CASTING CALL: The Bounty Chase

Morgan Casting is on the run with THE BOUNTY CHASE, a SAG-AFTRA theatrical film shooting in and around Gulfport beginning Dec. 1. This action-packed buddy film has lots of twists and turns as it navigates the gray area between “good guys” and “bad guys”!

If you are interested in being an EXTRA, please follow Morgan Casting on Facebook and watch for future announcements about background needs.

The following day player speaking roles will be cast locally, paid at the SAG-AFTRA scale of $379/day. All roles are local hire – no lodging or travel expenses will be covered.

ALL ROLES ARE OPEN TO ALL ETHNICITIES, UNLESS SPECIFIED.

[GUARD] Male, 30s-40s.

[PRISON GUARD] Male, 30s-40s.

[TRINA] Female, Black, 30s. An outlaw running an illegal poker game.

[SHANE] Male, 30s-40s. A fugitive who crosses paths with a determined bounty hunter.

[EVELYN] Female, white, 60s. Main character’s mother, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and residing in an assisted living facility.

[WHISKEY] Female, 20s. A tattooed goth/emo/punk.

[FRANK] Male, 30s-40s. A mouthy member of the poker playing outlaws.

[RANDY] Male, 20s-30s. Bouncer – looking for big, intimidating guys.

[HIGHWAY PATROL OFFICER] Female, 20s-40s.

[MOTHER] Female, 20s-30. A rival bounty hunter disguised as a young mom.

[WAITRESS] Female, 20s-50s.

[OWNER] Male, 40s–60s. Running a dive bar.

[CONCIERGE] Male or female, 20s-30s. Works the front desk of a fancy hotel.

[GUARD #1] Male or female, 30s-40s. Working a prison visiting room.

[SUITED GENTLEMAN] Male, 40s-50s.

[TRUCKER #1] Male, 30s-50s. A bounty hunter disguised as a trucker.

[FRANCINE] Female, 20s-30s. A girlfriend-for-hire.

[SUIT] Male, 30s-50s. A bounty hunter disguised as a buttoned-up business man.

[OFFICER BURNETT] Male or female, 40s-50s. Cop on a crime scene.

[NURSE] Male or female, 20s-30s. Working at a hospital nurse’s station

IF YOU DO NOT HAVE AN AGENT OR AN ACCOUNT ON ACTORS ACCESS, PLEASE FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS TO SUBMIT FOR CONSIDERATION:

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

For the subject line of your email, please use this format:

[Insert your name here] for [Insert name of role here]

Name:

Current City/State of Residence:

Height:

Weight and/or Body Type:

Phone Number:

SAG/AFTRA status (union or non-union)?:

If you are represented by an agent, or have an Actors Access account, please submit through them.

Thanks for your help!

Morgan Casting

Horror filmmaking in Mississippi: “A fun day at work”

Ask anyone who has worked on the set of a horror film made in Mississippi and an unexpected unifying theme always comes up.

“Horror can be a lot of fun,” said Hattiesburg native filmmaker Miles Doleac. “Not only because of the cool things that you get to do with blood, makeup and creature effects, but also the type of people who are drawn to horror. They’re generally really talented, cool and fun people to be around.”

Vicksburg native David Matthews agrees. He was director of photography for 2022’s “Glorious,” which was shot mainly in Jackson.

“It was probably the most fun I’ve had on set, because the crew was just fantastic,” he said. “The atmosphere on set was something I’d never really experienced.”

Julie Toche, a Gulfport native and production designer on the shot-in-Natchez film “From Black,” also concurs.

“Horror movies are just fun,” she said. “They’re my favorite. I’ll pass on a bigger project to work on a horror movie that has a decent script.”

The Mississippi Film Office has supported horror filmmaking since its beginning. Shortly after its founding in 1973, the Mississippi Film Office assisted the production of 1975’s “The Premonition.” It was an independent production and an early entry in horror’s psychic phenomena craze of the ‘70s typified by 1976’s “Carrie.”

But after that, horror productions in the state were few and far between. Save for 1982’s “The Beast Within,” a worthy addition to the early ‘80s werewolf movie resurgence.

Since the establishment of the Mississippi Motion Picture Incentive in 2004, however, there have been over 30 horror films made in Mississippi. The success of the 2004 indie megahit “Saw,” which raked in over $100 million worldwide on a $1.2 million budget, led to an explosion of indie horror worldwide. And the incentive, which offers a 25-35% cash rebate on in-state spending and payroll, has been very attractive to horror producers looking to capture that “Saw”-like lightning in a bottle.

“My office is in L.A. because that’s where a lot of the talent and resources are,” said Bob Portal, managing director and head of production for Alliance Media Partners (AMP) International, a film production, sales, finance and marketing company with offices in London as well.

“There’s still a lot of shooting happening in Los Angeles, but lots of people are looking elsewhere to shoot. I’d certainly recommend going to Mississippi. I think the incentive is good. I like the way it works. It’s not difficult paperwork-wise. And I like that there’s the requisite of connecting with a local production partner. That works very well and saves a lot of the legwork with the application process and finding local resources.”

To date, AMP has produced three horror films in central Mississippi. In addition to “Glorious,” they have completed 2021’s “Jakob’s Wife” and have an untitled film based on a H.P. Lovecraft story in post-production. Both films star horror icon Barbara Crampton of “Re-Animator” fame, who also produced, and recently joined AMP’s staff as VP of Production and Development for the U.S. AMP has also assisted with the sales of two other Mississippi-made films (2018’s “Malicious” and “From Black”).

“We looked at several neighboring states but everything about how the Mississippi rebate program worked seemed easier,” said Thomas Marchese, director of “From Black.” “My producer and I went all over Mississippi looking at locations, and like everyone else who ends up shooting in Natchez, we just fell in love with it. It was a bit coincidental that we ended up working with AMP. We found them on our own then found out they had done ‘Jakob’s Wife,’ so we picked their brains about that. It gave us confidence that someone within our filmmaking family had a prior project in Mississippi that worked out really well.”

Ridgeland-based Eyevox Entertainment served as the local production partner for “From Black” as well as all three films produced by AMP. Eyevox is led by producer and founder Rick Moore.

“I immediately liked Rick’s attitude,” Portal said. “He didn’t oversell Mississippi. In fact, he may have undersold it, because he was very honest about available crew and resources. He had a personal interest in genre films, and also with his other company Certifiable Studios that makes the crazy board games, there was a definite synergy there in terms of sensibilities, of course.”

Moore is also founder of the Ridgeland advertising agency Mad Genius. Matthews’ fulltime job is VP of Production there, but he served as director of photography for all three AMP-produced films. He had proven his talents working on some horror projects for filmmaker Padraig Reynolds, director of 2011’s “Rites of Spring” and 2016’s “The Devil’s Dolls,” both shot in central Mississippi.

“Around 2015, Padraig had reached out to Eyevox for some help doing pickups,” Matthews said. “I shot a few of those and that’s how we developed a working relationship. He had a passion project called ‘Open 24 Hours,’ and found a gas station he loved near Canton where we shot a teaser for an investment piece. It helped him sell it, and a couple months later he texted me and asked, ‘Can you shoot the feature with me in Belgrade, Serbia? This is not a joke.’ I said yes because I was eager for my first opportunity to shoot something a little bigger.”

Matthews also shot Reynolds’ 2019 feature “Dark Light” overseas in the Republic of Georgia. And it was ultimately on Reynolds’ and others recommendation that AMP looked at Mississippi as a filming location during pre-production on “Jakob’s Wife.”

“The big question was where to shoot it,” Portal said. “We did investigate quite a few places, as you often tend to do, chasing the tax credits and the rebates around the country and seeing what people were saying. Padraig was one of the people we spoke to who had shot in Mississippi that recommended it, along with Tom Shell, a producer who had also worked with Rick and Eyevox.”

Shell produced 2019’s “Assimilate,” another notable horror production that participated in the rebate program. Other recent productions the Film Office assisted include 2021’s “Son,” 2017’s “Purgatory Road” and 2014’s “Starve.”

Mississippi is also fertile ground for homegrown horror. 2019’s “Ma,” a film from horror titans Blumhouse Productions, was directed by Jackson native Tate Taylor and filmed in Natchez. And the Tupelo area was home to two horror productions from local directors: 2017’s “The Atoning” and 2019’s “Driven,” from Michael Williams and Glenn Payne, respectively.

Perhaps the most prolific homegrown horror filmmaker is Doleac. He has produced, written, directed and acted in four horror films made in the state: 2017’s “Demons,” 2019’s “Hallowed Ground,” 2020’s “The Dinner Party” and 2021’s “Demigod.”

“I’ve said time and again, I think the Mississippi film incentive is one of the most attractive that we have nationwide,” Doleac said. “That’s a huge part of the reason why I continue to make films in Mississippi and why I continue to house my production company there, despite the fact I now live in New Orleans and teach film at Loyola University. First and foremost, the incentive is a great reason to make films in the state, especially the nonresident payroll portion, which is great for indie producers.”

Doleac also recently served as a co-producer and production partner for “Devil’s Workshop,” a shot-in-Gulfport horror film that was released in late September.

“One of the things that I was really pleased with on that film is that team came in from all over—New York, L.A., Chicago,” Doleac said. “And they came down here to Mississippi and were incredibly impressed with the local folks that I was able to pull together for them, as well as working with the Film Office for the incentive program. They told me they wouldn’t hesitate to come back down here and shoot another film.”

So aside from the incentive, which has one of the lowest minimum spends in the country at $50,000, what else is there about Mississippi that appeals to indie horror filmmakers?

“Natchez, for example, has so much history,” Marchese said. “Everything’s been there for so long, there’s so much depth and backstory. It’s got this charm. You can kind of get everything you’re looking for location-wise. There’s no shortage of settings.”

“Mississippi just has an old feel,” Toche said. “When you see some of the houses and places here you automatically might think in your subconscious that they’re haunted. And we’ve got a ton of woods. What horror movie doesn’t have woods in it? When we filmed ‘Demigod,’ we filmed in the woods at a campground the whole entire time. All our locations were right there.”

Doleac is particularly proud of “Demigod” because of its locations.

“It’s actually set in the Black Forest in Germany,” he said. “Strangely enough, the Black Forest looks a lot like the Piney Woods of Mississippi. It really clicked on so many levels, in the mood and the vibe that we were able to create. Mississippi has a lot going for it in terms of geographical diversity. And, also, that sort of Southern Gothic creepy thing it has going for it makes it a really attractive place to play.”

Horror films also provide aspiring filmmakers and crew a good entry point into the industry.

“A lot of people cut their teeth on horror films,” Portal said. “Not just below-the-line crew, but also directors whose first feature is a horror movie before they move on to bigger things. You’ve got Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, even Francis Ford Coppola with ‘Dementia 13’—you name it.”

Toche has also worked as a set dresser and art director on larger Mississippi-based productions like “The Card Counter,” “Paradise Highway” and the upcoming “Joe Baby,” in addition to working on “From Black” and several of Doleac’s projects. Her entryway into the industry was by creating makeup effects for Terror on the Coast, the popular haunted house attraction hosted at Sideshow Props 2.0 in Gulfport, the second location of the New Orleans-based film prop house.

“That’s kind of how I got my foot in the door,” Toche said. “I’ve been doing makeup there since its second year. I started out with makeup but quickly realized that was not what I wanted to do in film. Everything since has been art department. That’s my main career and makeup is my hobby.”

Madison native Nicholas Winstead is a special effects artist living in L.A. who has now worked on a number of high-profile projects like “American Horror Story” and “Bill and Ted Face the Music” as well as Netflix, Disney and Marvel properties.

But his first love is horror movies, and he began by making his own makeup effects in his mother’s garage as a kid. He says it was a full circle moment when he came back home to work on “The Vampire Project,” a horror feature shot in Clinton and surrounding towns in early October. He even made some effects pieces for the film at the same table in that same garage.

“Horror films, and low budgets features in general, are a really fun way to get into the industry,” Winstead said. “It gives you a very comprehensive look at what a larger film set looks like. There’s so much to learn and to explore. And horror, sci-fi or genre movies in general just really feel like what you as a kid probably thought a movie set would be. Like you go to lunch and see a werewolf taking his head off to eat. Or see a bunch of guys in green that are playing the aliens in a sci-fi movie. That just feels like the movies to me. And it makes for a fun day at work.”

Nicholas Winstead, Special Effects Artist

Nicholas Winstead

Nicholas Winstead is a special effects artist who has worked on projects like “American Horror Story,” “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” and “Bill and Ted Face the Music.” A native of Madison, he currently lives in Burbank, Calif.

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I grew up in Madison and went to high school at St. Andrew’s.

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

It was always there. When I was younger, I always loved movies and horror movies. And I always loved art, my mom has a doctorate in art history. Special effects was kind of the best intersection between those two. It involves sculpting and painting and design and storytelling. It’s kind of a great culmination of all that. So it kind of just grew from there.

I started probably messing around when I was like 8 or 9, wanting to make myself look like Freddy Kruger. So I used Elmer’s glue and cotton balls and my mother’s foundation and grape jelly, you know, and now I’m just really kind of doing a similar variation of that. (laughs) It’s just been about experimenting with different materials and growing more and learning more until I landed where I’m at now.

What type of training have you had and where?

Well, I didn’t go to college. When I was about 15 or 16, I went to this arts boarding school up in Michigan called Interlochen. Essentially it was an arts conservatory. So half the day was academic classes and the other half was artistic classes. I went there for visual arts. When I knew I wasn’t going to college by my senior year, I pretty much only took art classes. So it was a great opportunity to really focus on what I wanted to do. And it was great to get the freedom there because I was able to essentially make a portfolio of special effects work for my visual arts academic credentials. That was about as much schooling as I got, but they didn’t teach special effects. They had like painting classes and ceramics classes, and they had really great facilities for me to work in and great people to get feedback from.

I also have great memories of going to the Canton Young Filmmakers Workshop. I went several years in a row starting from when I was 13. It was a wonderful resource to bring together young people with a similar interest in film. I actually just worked with someone on ‘The Vampire Project’ who was in my group at film camp. We bonded over the ‘Evil Dead’ franchise then and speak about films with the same enthusiasm now!

And I’ve learned so much through working. That really has been my schooling. Just in like the first couple of years, I learned so, so much so quickly. I already knew a fair amount just from self-exploration. Especially from watching videos or reading books and stuff. That’s been hugely helpful, there’s some great resources out there. But yeah, I kind of just did a lot of self-exploration until I got out to L.A. And then I was kind of doing a lot of intro junior work, like cleaning up molds and doing all the grunt work. And I went up from there. But in doing all of that, I got to learn so many different aspects of the field.

What was your first Film/TV job?

Between my junior and senior year of high school, I went out to Los Angeles and did a couple of internships with special effects houses. I got to work with AFX Studio (“American Horror Story,” “Men in Black,” “Dawn of the Dead (2004)”) and a place called studioADI (“Alien vs. Predator,” “Spider-Man,” “It”)—that was mostly working on my personal stuff and helping out with sweeping the floors and stuff. (laughs)

AFX Studio was really cool. I got to work on “American Horror Story” for the Roanoke season. They’re kind of a smaller shop so they were able to give me a lot more opportunity and really let me try things out and handle smaller aspects of the build. I would say probably that was my first job I got paid for.

Are you working on any current/recent projects?

I don’t know if I can talk about them, actually. (laughs) Of the ones that have come out, I got to work on “Thunder Force,” the Melissa McCarthy movie that’s on Netflix, And I got to work on “Next of Kin,” the new “Paranormal Activity” movie. More recently I’ve worked on some projects that are pretty exciting. They’re big, like Disney and Marvel properties.

And right now I’m back in Mississippi working on “The Vampire Project.” It’s been great to be back home. My mom and my grandmother still live here, so it’s been really nice to see them. I haven’t been able to come back for a huge amount of time before. It’s kind of a trip because I’m having this sort of homecoming experience where I’m coming back as a professional and I’m building stuff in the garage that I was building stuff in when I was in middle school. The table is in the exact same place.

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

I’m surprised on a daily basis, honestly. I feel like I had this idea of what it was going to be like. And I think that’s kind of where a lot of my surprises come from. Definitely, at the beginning, I had an idea that it would have these hours, or would be like this, or you’d have certain kinds of people you work with. I think more and more, it was just kind of realizing the way the game works and kind of the workloads of things. I know that’s a very broad answer, but I feel like entering any new field that’s kind of always the case.

Who has been an influence on your career and why?

So many people working in this field have had an influence on me. There’s special effects makeup artist people like Howard Berger and Arjen Tuiten—he was nominated for Oscars for “Wonder” and “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” which I also got to work on in the molds department. There are big names in the special effects world like Greg Nicotero and some of the bosses I’m working for right now like Lindsay McGowan, Alan Scott and Shane Mahan. I mean, there’s all these people that have been working in the special effects industry since the ‘80s, and they’ve all had kind of a similar story to mine, being from a small town and loving monsters and loving movies and just really being hungry for opportunity and making the jump out to Los Angeles without really knowing anybody, and just having that passion lead them until they figure it out and become successful and get more opportunities.

When I was younger, I would listen to these interviews all the time of them talking about how they wanted to break into this field so badly, but they didn’t have a connection, so they figured it out. I’ve always had that in the back of my head, that other people had done this before. That it wasn’t like a crazy, new thing to be from Mississippi and want to break into this. But it is kind of unique being from Mississippi. I think there’s only one other person I’ve met in the special effects industry that was from Mississippi and I’m the only one that he’s met, and he’s been working for like 30 years.

What movie or effects sequence did you see when you said, “Man, that’s what I want to do”?

I think so much of the work that came out of the ‘80s, the FX work was so great, and it’s great that more practical effects work like that is really coming back now. The transformation sequence in “An American Werewolf in London” is something people always talk about, and it was hugely impactful for me. It won the Oscar the first year they had one for Best Makeup. And the transformation scene in Cronenberg’s “The Fly,” those two are probably what initially attracted me to FX. And the Elephant Man makeup that Chris Tucker did for David Lynch’s movie was also really affecting. I thought it was so real. And then also like watching “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey,” and seeing the alien twins. It was eye-opening to see practical effects be able to do all of those things. It was really life changing. It was super cool.

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

People comment on it a lot actually, because I don’t think I have much of an accent. They’re surprised and like, “You’re from Mississippi?” Mostly from that, but I mean, a handful of people are from smaller towns and kind of make their way out to Los Angeles, and when they hear I’m from Mississippi they think it’s weird and want to know “How did you end up here?” But once they get talking to me they realize it’s pretty much the same path they took.

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

Storytelling is such a huge part of Southern culture, I remember from my childhood all the folk stories and all the myths that you hear growing up here. I mean, there’s so much to pull from. I think there’s some amazing locations here. I remember one of the coolest parts about growing up here was the element of exploration. Being able to just hang out with friends and go around on our bikes and explore and we’d make up our own stories like the hag witch and the shack out by the arboretum and stuff like that. So I think there’s a lot of really great locations. We were shooting this movie I’m working on now at the castle in Raymond, where it’s like this kind of weird ‘90s version of what a medieval castle would look like in Mississippi, but it’s all abandoned now and overgrown and creepy.

Every location we’ve visited, we all would joke like, “Oh! The art department did such a good job on this!” But so much of it was already there. Between locations like that and like the forest and the swamps, there’s just a lot to pull from.

Favorite moment on set or with a project?

There’s a handful of just “needing to get the job done” type situations, like pulling all-nighters in the studio to get a character done and driving it to set and something goes wrong but you figure it out and it ends up working great, and everyone loves it. There are several variations of those type of stories.

But I have a pinch myself moment every single day, honestly. To just go to work and look around and see kind of like, oh, my desk is right under a massive robot or next to all these cool creatures and stuff. Or I look around and see, hey, there’s Christopher Swift sitting right behind me, the person who was the lead art director on the velociraptors from “Jurassic Park.” And there’s Glen Hanz, who sculpted the bat demon from “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” I’m such a nerd for this stuff that I walk around and I’m like, “This is amazing.”

But there have been handful of memorable moments. There is this one situation where I made these big skulls as an art piece, and a special effects artist named Vincent Van Dyke that I really admire bought a few of them and put them in his office. And it’s so funny because he did a makeup that I love, and when I was 14 I sculpted my own version of it. To see my skulls next to that makeup in a video that was shot in his office was so cool. One of my favorite makeups growing up that I had recreated and then one of my pieces, right there next to each other. It was really moving.

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

I skateboard every day and I love watching movies and reading about them. I mean, if there’s a book or TV show or a movie I haven’t really seen I really want to devour it at once, you know?

But typically I go home and keep working. (laughs) I have sculpture commissions or personal pieces that I work on. So, yeah, I go to work and make monsters all day. And then I come home and make my monsters too, essentially.

What are your hopes for the film industry in Mississippi?

It would be very cool to see enough work coming through the area that people feel like they have a good opportunity to live and work in this state. Growing up here, my goal was always to make it out to California, cause that’s where it’s at, but it would have been great to see there’s all this work going on in town. I did visit a couple of sets when I lived here that had some special effects aspects to them, but they were fairly minimal. But now on “The Vampire Project” I’ve worked with some folks that have worked on some of the horror movies made here recently like “Jakob’s Wife” and “Glorious” and I think it’s so cool that more things like that are happening now in Mississippi. To have had opportunities like that when I was growing up, to like be a production assistant on a horror film starring an icon like Barbara Crampton or something like that would have been super cool.

What’s your advice for someone looking to break into the film business?

My opportunities have come from just being so hungry for opportunity that I just kept going after it. It’s kind of like that notorious saying that so much of success is constant failure or rejection, you know? I think that’s largely true. For every opportunity that I have had so many have just gone by the wayside, didn’t work out or haven’t happened at all. I think you just need to have the drive to keep going and keep pursuing, even when people don’t call you back or you’re not getting the work that you want. I’ve felt so lucky to get what I have so far in my career. But I think so much of it was just going after opportunities so much that one would eventually work out. You will eventually get to the right place at the right time with the right people.

How can people find/reach you?

You can contact me on Instagram, I’m @nicholaswinstead.

Mary Goodson, Set Decorator

Mary Goodson

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I was born in Hattiesburg. I’ve been in and out of the state, but I’ve lived here most of my life. I grew up in Jackson, and I’ve now relocated back to Jackson. And I’m not sure why, but I’m here again! (laughs) I’ve left three times, and I just keep coming back.

I grew up in South Jackson and graduated from Jackson Prep. I went through the band program there and was drum major and had a big ol’ time doing all that. And then I went to Ole Miss and found out what a great education I had at Jackson Prep because I really didn’t have to go to a whole lot of classes freshman and sophomore year.

I went on a band scholarship to Ole Miss and was in the band for just a little bit and decided it wasn’t for me. It was just a whole different thing than what we had done in high school. Then I got involved in the theater department, and now I have a B.A. in theater arts from Ole Miss.

I had a blast doing plays and doing construction and costumes and assistant directing and on stage and off stage and writing—you name it. We learned it all. It was great.

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

Well, what do you do with a degree in theater? You think you go get a job in entertainment somewhere. And I had always been very interested in film and got more so interested while I was in school. But at that time, back in the old days, if you wanted to work in film, you had to go to either New York or to Los Angeles. There was no film industry in Mississippi.

I hitched my U-Haul to my new Ford Escort and drove out to California to make my way in the world. I had three friends out there, and one of them got me my first real crew job. I had done some extra work. I also worked at the Improv for a little while waiting tables because you got to make a living!

So, it happened my friend Julie Kaye Fanton was sitting at the right lunch table one day, and a costume designer says, “Oh my God, we need a costume production assistant tomorrow. Does anybody have anybody that can come in?” And Julie says, “My roommate does costumes! She did them at Ole Miss for the theater department, blah, blah, blah.” And he goes, “Great! She’s hired!” I started there and did that for a while. The highest I got in that field, I was a costumer on “The Beastmaster,” the original movie, not the series. Most everybody who grew up in the ‘80s knows about that one.

I got out of costumes shortly after that and went into extras casting and worked there for several years at the Atmosphere Agency, which was at the time the largest nonunion extras casting agency in the world. I was the vice president and I worked there for about four or five years, and then I started doing production. I worked with Bud Fanton Productions as an associate producer and did some production work on small commercial projects and small industrial projects. I did that for a little while in St Louis.

And when we moved back to Jackson—this is after I’d gotten married and had a baby and put my career on hold for a little while in St Louis—there was a lot of commercial production here, but nobody had ever had a props person. There was just this huge hole in the market. My ex-husband was an ad guy, so he knew all the other ad guys in town and nobody was writing complicated gags for hard to find props because they had to go find them all on their own. It was like I kind of came in at the right time to the commercial market in Jackson in that there was nobody doing what I did. So I got to do props and set dressing on commercials. From there, I got hired on to “A Time to Kill,” which was my first job set dressing for film.

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

It really was a surprise in a way. I never dreamed when I first left that I’d ever be able to come back and work here. But at that point in time, the film commission was rolling. We had some incentive happening, we were building crew. And I got to be part of all of that as a Mississippian working in the film industry, and it was great. And then the legislature shut us down and now we’re back to rebuilding and repopulating and retraining. But as long as I’m still working, I’ll be training somebody. I’ll be trying to recruit and help keep people here, or at least find ex-patriates that will come back and work with us at the very least.

What type of training have you had and where?

 Well, there’s my theater degree from Ole Miss, of course. But in film, you learn as much from the school of hard knocks as you do from anything else. There’s absolutely nothing like being on set and seeing things go down and observing and learning from your peers. And mentoring people is so important in this industry, maybe more than any other. It really is important to train the people that are coming up behind us, to show them what we know and pass it along. It’s a craft.

What was your first Film/TV job?

My first one was on a movie called “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh,” which was an Armenian movie. That was when Julie was working in the art department and I came on as a costume assistant. Technically, I had done some extra work before that, but I couldn’t tell you what it was on. It was like, you know, show up and sit around on the set all day.

Not long after I did “The Beastmaster,” and I never failed to mention that movie to the younger folks I work with. Because everybody goes, “Did you work on something I would know?” And they all go, “Wow! The Beastmaster!” It’s been fun to have that on my resume.

Are you working on any current/recent projects?

We did “Paradise Highway” last summer. It turned out really nice. I thought it was great and it’s just a miracle we got it done. Everything fell apart on that movie that could possibly go wrong. And wasn’t just stupid movie stuff. It was acts of God and just crazy stuff every single day, I really don’t know how we made it through, but we did, and I’m very proud of it.

Despite all the trouble, I think the director Anna Gutto might come back to Mississippi. I think despite it all she appreciates the fact that we worked through it, that nobody threw up their hands and said “Well, we’re leaving this with you, pal.” We all just hung in there and did what we could with what we had to work with. And I think she really appreciated that. I know she loved Mississippi.

I’ve also got my food styling gig as well. I’ve got a couple of regular clients on the commercial side that I work with like Happy, Healthy Mississippi and Viking Ranges.

Can you describe food styling for the unfamiliar?

Well, like any talent you put in front of the camera you want it to look its best, right? Lighting is super important. But a lot of the time, I’ll just take stuff and make it look hot. Glisten it up to make it look shiny. Putting it at the right angle is always important. It’s just like photographing anything else.

It’s really fun, I enjoy it. A lot of times I’ll do the whole setup, the tabletop with the plate and the flowers in the glass and the atmosphere, but then sometimes it’s just food. It always needs to look pretty in the end. It’s a real contrast to what I do in film and commercials because that’s just a bigger process and this is way more tucked in. It’s doing things with tweezers instead of four-wheel dollies. It’s a whole different ballgame, but I really enjoy it.

There’s a whole lot of tricks of the trade, like making burgers look thicker with carboard in between the bun and meat, because you’re basically building props. I got to do some crazy things when I worked in the prop department on “Between the Lions.” I got to do things like make a cake that looks like it’s iced and has meat chops on it. Making a tiny little banjo for a monkey puppet. Because they were puppets and they were small you couldn’t just go out and buy these props. And it was so much fun. And food styling is along those lines. It’s taking whatever it is that you’re working with and making it look as good as it can. You’re not seeing the back side of that hamburger, so you’re not seeing all the cheats I’m putting in there. It doesn’t look like the one that comes out of the wrapper when you drive through. Reality is somewhere between the two, I figure.

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

The people are probably the most surprising thing. Film people are the most resilient people I’ve ever imagined. And there’s the feeling of camaraderie when you’re working on a project, when everybody’s working toward the same outcome. And I don’t know, I haven’t worked in very many offices. I guess you get the same sensation working in an office, meeting a deadline or something. But I know in film we all become a family because we’re all working toward a common goal. And we help each other. We buoy each other up. And then it doesn’t feel like work. It’s like a big scavenger hunt, and there’s nothing like crossing that finish line with your arms in the air. Yay! We did it!

Who has been an influence on your career and why?

That would be Julie Kaye. She was my first friend in the theater department at Ole Miss and all the other girls were like, “Oh, who is this girl?” and she walked right up to me and said, “Hi, I’m Julie Kaye, welcome to the theater department!”  And we’ve been friends ever since.

I watched the “Cinderella” they did in the ‘90s with Brandi and Whoopi Goldberg last night, Julie Kaye won her Emmy for that show. I was real proud for her last night. I’ve admired her and thanked her a million times. And we’re still best friends. We’ve gotten to work together a couple of times and have just had a blast. I’m thinking we’re going to have some more adventures together before it’s all said and done. She’s back in Oxford for now, so I can get to her without a plane ride.

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

It certainly did in the ‘80s in California! It was me, Julie Kaye and another girl named Pamela Massey, we were the three Southern girls and we all had a drawl. We were like an attraction. It was very bizarre. But you can get a lot of mileage out of a Southern accent with people that aren’t used to hearing it. And especially if you’re not trying to get a part for something, you know what I mean? It could hurt you there. But if you’re just trying to get a job, it’s not going to hurt anybody. They always remember that Southern girl that seemed to know what the heck she was doing.

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

Oh, that would be out on the islands off the coast. I just moved here from Long Beach, and my friend Diane has a boat and we used to go out to Horn Island. And it’s like real ocean and real waves and just gorgeous and beautiful and it looks like nothing else in Mississippi either.

Favorite moment on set or with a project?

My favorite story of a personality that I met that I like to tell, this was in California when I was working in extra casting on a TV show.

And I realized that Rosemary Clooney, who was George Clooney’s aunt, was there. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, she used to sing and she did a whole bunch of children’s albums. And when I was little, my mother had a record player and children’s albums for me to play. I used to wear out Rosemary Clooney and Shari Lewis and the 1812 Overture. Those three were my favorite.

Anyway, I realized who she was, and she was just sitting there in her director’s chair. I walked up to her and said, “Miss Clooney, my name is Mary, I just had to come shake your hand and let you know how much your music has meant to me over the years.” And I related the story about the record player in my room when I was little.

And then by the time we were through, she was hugging me. I was hugging her. We were crying. It was awesome. We had a genuine moment of gratitude, and it was just lovely.

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

Well, I would not tell them that we have adequate crew, because we don’t now. And that seems to be a problem. A lot of them come in thinking we are only hiring locals. And it’s like, “Boss, I’ve got the two locals on the payroll.” So I would let them know that they need to build into their budgets housing and per diem for the crew I can’t get here.

But yes, hire our crew here, use our vendors here, use our wonderful locations. Our incentives are good. People are still glad to have film work happen here. They’re not jaded like they are in some parts of the country. It’s a wonderful place to shoot and the people are happy to have you here. We’re all thrilled to have production come to town.

And I tell you what, when we shot “Paradise Highway” in Clarksdale, we made an economic impact in that little town and even more because of COVID. If they’d had the bars open, we’d have made an even bigger local impact. We did a lot with gas and hotels and food. That’s why it’s a good thing to have film come to Mississippi. There’s a lot of places that can use a shot in the arm.

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

I decorate other people’s houses. (laughs) That’s usually what I wind up doing. But I’ve got tons of hobbies. I crochet and I like to vacation, and I cook. I have a lot of fun in the kitchen experimenting with things. Any kind of creative stuff. I’m looking forward to getting back into pottery. I’m looking for a kiln and a pottery wheel and someone to teach me how to do it.

What are your hopes for the film industry in Mississippi?

I hope that we keep getting enough movies in so we can continue to train kids and getting them work and some experience. Hopefully we can get it to a point where everyone is working steady. Then we can keep a whole film crew in the state of Mississippi without having to go outside to get a director of photography or a script supervisor or production designer or whatever. I’d love it if we had every job covered with a Mississippian. That’s my hope. Like I said, I never dreamed I was going to be able to work in my home state. And so far I’m pulling it off here.

What’s your advice for someone looking to break into the film business?

The best advice I can give is to work as a production assistant. You’ll see a lot of different jobs. And then from there, you kind of look around and say, well, whose job would I enjoy doing? Am I the type of person that loves to sit under the shade and greet people and make sure they’re comfortable? Or do I want to work in the office where it’s air conditioned and run numbers? Or do I want to be on the phone all day and be a producer’s assistant? You give it a shot, give that a shot, and hopefully you find the one that’s right for you.

How can people find/reach you?

You can email me at queenofprops@yahoo.com.

Film Flashback: My Dog Skip

After author Willie Morris saw a private preview screening of “My Dog Skip,” the film based on his 1995 novel, he called Mississippi Film Office Director Ward Emling to express his approval.

“They’re going to be watching this movie long after all of us are gone,” Morris said, according to a voicemail transcript from the Film Office’s archive dated July 27, 1999. “It is just pure magic. There’s not a false note in it … You are going to be so proud of this, Ward. This is a classic.”

Less than a week later, Morris died of a heart attack at age 64 on Aug. 2, 1999.

Morris would certainly be proud to know that the film has only grown in stature since its release to theaters on March 3, 2000. Not only is it a faithful adaptation of his beloved memoir of growing up in Yazoo City, it’s also a moving family film that has touched the hearts of parents and children alike that can indeed be considered a modern classic.

Principal photography for the film began in central Mississippi in May 1998. As Morris was quoted as saying in the film’s promotional materials, “Southern writers are deeply immersed in a feeling for place. This movie had to be shot in Mississippi.”

Some exterior and outdoor scenes were shot in Morris’ hometown of Yazoo City and cemetery scenes were done at Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson, but the majority of filming took place in Canton. Several private homes were used, including the locations used for the Morris and Jenkins homes. Scenes were shot on the historic town square, where a false exterior was built on a local diner to serve as the Dixie Theatre Morris frequented as a child in Yazoo City. An old gas station was converted into a bus depot, and a baseball park stood in for a football field. And several local businesses were redressed to appear as they would have in the 1940s, without much need for movie magic.

“When I first visited the town of Canton, where we did most of our filming, I felt like I had stepped into a time warp,” said director Jay Russell. “The state of Mississippi and the community were very involved in the production of this film, in part because Willie Morris is their favorite son and one of the great Southern writers.”

Russell, an Arkansas native, had worked with Morris before as producer and director of the five-part PBS highway series “Great Drives.”

It also wasn’t the first time Morris’ work had been made into a movie. 1988’s “Good Old Boy: A Delta Boyhood,” based on his 1971 memoir, was shot in Mississippi and originally aired on the Disney Channel. The film was later retitled to the more attention-grabbing “The River Pirates” when it was released on home video. It starred Oscar nominee Richard Farnsworth and Anne Ramsey, best known as Ma Fratelli from “The Goonies.”

“My Dog Skip” features a well-known cast including Diane Lane and Kevin Bacon as Willie’s parents, and then up-and-coming actor Luke Wilson as Dink. But the most crucial role was the young Willie Morris, which went to the then-unknown child actor Frankie Muniz. “Malcolm in the Middle,” the hit Fox sitcom he would star in for seven seasons, premiered just two months before “My Dog Skip” opened in theaters.

Some other familiar faces include veteran character actor Clint Howard (brother of famed actor/director Ron Howard) in the role of Millard, and “Forrest Gump” novelist Winston Groom, a close friend of Morris’, as Mr. Goodloe. And though you only hear his voice, you might recognize the narrator as singer/actor Harry Connick, Jr.

A familiar face to many Mississippians, who has made quite a name for herself as a home-spun author much in the vein of Morris, appears as an extra in the square scenes. Jill Conner Browne was featured in a May 31, 1998, Clarion-Ledger article about the film, less than a year before her 1999 book “The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love” became a New York Times bestseller and kicked off her highly successful series of humorous memoirs.

Another familiar—yet decidedly furrier—face is Skip himself. The title pooch was portrayed by the father-son Jack Russell terrier team of Moose and Enzo, who audiences at the time knew as the dog Eddie on the popular sitcom “Fraiser.”

Some notable Mississippians who worked on the film include assistant location manager Brian Hilburn, who went on to work on other Mississippi-made films like “As I Lay Dying,” “Get On Up” and “The Hollars,” and actor and Jackson native Nathaniel Lee, Jr., who made his film debut as Sammy. He is the brother and musical collaborator of actor Daniel Curtis Lee, known for the kids’ sitcoms “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide” and “Zeke and Luther.”

“My Dog Skip” ended up being a modestly profitable hit for Warner Brothers, grossing $34 million against its estimated $6 million budget. It opened in second place to the comedy “The Whole Nine Yards” and held its own against tentpoles like “Mission to Mars,” “Erin Brockovich” and “Final Destination” that opened in subsequent weeks.

Fans of the film can visit the “My Dog Skip” movie museum on Canton’s historic square, which features memorabilia from the film as well as the actual Witch’s Crypt seen in the film. Visit cantontourism.com for more information.

“’My Dog Skip’ is one of the movies that remains close to our hearts, because Willie Morris is a Mississippi and literary treasure,” said Jo Ann Gordon, director of the Canton Convention and Visitors Bureau. “In addition to the economic impact the film has had on Canton, we’re thrilled to have been a part of telling one of his stories in film so that it may live on for future generations to enjoy.”

“My Dog Skip” is rated PG for some violent content and mild language. It is available on blu-ray and DVD.

Kevin Mitchell, Sideshow Props 2.0

Kevin Mitchell

Kevin Mitchell is owner of Gulfport’s Sideshow Props 2.0, an 86,000 sq. ft. prop house and studio space. It’s the second location of Sideshow Props, which was started in New Orleans by Mitchell’s business partner Lawrence Barattini. During the Halloween season, Mitchell’s warehouse is also home to Terror on the Coast, a popular haunted house attraction he started. Terror on the Coast will be open from Sept. 16-Oct. 31.

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I grew up in the old Orange Grove area in Gulfport. It’s no longer called Orange Grove except by the people who grew up there. Gulfport annexed north of I-10 on Highway 49, and that used to be the Orange Grove area. I went to elementary school at Bel Air Elementary and graduated from Harrison Central High School and then went to USM. I came back, built my first house, and I’ve built five houses since then in the Orange Grove area. That’s where I reside now, I’ve basically never left.

At what moment did you discover an interest in working in film and TV?

I got a degree in accounting and after I did my internship with a group here in Gulfport, I decided that’s not what I wanted to do with my life. So I went back and took a couple more classes and got a degree in management/marketing. From there I got into outside sales with a copier company and did that for about five years.

I have an entrepreneurial spirit, so I bought a Steak-Out franchise and had that for about two years, and it didn’t work out so well for me. I learned a lot from it though. I left that and got into pharmaceutical sales. I worked in a cardiovascular division for a pharmaceutical company here on the coast for about 10 years.

It was about 18 years ago that I went out one night with my wife, and a friend of hers introduced me to my business partner, Lawrence Barattini. He had started his prop company in New Orleans a couple of years prior to me meeting him. He was a third-generation jeweler with one of the oldest jewelry companies in downtown New Orleans. He had gotten involved with the movies by renting them stuff out of his jewelry store. And he was a longtime picker, and I was a longtime picker. I had a warehouse full of stuff, and he had a warehouse full of stuff. That’s what our passions were.

We figured out really quick we had that in common and got to be friends. But he was on a completely different level than me. He had already started the business called Sideshow Props in New Orleans. He kept on me for several years, saying you need to jump ship and you need to come into the prop business and we’ll open one up in Mississippi, but I couldn’t leave my job. I was making really good money, but I hated my job. I was just showing up to work every day collecting the check. I hated what I did for a living.

But he finally convinced me. We work well together because I’m a builder and he’s more of a scenic artist. He started sending me work from New Orleans. At the time I had a personal shop at my house. He would send me stuff from different movies he was working on, I’d build it and send it back to him and he’d pay me, and next thing you know, I resigned from my job and I started my own little company.

Lawrence has been my mentor. He’s the one that brought me into the movie industry. But once I had made a name for myself, everything I was working on was in New Orleans, but I was still living here in Gulfport. So we started searching for a building, and we ended up leasing a building here and we went into partnership together, calling our second Gulfport location Sideshow Props 2.0.

How did Terror on the Coast come about?

We got this building in 2013. At the time we were working on “American Horror Story,” “Texas Chainsaw” and a couple more indie films. They were all horror films. Whenever we got all the props back, we brought them to our building in Mississippi because we had a lot more space. We got to looking at them and thinking, “Man, we’re in an 86,000 square foot building, and you know, we need to pay rent here.”

There weren’t a lot of movies being made in Mississippi then. They were mostly in New Orleans. So that’s how we got the idea to build a haunted house, and that was the birth of Terror on the Coast. We started with 15 rooms. Now we have 42 rooms and we have a massive amount of people that come out. It’s been a huge success for us. A couple of years ago we got rated by a third-party company called The Scare Factor. They rate 250 haunted houses in the United States, and we ranked number eight. That really put us on the map to where we started seeing people come from as far as California. They were flying in to see our haunted house.

What about the movie prop business, how has that been going?

I’d say in the past eight months we’ve worked on more movies in Mississippi than in the past six years. The movie industry has picked up here in Mississippi tremendously, and even the budgets of the movies have picked up. We’re working on some higher budget films and we’re the only game in town. We’re the only real prop company in the state. And we also have access to all our props in New Orleans that we bring here for Mississippi films. You can also film in the building. We’ve built whole city sets inside this building. We’ve got an upper deck of the streets of Paris. A bar that you would see in Havana, Cuba, that’s operational. We have a 1,500 square foot stage. We have a whole western town that you can walk through.

What was the first movie you worked with?

The first really big movie that I worked on by myself was “The Magnificent Seven.” I built tons of stuff for that movie, I worked on it for four months.

What are some current and recent projects?

We do work for somewhere between 120 and 160 films a year. A lot of times, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t even keep up with the names. I’ll know the name of the LLC we do the work for, which is different from the name of the movie, right? I do remember that recent Morgan Freeman movie “Vanquish” because they filmed for a couple of weeks in our warehouse, and I built some stuff for that movie.

Sometimes family will ask me, “What movies are you working on and what stars are in it?” And I’m like, “I don’t know! I just build the stuff and rent the stuff to them!” It just doesn’t affect me the way it used to. I can name a lot of the stuff we worked on my first year. But once I started getting acclimated in the business, the only thing I know is the LLC because that’s what I bill to. (laughs)

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

How they come in and they set up and they do all this work for three months, and then they shut it down and it’s gone forever. But that is kind of a cool concept. Because you’re constantly working on something different. It’s not like being in an office every day. That’s kind of a surprising thing for me. And I’m always so amazed at how much money the movie industry can spend. Some of the bigger budget movies, they’ll spend tens of thousands for someone to build something, and it gets out on site and then they change their mind. Then they throw that away and spend $50,000 more for something else. At first, I never understood that, but I understand it now. They’re trying to get the perfect scene, and that needs the perfect props to make it real. And they only have a short period of time to achieve that. It’s a major ingredient for the movie being successful, so they spare no expense. And they’ll need it really fast. They’ll order something and I’ll say, “What’s my deadline?” And they say, “Yesterday.” It’s very demanding.

Who has been an influence on your career and why?

My wife. When I first got into this, I was working for financial purposes only at my other job. When my business partner convinced me to jump ship to follow my passion, most wives would have said “No! What are you doing? There’s no way you can quit this high paying job with all the benefits.”

And it did affect us tremendously financially at first. But she said, “Go for it. We only live once and I’m tired of prying you out of bed every day to go to work. I want you to be happy.” She was the driving force that allowed me to jump ship and to do what I’m doing now. And Lawrence has definitely been my mentor, and  there’s also his wife, Alice, who introduced us. Without the three of them I wouldn’t even be here, period.

Do you have a favorite moment working with a project?

When I was working on “The Magnificent Seven,” I built like 20 something coffins for the film and they accidentally burned like eight of them in a scene with a fire. And so they called me and I had to build eight coffins in like 15 hours and get them there right away. I normally don’t deliver stuff, but they asked me to deliver it. So I went to the set and my wife went with me. They were getting ready to shoot a big fight scene, and next thing you know, Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio—all of them—walked in where we were to get some air before they shot the scene because that’s when the AC was. And we had a good conversation with all of them.

And then Ethan asked me where I was from and I told him what happened with the coffins, that it was a last-minute deal. And he’s like, “Oh, that’s cool! Have you ever been on set for a big action scene?” Then he walked over and told the director, “Hey, put these two over to the side. They want to watch it.” It was this huge scene with stunts and horses falling over, and that was really cool.

If you could make a scene or a movie built around one place in Mississippi, where would that be?

I think any of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It’s different from any other place in Mississippi. The people are different. There’s a different attitude down here. I’ve always said it’s a piece of paradise in the south. We’ve actually got a guy who’s written a script about Terror on the Coast. It’s a horror film and we’re in the process of making that come to life. We’ll be doing a lot of the filming here in our warehouse, but there will also be a lot of coastal views and showcasing the restaurants and casinos here, to show what the Mississippi Gulf Coast offers.

What would you say to a producer to convince them to bring a movie to Mississippi?

Will first off, we have the props! We have everything that L.A. has got. But it’s a lot less expensive. The people are a lot nicer. The hospitality for your film crew here on the coast is second to none. Every film crew that comes in says something about that. And the place is beautiful. It’s a great place to film.

And I think, to be quite honest with you, that’s the reason why the film industry is picking up here, because it’s been hard to film a movie during the pandemic in other places, but the state of Mississippi has made it really easy to film here. And that’s why we’re getting these movies, but then they’re finding out, wow, this is a great place. I can’t tell you how many people I know right now that have moved here from L.A. They live here on the coast and they’re filming here on the coast. Producers, actors, directors, special effects artists. I know a ton of people that are transplants. They’re like, “Man, you know, everything I heard about Mississippi is so opposite from the truth.”

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

I spend a lot of time with my family. I have three kids and they’re all living on their own now. I’ve got a new grandbaby from my son and his wife. And my wife and I are now in our mid-50s and we’re starting to vacation a lot. We have a camper and we go all around the U.S. And we’re very active outdoors. We go white water rafting, ziplining, a little bit of everything.

What would your hopes be for the film industry in the state?

I’d love to build a real studio. I’d like to build it on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I’d like to have a place where they could come in and film movies and to have it booked year-round. That’s what I’d really like to see. I’d like to see the movie industry take up residency here. And there’s no reason why it shouldn’t, because it’s in Georgia and New Orleans. We’re right in the middle.

And I’d like to see the infrastructure grow. When some of these higher budget films come in, there’s not enough people here that are trained for them to hire. I’d like to see some type of training facility that could train for every aspect of a movie so that when movies come in, we have the infrastructure. As it is now, even with the people that work in our prop house, they may have worked at Walmart or cut grass their whole life so we have to train them. So I think a training facility would be incredible. It would increase our chances of getting some of these bigger budget movies.

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

Well, we have a program here for Terror on the Coast. We have our own makeup department and costume department, and we build stuff for the haunted house. It’s a volunteer apprenticeship. For example, when we first started, our lead makeup artist, she was in theater here. Well, her real passion was to do makeup in the movie industry. She volunteered her time here for the first three years and proved herself to us and got better at what she did. And then we passed her name along to a movie that came in. And now she’s no longer with us and is working full time in the industry. We’ve actually had three makeup artists, an actor and a set builder go on to jobs in the industry.

How can people contact you?

Our websites are sideshowpropsgpt.com and terroronthecoast.com. And Terror on the Coast is on Facebook at facebook.com/terroronthecoast.

“Mysterious Circumstance” Mississippi premiere to celebrate talent of homegrown filmmakers, cast and crew Sept. 9

When “Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis” has its Mississippi premiere in Jackson Sept. 9, it will be a homecoming for the film after award-winning screenings at festivals the past year.

It will also be a celebration of a film made in Mississippi by Mississippians.

“Knowing that most of the people that worked on the film in some capacity live here in Mississippi, it’s great to be able to come together as one to watch it,” said Amye Gousset, manager of Baldwyn-based Six Shooter Studios and the film’s lead actress.

Robbie Fisher served as the film’s line producer and her Water Valley-based company Fisher Productions, LLC, served as production partner. She says working on the film was a very special experience.

“As a producer, I focus exclusively on films made in Mississippi,” Fisher said. “But that might mean working with somebody who’s coming here from another state.  So, it’s even more rewarding to have worked on a project like this, with a Mississippi-based writer and director and a majority of the crew being Mississippians.”

Writer-director-producer Clark Richey is a native of Baldwyn. Gousset and cinematographer Michael Williams are from Tupelo. Cast members like Marcus Dupree and Cotton Yancey are from Philadelphia and Pelahatchie, respectively. Second assistant director and producer Morgan Cutturini lives in Oxford as does sound designer Jeffrey Reed. The list goes on.

“It’s absolutely essential to our mission of growing the film industry in the state to have projects made by Mississippians, and this film is a shining example,” said Mississippi Film Office director Nina Parikh. “Our rebate program is designed in part to facilitate production by homegrown filmmakers, which in turn provides on-the-job training and steady work to grow and sustain our crew base. By building a robust, skilled local crew base, our state becomes even more attractive to out-of-state producers and larger productions.”

The Mississippi Motion Picture Incentive Program, which offers up to a 35 percent cash rebate on eligible expenditures and payroll, played a “huge role” in making the film, according to Fisher.

“Obviously it’s a great incentive,” she said. “I have past experience with the program, so when Amye, Clark and I had our initial discussions on making it, the program was a big component because it not only allows you to make your dollars go further, it also drives dollars being spent in our communities. When I get calls from other people interested in making films here, the incentive is always part of the conversation.”

The film, as the title suggests, tells the story of Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame, whose untimely death at a roadside inn on the Natchez Trace in 1809 has been shrouded in mystery for over two centuries. The film was born from Richey’s love of history, as well as some prolific downtime during the pandemic when he wrote it and three other screenplays.

“There’s a time period in the early 1800s in Mississippi and western Tennessee when we were the wild, wild West,” Richey said. “That period of history has been largely lost and it’s not really a focal point of any modern storytelling or filmmaking. And many authors and historians will say Lewis’ death is one of the greatest mysteries of the Natchez Trace.”

Though some historians believe Lewis’ death to be a suicide, the film portrays several plausible theories through a series of vignettes, “Rashomon”-style—which refers to the 1950 Akira Kurosawa classic that pioneered the storytelling technique.

“One of my actors used that term, and I said, ‘what are you talking about?’” Richey said. “I didn’t go to film school or anything, I’ve just been writing and studying history all my life. And in writing the script, I landed on a filmmaking technique that made it possible to tell this story in an economical way, and it really made it possible for us to accomplish the project.”

Six Shooter Studios, which Richey owns, was looking to make its first feature in 2021. Out of the scripts Richey had written, “Mysterious Circumstance” was a perfect fit due to its limited locations and cast.

“Oh, man, that was critical,” Richey said. “It’s basically a one-day timeframe in one location out in the wilderness. That really made it possible for a small film company like ours to tell a big story.”

The film was shot mainly at a cabin in Tishomingo County, which also made it possible for the studio to operate out of its home base in Baldwyn.

“I was able to go home every day right after shooting, so that was nice,” Gousset said. “But just being able to shoot it here in Mississippi, aside from the fact it’s my home, having the Mississippi landscape to shoot in and of course, the hospitality of the South, made it a fabulous environment for everybody involved. The actors and crew that did come here from other places were saying that there’s nothing like working here in Mississippi. Honestly, it was a completely different experience for them, and they all walked away saying, ‘What is your next project? We’re ready to do it again!’”

While the film made the festival rounds over the past year, it garnered numerous awards and accolades. It was named Best Feature at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival in Dubuque, Iowa, the Los Angeles Film Awards, the RED Movie Awards in Reims, France, and the Oniros Film Awards in New York, and won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa, Fla. Richey received four nods for both Best Director and Best First Time Director from various festivals, and Gousett received two Best Actress awards, one from the Los Angeles Film Awards.

“I did not expect that,” she said. “When I got the email saying I was in the running, I thought, ‘That’s fabulous.’ Then to actually win from such a prestigious institution, I’m just ecstatic about that.”

Williams also received two awards for Best Cinematography, one from the Montreal Independent Film Festival.

“That’s great recognition for the whole team,” Williams said. “It’s also a testament to Clark and the producers for giving our team the resources, time and people that we needed. I can only be as good as my lighting team. It was a very positive working experience just being on set and the way we were treated.”

As an example, Williams related the story of how Chet Barber, who served as the film’s best boy grip, became involved with the project.

“We were a couple of days out and we were in a pretty remote location,” Williams said. “We were struggling with manpower and knew we needed one more person to make our day. Then I saw this tall guy who worked for Clark walking by with several C-stands on his shoulder, which is an amazing feat. So I asked Robbie if he could be one of our grips. That was one of the things where we told them we needed something, and then they made it happen. Getting Chet really improved our team dynamic, and I understand it might be leading to a nice career for him, hopefully.”

Barber has since worked in the grip department for three more films, including “Mississippi Scholar,” which was shot in north Mississippi earlier this year.

“Those are the kind of opportunities I think we have in Mississippi, where you can be on set and people see your value and potential and then you can quickly become part of something,” Williams said. “That’s how I became a camera assistant. I was a production assistant on my first feature and was moved up to first assistant camera. That’s how I learned to pull focus, which lead to me being a director of photography.”

Fisher, who recently relocated her company to Water Valley after being based in Jackson for over a decade, is also grateful for the opportunities projects like the film bring to north Mississippi.

“When I moved here, I was very interested in learning more about who our crew base was up here, and what the exciting projects and ideas were,” she said. “When I connected with Clark, it turned out to be a great experience. I’ve gotten to tap into and get to know the production crew that are based in places like Oxford, Tupelo and even small towns, and discovered there were a lot more resources and people here than I even imagined.”

Richey says the film’s continued success will hopefully allow Six Shooter Studios to bring more projects to the area.

“As a first-time filmmaker, it’s been an exhilarating experience and continues to be,” he said. “I hope we’re successful not just for myself and for the studio, but also for everyone who participated in the movie—all of our filmmakers and cast and crew. I’d love to continue to help develop the filmmaking process here in north Mississippi.”

The film was picked up for theatrical distribution in the U.S. by Vision Films, Inc. in May, while Equinoxe Films will distribute it in Canada. Goussett says she looks forward to sharing the film with more film lovers after seeing the response it’s received from festival audiences.

“I think people want to see something at this point that is a little bit different from what’s in the multiplexes, to get to go back to a more traditional feature narrative,” she said. “We’re not wearing capes, but we’ve got horses! It’s got history, it’s got mystery. But mostly it’s really entertaining.”

The Mississippi premiere of “Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis” will be held at the Capri Theatre in Jackson at 7 p.m. Sept. 9, and the film will be shown at the theatre through Sept. 15. It will also be shown at the Cine Theatre in New Albany and the Coliseum Theatre in Corinth Sept. 9-15. The film will also be screened at the Temple Theatre in Meridian Sept. 17 and 18 at 2 p.m. each day.

Zach Lancaster, Sound Mixer

Zach Lancaster

Picayune native Zach Lancaster currently serves as the sound mixer for HGTV’s “Home Town” series filmed in Laurel. He has been working in the industry since 2014 and and has an extensive list of credits working as both a sound mixer and boom operator, most recently on films like “Breaking New in Yuba County” and “Where the Crawdads Sing.”

Where did you grow up and go to school?

I grew up in Picayune and I went to Pearl River Central High School, where I played football and did theater. I went to William Carey University on a theater scholarship. That’s where I started getting into sound, mainly sound design and music composition. I designed and scored six or eight plays. I was nominated for Barbizon Awards for a majority of my designs, which is like the Tonys for college theater.

At what moment did you discover an interest in working in film and TV?

After graduating college, I realized it was going to be tough to find a job doing theater in the south. So I jumped in and started doing performance audio for concerts and bands and stuff like that. And then after that, I had a buddy who was doing a short film and needed a sound mixer, and said he had the gear and everything and just needed somebody to come in and mix it.

He knew that I’d mixed bands, and he was like, it can’t be much different. So, I went and did this little short film with him, and it was the first time I’d done production audio and I really got into it.

When you mix concerts, you’re mixing up to 96 channels a show. It was fewer channels, which made it easier. But you also get to really dive into those fewer channels, which I thought is really unique. You have to really get in there and get it perfect. You can kind of hide some bad stuff in performance audio because it’s a massive mix. But as far as production audio, you’ve got a lavalier mic and a boom mic, and that’s it. Good luck! I love that aspect of it.

At what point did you realize you could live and work in Mississippi?

I ended up leaving the performance audio side of it and just dove deep into production audio and hustled. It took me about two years to get everything going, and to buy some more equipment and get my name out there and figure things out.

Then I got a job as a boom operator on a movie in Mobile that the union ended up flipping. Then I had the opportunity to join the union, and I weighed my odds. What were the pros and cons? I liked the idea of them picking up my insurance and having a 401K, so it felt almost more like a big boy job.

Whenever you tell family and friends that you work in the movies, they’ll look at you like, “Oh, bless your heart, are you OK?” Especially living in Mississippi, they would be like what the heck are you doing? What are you working on in Mississippi? And I’d say, there’s a few things to work on. But we also have Louisiana right next door. This was around 2014 before things really picked up here. So I joined the union, and it’s been full steam ever since.

Have you had any formal training?

A lot of it is trial by fire. And you get on forums and look and read and try to research and learn. Especially the equipment. It’s ever-changing, ever-evolving. That’s been the big thing.

As far as formal training, there’s a sound mixer that I work as a boom operator for, and his name is Paul Ledford. He’s a Louisiana native and he’s got a resume that will make your head turn. He’s Steven Soderbergh’s buddy. The first movie on his resume is “Sex, Lies and Videotape.”

I got blessed enough to do a movie with Paul in Natchez, called “Breaking News in Yuba County.” And it was just a match made in heaven. The first two weeks it was tough getting to know one another and getting to know one another’s workflow. But after that, we’ve done three movies since then. He’s been awesome. He’s got nearly 40 years of experience in this industry as a sound mixer and knows everything about everything.

He knows that I do mixing too, so instead of keeping me at a boom op’s distance, he’ll explain things to me and show me different things, and we have a great relationship. He has been a mentor for me. Being somewhat arrogant, I thought I knew everything I needed to know. Until I met Paul! And then I realized that, oh, I’m still in kindergarten.

What was your first film/TV job?

It was my friend’s short film called “Morningside Drive.” It was with my buddy Bryan Mitchell who got me on to it. He’s a Jackson guy who lives and works in the industry in New Orleans now.

The first feature I worked on was a movie called “Shark Lake” with Dolph Lundgren that was shot on the coast. I was a boom op and then I did some second unit sound mixing on that.

What are your current and recent projects?

I did “Where the Crawdads Sing,” which just came to theaters. I was the boom op on that with Paul, and we also did a movie that’s coming to Disney Plus called “The Crater” that’s like “The Goonies” on the moon. As far as made-in-Mississippi stuff, working on “Breaking News in Yuba County” in Natchez was super fun. And I’m working on HGTV’s “Home Town” in Laurel pretty much year round. We finish season 6 on Sept. 15, and we’ll pretty much pick right back up and start on season 7 in November. I’m hoping to be able to jump on a movie during the break.

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

The people you meet, for better or for worse, and luckily, mainly better than worse. You get to meet a lot of amazing people. And not just actors and actresses or, you know, reality hosts like Ben and Erin, but crew members too.

For instance: “Where the Crawdads Sing.” It was an extremely tough movie to work on. We shot in the swamps of Louisiana in the middle of the summer, so if we weren’t dying of sweat, we were stuck in mud. But you’ve got a crew of 150 people working every single day to make this movie. Everybody’s got their own creative niche, whether it’s sound, camera, grip and electric, hair and makeup, the production crew, it’s everybody working together but also doing their own thing. And then it all comes together at the end. And then you have this awesome work of art, and that’s something to be super pumped up about. There’s not a lot of jobs out there where that is a thing, where you have a massive amount of people working on a single vision.

That’s what keeps me going. What I love about it is the fact that you’re always learning and working with awesome new people from the next job to the next. It keeps you moving and keeps your brain going. And if you’re not learning, you’re not living.

Who has been an influence on your career and why?

Well Paul Ledford is of course a big one. But before Paul, there were Dewey Douglas and Tim Matheny at William Carey.

I did theater in high school, and I was an arrogant teenager that wanted to be an actor. And then I go to William Carey, first year freshman, and we do the first auditions for the first show, and I don’t get cast. You want to talk about leveling me!

But then I fell into doing sound. Our director knew I played music and they needed someone to do the music for a children’s show. And I ran with it and fell in love with it. And I got nominated for it, the first show I ever did. So there I was, after being leveled for not getting cast, I got nominated for an award for sound design.

Dewey gave me some of the best advice that I ever got, especially at that age. He said, “Good actors look for work. But good crewmen, work looks for them.” And it is so true. I haven’t looked for a job in probably four, five years. I’ve gotten contacted and then accepted a job. I can’t even tell you how much I’ve had to turn down.

How important is sound to the medium of film?

I did a workshop at the Magnolia Film Festival this year, and I talked a lot about just that. I mean, when’s the last time you saw a silent film do well? OK, “The Artist” won an Oscar, big whoop. (laughs)

Sound is literally 50 percent of your movie. But I get it, how it gets ignored. They say, “Lights, camera, action.” They leave out sound. But I say it’s 50 percent because if the sound sucks, you can’t watch it. People will turn it off. Have you ever watched a show on TV and the loop is off? When you can tell their mouths are moving, but the audio isn’t in sync? It just distracts you. It takes you out of it. You can get away with a bad shot or an out of focus shot here and there. But nobody cares about your movie if they can’t understand or hear what’s going on.

Do you have a favorite moment working on a project?

Really, it’s the same for every movie. A majority of the work I’ve done, especially on bigger movies, I’ve been a boom op. The boom op is the voice of sound on set. It’s next to the camera. It’s next to the director. It’s next to the actors, everything. Being able to be there and command that is an experience. What I love about it is how up close and personal I get to be with the actors and actresses, you know, because I’m putting a microphone on them, and it can be uncomfortable at times. I’m this random guy that’s putting a mic up your shirt or your dress, you know? The way that I get around that is just talk to them and be polite. You get them talking and they’re not even thinking about what you’re doing. In doing that, they get to know me, and I get to know them.

Allison Janney is probably one of the most special people I’ve ever worked with. And she was such a peach every day at work. She knew I have two girls, and she would ask me, when we would come back from the weekend, “What did y’all do? Show me pictures!” You find out they’re just humans like us who just got dealt a different hand in life. So, it’s not a single moment, but it’s those moments on every set.  

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

I think just any small town. You know, you have Natchez, you have Jackson, you have Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, Starkville, Tupelo, even Hattiesburg. But a smaller place, like Soso, Mississippi, or Hot Coffee, Mississippi, it’s these tiny little places that actually make up Mississippi. If I was to make a movie, some small little town where everybody knows everyone’s name and everybody knows everybody’s business, I think that is true Mississippi.

What would you say to convince or encourage someone to bring a project to Mississippi?

I’d say the locations are beautiful and inexpensive. You want to shoot an antebellum home? Well, we got it. You want to shoot some secluded island? We got it. We can turn a high school gymnasium into a soundstage. We can figure it out. And I think that’s the one of the best qualities of Mississippi, and what I always preach about Mississippi, is how creative the people are.

What are your hopes for the film industry in Mississippi?

I would like to see the crew base grow. And maybe that starts with expanding the incentive to get bigger projects. I know many people from Mississippi who are still working in movies, but they don’t live here anymore. They’ve moved to New Orleans, Baton Rouge or to Atlanta.

For me, I won the lottery. I got on a television show 25 miles away from my house, and we shoot eight to nine months out of the year. I can live in Hattiesburg with my partner and two beautiful girls. And I get to commute and it’s just like any 9 to 5. That’s allowed me to stay.

Lately I’ve been getting more and more calls for jobs in-state. And that’s amazing. That’s what’s going to help keep people here. As long as there are movies, as long as there’s work here in the state, I feel like our crew base will grow and grow.

What advice would you give to somebody looking to get into the film business?

My biggest piece of advice would be no job is too small. Don’t have such an ego that you think you can just start at the top. I see a lot of crash and burns. People that’ll go and buy all this equipment, take out a monster loan and think that they’re going to go right into being a sound mixer, or think that they’re going to be a DP right away and realize, wait, nobody knows who I am. Don’t think you have to start at the top to do what I do. Take the small jobs, get your name out there.

What do you do when you’re not working on a project?

I have two incredible little girls, Mila and Vaeda, and they are six and five, 14 months apart, and they are my little monsters. They’re awesome. When I’m not working, I’m trying to be as close to them as humanly possible. And I like to fish, I like bass fishing. Yet another reason I love Mississippi is there’s a lot of good bass fishing. So just being a dad and then trying to catch that double digit, you know?

How can people reach you?

My email address is zlancaster90@yahoo.com. And I’m @prozachlan on Instagram, and I’m on Facebook too.

CASTING CALL: Great Escapes Season 2, Week 4

Morgan Casting is thrilled to announce that “Great Escape with Morgan Freeman” is returning for a second season! Shooting is underway in Natchez, and will continue for a few more weeks. 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 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 4:

[LEON FEIDHENDER] White male, mid 30s. 5’10” and up, slim with dark hair and mustache, brown eyes.

[ALEXANDER PECHERSKY] White male, mid 30s. 5’10” and up, athletic build, dark hair and eyes.

[CHAIM ENGEL] White male, late 20s. Average height. Brown eyes and curly brown hair.

[THOMAS “TOIVI” BLATT] White male, mid-to-late teens. Prefer someone who is 18+ but could pass for younger. Brown hair and eyes with a small, thin frame.

[THOMAS ROSE] White male, mid 30s. Dark hair, full bushy beard and mustache.

[A.G. HAMILTON] White male, early 30s. Dark hair with a large mustache, above average height.

[THOMAS TURNER] White male, mid 20s. Dark wavy or curly hair, clean shaven, or willing to shave. Shorter than average.

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 19 at 5 p.m.

Canton Young Filmmakers Workshop connects students with hands-on film learning

The Canton Young Filmmakers Workshop has provided elementary, middle and high school students a gateway into the world of film and TV production for over 20 years.

“I don’t think I’d be where I am now with sports broadcasting without it,” said William Lindsey, a Canton native who served as an instructor for the latest workshop in July.

Lindsey is currently studying broadcasting at Mississippi State University and works part-time for ESPN. He was a CYF camper himself for six years beginning in 2013, before beginning to serve as an instructor in 2019.

“A lot of my experience with filmmaking comes from film camp itself,” Lindsey said.

The workshop is made possible through a partnership between the Canton Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Madison County Library and the Mississippi Film Office.

It was initially born in 2001 out of the interest generated by two major film productions that were shot in Canton: 1996’s “A Time to Kill” and 2000’s “My Dog Skip.”

“It was such a major event for the state of Mississippi to have films produced from the works of two of its own, John Grisham and Willie Morris,” said Jo Ann Gordon, director of the Canton CVB and founder of the workshop. “So, we had a church that was doing a summer camp call and ask if we could help them with a film component. That was the catalyst for the program that you still see today.”

The initial offering was a two-day program that was more of a “show and tell on how movies were made,” Gordon said.

Gordon then connected with the Mississippi Film Office to develop a curriculum to make the workshop an intensive, week-long hands-on filmmaking experience.

“The workshop lets campers experience every aspect of filmmaking, from script to screen,” said Thabi Moyo, MFO production and workforce manager, who has been involved with CYF since 2011, most recently serving as lead instructor. “By the end of the week, each group will have made their own short film. They start with writing a script and creating storyboards, continuing on to filming, sound recording and even acting, all the way to editing and finally, a premiere of the films.”

The workshop consists of two week-long sessions, with the first week for elementary school students ages 8-12, and the second for junior and high school students ages 13-17.

“The first week, it’s all about getting their feet wet,” Lindsey said. “The younger kids don’t usually have the same experience in terms of computer skills.”

The Madison County Library provides facilities and equipment for the camp.

“it’s been a great partnership,” said Tonja Johnson, director of the Madison County Library System. “We enjoy supporting the wonderfully talented young folks who come to the workshop each year. We feel like everybody has a story to tell. And whether they tell that story through a book or music or a film, we want them to be able to share their story.”

The library recently added Adobe Premiere software for editing and boom mics for high quality sound recording, in addition to the camera equipment and computers they provide for shooting and editing.

Chandler Griffin, the founder of Barefoot Workshops, an intensive media training nonprofit organization based in New York that began in the Mississippi Delta in 2004, joined the team this year as lead instructor for post-production. He served as the second week students’ guide to using Premiere, the powerful editing suite used by many media professionals.

“Technology has come a long, long way,” Gordon said. “We started out using VHS tapes. Then we went to DVD. This year we gave everyone flash drives. We always want to send a copy of their films home with them.”

“Technology has definitely helped streamline the program,” Moyo said. “It’s much easier to shoot and edit with today’s camera equipment and software. And many of the campers are tech-savvy and some come in having already made their own videos. It’s hard to believe, but most of this year’s campers were born after Youtube became a thing.”

A testament to the program’s impact with campers is the many who keep coming back—even if they had little to no interest in filmmaking the first day.

“Honestly, my mom kind of made me do it the first year, and now I’ve been back every year,” said Saralyn Teasley, a 15-year-old Madison Central High School student who just finished her sixth year with the program. “I love it. I like that we get to come up with our own ideas and I really enjoy editing, especially with the sound.”

Because the workshop is so hands-on, it lets campers get a feel for every aspect of production.

“It’s great to see how every camper finds their own niche over the course of the week,” Moyo said. “Some may have never used a camera before and find they have a knack for it. Some find they enjoy acting. Or, like Saralyn, some enjoy putting the puzzle pieces together in post-production.”

13-year-old Byram Middle School student Colin Waterman just finished his first year with the program and can’t wait to come back.

“I have an interest in film, so my mother surprised me with the workshop,” he said, adding that he loves to watch TV shows like his favorite, Netflix’s “Free Rein.”

“Seeing what happens on TV shows had me wondering what happens behind the scenes,” Waterman said. “I was surprised by how long the process is. You never realize how many different shots it takes to make a movie. My favorite part of the workshop was writing the script and then being director and seeing how what we wrote comes through in the characters.”

While teaching filmmaking skills is the primary goal of the Canton Young Filmmakers Workshop, like any summer camp, it’s also a great place to have some fun and make new friends.

“The kids come in on their first day and they’re all basically camera shy and trying to figure out how they’re going to collaborate with the other kids that they don’t know,” Gordon said. “And by the end of the week, they’ve created friendships that are going to last forever.”

For more information about the Canton Young Filmmakers Workshop and for future dates, click here.