Medford-born filmmaker busts Hollywood stereotypes with Southern Tale 

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Name something to be done on the set of Southern Tale and there’s a good chance Tel Royal had a role in it.

The Medford-born filmmaker produced, directed, wrote, edited and starred in the upcoming independent film shot entirely in Oklahoma. The first official trailer for Southern Tale was released about a month ago. The complete movie will likely premiere at a film festival within the next two years.

“I like to definitely consider myself an athlete in the film world,” Royal said. “Tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it.”

Southern Tale takes place in desolate rural America. Royal’s character, Chris, thinks he has his life made, but keeping two lovers unsurprisingly leads him into trouble. Chris seeks comfort from a strange vagrant as he tries to avoid the past mistakes of his father.

Acting comes most naturally to Royal, but writing and directing are what he considers the most rewarding.

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“That’s something, creatively, I have to work a little harder toward,” he said. “It’s something I have to put more time and devotion and effort into, so when I actually do finish something like that, I feel more accomplished.”

Royal, 25, said Southern Tale is a story that came to him when he was 19. There are parts of himself in the story, but the themes and characters are ubiquitous across small towns everywhere.

“I think a lot of Hollywood-style films take the South and really stereotype it and put a stigma to being from it,” he said. “It doesn’t really represent it in its true form. What I was looking to do is create something that could speak to people from the South or from the Midwest and say, ‘Wow. I get that.’”

The film addresses rural conundrums like deciding whether to stay in what you know or move on to something bigger. How do people in a small community react when problems back them into a corner?

“Chris is this guy running from his problems, and he’s forced to confront them,” Royal said. “It kind of gets a little vague, but what it comes down to are our choices in life.”

Oklahoma intended

Royal began writing Southern Tale when he was 21. He wrote the script with Oklahoma in mind, though it does not specifically name this state or any other.

Though he said the crew looked into all their options before picking a filming location, they ultimately decided his birth state would be best.

Royal utilized the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate provided by the Oklahoma Film & Music Office. The program gives filmmakers a 35 to 37 percent cash return on every dollar spent in the state. For a film like Southern Tale with a tiny budget, Royal said that offer was invaluable.

The movie was filmed in Guthrie, Edmond, Kingfisher and north of Enid.

“I’d written the script to be filmed in Oklahoma, and a lot of the locations I kind of already had in mind, being from Oklahoma,” Royal said. “I really wanted to shoot it there, and I was happy to bring in all those Los Angeles folks, too. It was their first real Midwest experience. I took them to Eischen’s [Bar in Okarche].”

Including Royal, who moved to LA after high school, there were four actors in the film from California. The rest were all hired out of Oklahoma.

Authentically rural

Royal’s experience growing up in Medford, a town in northern Oklahoma with a population of around 1,000, came into play as he was developing the Southern Tale story.

“I know rural America very well,” he said. “It’s authentic.”

While growing up in Medford, Royal tried to keep himself busy playing sports and acting in theater and Sunday school Christmas programs.

“I lived on a ranch, and I had horses,” he said. “I learned how to live on a ranch; I learned how to take care of animals. I pretty much just learned how to work and to kill time.”

Another thing he learned was how to act socially in a tight-knit community. In school, there were about 14 kids in his grade.

“Being able to develop socially in that environment, it was a blessing I didn’t know I was getting,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh, it’s boring. I’m out here in the middle of nowhere. There’s nothing to do,’ but no, you’re actually learning all of these senses of community and how to work with people. I think all of that applies to filmmaking, especially directing.”

In high school, Royal moved to Edmond before heading out to LA when he was 19. Both of those moves were huge steps up, but the actor said he likes subjecting himself to the culture shock.

“I’ve never really been content with where I’m at,” he said. “I always want to see and do the biggest and best things.”

Being well-rounded

Moving forward, Royal said he will probably want to continue doing it all in the film world. What he doesn’t want to do is everything all at the same time. He said the producing and logistics of filmmaking eventually get in the way of creativity.

“When you’re trying to act and direct on the same day, as if it’s already a lot going on and then you have to worry about dealing with location managers and stuff like that,” he said. “It takes away from the film.”

In the future, Royal hopes to put someone else in those business-type positions if his budget allows it.

“I would like to write and direct my own work from now until the end of time, but I see myself acting in other people’s stuff pretty consistently as well,” he said.

To view the trailer or learn more about Southern Tale, visit southerntale.com.

Print headline: Reel America, Jack-of-all-trades filmmaker Tel Royal leans on his rural Oklahoma upbringing in Southern Tale.

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