Al Mertens is an artist hailing from Oklahoma City, best known for the movies he writes, directs and produces. Mertens’ often darkly humorous stories vividly explore the underside of human nature within society and have won numerous awards worldwide. The movie of his #1 Amazon best-selling screenplay, “Thank You, Amelia Earhart,” is on currently on the international film festival circuit.
How did you get started in the film industry?
During a five-day screenwriting class at Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC)—attended on a whim—I realized that the motion pictures art form was a medium compatible with my interests, temperament and abilities. Excited and confident, I adapted a short story of mine, “Sacrificios,” into a screenplay that I directed and produced as a short film. That first stab at things was well-received at the few festivals that I entered it. It allowed me to walk on a genuine Hollywood red carpet and ended up winning an award in Berlin, Germany.
Did you have any formal education or training related to the film industry before starting?
That depends on if you’d call five days of a screenwriting class a formal education, ha. That’s how good they are at OCCC. God bless the late Gray Frederickson for building the Visual Arts Program there.
Did you have any formal education or training related to your specific department on-set?
I’ve taken three semesters of film class at Oklahoma City Community College. I may be the only student in the history of the school who doesn’t know what grades they received. For me, it wasn’t about that—I was there as a sponge in the sea of movie knowledge and to workshop my projects in progress.
What are some of your most recent successes (credits or accolades) related to your career in the industry?
I’m fortunate that film festivals around the world have deemed my films worthy of recognition. I’ve also published three of my feature screenplays, all of which have reached #1 on Amazon: “Transgressions,” “Angel City” and “Thank You, Amelia Earhart.” That last one is toward the start of its festival run. Its world premiere was in April at the 56th annual WorldFest Houston, where it won their “Gold Remi” award. Also, one of our actors won Best Supporting Actor. That paved the way for a cover story for Hollywood Weekly Magazine in June.
What has your career in the state’s film industry taught you?
Having fun making movies has been terribly life affirming. I’ve learned the people in our great state are even nicer and even more creatively capable than I’d always personally experienced.
What is the highlight of your career thus far?
Every project has been a highlight. Unencumbered expression of artistic vision has always been—and always will be—the goal.
What is your favorite aspect of working in Oklahoma’s film and television industry?
Working with my fellow Okies.
What’s the best piece of advice you have for someone starting their career in Oklahoma’s film industry?
Three things come to mind for a writer/director, but they also apply to almost anyone making movies:
1) Go out of your way to meet other moviemakers wherever you can find them, especially at film festivals. Realize that everyone is there to help you in some way: your job is to overcome your introversion and connect.
The other two actions are to be done daily, even if you only have five minutes for them:
2) Make forward progress on at least one project.
3) Learn something that improves your craft. One way to do this is by constantly screening classic films, including the ones outside of what you think is your genre. It is fairly inarguable that the finest movies—the jaw-droppingly, truly great movies—were actually made before 1977, ha. And some were even in black and white, ha ha.
How does someone in your field/department best promote/market themselves to those hiring in your industry?
Being genuinely interested in—and helpful to—movie people in person and online has been instrumental in finding the individuals I want to hire.
Are there any local film organizations, resources or events that have been beneficial to you in your career?
Every local film festival I’ve ever attended.
What’s the one item you can’t live without on-set, and why?
My tattered and disgusting Director’s Copy of my script for that film. It alternates between being my Bible and Linus’s blanket.
Would your career be impacted without the state’s film incentive program? If so, how?
Without the state’s film incentive program, we’d have not nearly the local talent pool for films.
Where do you see yourself – AND – Oklahoma’s film industry in the next five years?
God willing, I’ll be doing more of the same—creating in this most wonderful art form. Hopefully the state will continue to be a player in the movie-making industry.
What are you working on now or next?
I’m scratching away pre-production for the next feature, to be shot in ’24. I’m also working on a new feature script, the first draft of which is about a third of the way complete as of now.
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.