By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – In front of bright lights and drenched in gray smoke, a young Elvis munched on popcorn and watched a movie at The Lyric Theatre on Monday.
The scene was set for a short film depicting Elvis Presley’s life in Tupelo, which includes a scene at The Lyric, Elvis’ birth, the singer practicing a song for his mother, a visit to a juke joint and the Presleys’ departure for Memphis.
Director Willy Bearden of Deep Delta Films is at the helm of the project, which will be shown at the museum inside the new theater that’s under construction at the Elvis Presley Birthplace.
“We have great actors. I wanted to cast down here, because I know there are a lot of good actors down here,” Bearden said. “There are a lot of talented kids here.”
Starring as Elvis is another young man from Tupelo, 11-year-old Jake White, who has also starred in several Pied Piper and Tupelo Community Theatre productions. The Elvis biopic is his first film.
“It’s very cool,” the Lawndale student said.
The short film began production late last week and wrapped at The Lyric on Monday. Other locations included the birthplace and a few places in Memphis.
The scene filmed inside The Lyric on Monday shows a young Elvis watching a movie at the theater, while his buddy tries to get him to sit beside two girls. The film crew, all based out of Memphis, applied make-up to the actors’ faces, filled the auditorium with smoke and played a black-and-white film for the young actors to watch.
With each take, Bearden encouraged his young actors.
“This is beautiful,” he told them once. “This is art.”
White said playing Elvis has been fun. He even gets to show off his singing voice when he sings “Old Shep.” The fifth-grader hopes to be an actor when he grows up, so the film experience has been good for him, he said.
“I’ve learned that there’s a lot of differences” between theater and film, White said, “and it’s really fun to act.”
Bearden also directed the short church film that is shown at the church on the birthplace grounds. He re-shot much of that film over the weekend, he said, now that he had access to better technology and equipment.
He thanked the Tupelo Film Commission’s Pat Rasberry for her work in making the shoots in Tupelo possible.
“I made one call, and she took care of the rest,” he said.