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Thrill of the hunt

Filmmaker John Swab, clean and sober, imagines Tulsa as an industrial wasteland

John Swab

Greg Bollinger

More than 10 years ago, I met John Swab and learned that he was a painter—but he doesn’t really do that anymore.

“It’s too isolating,” he said. “I had a pretty gnarly drug habit for a long time and I kind of had to nix that. I have people I collaborate with in film and I’m a little more accountable.”

Swab will be three years sober on August 23.

A writer, director, and Tulsa native, Swab has had a passion for filmmaking since childhood. “My uncle was a screenwriter when I was a kid. He lived in LA, and he’d come back, and I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” he said. “He passed away when I was 18 or 19.”

Swab finished his first screenplay at the age of 19. Not quite ready to produce a full length feature, he partnered with co-director Corey Asraf on the short film, “Judas’ Chariot.” (This was a prologue of sorts to what would eventually be called “Let Me Make You a Martyr.”) The pair debuted “Judas’ Chariot” in venues across the country, including Circle Cinema, in an effort to garner support and financial backing.

Swab was eventually able to acquire enough funds to not only make the feature, but also to include Mark Boone Junior (“Sons of Anarchy”) and Marilyn Manson on the cast list. Filmed in Tulsa, Owasso, and Sand Springs, “Let Me Make You a Martyr” is a bleak portrayal of rural life in the Bible Belt and its ominous, crime-ridden underbelly.

Swab said the biggest lesson he learned from his first film was about writing and the value of constructive criticism. “I had never written anything before then,” he said. “We were all so innocent and young, and nobody would tell me I’m wrong, or ‘no.’ No one was challenging me on anything.”

Like many creatives, Swab is critical of his previous work. But he couldn’t deny the level of accomplishment from his first go at filmmaking and soon began work on another—this time without a co-director.

Sixty or so rewrites later, Swab is gearing up to film his forthcoming movie, “Run with the Hunted.” It’s the story of a boy named Oscar, who is forced to flee his small town after committing a murder to save his best friend’s life. Oscar escapes to the nearest big city, an industrial wasteland, where he is inducted into a gang of child street thieves. The film then jumps ahead 15 years: Oscar is now the leader of a band of children, and the girl he saved so long ago has set out to find him.

“Run with the Hunted”—scheduled to premiere at Circle Cinema sometime next year—will be filmed August 6–31 in Hominy, a small town in Osage County, and in Tulsa.

“I’ve really got some great locations. I’ve got the Admiral Twin for a drive-in scene. I’ve got this great abandoned warehouse where they used to fix the trolley cars, and an abandoned jail on Charles Page [Boulevard],” Swab said.

While filmed in Oklahoma, the movie isn’t set here. Swab described the setting of the film as a “pseudo non-reality before cell phones; it’s all old—nothing that would suggest anything new.

“I’ve got some pretty seasoned actors in this one that I’ve spent a lot of time with, who have really helped me hone this thing and get it to where everybody knows exactly what the hell is going on,” Swab said. A Tulsan named Mitchell Paulsen will play young Oscar, and the majority of the child bandits will also be locals.

Looking back, Swab acknowledged how life has improved since his decision to get sober.

“I’m pretty happy about it. I feel a lot better and the people around me are happy,” Swab said. While he isn’t actively painting anymore, it played a role in his recovery. He taught art to people going through detox and continued teaching when he got out
of rehab.

“My hardest thing I had to learn was that drugs aren’t my problem,” Swab said. “I was the problem, and drugs were just a symptom—a way of me dealing with however the fuck I thought I should feel—so my issue now is me, and just keeping myself in check and making sure I’m a considerate human being. That’s the hardest part now.”

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