Tulsa native filmmaker John Swab is returning to his hometown for the third time in five years to shoot a movie, and it features his biggest cast yet — including an Oscar winner and a player in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The film is “Body Brokers,” a dark drama about drug addicts, treatment centers and get-rich schemes, and filming is expected to begin in the next week in the Tulsa area, Swab told the Tulsa World.
One of the film’s key performers is a neighbor of Swab in New York who has become what he described as a friend, a mentor and now a collaborator.
Melissa Leo, an Academy Award winner for “The Fighter,” is a “dear friend of mine, and we both live in the Hudson Valley area,” Swab said. “We’ve struck up a friendship, and it’s been creative and rich.”
Joining Leo in Tulsa for filming are Frank Grillo (the “Purge” movies and an enemy of Captain America in multiple Marvel movies) and Michael Kenneth Williams (“The Wire,” “Boardwalk Empire” and many more).
The focus of the film will be on two younger actors — Jack Kilmer (“The Nice Guys”) and Alice Englert (“Beautiful Creatures”), who will portray a pair of drug addicts who fall into the “body broker” business of dealers and addicts selling off patients to treatment centers for big money.
“This is the first time in my short career that something that I wrote was socially relevant enough that it attracted a cast like this,” said Swab, who himself experienced multiple drug and alcohol treatment centers.
“It’s a story about this proposed solution to the drug epidemic but also the lack of oversight in this rather new industry, with regulations that sort of allow it to be like the Wild West. So it’s an exposé on another side of the industry we might not hear that much about.”
While Grillo and Williams will play characters involved in the criminal enterprise, Swab said, Leo portrays a therapist at a treatment center.
Swab’s first two films that he wrote and directed, both of which filmed in the Tulsa area, were “Let Me Make You a Martyr” in 2015 (a revenge thriller that featured Marilyn Manson as a philosophical hitman) and “Run With the Hunted” (starring Ron Perlman, the movie filmed here last year and has a film festival premiere set for fall).
As with those movies, Swab will again be working with the state film office to use the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate program to make his movie, and he has been working closely with the Tulsa Office of Film, Music, Arts & Culture to prepare for filming.
That means working with Tava Maloy Sofsky, director of the Oklahoma Film & Music Office (“She’s always been extremely proud and very resourceful,” Swab said.), and Abby Kurin, director of TFMAC (“She’s been great to us,” Swab said.).
“I know I’m not special, but they both make me feel special,” he said with a laugh. “They’re responsive. They’re just a phone call away, and they help us with things we need and questions we need answered for filming.”
That assistance, and the finances making sense, are what keep Swab — an Edison High School graduate — and other filmmakers who have shot in Oklahoma returning to the state.
“As an independent filmmaker, you ask, ‘What do I have at my disposal?’ and for me, that’s Tulsa,” Swab said. “I keep coming back here because the community is so supportive of people from here trying to make something special.
“Without Tulsa, I wouldn’t have my career, between the support and the investors both.”
He said about 50% of his crew is from Oklahoma, and the rest, working with him on a third movie in Tulsa, “now feel like they are.”
“We’ll start filming this a year to the date that we started ‘Run With the Hunted’ here last year, so we’ve got some people in the same hotel, some in the same hotel rooms,” he said.
“It’s really pretty cool how Tulsa keeps ending up being the best place to make our movies.”
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