Inside TULSA with Scott Pryor
By Sophie Wells
For many, becoming a successful trial lawyer, U.S. Military Veteran, dedicated husband and father, and the writer, director, and star of your own film may sound impossible. For Scott Pryor, however, it’s his reality.
This hardworking filmmaker has inspired many with his talent for storytelling through his many movies, including The List (2015) and Blackbear (2019). Continuing to follow his passion, Pryor has taken inspiration from one of his own trial cases and given us the heartwarming story of TULSA. Winning several awards and smashing the box office despite restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic, this tale of a struggling alcoholic meeting his long-lost daughter will surely bring a tear out of anyone’s eye.
I know that together you and your wife, Laura, are Pryor Entertainment. Tell me what exactly your production company strives to achieve?
“At Pryor Entertainment we try to educate, inspire and entertain so that others may truly live. What we want is to produce films that are huge hits worldwide and tell powerful stories that help impact people’s lives for the better.”
How were you both inspired to start?
“I had written a Christmas play a number of years ago for a church that they asked me to write. Then, I ended up turning that Christmas play (that was very well-received, people really, really enjoyed it) into a full-length feature screenplay and then ended up producing that. That was our first film, called The List. It won a number of awards; ‘Most Inspirational Film,’ it took top honors in a number of film festivals...So, we just kind of thought we were onto something with that being our first, and we really didn’t know what we were doing...From there, we wrote and shot another script, Blackbear, which released theatrically (a small release). Then, it went worldwide and on Netflix and everything. Moving forward, it had a bigger footprint than our first one. And then, of course, TULSA set the box office record, and now it’s available on digital and DVD and all that fun stuff. So, we’re moving forward, and obviously working very, very hard with an awesome team of great creators that we certainly give the credit to and we’re hopefully doing some more!”
Tell me a little bit more about your family - I’m told you have three sons? Do they share you and your wife’s passion for entertainment at all?
“I keep their lives pretty private and they would choke me, so...They do. In certain ways, I would say yes. That’s a fair statement.”
How did the pandemic affect the production of TULSA and your filmmaking, overall?
“Well, fortunately, we had shot TULSA in 2019. Then, we wanted post-production in 2020. So, we had to certainly work around people quarantining during the post-production. That was a challenge. But, in independent filmmaking especially, you just have to figure it out and work with what you have... During all of the pandemic, and even now, our focus is on (until so much of the restrictions lift) developing scripts for future projects and kind of pre-production on future projects.”
Do you have any new projects you’re currently working on?
“We have a script right now called I’m Okay. It is a mental health script, which is actually a crisis in our country and our world right now. It’s going to be funny, but it’s going to be hard-hitting, as well. We like to do that comedy, but also the drama, as well, just to kind of get a full range of emotions in our films. But, we’re really excited about that. We’re hoping to really have an impact on people with that film by de-stigmatizing mental health issues. It’s kind of about the average, everyday American family who is dealing with this and kind of pulls the blinders off of them; You know, if you have issues with certain things, you need to get help and not worry about what other people may think. It’s very common. We also have several action films in the works...One is an ISIS action script (Lost Sons.) We’re really excited about that.”
You’ve been described as a risk-taking independent filmmaker. Would you say that TULSA was an “all-in” moment for you? If so, how has it paid off?
“Absolutely. Any time you do independent film it’s an absolute risk and, so, every film that we do, every project that we take, we’re all in. That’s just how we live our lives. I’m a trial lawyer, so every case I take, I’m all in. We’re guns blazing, scorched Earth. So, with TULSA, one of the biggest risks we took was coming out in theaters during the middle of Covid when a lot of theaters were shut down. We opened in theaters nationwide, so the two massive hurdles were: A. People didn’t know that theaters were open and B. Even though theaters opened, people were scared to go out to theaters, and then theaters had limited capacity because of Covid and how they were seating everybody. So, we knew that it was a massive risk and we just decided to go for it; Go big or go home. We thought it through, we talked it through...But, we felt that TULSA is the type of movie that our country needs. TULSA’s a story about hope and love and redemption and the light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, in 2020, we have Covid, we have political unrest, so much fear and anxiety going on, that we thought, ‘You know what, this is a film that can really help people and we need to just take the risk and do what’s right for the country and go ahead and put it in theaters and make it available.’ We knew that TULSA is a very powerful film. If people watch it, they will be affected by it. We knew that even if we have five or six people go to the theaters, they will then go out and tell their friends and be ambassadors for the film and that’s what happened. It spread quickly, word spread quickly, we saw the box office records and we’re super happy. What we’re most happy about, really, is being able to help as many people as we’ve helped with it. So, that’s really why we make the films and we’ve had so many people reach out to us and tell us how it’s affected their lives for the better. We’re very thankful and appreciative and just humbled to be a part of that process.”
Tell me about the physical transition you had to make for the film - How difficult was it to adjust to all of these new dieting and exercise routines?
“Well, growing up, ever since I could walk, I competed athletically at a very high level, in the martial arts, as well. So, I’m used to physicality. When I take on a project, one of the first things I try to determine is: What is the physicality of the character? What does the character look like? Because that transformation can take a while. In Blackbear, which is our second full-feature film, I played an underground cage fighter. So, I had a really, really big physical transformation for that. I ended up putting on (going up to) 230-240 in terms of my weight, putting on a whole lot of muscle, and then leaning out for that fighter part. So, that was a huge physical transformation. For the role of Tommy Colston in TULSA, I wanted to be muscular because he’s a biker and he works as a mechanic and he’s a marine. But, also, he’s dealing with addiction and that sort of thing. So, what would that body type look like? I knew that I had to keep that muscle, but I also had to lose some weight...I have a great team behind me that I work with, “House of Payne,” which’s nationally recognized (located in Georgia). But, the toughest part, for me, is all of the diets, really watching every single thing that I put in my mouth. I’m a huge foodie and I love...Oh, man I love food. All sorts of food that I’m not supposed to eat. And when I go back home to see my mom in the Chicago-land area, it’s the deep-dish pizza and the Italian beef sandwiches and the Chicago dogs and all the awesome food...And then, of course, living in Atlanta you have the Southern cuisine, as well. I love, love, love all sorts of food from every country on Earth. So being uber, uber strict on that is by far the toughest part because, when you’re ripping down, your body really craves more than what’s on your diet, for sure...The camera’s absolutely brutal. It will show if you didn’t put that hard work and that discipline in.”
How many hours on average do you spend at the gym in a week?
“Typically, I work out anywhere from 5-6 days a week and I mix up my workouts in and outside the gym. I typically have a very strict weight training regiment where I’m total-body, pumping the iron because you need to be balanced. That’s my foundation. Then, on top of that, I do a fair amount of cardio...I’m going skiing this week. It’s fun spending time with family, but I also use it as a workout. So, I try to do activities outside of the gym because I certainly don’t want to get burnt out. I’m always mixing it up.”
How long have you been a trial lawyer? Can you tell me a little bit about your case that TULSA was inspired by?
“Sure. I’ve been a trial lawyer longer than I care to admit. But, in terms of the case, when I write my scripts, I take true-life characters, people that I may know...Like the character Bishop Franklin, he’s just a wonderful friend of mine who calls me and checks on me from time to time. So, literally, I wrote his story into the film (TULSA), and then the main inspiration was several cases that I’ve worked on. As a trial lawyer, I specialize in people getting injured very seriously or people getting killed. So, I represent the family against the insurance company and against basically the negligent party. But, mainly I’m going after insurance carriers. So, TULSA was really inspired by a conversation I had with a family. I was getting ready to go to trial and one of the things I want to present to the jury is: How has this injury affected your life? Obviously, you have medical bills, a hospital stay, and pain and suffering. But, beyond that, how this has affected your life is one of the questions I go through with my clients because I want to tell their stories. It’s extremely important, and that’s what’s effective with juries and judges and defense counsel. So, I remember talking to his family and they said that their daughter loved to go to the daddy-daughter dance. They’d dance for hours and hours and hours and dance the entire night away and it was her favorite thing to do. But, after the injury, she could only go maybe ten minutes before she had to stop and they had to go home. It was so hard for them to see because it just completely changed their lives and that’s the kind of stuff that really tugs on my heartstrings….I was preparing for trial when it just kind of hit me that this would make a really good story. I want to protect privacy for my clients, of course, so I fictionalized some things around.”
Tell me about some of the friendships you’ve made through acting and filmmaking, especially from TULSA?
“Oh, boy! Well, we’ve made friendships for sure across the board...The cast and crew...Anytime someone comes on our film and really works hard we always want to invite them to the subsequent film we’re doing. The cast and crew are just awesome and, of course, the fellow producers I worked with were fantastic. When I was a kid, I would watch some of John Schneider’s work and it was pretty surreal to be acting with him while remembering watching him as a little kid. So, that was really, really, cool. We actually had a lot of fun. I’m a muscle car guy and kind of a fast car guy and so I have a Dodge Hellcat and at midnight, John and I and a couple of the other crew members took the Hellcat out on the town around where we were filming and doing some stunt driving. John and I were kind of trading off and sharing some secrets and the cops were called. We were safe, but the police were called and they were looking for us. The night before when I picked him up from the airport I was coming from Atlanta to Augusta and I was driving fast trying to get him in, I got pulled over by police and John got me out of the ticket so that was funny...We actually filmed that. It’s on my social media (@officialscottpryor). But, that was a blast. And then I worked with Livi Birch, who plays Tulsa, and we were able to rehearse prior to shooting the film. Livi and her mom, and my wife and I, and some of the other actors shared an air bnb during filming. So, we were able to really kind of sit around and get close and build that chemistry off-screen that really paid off on-screen. So, that was a blast. Each of the cast members was just awesome. Nicole Marie Johnson who plays my love interest actually teaches at Mornell Studios, an acting studio in Atlanta and LA, and they’re fantastic. Sara Mornell and her crew are just awesome. So, afterwards, I was talking to Nicole and we became good friends and she said, “Hey, come to the studio!” It’s invitation-only so I had to audition and I was invited into the studio. So, now Nicole is one of my acting teachers and it’s kind of funny that I got to direct her in the film, and now she kind of coaches me and teaches me...Shout out to Mornell Studios. I just saw Cameron Arnett...fantastic guy, we’ve become good friends. Again, the rest of the actors, Cedric Greenway who played “Tiny,” and Mike (Michael) Milligan...Just great guys. I’m sure I’m probably leaving some key people out, but just great friendships here. I’d love to work with, certainly, all of them again.”
What is one piece of advice you can give to someone wanting to get into the entertainment industry?
“I would say you have to create your own content. You have to work hard. You have to produce and you’ve gotta really create your own content. Whether you know what you’re doing or not, you have to start and you have to figure it out. Nowadays, it’s tough to be a newbie in the industry. It’s a tough industry to try and break into. But, if you start creating your own content, you’re going to learn so much about so many facets of the industry that it’s going to be a plus in terms of what you bring to the table. If you’re an actor and you can also produce, or if you’re a writer and can also produce...It really, really, in my opinion, helps...You just learn so much more with the different hats that you wear. One talent or skill set informs another. One of the things you can do too is volunteer. If you come on set, maybe volunteer in production for free. Independent filmmakers, especially, do not turn down free hard work. Just do whatever you need to do to really make a name for yourself. Hard work is really going to take you places. You just gotta roll up your sleeves and really jump in with both feet. Otherwise, good luck.”
Summer or Winter? Both
Cats or Dogs? Dogs
Salty or Sweet? Both (and together!)
Comedy or Drama? Have to have both
Movies or TV? Both
Mountains or the Ocean? Both
Sophie Wells is an editorial intern
who is knowledgeable in all things
fashion, cooking, and entertainment.