Lights, camera, mentoring: Program gets young aspiring actors in front of the camera

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


The feature film “Big Money” recently began filming in Wilson.

North Carolina actors from Wilson, Wilmington, Greensboro and Charlotte took part in the production written and directed by Shirley Richardson of Knightdale. The production team includes local members and others from Hollywood.

Richardson said the movie would be the equivalent of a PG-13-rated comedy about three women and a flamboyant co-worker from New York heading to Atlanta. The four characters get lost and find a suitcase full of money. They then get picked up by hillbillies and taken back to a house belonging to a character called Big Ma. With appearances by an elder choir, an undertaker, thugs, and a man known as The Executioner, the actors fall into humorous situations.

Ruby Barnes of Wilson plays the part of Sister Clessie in the movie. She has founded a program called The Magic Window that officially began two months ago to provide coaching for aspiring stage and screen actors. Several program participants shadowed parts of the production crew and cast on a recent Saturday’s shoot to help determine if they want to continue pursuing careers in entertainment.

“We are taking youth and helping them find their strengths and assist them with a mentor for a year to work alongside of that person to develop the skills needed to be college- and employment-ready,” said Barnes. “This will hopefully prevent so many young people from being lost between high school and college.”

A teacher with the program trains performers in film, television, theater and musical theater. Instructors help the students practice for auditions and be better prepared for roles. The organization then turns to the community to help in any way it can.

Barnes coordinated with Richardson of “Big Money” to aid her first group of students in finding their interests in entertainment and identifying their strengths.

“The sky is the limit,” Barnes said of roles and careers participants want to pursue.

The youth take from the set what they are most interested in, and the program is free of charge. Applications can be found online at http://www.diftk.org/the-magic-window.html.

All ages are welcome to apply with The Magic Window, which is part of a bigger project called Do It for the Kids founded by the famous Muhammad Ali and Milton Bullock, former member of the legendary music group The Platters.

Born in Princeville, Bullock’s volunteer work has helped the old and young alike. He has played parts in several movies, including “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” and uses his good fortune to aid others, including at-risk youth.

Barnes said she encourages people with disabilities to join her program, because they have a chance to succeed too.

“Another thing that I have learned on many, many film sets,” she said, is that autistic people or those with Asperger’s syndrome are some of the best actors.

“ We have writers, producers, directors, actors, wardrobe, makeup and production assistants that will be mentoring these kids for a year. We will follow them and complete a documentary during this process. At the end of the year the kids will write, direct, act and produce a short film that will be made public,” she added.

Bullock will be giving out scholarships to kids who commit and complete the full year. The next year with The Magic Window is planned to involve an expanding program, and Barnes hopes to add other career areas such as law and justice mentoring.

The writer and director of “Big Money” works with Barnes to offer help with The Magic Window. The trailer for the movie is scheduled to wrap up filming in the near future. Once picked up, organizers say the rest of the movie will be filmed in Wilson.