Team of Alumni and Students Contribute to Major Motion Picture
July 19, 2023 (Jackson, Miss.) - Belhaven University students and alumni were involved in making a major motion picture. Four film production majors and four alumni contributed their talents to film and produce the Christmas comedy "How the Gringo Stole Christmas," featuring actor and stand-up comedian George Lopez.
Belhaven alum Amile Wilson '07 served as the producer and unit production manager. "George Lopez plays a proud Mexican American gardener with a landscaping business. His daughter surprises him by arriving with her hippie boyfriend; hilarity ensues," said Wilson.
The entire movie was filmed in Jackson, Mississippi. Parts of the movie were even filmed on Belhaven's Track and Field Complex, which became a key scene in the movie. "There is an argument about the recreation and games that adults can and can't play. And so, the family challenges the boyfriend to a game of soccer," Wilson explained.
Lopez got the big billing because he is a well-known actor, but the movie was written and cast to be an ensemble comedy. Other talented actors like Mariana Treviño, who recently co-starred in a movie with Tom Hanks entitled "A Man Called Otto," are in the movie with up-and-coming actors Jack Kilmer and Emily Tosta.
For many in the cast, this was their first visit to Mississippi. "We love how green Mississippi is. How chilled out everybody has been and sweet. And, frankly, we're just happy to be experiencing this," said Treviño.
Lopez was interviewed on campus and had this to say about Jackson. "Nothing really kind of gets done in Hollywood anymore," said Lopez. "So to come here, double your money because of the tax incentives. I think it's good for the economy here. And it's good for people like me, who, you know, wouldn't really get to see the beauty of Jackson, Mississippi." Lopez says that this won't be the last time he will be here shooting a movie in Jackson.
Four students from Belhaven's Film Production Department all took roles as production assistants, giving them valuable learning experiences. "It is such a blessing for the students to be able to work on a feature film during their summer break," said Chair and Associate Professor of Film Production Rick Negron. "They are totally ready for this opportunity, and it allows them to be able to assess themselves and gain valuable professional experience. The cast and crew are from all over the country, so they're also able to make connections with professionals that may be able to help their career in the future."
Trinity Tubbs, a senior studying film production at Belhaven, wants to be a director of photography/cinematographer after she graduates. According to Tubbs, she was well-prepared when stepping onto the set. "Professor Negron definitely prepared us for this experience. Even as a freshman, he began preparing us to be out in the field. We were having 12-hour days and working on short films and documentary-style interviews."
While students were learning, alumni were hard at work, putting their skills to use. Bill Wilson '84 was on set, working in the production design department. Production designers are responsible for the visual concept of a film. They identify a design style for sets, locations, graphics, props, lighting, camera angles, and costumes.
Amile Wilson, Bill's son, was the producer and unit production manager for this movie. This was his fourth full feature film in which he played a major role. In fact, he was a co-producer for another film shot in Jackson called "The Movers," featuring Christopher Lloyd, Jena Malone, and Terrence Howard. He also spent time in development for studios rather than direct production.
Casey Amanda Nelms '14 and Joey Nelms '14 are a married couple and alumni who also had prominent roles in "How the Gringo Stole Christmas." Casey was a production supervisor, helping with operations, and Joey was a script supervisor. "I labeled and keep track of every shot for the film, so we would know what we've shot and what we haven't," stated Joey Nelms. "I was the connection point between the editor, director, and writer. I made sure we shot everything that best represented the screenplay, and I made sure the lines were right, and that nothing jumped around (different costumes, clock times, light levels, etc.). I also estimated the runtime for each scene and time takes on set, keeping an eye on the total length of the film."
After Belhaven, Joey Nelms went to the Savannah College of Art and Design for an M.F.A. in Dramatic Writing. Before that, he was working on streaming projects for NBC/Universal (Esmail Corp/Peacock) in Los Angeles, California. According to Nelms, he and his wife are putting up their own feature production in Mississippi next year.