HER 2021 Award Finalist: Rachel Cannon
Woman of the Year
“I’ve known Rachel since the 7th grade, and she’s always been an inspiring force for what’s possible. Rachel’s visionary leadership prioritizes creating a future worth building and all the people she can bring along. She’s been shining the way forward for decades, empowering others as she goes.”
-Adrian Young, Friend
When actress Rachel Cannon moved back to Oklahoma after two successful decades in Los Angeles, she didn’t know where to focus her energy. When you’ve been working on mega-hits like “Fresh Off the Boat,” “Mad Men,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “Two and a Half Men” … what’s a girl to do?
“[I thought] Oklahoma could be the next production hub if we had sound stages,” said Cannon. “With no sound stages, you’ll never get television. And without television you won’t get the bigger movies, because there’s no ecosystem to support the industry.”
What’s a girl who loves the industry and Oklahoma to do? Build the ecosystem.
In 2019 Cannon teamed up with her friend Matt Payne, another Oklahoma native with impressive industry experience, to launch Prairie Surf Media. Priority number one was building a sound stage. Two years of covert research, planning, and collaboration later, they were poised to transform Cox Convention Center into Prairie Surf Studios. The public didn’t know about the project until it appeared on an Oklahoma City Council meeting agenda.
“That was our coming out party,” Cannon said. “We very much wanted to do it and then talk about it, because so many people before us had talked about what they were going to do and didn’t deliver on it. So, we built the whole thing in the Bat Cave—and then came out and said here’s the LOI [letter of intent] from the city. Two months later, we had a lease agreement. After that, we went straight to the Capitol to work on the legislative piece of it.”
Cannon succeeded in that endeavor, too. Prairie Surf Media was the force behind the Filmed in Oklahoma Act of 2021, increasing the state’s film incentive to $30 million. While Cannon was shaking hands at the Capitol, Payne was meeting with university, college, and career tech leaders to build out educational programs for the soon-to-be-booming entertainment industry. After all, one production easily employs 250 people. Cannon and Payne believe those jobs need to go to Oklahomans.
“We are infrastructure, but without a proper foundation in incentive and crew base, we don’t have anything to stand on,” she said. “We had to simultaneously go and improve the foundation to be able to hold up something bigger.”
After years of hard work, Cannon is ready for that “something bigger” to land in this ecosystem, as well as a return to acting.
“Am I dying to slap some lipstick on and play a character on a TV show? Yes!” Cannon said with a laugh. She recalls turning down a Netflix sitcom in 2020 to focus on Prairie Surf Media—a hard but necessary call. “This is what I do, what I breathe, but I couldn’t do both. I had to get one off the ground. But now, this is off the ground. You bring in a multi-cam show here, and you put it in front of that live studio audience? You’re damn straight I’m starring in it.”
Cannon smiles at the thought. Bringing the entertainment industry home … It’s exactly what she was meant to do.