It is no secret that Oklahoma’s film scene is gradually expanding into something incredible. In turn, doors are opening for students and alumni to become part of the magic of the film industry.
Madison Kenya, for instance, graduated from The University of Tulsa with her bachelor’s degree in both music and film studies in 2021. Now, Kenya is the executive assistant for the CEO and founder of Red Clay Studios, Cassidy Lunnen. The film, television and commercial production company opened its doors in 2021 right here in Tulsa.
There are many hidden perks to living in a thriving yet smaller city. The arts scene has blossomed in recent years, bringing people from all over the map to express their unique creativity in impactful ways. As a result, making meaningful connections has become easier than some might expect. However, to make these connections, one must be driven by a desire to succeed. Kenya fits the bill perfectly.
While Kenya was finishing up her degree, she found herself applying for highly competitive Los Angeles-based internships but often had trouble getting past the application process for many of them. However, her part-time pet-sitting job soon provided more than some extra cash. “One of my clients happened to know and put me in touch with Cassidy,” Kenya stated. The pair met at a coffee shop for an informal interview and by the end of the conversation, not only did Kenya have an internship at Red Clay Studios, but she was also going to travel to Los Angeles to work on a Marvel commercial for Disney Theme Parks.
After interning at Red Clay Studios for a few months, Kenya was offered a full-time staff position as operations coordinator in August 2021 and became Cassidy’s executive assistant in January 2022. Though her responsibilities vary widely, each and every one of them is incredibly important to the productivity of the film studio.
Kenya recruits and supervises new interns; reviews casting tapes and makes recommendations; codes credit card statements and manages daily office operations; organizes script, editorial, sound, color and music notes; mails documents and hard drives; and creates agendas for Oklahoma Motion Picture Alliance (OKMPA) board meetings. She also books travel, grabs lunch and coffee for Lunnen and the crew and schedules meetings.
“The amazing thing about my job is that I get to see the full scope of production, including development, production, post-production and delivery,” Kenya said. So far, her experience has given her confidence. Being surrounded by encouraging company has certainly helped: “I’ve been embraced by many of the creators and artists I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”
Kenya has also learned valuable lessons at Red Clay Studios. Her advice to those thinking about finding a career in film is solid: “A strong work ethic is key to striving in this industry. Additionally, the industry is based on respect. It is something you must earn and give. Lastly, you should socialize even when you don’t want to. You never know what connections you might make or whom you might meet.”
Projects of pride
The first project Kenya ever worked on was Avengers: Quantum Encounter, a dinner show that plays on the Disney Cruise Line. The production featured an amazing cast including big names such as Anthony Mackie, Brie Larson and Paul Rudd. “It was really exciting to see everything come together. And, being my first project, it will always have a special place in my heart,” she said.
Kenya’s most fulfilling project was the BMX Gala Fundraiser Specs, for which Red Clay Studios made two different shorts highlighting the BMX Foundation’s STEM educational programming. “We were able to film and interview kids in the RISE program, which is a mentorship and education program serving underprivileged youth in Tulsa,” Kenya stated. Red Clay Studios donated their time and resources to create the shorts, which were used to aid in fundraising for the foundation’s programs. “This was one of the most inspiring projects I’ve worked on so far,” she said.
As far as favorite projects go, Kenya reported that her time on the set of Sick Girl, an upcoming film starring the Vampire Diaries sweetheart Nina Dobrev, was incredibly rewarding and fun. “The film is a great concept with witty dialogue, beautiful production design and cinematography and a very talented cast,” said Kenya, who advises readers to watch for the release of the film later this year.
There are several works currently in development at Red Clay Studios that Kenya is eager to explore. There is the possibility of a second season for the series A Thousand Tomorrows, which premiered Feb. 24 on Pure Flix and was filmed mostly in the Tulsa area. “Right now, we’re leaning into inspirational stories and have some great things on the horizon,” Kenya said.
Where it all began
Kenya’s post-graduate success is due in part to the profound education she received from her TU professors and their enlightening courses. She also reports that the university gave her a wonderful foundation for film: “I was introduced to new creative concepts, and I gained a greater understanding of all of the facets of the industry.”
Additionally, Kenya expressed her gratitude to those who helped make her TU experience so great: “I would like to thank Professors Kim Childs and Richard Wagner for making rehearsals so fun and engaging,” she said, “and I would also like to thank Professors Judith Raiford and Diane Bucchianeri for teaching me to find new approaches to learning. Lastly, I would like to thank Professors Joseph Rivers, Jennifer Jones and Jeff Van Hanken for instilling in me the importance of story in film.”
In hindsight, Kenya finds herself highly appreciative of TU’s learning environment: “The atmosphere at TU is one that lends itself to growth and exploration.”
Do you want to be a part of Oklahoma’s film renaissance? Check out TU’s Department of Film Studies to get started on the career of a lifetime.