For Cherokee Nation citizen and Citizen Potawatomi Nation Audio Visual Production Coordinator Jessica McQueen, sharing stories through visual mediums is at the heart of her career. She joined CPN’s Tribal Heritage Productions Department November 2018, and since then has worked on many Tribal projects, including a documentary series covering the stories behind the 11 galleries at the Cultural Heritage Center.
“My work at the Citizen Potawatomi Nation makes me happy because I feel like it’s important to share these stories,” McQueen told the Hownikan. “I’m Cherokee, and I don’t even know my own stories. I just know how important it is for people to know their stories and to know their culture, and I feel like the work we do here really helps with that. Being able to help people discover things about themselves is just cool to see.”
McQueen graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma in 2017 with a bachelor’s in professional media. Before accepting her position with CPN, she was an associate producer for KFOR-TV, an NBC-affiliated news channel in Oklahoma City. The fast-pace news environment allowed McQueen to learn a tremendous amount about the industry in a short time period.
“In news, things can change in a second, especially when you’re producing a show and then all of the sudden, breaking news happens. You have to write that story, fit it in, pull a graphic, find pictures, and do all of that in one single commercial break,” she said. “If you don’t have the most recent information that someone else does, you’ll get called out for it not only by your co-workers, but by your viewers.”
In addition to her work with the Nation, McQueen stays involved in the Oklahoma film scene and opportunities to expand her skillset. In 2018, she served as a production assistant and behind the scenes photographer for a Lifetime original film titled In Bed With a Killer.
“That was really fun,” McQueen said. “We shot in this cute little bakery, and we went to a yoga studio in Edmond and shot there.”
Most recently, she worked on the movie set for Southland featuring actress Bella Thorne. McQueen’s mom, Jill Sanchez, served as the movie’s script supervisor.
“I got to shadow my mom for a couple days, and then I took over for her one day when she was gone,” McQueen said. “I would have never looked into script supervision, a unit production manager or producing. It just seemed too important or too big of a job, but watching her do it — not that it’s easy — but watching her do it and learning and seeing that side of it, I realized, ‘Oh, I could do this too.’”
Her time on-set provides opportunity to gain firsthand production experience.
“Here, I’m more on the computer, behind a desk, whereas when I am working on projects, I’m out in the field, helping make the shot,” she said.
Balancing her day-to-day duties at CPN and freelance opportunities can prove daunting, but McQueen’s strong interest in the film industry helps provide fuel.
“You have to have a passion and drive to do that,” she explained. “I would work an eight-hour day then drive to Guthrie, which is 1.5 hours away, and I would stay there until like 2 in the morning. You have to really want it.”
In the past few years, McQueen began developing a documentary about her grandfather, Dennis Spencer from Oilton, Oklahoma.
“I wanted to work on one with him for a while, and then he got cancer, which sped up my timeline a little bit,” she said. “It was cool because we got to go out to Oilton and see where he was born, where he grew up, and just hearing him talk about life was like years ago.”
During their time working on the project, McQueen learned more about the oil industry’s impact on rural Oklahoma and stories of her grandfather’s youth.
“I loved watching him reminisce about his time on the football field, visiting his old house with him and the places he used to hang out as a teen,” she said. “It was special getting to experience his early life with him like that.”
After filming, her grandfather went into remission, but sadly, the cancer recently returned. McQueen hopes to create a final version, that way her family has something to look back on and remember him by for years and generations to come.
Learn more about Tribal Heritage Productions at cpn.news/thp.