many incredible artists and storytellers here. One of my favorite parts of this wacky industry is how it’s so community based. There are so many forms of art that are solo projects or done by a small group of people. Film, however, is dependent on all different types of creative minds coming together to create a singular piece of art. Oklahoma is filled with fantastic artists and minds. Getting to spend my days surrounded by such people is so much fun.
What’s the best piece of advice you have for someone starting their career in Oklahoma’s film industry?
My best piece of advice to anyone trying to start out is to simply go for it. So many people seem to think that film is this bizarre and unattainable job, but it’s not… well, unattainable at least. Believe that you can do it, strive for it and put yourself out there as much as possible. Then, once you get onto a set, make yourself known. Talk to people. Join conversations. Make sure people know your name and personality. If anything is ever asked of you that you don’t know how to do, immediately ask for help. Not only does it save time, which we are all constantly fighting, but it also gives you an opportunity to learn. Not once in my career have I encountered a person on set that isn’t willing to help or teach. We all want everyone around us to thrive and be the best they can. If there’s a department you’re interested in, find someone in it and talk to them. We love talking about our jobs and finding new people who are interested in being a part of it. Put yourself out there, be yourself and strive to be the best you can.
How does someone in your field/department best promote/market themselves to those hiring in your industry?
I would say the best way to promote yourself is simply just to care about the job, put everything into it, constantly try to learn and have a good personality and attitude. You spend so much of your day on set with all these people. It’s important to be approachable and to bring a positive energy whenever you can. The energy on set is contagious. If you’re stressed, everyone around is. If you’re happy and having fun, everyone around will be, too. Being memorable is important, too. When someone is looking to hire, you want to be one of the first person that pops into their head. Putting in effort to be good at your job and charismatic on set seem to do that in my experience.
Are there any local film organizations, resources or events that have been beneficial to you in your career?
Going to film school was definitely beneficial to my career because it let me meet people that ended up in the industry. I made several good contacts through that. deadCenter Film Festival was also beneficial to me. I was the gaffer on a film that played there, and also won best Oklahoma film that year, “Home, James.” I asked a gaffer I really respect, Sunrise Tippeconnie, to see the film, and he did. Afterward he came up to me and said that he really likes what I had done. He then offered me a job on a commercial he was working soon. We shot two of those commercials, and after that he started bringing me onto features to work alongside him as a Key Grip. If deadCenter hadn’t been around and played that film, that likely wouldn’t have ever happened. He and I have done many projects together since then. Sterlin Harjo’s “Mekko,” Mickey Reece’s “Agnes” and several other really cool films that I’m very proud of. So, that has been very beneficial to me. Oh, and definitely the film commission’s website. Being on that roster of people has certainly lead to several jobs over the years.
What’s the one item you can’t live without on-set, and why?
There is one item that comes to mind. It’s probably a silly one to list, but it’s this crazy pink hat that I own. I bought it at this gas station in the middle of the desert while driving cross country one time. It was sitting in this dark, top corner of the room behind a bunch of other hats. The pink just stuck out to me. I wear it on every set, and it always seems to get comments from people. Everyone is typically so busy, that you don’t always have opportunities to just start conversations with everyone, or to find the people you would really get along with. I find that it seems to bring people up to me that enjoy weird designs and patterns. People I tend to get along with. Plus, it makes me much easier to spot on set whenever someone needs me for whatever reason. I think just about anyone I’ve worked with knows the exact hat I’m talking about, and many could probably even describe it. It’s just fun.
Would you career be impacted without the state’s film incentive program? If so, how?
I would say my career would definitely be affected without the state’s film incentive. It brings a lot of bigger budget work to the state, which helps keep the the film crew members here—amongst many other local business—paid enough to get by. I prefer the idea of staying at home and going to work every day, over leaving the state and traveling for every single job I get. If it wasn’t for the incentive, I don’t know if projects like “Reservation Dogs” or “Killers of the Flower Moon” would’ve been filmed here. Projects that should be done here on this land. The money these big jobs bring here, from out of state doesn’t just benefit the film crew here but so many other people and communities in Oklahoma.
Where do you see yourself – AND – Oklahoma’s film industry in the next five years?
In five years, I see Oklahoma having even more big jobs coming in and a lot of constant, great work. Not just from out of state, but a lot of great projects made by Oklahoma filmmakers. With that, a lot more crew members working in the industry too. We have been building for years and are constantly teaching new people and expanding the amount of trained, talented people we have here. For myself, I see still making awesome projects, and hopefully making some projects of my own as well.
What are you working on now or next?
I am currently working on “Reservation Dogs” Season 2. I had worked on Season 1 last year, and I am very happy to be back for this current season. Hopefully back for future seasons. Obviously, I can’t say anything, but season 2 is going to be amazing! I truly can wait to watch it… on Hulu, August 3, 2022!!
Each featured individual or business is given the provided questions to answer in their own voice. Other than formatting and grammar, the answers are personal to each featured voice, and are not provided by the Oklahoma Film + Music Office.