On Tuesday, July 19, wearing an auteur's beret and sunglasses, and carrying a megaphone, Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter greeted an audience of 800 with a line sure to be heard in Central New York soon enough:
"Quiet on the set."
The occasion was the official announcement of the Oneida Nation's planned foray into Hollywood movie-making, First Allies, a film based on the book Forgotten Allies, by history professors Joseph T. Glatthaar and James Kirby Martin, and financed entirely by the Nation. Executive Producer Sid Ganis, a former president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, put it plainly: "We're making a big movie and we're making it here." The film reunites Ganis with Alex Siskin, who will co-produce it with Halbritter; previously Ganis and Ziskin co-produced comedies Mr. Deeds, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, and Big Daddy.
"We haven't told Ray yet," Ganis joked at one point, "We're going to make this [an Adam] Sandler comedy."
The occasional moments of levity took nothing away from the tone of relentless optimism and excitement set by Halbritter, Ganis and Ziskin. "We're bringing moviemaking to Central New York," said Halbritter. "We think Central New York is a terrific place to do movies, we certainly could use the jobs and the economic lifting ... and the reason we've invited you all here is because you're all part of this story."
Halbritter was speaking directly to the employees of Turning Stone who have made the Oneida Indian Nation one of the most prosperous in Indian country, the sort of operation that has the financial clout to fund a "big movie"—but he was also referring to his people's ties to the story that First Allies will seek to tell. "The movie is going to be about the time of the Revolutionary War and the incredible contributions the Oneida people made to this region and to the history—not just of this region but the history of the United States. It's a story that's not told. It's not taught in the school systems, and it's our opportunity to tell it, and tell it accurately."
Though the producers all agreed that historical accuracy would be a priority, Ganis and Halbritter were clear that they were not going to make a dull "history lesson," comparing their film to the likes of Braveheart and Last of the Mohicans. "It's gonna also have movie stars," Ganis said. "Wandering around Turning Stone, because of this, will be a familiar face or two." It was no doubt a tantalizing prospect for Halbritter, who later in the discussion confessed that he is a "groupie" when it comes to Hollywood stars.
A groupie, perhaps, but a businessman first. Halbritter sees the making of First Allies as the first step in building a major film industry in Central New York. To that end, Ganis explained, the entire process—not just shooting, but post-production as well—will happen in the region. For many locals, the film will be a job opportunity, and perhaps more importantly an opportunity to begin to learn the craft of filmmaking.
And those who merely want to be famous will find opportunities as well. The first casting call, Halbritter said, will take place at 10 AM on Monday, July 25. For more information on the casting call, and to keep up on other First Allies news, visit FirstAlliesMovie.com.