By Kayla Kamp
Sharon Ray is best known as ShIronbutterfly in the film-making world and her personal life.
The name was a byproduct of her career as a motivational speaker. In her speeches she would use the transformation of the butterfly as an analogy for change.
“People identified me with the butterfly, so it became my nickname. During a training session with Les Brown, the Motivator, he dubbed me an ‘Iron Butterfly,’ ” she said.
“I went from using Sharon ‘Butterfly’ to ‘ShIronbutterfly’ so I was not misidentified with the ’60s rock band.”
Ray and her husband, Oscar, have started two independent film production companies — Darkwood Motion Picture Productions and Bare Bones Film Works – and the Bare Bones Film Festival. Through the Darkwood Film Arts Institute, she also is known as a teacher and inspiration to many.
“Bare Bones has no frills, nothing fancy, it’s just bare bones,” Ray said. “We started it to handle short film projects, infomercials, community film projects, film festival documentaries, management, marketing and more.”
Darkwood Productions was created as an outlet for actors. It’s handles feature films.
“We had the production companies and the training arm, so we just decided to have something to bring their movies to,” Ray said.
“The Bare Bones Film Festival is open to independent filmmakers worldwide, so the documentaries and narrative pictures were a bit of a cultural wake-up,” Ray said. “We had movies from places like Iran, places that you would never expect to be having fun while making movies.”
For both production companies, Ray is in charge of producing, casting, directing, and generally making each film happen, but she has also been in front of the camera several times.
“It’s always seem to be roles that I wouldn’t have chosen for myself, but I still do as I tell my students and study it and know that role,” Ray said.
When she’s not teaching or inspiring, Ray likes to make her own films. She is working on a film about Bass Reeves, a U.S. marshal who became a police officer in Muskogee.
“History can just be so boring. I like projects, and I like to see history in action,” Ray said.
“It’s still in the beginning stages, but we’re hoping that it gets more attention because Morgan Freeman has shown interest in playing the late Bass Reeves. Also, part of the movie will be shot in Muskogee.”
Finding her soul mate
In 1991, ShIronbutterfly Ray came back to Muskogee to stay. It was then that she found her soul mate, Oscar Ray.
“I had been married twice before, but when you meet your soul mate you just know,” she said.
Ray had been hired at the Girl Scouts office, and as was the custom, the Girl Scouts office put an article in the paper about their new hire.
The financial company that Oscar Ray was working for had been recruiting new representatives at the time. He was in charge of hiring, and the recruiting officers brought him a photograph of her from the article.
“Everyone was telling him that he should hire me,” Ray said. “I guess we were the last ones to know that we were soul mates.”
Paving the way for young students
When Ray entered the second grade she knew that she wanted to be a teacher. Since then, she strove to use her passion to share knowledge in everything in which she is involved.
In 1996, she and her husband started the Darkwood Film Arts Institute, a nonprofit that would give film training and on-set experience to anyone 10 or older.
The classes teach acting, writing screenplays, doing makeup, cinematography, directing, editing, costuming, producing and marketing.
“We have students from ages 10 to 75, and some have already made their own movies,” Ray said. “It validates us when they do what we encouraged them to do. It’s like saying what we do matters.”
The Rays have taught youth summer programs at Tulsa Community College and the Teen Center and adult classes in various cities in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas.
Achievements, honors and awards
Ray’s most recent achievement was being asked to be on the Legends Panel at the Muskogee Women’s Leadership Conference.
The panel is made up of various women who work in male-dominated areas and who have vast experience with success in their careers and their personal lives.
“People like Wilma Mankiller were previous panelists, so I was really honored to be there,” Ray said.
In 2005 she received a Governor’s Arts Award for Special Recognition for the Darkwood Film Arts Institute, and the festival directors for the Bare Bones Film Festival received a Golden Halo Achievement Awards from the South California Motion Picture Council.
Her festival is also honored on liveability.com as one of the Top 10 Festival Destinations.
It’s always exciting to be recognized for just doing what you do, she said.
HOW DID YOU COME TO BE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
“I first came to Muskogee as a preschooler for a two-week summer vacation. Then, I came back, stayed two years and became a high school graduate from Manual Training High School in 1965. Muskogee became my final resting place 21 years ago when I returned to care for my adopted parents, Lucille and Oletha Thomas.”
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR FREE TIME?
“My ‘free time’ is spent focusing on maintaining better health and wellness through zumba classes, walking, bicycling, weights. I’m also focused on preserving the rich and diverse history, art and culture that shapes Oklahoma. Since my work is also my play, my vocation has become a vacation of sorts, free from the rigors of structure.”
HOW DO YOU MAKE A LIVING IN MUSKOGEE?
“I have worked with the Girl Scouts, taught at Tulsa Community College and Rogers State University. Every day I am unemployed unless I have a paid contract to fulfill. My husband and I have a couple of independent production companies, which we contract our services in film-industry related positions.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
“I love the friendliness of all the people, the architectural beauty of the city’s buildings, the diversity of neighborhood housing and the blending of ethnicities.”
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
“More pride shown by residents in what Muskogee has to offer. I’d like to see an “I love Muskogee” grassroots campaign launched. A Downtown Arts District where glass blowers, pottery makers, musicians, poets, visual artists and other crafts and art-loving people gather day and night. Also, I’d like to see more jobs in Muskogee for youth and a lower high school dropout rate.”
IS THERE AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE WHO YOU ADMIRE?
"Sue Harris, president of the Muskogee Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. Sue leads by example and practices what she wants of her staff, volunteers and board. She is a mentor and a friend.”
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
"Muskogee is a fun, friendly place where unforgettable experiences in film, music, theater and visual arts impact the quality and diversity of daily life."
Meet ShIronbutterfly Ray
HOMETOWN: Little Rock, Ark.
CAREER: Educator and consultant.
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in behavioral sciences and psychology from California State University and master’s degree in education, specializing in early childhood education, from Pepperdine University.
FAMILY: Oscar Ray, husband, blended family of seven children.
CHURCH: Understanding Principles For Better Living Church.
HOBBIES: Community volunteer, photography, videography, founder of Script-2-Screen Independent Screenwriters Competition, website building and maintenance, and Facebook enthusiast.