Could Baldwyn become a movie stage?
The answer may be yes with a project in the works aiming to be shot locally that has the potential to put a very big spotlight on the community.
Written by P.J. Leonard, “Mississippi Scholar” will begin filming here in May with additional footage being shot in other parts of Lee and Itawamba counties and on the campus of Itawamba Community College.
Right now the film is in the fund-raising stage and is seeking investors from all around. Leonard, who has a host of experience in the entertainment world and is no stranger to Lee County and Northeast Mississippi, is anxious to get the project underway.
“We have to raise the money for the project first, and I believe we’re going to do it,” Leonard said. “We’re looking for lots of small investments.”
Information on investing in the movie can be found at the film’s website, www.mississippischolarfilm.com.
Baldwyn’s Clark Richey has been tapped as a co-producer on the project, and several big-name actors and actresses have been tapped for roles in the film, including Emmy Winner Obba Babatundé, actor Sonny Marinelli (NYPD Blue); and Broadway star Capathia Jenkins. The movie will feature local and statewide talent as well, including Saltillo native Ryan Perich, Amy Gousset of Tupelo, and Mississippi-born college football and NFL player Marcus Dupree.
Leonard first came to learn of Tupelo when he was invited to a film festival there years ago. Later he teamed up with students at Itawamba Community College and other actors to shoot a short film, “Mississippi Minute.”
When he met Richey, Leonard said he knew nothing of Baldwyn but was surprised at what he found when Richey introduced him to the city as a potential filming location.
“The place is a sound stage,” Leonard said. “The diner, the coffee shop. I thought ‘this is insane!’”
The Lee and Itawamba counties area impressed Leonard as well, who said the area lent itself to filmwork.
“With the diversity of locations, we found more panoramic settings throughout this area than we ever imagined. There is a sense of visual drama here that would excite any filmmaker,” Leonard said.
About the film
Leonard’s “Mississippi Scholar” is a story about personal growth through painful struggles and was inspired by a true story.
“The initial inspiration for this film came to me after watching my good friend Mahdi Hemingway’s May 23rd, 2017 commencement speech from Johns Hopkins’ Carey Business School,” Leonard said. “Mahdi’s life experiences belie his youth. Being born into a life of poverty didn’t stop Mahdi from accomplishing what many fortunate individuals never achieve. That is the same path our main character James Wilson has set his sights on in Mississippi Scholar.”
While Leonard wrote the original script, he said CLEO award-winner Reuben Latre has been instrumental in further development of the storyline and believes the finished product has the potential to attract a lot of attention in the entertainment world.
“If Netflix or Hulu sees what we can do and wanted to work with us that’d be a huge shot in the arm for us and for this area,” Leonard said.
Richey will be working closely with Leonard over the next few months finalizing production details.
“We are thrilled that P.J. visited us and came to appreciate Baldwyn the way we do,” Richey said. “It’s a real coup for us here at Six Shooters and for the whole city to be a part of this project. We are looking forward to welcoming everyone to our town this spring.”