Filmmaker by day, rock climber by night

For Jason Burks, Tulsa offers the best of work and play.

Jason Burks is a filmmaker, cinematographer, businessman, husband, and outdoors enthusiast living in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He shared his thoughts on why Oklahoma’s rich eco-diversity and booming economy has led to his ideal flyover life.

Thanks for sitting down with us, Jason. Give us a snapshot of your life here in Oklahoma. 

I live in Broken Arrow with my wife, Tayler, and we’re currently building a house in the country. I work in film and video at Retrospec Films in Broken Arrow, where I travel around the state and the country filming different projects. I also own Climb Tulsa, a climbing gym in southeast Tulsa. 

Jason Burks smiling.

Okay, so you own an acclaimed production company. You’ve traveled all over the world. You have a TV series. Plenty of awards under your belt. Why has it made sense to stay put in Oklahoma? 

My friends and family are here in Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma economy is stable and much more affordable [than other states]. I like the values of people in the Midwest, more so than I do the values of people on the east and west coasts. 

The opportunity for entrepreneurship is also much greater in Oklahoma, I would say than any other state in the U.S. Hiring people is easier, because there’s a large base of like-minded people that want to create something great, where I think there is a lot of division in more polarized states. 

From a filming perspective, I like the diversity that Oklahoma offers, and I like its central location because I can fly either direction and get places pretty quick. 

Have you ever lived anywhere besides Oklahoma? 

I have not, but I have spent a lot of time in a lot of different places — and I’ve always looked forward to coming back to Tulsa. 

I like less traffic, smaller airports, and the ability to drive anywhere in 20 minutes. I love being in a community where I know a lot of people, and I think the community [in Tulsa] is small enough that people take the time to care about each other. In big cities, people run into so many different people everyday that they will never see again. The way people treat each other is just different.

You’ve clearly enjoyed a lot of success in Oklahoma. What opportunities has living here afforded you? 

Oklahoma has given me a lot of opportunities because it’s not a destination that a lot of people look to, as far as moving and starting businesses. A lot of the good ideas that may exist or could exist have not yet been created, because we’re a small state from a population perspective. 

When I built Climb Tulsa, it was the largest climbing gym in the city and the only gym in Tulsa. When I built Retrospec Films, it became the largest production company in the state and it still is to this day. If I had been in New York or California, that would not have been the case. It just inevitably creates opportunities to do things that stand out and create success. 

Jason Burks and wife rock climbing in Witchita Mountains, Oklahoma.

You’re really into the outdoors and extreme sports, which Oklahoma has plenty of. What kinds of things do you do in your free time?

I love rock climbing in the Wichita Mountains and camping in Robbers Cave State Park. I grew up going there as a kid. I enjoy going to the lake and driving boats around Grand Lake and Tenkiller Lake — two of my favorite spots. Recently, I did some paragliding along the Talimena National Scenic Byway, which was a blast. I’m also big into outdoor adventure, so mountain biking, camping, climbing, hiking, off-roading in the jeep, dirt biking. All of that stuff. 

I also love eating food and staying at cool hotels, so I’m always looking for new places to try. Sometimes my wife and I will go to Bartlesville or Oklahoma and stay somewhere cool or drive over to Medicine Park and stay by the creek there. 

What spots in the Tulsa area does everyone have to try? 

First, I’d say Climb Tulsa — non-biased opinion. But I think rock climbing is an amazing activity that a lot of people don’t think they can do, and they actually can. It is just a lot of fun!

Chandler Park is really beautiful and a best kept secret. It has some fun hiking and really cool cliffs with a great view. It’s interesting when you go, because you’re in Tulsa, but still in this really cool natural environment. Also Turkey Mountain, which I feel similar about. Turkey Mountain has incredible mountain biking and the upper flow tracks are phenomenal, which I didn’t even know existed until recently. When you’re lost in the middle of Turkey Mountain, you feel like you could be lost in a forest in Montana, but you’re in Tulsa. Walk around a little bit and you’ll get a clear viewpoint of downtown. It’s amazing. 

What’s a hidden Oklahoma gem people need to check out?

Medicine Park. It’s so quaint and cute, and when you drive over to that space and see Mount Scott, you’ll be like “What!” It blows your mind a little bit. The stores are really cool, and the restaurants have consistently always been really good.

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is also really awesome, with bison, longhorns, and prairie dogs everywhere. The Narrows is a little cannon inside the refuge that I would say is another little gem too. It’s just 10 minutes from Medicine Park. 

One time, my wife and I were climbing there during the fall, and we were 250 feet up on this wall. All of a sudden, all of these elk started bugling. We looked across the valley and saw about 60 elk just standing there bugling, because it was their mating season. You would’ve thought you were in Wyoming or Utah or Colorado, but we were in Oklahoma. You would have known no difference. 

You’ve been all over the country and met all kinds of people. What do you think people get wrong about Oklahoma? 

People have massive misconceptions. They think Oklahoma is boring and a bunch of plains. They pretty much write it off the way people do Kansas or Nebraska. I have driven east to west and north to south in Kansas. Nothing against it, but Kansas is very boring, in my opinion. There is nothing but constant fields and crops. 

Oklahoma is massively different. You go to the south and you have the Ouachita Mountains and evergreens. You go out west to the Wichita Mountains, and it’s like you’re in a desert. There are cactus, cliffs, sand dunes, and places to rock climb everywhere. In the northeast, there are caves and rivers and huge lakes to do lake sports in. Way out in the panhandle, it feels like you’re in New Mexico and there are mesas and road runners and all of this insane diversity. 

Oklahoma has more diversity than any other state I can think of. Most of the states that everyone loves that are covered in pine trees and mountains only have pine trees and mountains. They don’t have deserts and deciduous forests and all the diversity Oklahoma has. That’s the biggest misconception — the geology, geography, and makeup of what our state is actually like, physically speaking.

What about the career side? What’s it like working and building a business in Oklahoma?

Doors of opportunity are always opened by other people willing to take a risk and believe in an individual. Oklahoma is exactly that. I don’t believe I could say that about every state or city in the U.S. Opportunities for people, professionals, families, and entrepreneurs are thriving here. 

If you’re looking to build something in your life that requires a door to be opened, then you need to find yourself in a community that has the willingness to extend faith to you, and you have to live in a community that has leaders that want to open doors for others and bring people together. I don’t think there is a better place for that than Oklahoma.

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