BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (OPINION) — Sonny H. King has been in some very good movies and he has been in some that were so bad that those films aren’t even listed on his resume. King knew as soon as he saw the script for “Oildale” that it would be a production he would proudly add to his acting credits.
If you have not seen the film that got the attention of King, there will be a special screening of “Oildale” starting at 2 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Fox Theater. The event – that will feature a cast reunion – is being held to promote the availability of the film on DVD.
“Oildale” is the story of how homeless veterans rent rooms from an 18-year-old girl struggling to support her 13-year-old brother while discovering her voice in Americana music. The renters end up not only getting a place to stay but finding support.
With her mother’s guitar and a unique voice, she wins the first two contests making her eligible for the final contest for $10,000 and a recording contract. Carlie struggles to write a song and gives up until the Iraq veteran encourages her to write it from her heart, something that she discovers he has already done with a song of his own.
As the contest approaches their itinerant father shows up with a new wife and lays claim to the house forcing Carlie to decide if singing her song for the contest money is more important than giving voice to one of the veterans.
The story of veterans dealing with the physical and emotional scars they got because of going to war touched King deeply. Just like his character of Larry, King is also a veteran of the Vietnam War.
“ ‘Oildale’ had a special meaning for me because it was the first time I have ever played a Vietnam veteran. Since I am a Vietnam veteran, I had a lot to relate to,” King says. “I didn’t go through the horrors that Larry did because he was very mistreated when he came home – as were many of them.”
King knew from personal experience when he read the script for “Oildale” that Salt had a strong insight to what veterans are facing.
His work helped Director’s David Mueller and Lynn Salt make “Oildale” a tale that deals with multigenerational themes of family, healing and sacrifice.
Mueller says in a written statement, “As long-time collaborators Lynn and I find these themes both nostalgic and compelling, so we set out to make a movie that echoed the passing of an era in small town America.
“Set in the Central Valley of California, where dust bowl refugees from Oklahoma and Texas planted the seeds of a brand new form of American music – a form that would eventually breed singer-songwriters Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and others of the ‘Bakersfield Sound’ – ‘Oildale’ is an homage to this music, to veterans and to the people of small towns everywhere.”
The production crew traveled to Bakersfield in search of locations for the filming to start in 2018. Wendy Porter, Executive Director of the local Wounded Heroes Fund, started working with the “Oildale” team from the very start.
“Someone recommended they contact us because the Wounded Heroes Fund has a lot of contacts and works with a lot of veterans. We kind of helped them get all the contracts they needed and helped them get started,” Porter says.
Porter was eager to work with the film crew because she saw the production as a way to get the word out regarding the problems that veterans are facing from homelessness to mental health issues. She was certain the film would be a great way to raise awareness.
Drawing attention to the Wounded Heroes Fund is important now more than ever. There has been a drop in donations over the past few years because of the pandemic and economic problems. This drop comes when Kern County ranks as the third largest county in California for the number of veterans.
Along with helping with locations and local red tape, Porter and several of the veterans who work in her office read the script. The production team asked them to help make sure that everything that was in the script reflected what was happening in the real world.
Another way the film remained true to the real world was through the veterans who worked on the production. That includes King who opted to enlist in the Navy after he had gotten his draft notice at the height of the Vietnam War. After serving four years, King lived in Florida for a short time before deciding to move to California. He knew the pay was better there for his work as an actor and a licensed electrician.
He has made a living for decades doing both. King knew that the role in “Oildale” would not come with a big payday but money has never been the biggest attraction to taking on an acting job.
“Sometimes you have to sacrifice the pay for a quality project,” King says. “When ‘Oildale’ came along, I really liked it and thought this would be a great role for me.
“The quality of the work was great and that’s an attractive part of the business.”
The quality King saw in “Oildale” can be seen at the special events. Tickets are $10 and available at the Fox Theater box office, 1700 20th St. DVDs of the movie and the “Oildale” Heartland Tour Music CD will be on sale. A portion of the proceeds goes to the Wounded Heroes Fund.