'Darren's Turn': Producers hope short film series goes a long way toward helping kids discover talents
By Kim Grizzard
Sunday, February 11, 2018
When a locally produced short film began earning award nominations at film festivals, it was evident that a second installment was in order.
But instead of moving forward after “Stuck,” the story of a teen who runs away from home when he learns his father is about to be released from prison, Stories of Hope films opted to turn back the clock. The result is “Darren’s Turn,” which premieres Thursday in Greenville.
The film is the second in a series by Stories of Hope Films, a collaboration between Building Hope Community Life Center and the Greenvillle-based production company Buzzadelic. Building Hope supporters will be the first to see “Darren’s Turn,” which will be shown at the nonprofit organization’s annual fundraising banquet.
A prequel to “Stuck,” the new film includes students from Building Hope’s after-school program, along with other area youth who took part in a film camp at Building Hope last summer.
“I think the more we can put kids in front of and behind the camera (the more) we’re creating things that are meaningful to them and to others,” said Producer BJ Emerson, CEO of Buzzadelic.
“Darren’s Turn” stars Josiah Jernigan as Darren, a younger version of the character Rael Thigpen portrayed in “Stuck.” The latest installment in the series shows Darren as a middle-schooler who freezes during a talent-show audition then finds himself stranded after school when his father fails to come to pick him up.
“From a story standpoint, we really wanted to back into why Darren is so angry in ‘Stuck,’” said Emerson, who also wrote and directed “Darren’s Turn.”
“We developed a story around Darren in school … (and) started introducing this arc of fatherlessness that he has in his life.”
While both films are fictional, Executive Producer James Haskins said the themes are familiar ones to many students who attend Building Hope.
“What we really try to do with Stories of Hope Films is really chronicle the lives of these kids,” said Haskins, former executive director of Building Hope. “As you see in the movie ‘Stuck,’ there’s an opportunity when we as a broader community intervene in the lives of these kids that they can be given a chance for a changed perspective.”
Haskins makes a brief appearance in “Darren’s Turn,” as does Building Hope staff member Nyrobi Thomas, who portrays Darren’s mother in both films.
Elisabeth Jenkins co-stars as Vanessa, a classmate determined to help Darren overcome his stage fright. Elisabeth, a seventh-grader at Ignite Innovation Academy, joined the cast of “Darren’s Turn” after attending film camp at Building Hope last summer. She previously performed with Smiles & Frowns Playhouse in productions including “Jungle Book,” “Jack and the Giant” and “The Little Mermaid.”
“Vanessa is a very strong-willed girl,” Elisabeth said in a video interview with the film’s cast and crew. “She really wants Darren to conquer his fear of stage fright, which results in her doing some pretty weird things. She took the energy that she had and put it into Darren and helped him pursue his dreams.”
Prior to “Darren’s Turn,” Josiah’s dreams did not include acting. Emerson first recognized Josiah’s gifts when he heard him sing at a talent show at a local church.
“I can identify with Darren because we both actually have stage fright,” Josiah said. “I really hope this helps others to be inspired to do something that they thought that they couldn’t do.”
If Josiah felt nervous about performing, it is not evident in the film. The seventh-grade student at E.B. Aycock Middle School does his own vocals in a music video, “Good Always,” that also is included in the “Darren’s Turn” DVD.
The music video was edited by Thigpen, a former Building Hope student who now works as a video production assistant at Buzzadelic. Thigpen, whose performance in “Stuck” earned a Best Lead Actor nomination at last year’s International Christian Film Festival, served as an acting coach for “Darren’s Turn.”
The film also includes Emerson’s son, Jordan, who makes a cameo appearance, borrowing the line “make a move, kid” from Chris Crutchfield’s armed-robber character in “Stuck.” Dozens of extras were involved in filming, which took place this summer at Third Street Educational Center.
In the film’s outdoor scenes, not all the guests were welcome ones. On days when filming stretched from late afternoon to early evening, cicadas in trees surrounding the school were so loud that they could be heard over the actors.
“Every night at 7 o’clock the cicadas would start up,” Emerson said, laughing. “About half the film (audio) was actually done in the studio because of all the noise in the trees.”
In the few months between filming and re-recording audio, Josiah’s voice had become somewhat deeper.
“Some of the sound we tweaked just a little bit,” Emerson said. “One of the challenges of working with kids is their voices change.”
Buddy Boyd, whose homeless character in “Stuck” represented the voice of God, also appears in the prequel as a school janitor who watches as Darren and Vanessa make their way around outside the school, checking for an unlocked door that would given Darren a second chance at an audition.
Emerson said the search for a open door is symbolic of the effort by Building Hope and Stories of Hope Films to unlock hidden gifts and talents of youth.
“What we try to do at Building Hope, in particular with these short films, is really depict that these students have wonderful gifts and talents and that by intervening in their lives they’re given an opportunity to display those talents and gifts,” he said. “We hope that offers them a way of encouragement.”
The next film camp may not continue the Darren story. Emerson said organizers are considering a documentary featuring Building Hope students and their struggle to find their identity in today’s society. But he expects there will be more installments of Darren’s story.
“We’re giving them opportunities that they maybe haven’t had before,” he said. “... To help tell their stories is what we want to do.”