Editor’s Note: The director of the film responded further to this article, and we are printing his statement in its entirety at its conclusion.
A handful of local residents involved with the movie production of "Wildfire" say the crew may be hitting hard times, as payments to cast and crew members have been slow.
Disgruntled contractors told the Tahlequah Daily Press that Director Eric Parkinson had "run out" on the crew and left them unpaid for their first two weeks of work. Parkinson says he will make good on his commitments.
TDP obtained an email sent by Parkinson in September to the cast and crew. The director wrote that the first two weeks of shooting were challenging from "operational and scheduling logistics, to investor cash flow timing and payment issues."
"It took our investors four days longer than expected to cover the week two payroll - and we recognize that this delay has caused great hardships to many of you," Parkinson said in the email. "But we can (and will) delay the final shooting until cast and crew final payroll funds are in hand (and not just "expected")."
On Friday, the director said there were some setbacks when investors backed out, but the issue has since been resolved. He said five or six crew members were given checks that didn't process and admitted it was an inconvenience.
"It was very embarrassing and very painful, but with any movie, you live and you learn," said Parkinson.
Cherokee County District Attorney Jack Thorp said he hadn’t been contacted personally yet but there were two checks issued from Parkinson to MA Lopez, LLC in the amount of $990 and $1,100.
“Fred Smith“ contacted TDP and said one of the actresses was paid with a check from Parkinson that had bounced.
TDP also obtained a copy of an email from "Wildfire" crew member Michael Lopez, who wrote to the producers and crew of the film.
Lopez said his experience on the film was a learning one, and he had high hopes to create a film that would resonate with a large audience. However, he said the film had a "troubled path" from the very beginning.
"It has become clear that the financial life of Snowy Morning Inc. began as near non-existent. Though there was promise of financial investors and leans - and I believe the producers genuinely believed in such - the reality is this project was at no point funded to fulfill the obligations necessary to operate," Lopez wrote in the email.
Because he was left with a negative experience and two "unlawfully" written checks, Lopez said he is taking legal action.
"I believe that it has become quite possible that we will never be compensated for our efforts without legal action and proceedings. From what I have gathered within the state of Oklahoma, it would appear the first course would be to turn the unfunded payroll checks that I received over to the Bogus Check Division of Oklahoma District Attorney Jack Thorp," he said.
According to the Bogus Check Division website, victims of bad drafts are advised to fill out merchant complaint forms, and turn them in along with copies of the checks to the District 27 Bogus Check Restitution Program.
The checks are required to be in the system for approximately 30 days, and the issuer has that amount of time to make good on drafts before they are filed as part of criminal charges.
This isn't the first setback the director has faced. In August, questions arose as to whether acclaimed Cherokee actor Wes Studi would be part of the film. Due to a delay in funding, filming was hindered and representatives of the actor said he wasn't attached to the movie.
"Although we had a mutually executed agreement for Mr. Studi's participation in the film for dates in late July, the delay in our bank funding forced a delay in our shooting schedule... and this has jeopardized the certainty of Mr. Studi's future participation," said Parkinson in an email to TDP.
The filmed is inspired by Michael Martin Murphey's 1975 song "Wildfire," the family feature film will star 17-year-old Chevel Shepherd, winner of season 15 of "The Voice"; veteran actor Greg Grunberg, of "Alias," "Heroes," and "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"; and actress Anne Heche, of "Psycho," "Six Days Seven Nights," and "Volcano" fame. Murphey, who has acted in 12 movies and provided music for more than 20 films, will also be featured in a key role.
As of Friday, Parkinson was filming in downtown Tulsa during the day and said the group will be traveling to Tahlequah that evening. He said they should complete filming between Oct. 20 and 25.
Calls and emails to Lopez and Self were not returned by press time.
From the director:
I am writing in response to the “WILDFIRE” movie story which appeared in your on-line edition on Saturday, Oct. 5.
The story’s headline is misleading in that it suggests that ALL crew payroll checks were dishonored, when in fact, only three (out of forty-two) remain unpaid (and we have been assured by the film’s investors that those will be resolved this week). There is a gross mischaracterization of my meetings with an international sales distributor for the film as me having “run out” on the crew, when, in fact, production had been previously shut down on Sept. 7 as a planned hiatus in the shooting schedule - and did not resume until yesterday.
Most distressing are the references in the story to one of the film’s distribution partners, Hannover House, Inc., which imply that Hannover House is financing “WILDFIRE” or somehow financially responsible for the film. That is not the case, and could have been easily “fact-checked” with a simple phone call. “WILDFIRE” is being financed by a group of private investors who have a security interest in the film’s distribution revenues. But the film is not being produced or funded by any of the distribution partners.
The source of information provided to your reporter is referenced as “Fred Smith” – which is a fictional moniker used by a known stock manipulator. We believe that the intent of providing your reporter with this information was to try to somehow “hurt” Hannover House by implying responsibility for the payroll hiccup, as this “source” neglected to talk about the film’s other distribution partners and they provided inaccurate accounts of some of the legal activities for Hannover House that have occurred during their 26 years of operation. Accordingly, we have referred your original article to the FBI special crimes office, as they have been investigating “stock short-sellers” who have used pseudonyms (such as “Fred Smith”) to plant false and misleading stories about Hannover House in order to negatively impact the company’s stock. There are over 2,200 individual shareholders in Hannover House, Inc. and they could be damaged by the misleading and irrelevant information that was included in your story about “WILDFIRE.”
Obviously, the production would not have released the week two payroll checks had it not been in possession of expressed instructions from one of the investors to proceed based on a wire transfer promised for the next business day. When the investor stalled on the funding, some of the checks were initially not honored. The other producers of “WILDFIRE” have done a stellar job over the past two weeks in securing replacement financing, which has enabled us to meet our schedule for the completion of the film. We were obviously embarrassed and mortified when this occurred – and the ripple effect of this temporarily hurting some of the crew. We have (and are) making the appropriate amends with the impacted parties and hope to have their support on the completion of this otherwise terrific project.
The film has received tremendous support from the Tahlequah citizens and Cherokee County in terms of opening doors, providing in-kind goods and services, and general support for the movie. The footage is outstanding and we feel that “WILDFIRE” will be an impressive calling card for the Tahlequah region as a visually stunning film to elicit pride.
ERIC PARKINSON, Director“Wildfire” Movie