I Can Only Imagine: Shooting Sites of the Musical Biopic Explored

‘I Can Only Imagine,’ by the director brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin, is named after the twice platinum song of MercyMe and based on the early life of its Texan lead singer, Bart Millard. After his mother divorces his father, leaving Bart at a tender young age, the boy has to fend for himself against a physically abusive father. Bart eventually finds expression in music and escapes home to explore a future in the field. After hearing of his father being diagnosed with cancer, he returns to find a man changed by his renewed Christian faith.

A once monstrous presence in his life becomes someone closest to him. After his passing, the budding singer writes and performs a song dedicated to him, calling it “I Can Only Imagine,” alluding to his father being in a better place. The poignant and inspirational film is set in the singer’s hometown of Greenville, Texas. The convincing backdrop might make you wonder if the movie was filmed on location.

Where Was I Can Only Imagine Filmed?

‘I Can Only Imagine’ was filmed entirely in the state of Oklahoma as opposed to its canonical location. Shooting was carried out across El Rino, Jones, Yuko, Del City, and Oklahoma City, between November 30, 2016, and January 14, 2017. Let us take a closer look at the specific locations used as backdrops for the biopic.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Nestled in the heart of Oklahoma, the state capital stands as a vibrant metropolis that embraces both contemporary urban life and its historical roots. Known for its diverse culture, friendly locals, and wide-open spaces, the city serves as an intriguing filming location. Speaking of the film’s narrative intertwined seamlessly with the city’s essence, Andrew Erwin said, “We just fell in love with the people. The hospitality, the crew base, the locations are spectacular, and it really brought this movie to life, I can’t imagine filming this movie anywhere else.”

Within the city, the film crew used the sites of OKC Farmers Public Market on 311 S Klein Avenue and a live music venue, Oklahoma Opry on 19 E California Avenue. During the culmination of principal photography, the Civic Center served as the film’s concluding shooting spot over a span of two days. The movie’s pinnacle moment involved a gathering of no fewer than 1,000 extras occupying seats within the Civic Center. The Erwin brothers approximated that over 13,000 individuals answered the call to participate as local extras.

Del City, Oklahoma

Part of the metropolitan area of Oklahoma City within Oklahoma County, the city stands as a suburban enclave exuding a blend of community warmth and urban convenience. For the recording of the song “I Can Only Imagine,” the filmmakers utilized Castle Row Studios located at 2908 Epperly Drive. Soon the cameras were out, and the studio became a backdrop for the film as well.

Yukon, Oklahoma

Situated just east of Oklahoma City, Yukon is a part of the Eastern Canadian County. The city gained its name in the 1890s with its creation, in reference to the gold rush in the Yukon territory of Canada. The film crew of ‘I Can Only Imagine’ made use of a farm in the city to set scenes depicting rural Greenville. Talking about shooting in Oklahoma, producer Kevin Downes appreciated the tax incentives, filming infrastructure, and seasoned filming crews offered by the region. Furthermore, the film qualified for the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate which scored a rebate of about 1 dollar for every 3 dollars being spent on producing the feature film in Oklahoma, with an annual cap of 5 million dollars.

Jones, Oklahoma

A small town to the northeast of Oklahoma City, Jones is named after its three-time mayor. The area features expansive spaces and older buildings lending it a rustic appeal.

El Reno, Oklahoma

Further west of Yukon, El Reno is the county seat of Canadian County. The region is known for its ethnic cuisine, craft beer, and fried onion hamburgers. It sports a drier landscape, casinos, and multiple trekking and skiing spots.

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