Filmmaker Dale Oprandy isn't kidding when he tells you, with great enthusiasm, what he sees in our city's future.
"Part of our mission is to make Bakersfield the next Hollywood," he said with a broad smile, spreading his arms wide while seated in his office at Inclusion Films, in a building on 19th Street that once was the home of Sam Woo Laundry.
"We've been doing just short films but we hope to do a feature (length) in a year or so," he went on. "We've got a complete studio setup here and there's a beautiful (outdoor) background here -- you've got everything, with oil wells you can make it look like Texas and the fields all around here look just like you're in the Midwest."
Oprandy, the company's executive artistic director, moved here from Southern California almost three years ago, at the request of Joey Travolta, founder of Inclusion Films, and quickly made connections with Kern Regional Center, a state-funded agency that provides services and support to people with developmental disabilities.
"Bakersfield is a real hands-on town," he said, "and it's so wonderful to have people who are so willing to help the cause."
The "cause," in this case, is his and Travolta's dedication to teaching people with special needs every aspect of filmmaking, from scriptwriting to acting as well as cinematography, lighting, sound effects and editing techniques, with the goal of preparing them for jobs in the industry.
"These (individuals) are not academically inclined but they are artistically inclined," Oprandy said, adding that two of his six employees are former students.
Travolta, a former special education teacher, founded Inclusion Films in 2009 after a career as a singer, actor and producer.
Oprandy, 53, is candid about his lack of academic training but that hasn't hindered his professional career, which started with a magic act, "The Great Oprandy," when he was 10.
"I 'retired' from high school when I was a sophomore," he said, "but I did talk my parents into letting me study with Lee Strasberg in New York; that was a great experience -- I still use some of the (acting) methods with my students here."
For one such student, Jacob Saecker, 19 -- who wrote part of the script for "The Funeral Singer" -- involvement with Oprandy and Inclusion Films has been rewarding in many ways, said his mother, Kristi Saecker.
"Jacob has high-functioning autism and he's normally very introverted," she said.
"I'm very impressed with the skills he has learned; he loves the technology of film and it has given him a lot of self-confidence -- he's even acted in front of a camera."
Saecker and her son, accompanied by his service dog and constant companion, Thor, visited the studio before his enrollment last September.
"We went there to check it out -- toured all the classrooms and they showed us all the equipment," she said. "Jacob actually got to talk to Joey Travolta on the phone in Dale's (Oprandy) office, and he was very excited."
It was during Oprandy's own formative years, as a teen, that he got a taste for show business, developing a "daredevil" act that involved his escape from a straitjacket while suspended from a helicopter that hovered overhead.
"I traveled all over the world doing that," he said. "I was 15 when I did (the escape without the helicopter) live on the NBC 'Today' show with Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley."
By the time he was 17, Oprandy was producing entertainment acts for state fairs and other venues while developing his own career as an actor and singer. He doesn't do sleight-of-hand tricks anymore but he has worked as a magic consultant for several movies and for TV shows such as Dick Van Dyke's 1993-2001 series, "Diagnosis Murder."
With "The Funeral Singer" completed -- the film he and his students produced here -- Oprandy and Travolta, who's based in Burbank, hit the road on July 1 for a two-month tour throughout the country teaching two-week workshops on the art of filmmaking.
Oprandy will be back in town in September, however, to teach the 20-week fall semester of his film school.
"I don't know yet what we'll do this time -- maybe a zombie movie," he said. "We'll talk about it and it will be whatever the team picks."
One thing's for sure -- Oprandy and Travolta will be fully involved in the second annual Outside the Box Film Festival, which the two filmmakers helped inaugurate last year. It will be held Nov. 7-9 at the Fox Theater and is sponsored by Tejon Ranch and the Travolta family.
The competition is open to both regional and national entrants.
There are four different tracks, or categories: mainstream independent films; films made by or about people with disabilities; spiritually based films; and films about American veterans.
It also will be the venue for the Jett Travolta Vision award, given for general excellence in the disabilities track. It is named for John Travolta's son, who was autistic and died in 2009 at age 16. Joey Travolta is the actor's older brother.
Last year's award went to the documentary "David and Zack's Quest to Sacramento."
It tells the story of David Mensch and his son Zach, who set a world record by riding 300 miles to Sacramento -- Mensch in his wheelchair, his son on his bicycle -- to build awareness of possible budget cuts that could affect people with special needs.
For information about submitting a film, go to bakersfieldfilmfest.com. Deadline is Sept. 2.