3 new movies filmed on location in South MS during COVID

Three movies filmed on the Coast or now in production will take movie fans inside Biloxi casinos, to the Coast Coliseum, downtown Gulfport and other locations across South Mississippi.

Two are newly released and the third just finished the first week of shooting.

Each has a captivating behind-the-scene story in addition to what people will see on the big screen.

‘The Card Counter’

This newly-released movie was filmed in Biloxi during the summer of 2020, with Hollywood legend Martin Scorsese as an executive producer.

It premiered at the 78th Venice International Film Festival on Sept. 2 and was released on Sept. 10, but has yet to make it to any Coast cinemas.

When it does open in South Mississippi, Michael Davis, director of sales at IP Casino, has a group of people who want to be there for the local premiere.

“A lot of scenes were filmed here on the property,” he said of IP Casino. Other local casinos and the Coast Coliseum were used as location shots.

Davis said he helped coordinate shooting with the producer and also found extras to appear in the movie.

“A lot of them want to get together to see the movie,” he said.

It’s about an ex-military interrogator turned gambler who is haunted by the ghosts of his past decisions.

The movie was written and directed by Paul Schrader, who wrote screenplays for “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and two other Scorcese films.

It stars Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan and Willem Dafoe.

The film is getting some good reviews, but Isaac is less complimentary about his time on the Coast.

This image released by Focus Features shows Oscar Isaac, left, and Tiffany Haddish in a scene from “The Card Counter.” (Focus Features via AP) AP

He said in an interview he connected with costar Haddish while in Mississippi.

“I think it just drew me even closer to her,” he said, “and it made it feel like we were kind of together in this thing because it was a tiny little movie and we’re in Biloxi in these weird casinos.”

Filming began in Biloxi on Feb. 24, 2020, just a couple of weeks before the first case of the coronavirus was reported in Mississippi.

Production was delayed on March 16 for nearly four months after an actor who flew in from Los Angeles for a small part in the movie tested positive for COVID-19. The movie wrapped in Biloxi in July 2020.

‘Royal Jelly’

COVID-19 also delayed the filming of the movie “Royal Jelly.” It was filmed entirely in South Mississippi in 2019 and 2020, but writer and producer Sean Riley said the story’s been in the works since he wrote a bee story in 1999.

The movie was released by Uncork’d Entertainment on Sept. 14 — Riley’s 20th wedding anniversary. His wife, Candy, an emergency room nurse, rented the movie as a surprise to watch together.

“She knew it meant a lot to me,” he said.

It can be seen on streaming platforms such as YouTube, Amazon Prime, Apple TV and DirectTV on demand.

With all those bees, “Royal Jelly” could be considered a horror film in the spirit of “Carrie” and “The Witch,” but Riley said it probably has more of a thriller element than a straight horror film.

It’s the story of a high school outcast and bee enthusiast who is taken under the wing of a mysterious mentor, only to discover she’s being groomed as a hive’s next queen.

The movie was shot at locations in Gulfport, Biloxi, Diamondhead, St. Martin and Lucedale. While he was out scouting locations, Riley found a guy selling honey on the side of the road who directed him to Dan Allen, a beekeeper in Jackson County. Allen became the “bee wrangler” for the film.

“He actually became a producer on the movie,” Riley said.

Riley got his BA in Film from the University of Southern Mississippi and worked as a production assistant on the Oscar-winning “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?” before writing, producing and directing his own films.

He also holds degrees in educational administration and educational leadership, which he said lets him work at a job and a hobby he loves. He lives on the Coast and is principal at Benndale Elementary School in George County.

“I made Royal Jelly while working full-time as an elementary school principal and completing my EdS degree,” Riles said. Plus, there was COVID-19.

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish, though, when you’re truly passionate about something,” he said. “What others might consider work really is your play.”

‘Sword of the Spirit’

“The first week is in the bag,” said Joshua Ashton, an actor who is making his directorial debut and first full-length feature film under his newly launched Production Company HOLYwood Films.

The Christian movie was shot on location in Biloxi and in downtown Gulfport earlier this month and is based on events in Ashton’s life.

It’s the story of a crime that is committed and a young man who is wrongfully accused. He must seek redemption from a higher, more spiritual place if he stands a chance of surviving the streets and find the courage to live up to his biblical name, Joshua.

So far it’s been an “amazing and inspiring experience,” Ashton said. “That was just the first week,” he said.

Most of the members of the cast and crew told him they never experienced anything like it before.

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The Christian movie “Sword of the Spirit” has begun filming on location in South Mississippi. Courtesy of Joshua Ashton/Sword of the Spirit

The character is a U.S. Navy Seabee veteran, just like Ashton, who was stationed in Gulfport.

“I really would have loved to shoot in Los Angeles. That’s where I’m from,” he said. “That’s just not in my budget to do right now.”

To stay on budget, he’s keeping locations to a minimum, but he expects to use more than 30 actors — a lot of them local and others from Louisiana, Texas and Florida.

Sword of the Spirit cover.jpg
Sword of the Spirit movie poster

He’s working on getting funds to continue shooting and give the actors time to come to the Coast.

Once the movie is released, Ashton said he plans a red carpet premier on the Coast, followed by releases in other cities and at film festivals.

His previous film, “A Life to Choose,” premiered at the Premiere Lux cinema in Biloxi.

This story was originally published September 21, 2021 5:50 AM.

Mary Perez has won awards for her business and casino articles for the Sun Herald. She also writes about Biloxi, jobs and the new restaurants and development coming to the Coast. She is a fourth-generation journalist.

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