CASTING CALL: Great Escapes Season 2, Week 3

Morgan Casting is thrilled to announce that “Great Escapes with Morgan Freeman” is returning for a second season, and they are back to hunt some criminals…actually, they’re hunting for people who LOOK like the criminals – and others – that will be featured in this docuseries about infamous jailbreaks!

Shooting has begun in Natchez and will continue for several weeks. A broad spectrum of people of every age, ethnicity, and gender will be needed to fill non-speaking roles. Pro actors may suggest through their agents or Actors Access, but non-pros are also welcome to submit for consideration via the email address provided below.

Because all roles are silent-on-camera, Morgan Casting is seeking talented performers who can bring these roles to life through convincing action! They would love to cast as closely as possible in look, height, and eye color; however, please do not limit your suggestion based on eye color, and feel free to go up or down a few inches with height.

Pays $200/day for the following roles, for up to 5 days max of work, exact number of work days still TBD. Production is open to covering hotel for those who may live a reasonable drive from Natchez. On set experience welcomed, but not required. Must be non-union.

If you participated in Great Escapes last season, you are encouraged to suggest yourself again this year!

NOTE: COVID testing will be required of all performers and covered by production. All talent must be non-union.

CURRENTLY SEEKING for WEEK 3 | WEEK OF AUGUST 22

[HOSSEIN NAYERI] Middle Eastern / Mediterranean male, age 30-40, 5’10”, brown hair & eyes, athletic build. $200/day x approx. 3 days.

[JONATHAN TIEU] Vietnamese male, age 20-25, black hair, brown eyes. 5’5”-5’9” with a slight build.  $200/day x approx. 3 days.

[BAC DUONG] Vietnamese male, age 35-45, slim build, about 5’7”. Visible tattoos preferred.  $200/day x approx. 3 days.

[LONG MA] Vietnamese male, age 60-75, gray hair, brown eyes. Shorter than average, 5’5”-5’9”.  $200/day x approx. 3 days.

[NOOSHAFARIN RAVAGHI] Middle Eastern female, 30-50, average height and build, with long brown hair and brown eyes.  $200/day x approx. 3 days.

[QUAWNTAY ADAMS] Black male, appearing about 30 years old, 6’4”, 215 lbs. with a muscular build.  $200/day + x approx. 3 days.

[TONYA CONRAD] white female, late 30’s/40’s, blonde hair, blue eyes. Average height with a chubby/plus-size build.  $200/day + x approx. 3 days.

[MIKE MORELLI] White male, late 20s, clean shaven, dark hair and dark eyes. Average height with a chubby/plus-size build. $200/day + x approx. 3 days.

[BULLY] Black male, early 20s. Average height/build. (no reference photo available) $200/day + x approx. 3 days.

[GARY CRANMER] White male, 44-50, salt & pepper hair. Average height /build.  $200/day + x approx. 3 days.

Please email TWO photos (1 head & shoulders + 1 full length), along with the following information to: CastingGreatEscapes@gmail.com

For the subject line of your email, please use:

[Insert your name here] for [Insert character name here]

Name:

Current City/State of Residence:

Height:

Weight:

Phone Number:

If you are represented by an agent, please let us know.

Are you non-union?

Deadline to submit/suggest is Friday, August 12, at 5 p.m.

David Sheffield, Screenwriter

David Sheffield

David Sheffield grew up in Biloxi, and landed his dream job as a comedy writer for “Saturday Night Live” in his early 30s. While writing sketches for then rising star Eddie Murphy, he began a long-running collaboration with the actor, co-writing the scripts for some of his biggest hits like “Coming to America” and “The Nutty Professor.” More recently, he co-wrote the screenplay for the sequel “Coming 2 America,” which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2021. Now he’s returned to his first love, the theater, with his passion project play “The Heartbreak Henry.” The play will be performed at the Claude Gentry Theatre in Baldwyn Aug. 11-13 with an encore performance Aug. 20.

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I claim Biloxi as my hometown, although we didn’t move there until I was about 13. I’m a Mississippian, but we moved all over. My father was a schoolteacher. And you think of schoolteachers as being people who don’t travel or move a lot. But he was nomadic by nature. And we moved all over hell. I lived in Tupelo twice, and a town called Belden, Mississippi; Dorsey, Mississippi; Red Bay, Alabama;  Pensacola, Florida; Hattiesburg and then Oxford; and of course Biloxi. There are hardly any towns where I haven’t lived, to be honest with you.

I started college at Ole Miss, but then I finished at USM in ‘72. I had a double major of theater and communications.

When did you first discover your interest in working in film?

Well, I’ll tell you the truth. I wanted to write for movies and television when I was in high school, and I said as much. I was elected “Boy of the Month” by the Biloxi High School Hi-Tide newspaper, and it said, “David wants to write television shows and movies.” So, I think my path was set when I was very young.

When did you realize you could do it from Mississippi?

I was hired by “Saturday Night Live” as a staff writer in 1980. And then I stayed there for three years and became head writer and the second year and supervising producer of the show the third year. And then from there I met Eddie Murphy and my partner, Barry W. Blaustein, and we wrote most of Eddie Murphy’s material on the show. And then when I moved to Los Angeles, we continued to write for Eddie, and I had a hand in writing seven movies, four of them for Eddie, including “Coming to America,” “The Nutty Professor,” “Boomerang” and the sequel “Coming 2 America,” which was done only two years ago. I moved back to Mississippi in 2008, and I live in Jones County, on a little horse farm in the middle of the woods.

What type of training have you had and where?

Screenwriting courses were not available when I was in school. But I wrote my first play while I was a student at USM. I worked my way through school as a reporter for WDAM TV in Hattiesburg. And then I worked in advertising, and then I got the break in 1980 to write for “Saturday Night Live.”

How did you transition from being a reporter/ad man to comedy?

Well, I always broke the news with a funny slant! But I’ve left out something important, which is that my brother, Buddy Sheffield, was also an accomplished comedy writer, the head writer for “In Living Color.” And he had his own show on Nickelodeon called “Roundhouse” that he created. Buddy and I wrote children’s plays. We had a theater company called the Sheffield Ensemble Theater, and we toured schools around the country in the ‘70s. So, I was always sort of writing comedy on the side even though I had other jobs.

What was your first job in the industry? Was there anything before “SNL”?

No, I just I did local commercials, and my biggest client at the time, when I was working for a little ad agency in Biloxi, was Yazoo Big Wheel Lawnmowers. (laughs)

So, I did commercials for them, and industrial film, and political campaigns, and I wrote everything I could find to make a living. I wrote billboards, menus, political speeches, you name it.

What are your current and recent projects?

I’ve written a play which is being done around the state. When I was 19 and a freshman at Ole Miss, I took a job as the manager of a flophouse hotel called the Henry Hotel, just off the square in Oxford. And I’ve written a play, 50 years later, about all the characters that I met there. It’s called “The Heartbreak Henry.” And it was done on the coast at Center Stage. And then we produced it in Oxford, on the Ole Miss campus at the Ford Center last year. And now it’s being done at another little theater in Baldwyn, Mississippi, the Claude Gentry Theater (owned by local filmmaker Clark Richey of Six Shooter Studios).

What has been the most surprising thing for you about working in the film industry?

That I was at least as smart and as talented as most of the other people I’ve met. (laughs)

I’ve been a successful screenwriter, but I haven’t always enjoyed it. It’s, it’s not always the most fun. I once said, and this is true, being a screenwriter in Hollywood is like being elected treasurer of the junior class, or more like secretary of the junior class.

You get rewritten and, you know, they pass these scripts around. You write something and somebody else rewrites it, then somebody rewrites them. Pretty soon there’s about seven or eight writers on it, and you hardly recognize what you started with. So that’s a little disheartening after a while.

Was it like that for “Coming to America?”

No, that was a rare exception.

We wrote that script in five weeks and started shooting the first draft. So we never had time to rewrite that one. We were on a hell bent for leather schedule. Eddie Murphy had a deal with Paramount for a movie, and that was it.

Who has been an influence on your career and why?

I was a fan of a screenwriter by the name of William Goldman. I’d say him more than anyone. I read and devoured his book “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” which is a kind of textbook for how to write screenplays and how to negotiate the treacherous waters of Hollywood. So, I think he was the writer who has influenced me most. He had an illustrious career. He wrote “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Marathon Man,” you can look up all his credits—you think of him as a guy who just sort of did this action thing, but then he wrote “The Princess Bride,” which was just a change of pace.

Has being from Mississippi helped you stand out in any way?

Well, I’m unusual in that there aren’t that many screenwriters from the Deep South. From my experience, most of them came from New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles.

If you could build a film or a scene around a specific location in Mississippi, where would that be and why?

I’d like to adapt my play, which takes place in Oxford, and it’s a period piece. It takes place in 1967, the Summer of Love.

Do you have a favorite moment on set or with a project?

Well, I have many, and I’m trying to think of one that’s not X-rated. (laughs)

But I’ll tell you of a great moment for me and my partner, Barry Blaustein. It was when we went to the set of “Coming 2 America,” the sequel, which we shot at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. We were overwhelmed by all the people in that cast and crew that came up to us and thanked us for writing it.

And it was a kind of homecoming because we were back again and working with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall and James Earl Jones and Shari Headley—all the actors who were in the film that were back. And that felt like a grand homecoming.

Speaking of James Earl Jones, he’s a fellow Mississippian. Did you two ever make that connection?

We did, yeah. When we first did “Coming to America,” we met at the read through and talked about both being from Mississippi. He’s very funny about it. He said, “I learned English as a second language.”

What are you hopes for the film industry in Mississippi?

Well, you know, traditionally a lot of the movies that were made about Mississippi have been about race. “Mississippi Burning” is a prime example. Until John Grisham came along. I remember when “The Firm” was made into a film, I went to a screening at Paramount where it was made. And I said to an executive at Paramount, “This is the first film I’ve ever seen about the South that didn’t have a screen door slamming in the background.”

It’s so much easier to make a film now with all the advances in technology and the cameras are so excellent. It’s not as difficult to light and produce a film as it used to be now with the advent of with superb video cameras. So I’m hoping that there’ll be more films made in Mississippi that are about the state that aren’t necessarily dwelling in the past. You don’t want to ignore the state’s past with racism, but we don’t want that to be the only theme that comes out of Mississippi films.

I also think that it would be profitable for somebody to build a state-of-the-art soundstage in Mississippi. You know, it could be used for local commercials and regional commercials as well as films. I think it would be a real boost to have a soundstage.

What do you do when you’re not working on film projects?

I’m a fly fisherman. A passionate fly fisherman. I like fishing salt and freshwater and I just got back from Wisconsin, for example, where I went fly fishing for brown trout. That’s my main hobby, fishing. Of course, there’s no mountain trout fishing in Mississippi because there’s no mountains. But I like to fish in saltwater and have for many years fished for speckled trout, redfish, cobia, tarpon. Just about anything that swims can be caught with a fly if you’re foolish enough to try.

What would your advice be to someone looking to get into the industry?

You need to write something as a calling card. If you aspire to be a screenwriter, the first thing you should do is write a screenplay and start shopping it around. You have to have a calling card.

There are so many more opportunities now than there were when I was young, because you’ve got so many more outlets. My God, you’ve got Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and a dozen more streaming companies that are gradually supplanting the studios. So there’s a lot more opportunities. And I would say somebody right out of college should make a short film, put it on Facebook, send it around to festivals, meet people and start networking toward building yourself a career. Now, I’ll be honest, it’s hard to make a living as a screenwriter in Mississippi because all the work still originates in New York or L.A. Most of it. But that’s opening up a bit more.

But if you make something extraordinary, an audience will find you.

How can people reach you?

I don’t have a web page or anything like that. I’m just on Facebook, that’s about it. I’m an old guy, so I am not that attuned to TikTok and Instagram, all that stuff.

CASTING CALL: Great Escapes Season 2, Week 2

Morgan Casting is thrilled to announce that GREAT ESCAPES WITH MORGAN FREEMAN is returning for a second season and they are back to hunt some criminals…actually, they’re hunting for people who LOOK like the criminals  – and others – that will be featured in this docuseries about infamous jailbreaks!

Shooting for Week 2 begins August 15 in Natchez, and they’ll be casting on a broad spectrum of age, ethnicity, and gender. Pro actors may suggest through their agents or Actors Access, but non-pros are also welcome to submit for consideration via the email address provided below. 

All roles are silent on camera, so Morgan Casting is seeking talented performers who can bring these roles to life through convincing action! They would love to cast as closely as possible in look, height, and eye color; however, please do not limit your suggestion based on eye color, and feel free to go up or down a few inches with height.

Pays $200/day for the following roles, for up to 5 days max of work, exact number of work days still TBD.

Production is open to covering hotel for those who may live a reasonable drive from Natchez.

NOTE: COVID testing will be required of all performers and covered by production. All talent must be non-union.

CURRENTLY SEEKING for WEEK 2:

IMPORTANT NOTE: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE THE EXACT AGE/HEIGHT, OR IDENTICAL IN LOOK TO OUR CANDIDATES, BUT REASONABLY CLOSE IN RESEMBLANCE. 

[Forest Tucker] White male, appears around age 59, with receding gray hairline.

[John Waller] White male, age 35-50, with short dark hair and full facial hair.

[William McGirk] White male, age 35-50, with receding hairline (longer in the back), and full beard.

[Roy Harper] White male, age 42. Bald with blue eyes, 5’7”, 165 lbs. Arm tattoos preferred, but not required.

[John Woolard] White male, age 37. Blonde hair, blue eyes. 6’2”, 160 lbs.

[Jim Turturillo] White male, age 38. Brown hair, brown eyes. 6ft, 245 lbs.

[Jim Poling] White male, age 30. Brown hair, blue eyes. 5’10”, 200 lbs.

Additionally, Production is looking for the following to be featured background. Must work as local hire (no hotel accommodations) for $150/one day on set; exact date TBD:

[Webb Couple] White male & female, age 60s. Real-life couples encouraged to submit, or suggest individually!

On set experience welcomed, but not required. Must be non-union.

Please email TWO photos (1 head & shoulders + 1 full length), along with the following information to: CastingGreatEscapes@gmail.com

For the subject line of your email, please use:

[Insert your name here] for [Insert character name here]

Name:

Current City/State of Residence:

Height:

Weight::

Weight and/or Body Type:

Phone Number:

If you are represented by an agent, please let us know.

Are you non-union?

Deadline to submit/suggest is Thursday, August 4 at 5 p.m.

CREW CALL: All for Your Health

LOCATION: Jackson

DATES: 8/30-9/1

CREW NEEDED:

Gaffer, $650/day

Key Grip, $650/day

Hair and Makeup Artist, $500/day

Sound, $650/day + kit

PA (2), $200/day

DEADLINE TO SUBMIT: July 28

CONTACT: talmage@jmillsent.com

Jxn Film Festival to bring industry insiders to the Capital City July 24-29

In just its second year, the Jxn Film Festival brings an impressive lineup of film industry talent to the capital city to share their knowledge both in person and virtually.

Maximus Wright

“What we primarily focus on is entrepreneurship,” said Maximus Wright, a local independent filmmaker and the festival’s founder. “How do you survive as a filmmaker? We want to empower people on how to create their art while making a living.”

The festival will feature films in competition, from not only local filmmakers from Mississippi and the southeast, but from as far as Iran and Paris.

“It’s really becoming international,” said Candice Jackson, the festival’s director. “We support independent filmmaking. And we want to provide opportunities for these filmmakers to talk to industry professionals.”

To that end, the festival features several master classes covering different aspects of the industry.

“We’re focusing on things that qualify as workforce development for our industry,” Wright said. “It’s a training ground for both content creators and the crew they need to work on their projects. It’s about creating better teams and better opportunities.”

Things kick off July 24 with a VIP reception from 4-8 p.m. at the festival’s host hotel, Homewood Suites by Hliton Jackson in the Fondren district.

The centerpiece of this year’s festival is the Bird’s Eye Entertainment (BEE) Pitch Bootcamp. This three-day workshop held July 25-27 at Homewood Suites teaches participants how to prepare a pitch for TV and film projects and gives guidance on how to get them into the right hands.

Ashley McFarlin Buie

The camp is led by Ashley McFarlin Buie, vice president of development for WeTV and founder/CEO of BEE. She says TV and film production has always been part of her life as her mother was a producer in Atlanta.

“It dawned on me that the opportunities for people of color to engage with the industry—in the way that I was able to—are very limited,” Buie said. “The idea of the boot camp is to open the door for people who are talented and gifted in filmmaking but don’t know the ‘hows’ and the ‘whos’ to break into the industry.”

She will be joined by other industry professionals like Carlos King, producer of the shot-in-Jackson reality series “Belle Collective” and a former producer of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta;” Chivon Ferguson, owner of Atlanta’s PGP Productions; Luke Burke IV, a producer who has worked with MTV, BET, Bravo, CNN, and Vice News Tonight, where he won an Emmy; and Okema T. Moore, a producer and actress who has worked with Food Network, OWN, DreamWorks, Nickelodeon and Fox.

“They’re all friends and colleagues I’ve invited to join me to help remove the veil and share information,” Buie said. “Like how do you connect with producers? How do you pitch projects that you’re working on? Where do you start when you have an idea for something you want to create? I want people to come out of the boot camp feeling armed and fortified to really follow their dreams.”

Also on July 25, a Film and Cosmetology master class with several stylists and makeup artists will be held from 4-6 p.m. at Homewood Suites.

 “A lot of people work in salons, but they may not know the different techniques of how film makeup is applied,” Wright said.

Then on July 26 at 6:30 p.m., a virtual master class on “How to Audition to Major Studios” will be hosted virtually by DeAnce Wyatt of Tyler Perry Studios.

The films competing in the festival will be screened on both July 26 and 27 at the Malco Grandview Cinema in Madison.

“The screenings will feature a lot of local and in-state talent,” Wright said. “I’m glad to be able to provide them the opportunity to see their work on the big screen. I’m excited to just sit back, grab some popcorn and watch.”

The projects made by the students of the Film Jackson Youth Summer Camp, held last month through a partnership with the City of Jackson, will be screened as well. Wright served as an instructor for the camp.

Corey Pearson

“A big part of the festival’s outreach has been to engage young people in some way,” Jackson said. “They recreated scenes from films like ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Bridesmaids’ and ‘Hidden Figures,’ and the campers learned about every aspect of filmmaking from wardrobe to editing.”

A highlight of the films screening will be the documentary “Blurring the Color Line: Chinese in the Segregated South,” by Chinese-American filmmaker Crystal Kwok, who will be in attendance for a Q&A following the screening.

“Emmy-winning comedian W. Kamau Bell served as an executive producer for this film,” Wright said. “It’s a very interesting piece. It’s about Asian-Americans’ role in the civil rights movement, and it’s something most people haven’t really seen before.”

On July 27 at 6 p.m., Wright himself will host a writing master class at Homewood Suites.

Then on July 28 at 9 a.m. at the Jackson Convention Complex, Corey Pearson, a VR product designer for Meta, will give a presentation on the metaverse. The metaverse exploration will continue later that evening at 4 p.m. as Pearson is joined by producer B.K. Fulton, who executive produced the shot-in-Mississippi films “A Day to Die” and “Atone,” for a panel discussion entitled “Filmmakers, Entrepreneurs and the Metaverse.”

Tonea Stewart

Events continue at the convention complex July 29, with an acting master class at 11:30 a.m. hosted by actress and Greenwood native Tonea Stewart, known for her roles in made-in-Mississippi films “A Time to Kill,” “Mississippi Burning” and “Same Kind of Different as Me.” That evening, the festival wraps up with a Black Tie Awards Gala hosted by actor Palmer Williams Jr. of TV’s “House of Payne” fame.

Jackson and Wright both hope that the festival will continue to grow along with the industry in the state.

“We want the Jxn Film Festival to be a destination,” Jackson said. “My vision is that in less than five years it will be the spot for film and filmmaking in the City of Jackson.”

For tickets and more information, visit jxnfilmfestival.com.

CASTING CALL: Great Escapes Season 2

Dieter Dengler BEFORE

Morgan Casting has announced that “Great Escapes with Morgan Freeman” is returning for a second season and they are back to hunt some criminals. Actually, they’re hunting for people who look like the criminals and others that will be featured in this docuseries about infamous jailbreaks!

Shooting in Natchez begins Aug. 8, and they’ll be casting on a broad spectrum of age, ethnicity, and gender. Pro actors may suggest through their agents or Actors Access, but non-pros are also welcome to submit for consideration via the email address provided below. 

All roles are silent on camera, so Morgan Casting is seeking talented performers who can bring these roles to life through convincing action! They would love to cast as closely as possible in look, height, and eye color; however, please do not limit your suggestion based on eye color, and feel free to go up or down a few inches with height.

Dieter Dengler – AFTER

Pays $200/day for the following Principal Roles, for up to 5 days max of work, exact number of work days still TBD at this time.

Production is open to covering hotel for those who may live a reasonable drive from Natchez.

NOTE: COVID testing will be required of all performers and covered by production. All talent must be non-union.

CURRENTLY SEEKING for WEEK 1:

Duane Martin

Dieter Dengler

Age 28, white male, 5′ 9″, 157 lbs, clean shaven and healthy-looking in the beginning; bearded and appearing worn later. A prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict. Mr Dengler was a victim of horrendous torture and neglect, so we’ll need a before-and-after look for this role. SEE PHOTOS.

Duane Martin

Age 26, Air Force Pilot, white male, brown hair and will eventually be seen with a full beard (and longer stringy hair) after being a POW. SEE PHOTO.

Eugene DeBruin

Age 31, white male with red hair and freckles. He ends up having a long beard after being a POW. We would love to consider any men with red, strawberry blond or reddish-brown hair. SEE PHOTO.

Eugene Debruin

Y.C.

Appearing 35-55, Chinese.

The exact age of this real-life character is unknown, and the ethnicity is somewhat flexible, but must appear as a worn-down Asian prisoner of war. SEE PHOTO.

Rene Belbenoit

Age 25-35, white male, dark hair, slim build. SEE PHOTO.

Leonce

Age 37, white male, 6’2″, 160 lbs with blonde hair, blue eyes.

Y.C.

Marsellais

Age 30s, white male, large stature. Body tattoos a plus.

Gypsy

Age 33-40, white male. Weathered and worn.

Robert

Age 30s, white male. Average looking, medium build.

Basque

Age 30s, white male. Scrawny, thin build, shorter.

Dede

Rene Belbenoit

Age 30s, white male. Tall and lean.

On set experience welcomed, but not required. Must be non-union.

Please email TWO photos (1 head & shoulders + 1 full length), along with the following information to: CastingGreatEscapes@gmail.com

For the subject line of your email, please use:

[Insert your name here] for [Insert character name here]

Name:

Current City/State of Residence:

Height:

Weight and/or Body Type:

Phone Number:

If you are represented by an agent, please let us know.

Are you non-union?

Deadline to submit/suggest is Thursday, July 21st at 12PM/Noon CT.

Talamieka Brice, Director

Talamieka Brice

Talamieka Brice is the producer, writer and director of “Five: A Mother’s Journey,” a feature length documentary. The film explores her journey of motherhood as she reconciles her past growing up in Mississippi with raising a son who turns 5 during the events of 2020. She is also a painter and designer, and, along with her husband Charles, owns and operates Brice Media, a marketing and advertising company in Ridgeland.

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I grew up in Kilmichael, Mississippi, and I went to Montgomery County High School, which is no longer there. It’s one of those that fell into a consolidated district due to population decline.

After that I went to Jackson State University. I had planned to go to Mississippi State University. I had my dorm room and everything. And Jackson State sent me an offer for an academic scholarship for a full four years.

Initially I wanted to be a computer animator, and the place that had the closest thing to it was Mississippi State. So then when I got the offer from Jackson State, I saw that you could major in art, and computer animation was part of it, so I was sold.

At what moment did you discover your interest in working in film?

My first job out of college was working at the Planet Weekly newspaper in Jackson, which is no more. We worked right across from a film studio. The guys there were pretty cool, and I liked what they were doing, and I was able to also be around the music scene, so it was an interesting time. I met a lot of interesting people there, but I never really pursued it full time until I went to the Magnolia Film Festival, which funny enough, was founded by Ron Tibbett, one of the people that we had interviewed at Planet Weekly back when his film “Citizen Shane” was playing at the Crossroads Film Festival in Jackson.

Fast forward to a few years later, and I met Michael Williams, a filmmaker from that area who had picked up the mantle for the Mag after Ron passed away. And he invited me to be a judge at the festival. So I went there, and all the movies were really cool, but I didn’t see any that really spoke to me. But when talking to the filmmakers, they were very positive and encouraging and were like, “You can do this too.” So that’s when I really started thinking about filmmaking seriously.

At what point did you realize you could take steps to pursue your dream from Mississippi?

For a lot of the art that I’ve created and a lot of the things that I’ve done, Mississippi has always been my home base, so I’ve never really thought of it that much as an obstacle. I know why people say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. But I think it’s really if you can make it in Mississippi, you can make it anywhere.

What type of training have you had and where?

I haven’t had any formal film training. My husband was a photojournalist with the Army, so he was a bit of my teacher. When he went and did his tours in Afghanistan, he learned a lot about film. And he worked with the public relations department at the National Guard over there off Riverside Drive in Jackson. He was actually more into film than I was. So I kind of learned on my own. My husband was my main teacher.

But Michael Williams, he was also very instrumental, and I leaned on a lot of my filmmaker friends like him to learn a lot more. And they were really receptive for filling in the blanks from the things I didn’t know.

What was your first film job?

My first film job was making the documentary. My husband, through our company, he took care of most of the video stuff. I would be his assistant when we would get a corporate job. I would set up stuff and run cameras a little bit, but I never really did it that much until I just jumped into working on the documentary.

What are your current and recent projects?

I did the documentary during the pandemic, surprisingly. I jumped into it full-fledged in May 2020 because a lot of my corporate gigs had dried up. I just had an art show opening and didn’t even get a chance to close it. I was like, well, what am I going to do now?

So, I jumped into filming the documentary from May until the end of September, and it was released in June 2021. Since then, it’s been in 25 festivals across the world, and won about 21 awards. We recently won an award in New York at the Love Wins Film Festival. It had a premiere in New York, which was awesome. It’s always amazing to see your work recognized on a big stage, after the amount of work that goes into producing a project like that.

I also recently started work on my second film, “Water.” It’s a reproductive justice documentary that centers on the stories of those most affected by restricted abortion access, and the organizations that support women and pregnant people in their reproductive journey. I’m making it in conjunction with SHERo Mississippi.

What has been the most surprising thing about working in film?

It’s how it’s given me the ability to combine all of my art forms. The first thing as an artist I was ever recognized for was writing. So, I was able to use my writing, and my actual voice because I did not have the budget for a narrator. I had to use my own voice. And everything else that I had learned about storytelling I had learned from art, like how to make the visuals move and how to make your graphics play a part. Even down to choosing fonts. I’m a big font nerd. All those choices that come down to making a compelling image, really. That’s the main thing about film, and it feels like home. It feels like I’ve found the place to fully be me, where I can combine all my talents.

Has there anybody else that’s been an influence on your career?

Besides my husband and Michael Williams, there’s also filmmakers I look up to and admire. I’m a huge Quentin Tarantino fan. Also, Spike Lee, of course. But I never really could fully connect with him, considering, you know, where he grew up versus where I grew up. It was easier to make the connection this past year, which was my first trip to New York. I met with a college buddy who took me around to all the places, and it was so cool being able to be in front of the Apollo and Malcolm X Boulevard and Langston Hughes’ brownstone, all these places that I’d seen in film and to put them actually in perspective. I even went to the cemetery where Malcolm X and James Baldwin and Paul Robeson and all these other great artists are buried.

Do you think being from Mississippi has helped you stand out in the film industry?

Yes and no. There a lot of times people don’t realize the amount of art that comes out of Mississippi. You know, like the amount of grit, the amount of talent, the amount of storytelling. Everyone has an idea what Mississippi is, which is totally different from the reality of who we are. I also think the fact that the film touches on a lot of Mississippi history, that’s also a part of national history as well, has kind of made it stand out. And then just the perspective of a black woman from Mississippi stands out in many ways, because people, if they even realize Mississippi has black people, which surprisingly some don’t, always have this perception of who we are.

If you could create a scene built around one location in Mississippi, where would that be and why?

I think Offbeat, the pop culture store in midtown Jackson would be great. I’ve known the owner for years. To see his rise from artist to DJ to entrepreneur and how pivotal he’s been in the community is incredible. I’d love to show what a treasure of a place Offbeat is. I think it’s a testament to Mississippi, to our grit and stamina.

What was your favorite moment when you were working on your project?

My kids’ reaction to seeing themselves in the film. They were younger then, actually around the age of 5 and 2. When the credits are rolling in my film, there is a scene of the kids interacting with the camera interviewing me and in typical fashion, my son gets annoyed at my daughter because he feels like she’s taking a longer turn than he did. That’s kind of funny, and I’m glad we captured that. And in the way that, although they see mom and dad draw all the time, but to have the cameras around and to see by their own paintings and their faces and their reactions, and get that on film, that’s some of my favorite moments. Absolutely.

They’re a big part of the story. It’s called “Five” because my oldest had just turned 5. When I turned 5, my father introduced me to a lot things about the world, and it was the first time going to school by myself. And I knew from my own history and a lot of the things that I’ve seen growing up in Mississippi, I had all these worries about how the world would treat my son, when he was able to go to school too.

What would you say to encourage a producer to bring their project to Mississippi?

I feel like the people of Mississippi are like none other in the world. Our people are our biggest asset here. There’s always somebody that knows somebody that knows somebody. They can help you get what you need. And our locations and our scenery are second to none. And we also have a strong film incentive. But to me, there’s no place richer for creativity and creating art than Mississippi.

What do you do when you’re not working on film?

Painting, designing and trying to maintain my kids’ blankets and their juices. That’s mainly what I do.

What are your hopes for the film industry in the state?

I would hope that the film industry is more welcoming of more diverse stories. There’s a lot of stuff that’s happened in the state of Mississippi, a lot of stories yet to be told. I think being more open to diverse stories and more things that challenge you, that is how we grow.

What advice would you give for somebody looking to start in filmmaking?

Just do it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I mean, being an artist, I still don’t think I ever get my paintings 100 percent right, according to what my own high standard is. But it doesn’t mean that I’ll ever stop painting, you know? Even with this film, I look at this film as a piece of art, as something that I’ve created. If I could go back, you know, and look at what we left on the cutting room floor, I could probably make five different films out of the footage we had. It’s just about believing in your story and your voice. And to just do it and learn from your mistakes and the things you didn’t like and take that into the next project.

How can people reach you?

My website is talamieka.com, and I’m on Instagram at @talamieka. And you can find me on Facebook by my name. I also have a Facebook page for my film, just search for “Five: A Mother’s Journey.”

Mississippi college and university film programs growing, offering a wide range of educational options for entering the industry

Hinds Community College Film and Video Technology Program students working on a project.

From January to June this year, 15 feature films have been produced in the state of Mississippi, one of the busiest six-month spans in the history of the Mississippi Film Office.

As the pace of film production continues to increase, so does the demand for skilled local crew members to staff productions. Mississippi has several higher learning institutions that offer programs in film education, ranging from 30-hour technical certificate programs to post-graduate studies. In recent years, those programs have been growing and expanding along with the industry.

“Since the Mississippi Motion Picture Incentive Program includes a 30 percent rebate for resident payroll, it greatly benefits productions to hire locally,” said Nina Parikh, director of the Mississippi Film Office. “We actively encourage producers to connect with film programs to give students and recent graduates the opportunity for some on-set, hands-on experience.”

The University of Southern Mississippi is home to the state’s oldest film program, which moved to a production-based program under the guidance of Colonel Lawrence Albers around 1973 when the Mississippi Film Office was established. USM offers a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Entertainment Arts (Film) at its Gulf Park campus in Long Beach. The program moved from the main Hattiesburg campus in 2006, which has been beneficial for students.

“There’s been an influx of productions coming here to the coast, especially in the last few years,” said Vincenzo Mistretta, an associate professor with the program since 2015. “I encourage my students to work on some of these films when there is a need for production assistants.”

Students have also had the opportunity to work on local documentary projects, like a film about the construction of the Mississippi Aquarium in Gulfport, which opened in 2020.

Mistretta, who is himself a filmmaker with extensive experience in experimental, narrative and documentary projects, teaches the majority of the technical film production courses in the program.

“USM focuses on a full film education,” he said. “We think of our program as educating auteur filmmakers. They get a taste of all aspects of technical production, but it’s also crucial to learn about film history and theory, screenwriting, business and more.”

Mistretta said that USM is in the process of expanding its facilities, which will include a larger studio space, editing rooms and screening rooms.

“We are growing, and we are also constantly updating and acquiring equipment to ensure its what students will find when they go out onto a job,” he said.

Though USM offers the latest in digital gear, they’re also dedicated to preserving the rich history of the medium as well. It’s the only school in the state that offers classes that produce projects on 16mm film.

For students looking for a fast-track to learn film production, two community colleges offer programs.

Hinds Community College at its Rankin campus in Pearl and Pearl River Community College at its Poplarville campus both offer a Film and Video Technology Program. At both schools, students can complete a 30-hour Career Certificate, a 45-hour Technical Certificate or go for a complete 60-hour Associate of Applied Science degree.

Hinds’ program began in 2012 and was the first community college-based film program in the state. It’s led by film and video instructor Randy Kwan, who has extensive experience as a cameraman and producer of film and TV projects.

“We teach skills for below-the-line positions, with classes focusing on grip and electric, set production, assistant directing, camera assisting, some lighting, editing, script supervising and sound,” Kwan said.

The college is in the process of starting a virtual reality lab, which should offer classes soon, and also offers courses in animation and video game production. And there are always outside opportunities for hands-on learning.

“What we stress is getting practical experience,” Kwan said. “When films come to the Jackson area, we get our students on as production assistants, and many have gone on to careers. I have a former student who has worked in grip and electric for eight years now. Another who is a costumer and works all around the southeast. I offer a variety of classes that allows students to find out for themselves what job they want.”

Pearl River CC’s program was started four years ago by instructor Ronn Hague, who worked in public relations for the college for 18 years. In the CD-ROM era, he moved PRCC to an all-digital video-centric yearbook, which led to more video projects at the college.

“We were probably one of the first in the nation to do anything like that,” he said.

Hague drew on his previous experience as a TV producer, eventually moving to teaching the school’s first class in film production before developing it into a full program. The curriculum is technical, below-the-line education like Hinds, with the added benefit of being near the recent hotbed of film production on the Gulf Coast.

“I’m getting calls all the time looking for students to work on productions,” Hague said. “I don’t recognize the number, but I go ahead and answer, and it’ll be a producer from Hollywood. And then I feel like a big shot.”

There are several new and developing film programs around the state as well.

The University of Mississippi’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production program was established in 2018, and just graduated its first class of four-year students in May.

University of Mississippi BFA in Film Production students working on a project.

“Our program is cohort-based,” said Alan Louis Arrivee, program head and an associate professor of Theater Arts at Ole Miss. “That means we take in a maximum of 16 students per year, and they work through our core film production courses together. We like to brag about the fact that students begin making films their first semester and they never stop.”

Because the program is part of the Theater Arts department, students get to collaborate with aspiring actors. And through the cohort system, students will often serve in different crew positions on their classsmates’ projects in addition to their own.

“We have classes in all of the expected areas on the pre-production side of things, starting with screenwriting, which I teach,” Arrivee said. “And then all the way through production and post-production.”

The program also features over 10,000 square feet of studio facilities, including two soundstages and a state-of-the-art editing lab that allows students to become Avid certified.

For post-graduate film studies, Ole Miss also offers a Master of Fine Arts in Documentary Expression through the university’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. It’s not exclusively a film program, so not all students come from a film background. Many become educators themselves after graduation.

“It’s a cultural studies program that has a film component,” said Andy Harper, director of the Southern Documentary Project and instructional assistant professor of Southern Studies and Journalism at Ole Miss. “It allows for documentary film, photography, audio production, oral history and other multimodal projects. We’ve had students who have already had films in festivals, and some that have never even hit record before.”

For students who are more interested in the artistic side of film production, Delta State University in Cleveland has a new program for a Bachelor of Arts in Digital Media Arts.

“We have a slightly off-the-beaten-track core to what we do,” said Ted Fisher, an assistant professor of art at DSU since 2019. “We try to have a lot of flexibility because it’s students who have come to art school and are really into making their own sort of direction.”

Students learn skills in the areas of motion graphics, sound design, video production, cinematography and photography. There is also a strong emphasis in post-production skills, which Fisher says is a unique highlight of the program.

“We have our own post-production suite, and really emphasize color correction as well as editing, post-sound and those things,” he said. “They learn all the best colorist approaches and all of the standards for preparing for broadcast and other uses. We’ve had several students who’ve had it be a key part of their portfolio.”

Belhaven University in Jackson offers one of the few Christian-based film programs in the southeast and the only in the state.

“We’re a Christian liberal arts university,” said Rick Negron, chair of the Bachelor of Arts in Film Production program since 2016. “In our film production classes, we teach skills that are for every student regardless of their faith or background.”

The program covers all aspects of filmmaking, including writing, producing, cinematography, directing and editing. Students learn technical, creative and professional skills through hands-on learning.

“The idea is that we teach students all of these different skills, and then they can go in their own different directions,” said Rick Negron, chair of the program at Belhaven. “They can go into corporate work, the film industry, video production for ministry, Youtube—anything they want to do.”

Belhaven also host the B52 Film Challenge in the spring, which is open to all aspiring filmmakers and tasks then with writing, shooting and editing a short film in just 52 hours.

As the film industry continues to develop, more educational programs are beginning to emerge in different parts of the state to meet industry needs. At both Itawamba Community College’s Fulton and Tupelo campuses, a film production class divided into four semester units is offered as an elective.

“We teach the basics of filmmaking, and we have the students produce a film each semester,” said Morgan Cutturni, an ICC English professor that teaches the classes. “Really one of the best things about it is we help students find professional opportunities in north Mississippi.”

Students from Cutturini’s classes worked on two recent feature films shot in the area: “Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis,” which has been winning awards on the festival circuit and was recently acquired for distribution by Vision Films Inc., and “Mississippi Scholar,” which wrapped production in June.

For the past several years, Mississippi State University in Starkville has offered a Film Studies minor, which broadcast instructor Chris Misun hopes to expand in the future.

“Going into the spring semester, we’re looking at offering an intro to film production course,” Misun said. “I think that’s exciting because I really want to move it toward a production-style program.”

A graduate of Full Sail University’s film school, Misun has also begun his second year as director of the Magnolia Independent Film Festival, which will celebrate it’s 25th year in 2023.

“As long as the film festival has been around, it’s still been a bit disconnected from the campus,” he said. “They thought I was a good fit for the job because I can help bridge that gap. And also to make sure we’re connecting will the film community across the state and not just Mississippi State, Starkville and the Golden Triangle.”

For more information about these programs, visit our Educational Programs page.

Film Flashback: “The Reivers”

William Faulkner supposedly once said, “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.”

And when it comes to making movies of Faulkner’s works, it certainly helps to understand Mississippi. That’s why several screen adaptations of his stories have been shot on location in the state, starting with 1949’s “Intruder in the Dust,” shot in Oxford, up to 2014’s “The Sound and the Fury,” shot in Carrollton.

Perhaps the most entertaining screen adaptation of Faulkner is 1969’s “The Reivers,” starring Steve McQueen. It’s based on the 1962 novel by the same name, which earned Faulkner his second Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The novel is one of the author’s more straightforward and accessible works, which translated well to the film adaptation.

“The Reivers” was mostly filmed around Carroll County in 1968, the first film production to ever film in the area. Many scenes were shot in downtown Carrollton, and many of the buildings are still recognizable today.  According to Visitgreenwood.com, “As you drive into town on Highway 82, look right and you’ll still see the advertisement that featured in the film, reading ‘Furniture and Coffins’ on the side of the town’s museum today. At one point, it actually was a store that sold both home items and coffins.”

And although Carrollton still looks much the same as it did in the film, the city did have paved streets in 1968. The film crew painted the streets and brought in dirt and sand to create the dirt roads of the film’s turn-of-the-century setting.

There is one major scene that was not filmed in Mississippi. The horse race that figures prominently in the film was shot at Walt Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch in Newhall, Calif.

McQueen played the lead role of Boon Hogganbeck, a character who also appears in other Faulkner works, most notably the short story “The Bear.” His co-star, Rupert Crosse, was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work as the mischievous farm hand Ned.  He was the first African-American in history to be nominated for the award.

The film also stars Meridian native actress Diane Ladd in a small role as one of the ladies at the Memphis “boarding house” Boon visits. Also featured are actors Will Geer and Juano Hernandez, who appeared together in the previous made-in-Mississippi Faulkner adaptation “Intruder in the Dust” two decades prior.

The screenplay was adapted by husband-wife team Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. Ravetch also produced. The duo had previously adapted two Faulkner works, “The Sound and the Fury” (1959), and “Spotted Horses,” made into “The Long, Hot Summer” in 1958. They also penned the screenplay for 1960’s “Home from the Hill,” parts of which were shot in Greenwood and Oxford.

The film features an original score by composer John Williams (“Jaws,” “Star Wars”), which earned him the third of the over 30 Academy Award nominations of his illustrious career.

“The Reivers” is rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity, language and thematic elements. It is available on blu-ray, DVD and most major streaming services.

Matthew Blade, Actor

Actor Matthew Blade, birth name Matthew Nicolas, currently resides in Jackson. He can be seen in “The Walk,” a feature drama also starring Malcolm McDowell, Terrance Howard, Jeremy Piven and Katie Douglas, which premieres June 10 at select theaters and on demand.

Matthew Blade

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I grew up in Jackson and I went to Jackson Academy. And I’m a graduate of Ole Miss with a degree in managerial finance.

At what moment did you discover an interest in working in Film/ TV?

I’ve always been creative, but I think it kind of snuck up on me. I never, ever thought about acting. But then I had some friends in acting school, and at the time I was also just kind of pondering, what is this life that we live? We have one shot here on this earth. What do I want my life to be about? Acting popped up on my plate, and I decided to give it a go. I auditioned for a drama school, Bethel Conservatory of the Arts in Northern California. And I’ve been pursuing it ever since. That was back in 2018.

At what point did you realize you could take steps to pursue your dream from Mississippi?

It’s funny because every audition I’ve ever done has been a self-taped audition. It was an interesting time when I started getting into acting because the pandemic hit, and it essentially pushed everything to self-taped auditions. I think now that 100 percent of first look auditions are going to be self-taped.

Once I started auditioning, I realized I can audition from anywhere in the world, right? So, for the couple of projects that I’ve done, I auditioned from Los Angeles but I worked in New Orleans. So it just kind of it really doesn’t matter that much where I live, honestly. I’m back home living in Jackson now.

What type of training have you had and where?

BCA was more of a classical approach to drama school training. more of a theater type approach. The founder of the school is from England, so it’s based off the U.K. style of drama training.

Drama school, for me personally, was kind of just testing it out. I never, ever thought about acting before. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that if I didn’t try it, I would regret it. It was a three-year program, and I knew if I hated it, I could always just stop. I had the finance degree to fall back on.

That degree in a lot of ways was me playing it safe. That’s kind of how I really try to live my life, to not have a Plan B based in fear. I think plan Bs are a good idea. But a lot of times we have plan Bs because we’re really just afraid to try at something. That’s what acting was for me. I’m going to try. I don’t know if I’m going to win. but I’m going to try.

What was your very first acting job?

My very first paid job, I did a commercial with a company called the Adventure Challenge. We did a little short film, which was really cool, because, and I don’t know if this is just me as an actor, but in the back of my mind, I was always like, “No one will ever pay me to do this.”

The guys who directed and produced the commercial had such a great vision, and it ended up getting nominated for a Webby Award.

Are you working on any current/recent projects?

About a year ago, I was on set for a film called “The Walk.” I’m flying into Los Angeles tomorrow (June 7) for the film’s premiere. I’ll be out in Los Angeles all next week.

That was my first gig out of drama school. The commercial I did was during drama school, and I ended up booking the movie a couple weeks after I graduated. That comes out in theaters and also video on demand June 10th.

And then I also have another short film called “Undae-ilth.” They have been pushing the date back on the release of that. So who knows? This stuff can take six months or it can take two years.

I’m so green in this industry. I’ve learned a lot of lessons really fast. Like nothing’s for sure until it happens. Unfortunately, “The Walk” won’t be playing in Mississippi theaters, just major cities, like New York and L.A. At first, I thought it was going to be in theaters everywhere.

What has been the most surprising thing about working in the film industry?

Honestly, how much I love it. As a kid, I was always very introverted. I was always afraid for people to see me, people to watch me.

But the times I’ve been on set—not a lot of times yet! But the few times I have, I’ve really come alive in a way, and I feel a lot of purpose.

That might sound to say I’m shy, but I’m like, man, this feels right. I think that really caught me off guard because usually I’m pushing the attention elsewhere because it makes me uncomfortable.

Who has been an influence on your career and why?

George Strait. I watched his movie “Pure Country” over and over when I was a kid. I heard some things about him as an actor that always stood out to me. I know he had a couple of things that he really cared about and wouldn’t really budge on them when it came to how he wanted things done. That kind of integrity inspired me, and he continues to. He’s my favorite artist. I mean, he’s the king. King George. The guy’s unstoppable.

How does being a Mississippian help you stand out in our industry?

I hope it does. I think Mississippi has a lot of great things, and I know that I’ve benefited from some of the things that can be attributed to Mississippi, so all I can say is that I hope it does.

If you could create a scene built around one location in Mississippi, where would that be and why?

The Mississippi River. It’s huge, it’s like a mile wide. I think there’s so much potential for that. There’s so much history and culture surrounding it. It’s very mystical, almost like a spiritual thing.

Favorite moment on set or with a project?

During “The Walk,” there is a part where the character that I was playing, who is essentially a very violent individual, someone really sets him off and the line in the script was “Come here, I’m going to kill you.”

And my character’s hitting this bus, it’s this riot scene. And I was prepping, thinking what would I do? Like, if I actually wanted to kill somebody? How does that work? I’ve got to just really send it here.

So anyway, essentially, I learned a lesson. I jumped through a double-paned bus window. It was not supposed to break, but I just threw my body through it. And it was kind of awesome. But I also learned, first off, I don’t have to damage my body for this stuff. I had to get my head sewed up and the director was like, dude, come on, you didn’t need to do that.

But at the same time, I proved to myself that I know that I’ll give what it takes. I know that I’m all in. A lot of times we might want to tell ourselves that we are, but we don’t really know.

I think in that moment, I earned some credibility with myself, if that makes sense. I jumped through a bus window. I don’t have to do that, and I won’t do that again, but now I know I’m capable of going there!

And they actually used it, and it made the trailer.

What would you say to convince/encourage a producer to bring their project to Mississippi?

I think the best way is for Mississippians to do their own thing. We make our own stuff and put this place on the map. This place has a lot to offer and sometimes people aren’t convinced or encouraged until they see it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this business, it’s that. People can only see you as one thing until you do it. That’s more how I work. Just do the thing, and then people will come.

What do you do when you’re not working on a film set (other jobs, hobbies, etc.)?

When I was in L.A. I worked in catering, I was a valet, I was a driver, other odd jobs. Since I’ve moved back to Mississippi, I’m looking for something now.

My number one thing that I love to do is turkey hunt. In the spring, it’s all I think about. I like to cook. I like writing poetry. Anything on the water too: surfing, wakeboarding, tubing. But my number one hobby outside of acting is hunting.

What’s your advice for someone looking to break into acting?

I would say to remember that it’s an art. Art is different than other pursuits. Not that it’s better or worse. If it’s a place you want to give your life, then just know that going in.

When I lost a lot of the anxiety around self-tapes and auditions and stuff, that’s when I realized I’m in this for life. This audition isn’t going to make or break me because this is my life. I’ll do this on a community theater stage if I have to. I don’t have to be on the big screen. It’s nice, of course. We all want that.

So, I would say if acting’s something you know you want to give your life to, then do it. Be all in. Not even just acting. Anything worth pursuing is worth going all in. It’s the 100 percent rule. There are certain things that can only happen when you’re all in. They only work with 100 percent effort. And it’s a great thing, because it makes us check our priorities. What really is valuable to me, do I really want to give everything to this? And if the answer’s no, then find something that you do want to give everything to. And give it to that.

How can people find/reach you?

I’m on Instagram at @thematthewblade. I’m managed by Iona Maclean at Zero Gravity Management: imaclean@zerogravitymanagement.com.