Of course, you know “The Outsiders” was filmed in Tulsa. How could you not? Based on a novel by Tulsa author S.E. Hinton, the 1983 film helped launch the careers of Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, C. Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise and Emilio Estevez.
But what about another film that was shot in Tulsa during the 1980s? This one had nothing to do with greasers vs. socs and everything to do with an underdog TV station being drawn into a “rumble” with a rival station.
The film is “UHF,” which starred Weird Al Yankovic, and it’s celebrating a 30th anniversary.
Released in July 1989, “UHF” was not a box-office success. It failed to find a big audience during the summer of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “Batman,” “Star Trek V,” “Ghostbusters II,” “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” “Lethal Weapon 2” and “When Harry Met Sally.”
Embraced by viewers on cable and on home video, “UHF” now wears the badge of cult classic.
“It wasn’t the Hollywood blockbuster that we all hoped,” Yankovic said during a phone interview with the Tulsa World. “But I’m glad that, over the years, it has built up a cult following, and it has got a lot of very devoted fans. It’s nice that it has founds its audience and that people care about it so much.”
Cast members included Michael Richards (pre-“Seinfeld”), Fran Drescher (before “The Nanny”), Victoria Jackson (“Saturday Night Live”), Gedde Watanabe (“Sixteen Candles”), Anthony Geary (“General Hospital”) and Kevin McCarthy (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”).
Yankovic agreed to chat about “UHF” prior to the anniversary. A sampling:
When you think of Tulsa, you think of what?
For me, personally, I will always associate it with “UHF” because I spent a lovely summer there in 1988, and we shot most of our movie in Tulsa. It will always have a soft spot in my heart because of that.
Producer Gray Frederickson had been involved with “The Outsiders,” and online sources cite him as a reason “UHF” was filmed in Tulsa. True?
That was certainly part of it. We were scouting around trying to figure out where to shoot the movie, and Gray Frederickson was already familiar with Tulsa because of the movies he had done there. I think we were looking at three different cities, and Tulsa came out ahead for that reason. And also, fortuitously, there was a giant mall that I think had just gone out of business, but it was an empty mall next to a hotel. And we figured that we could set up all of our stages for all of our interiors inside the mall. So we could live in the hotel and shoot a lot of stuff in the mall and basically do it all in one location, and that was very attractive to us. And also, we’re grateful that the people of Tulsa were amazing to work with. We had heard so many wonderful things about the city that we thought that was the place we had to be.
In production notes for the movie, you were quoted as saying the people of Tulsa treated you as if you were a human.
(Laughing) That sounds accurate.
Many people from the area wound up helping with the movie or being extras?
Gray Frederickson told us we would have no problem getting extras, and people there weren’t jaded. If we shot in L.A. or New York, the extras would be sort of jaded. “Oh, another film crew.” But, in Tulsa, the locals were very excited and happy to be a part of this production, and we got very enthusiastic people in the movie.
Though the movie was filmed in Tulsa, the town was not identified in the film.
We certainly didn’t ever say in the movie that it was Tulsa. We wanted to keep it like Springfield with “The Simpsons.” I wanted it to feel sort of Midwestern, but never be specific about it. It should have felt like Anytown, U.S.A.
Did any location in Tulsa endear itself to you?
We spent so much time either inside that hotel and mall or on location at what was supposed to be the TV station, which was basically a little antenna in a shack in the middle of nowhere. I think the antenna has been torn down. I don’t remember that many local things. There wasn’t a particular place that I would hang out. I don’t remember having a lot of spare time between shooting the movie. I was very focused on making sure I was prepared for the next day. There was a lot of work to go with the fun.