Covering Louisiana

Jul 6, 2011 12:56 PM by AP

Teen suicides inspire faith-based film

MONROE, La. (AP) - Most people probably do not realize they are doing it that drop in their voices when talking about sensitive subjects such as suicide.

The movie set for Rodney Ray's new production "New Hope" was anything but silent.

Recently, people showed up at Neville High School's gym from all over the community and some even farther to spend a dozen hours filming as extras in the low-budget, faith-based film that was merely an idea in Ray's mind until teen suicide slammed northeastern Louisiana.

In the past school year, six area children did not see a way out of their troubles and took their own lives. Ray knows the topic resounds by how the volunteers responded to his call for help.

"To know people would sacrifice an entire day up to 12 hours to be on a movie set, it's so much bigger than me," Ray said. "I don't deserve it. I don't deserve their time.

"I make movies to change lives, and people know that. There's no more powerful way to get a message across than through movies."

Actors Ben Davies and Samuel Davis play high school basketball teammates competing for a young woman's attention.

"The film deals with teen issues: bullying, suicide, sex," Ray has said, adding that he hopes it will speak on many levels. "For teens, it gives them something to think on. For adults, it provides better parenting techniques. And it lets the audience know the power of encouragement."

The extras this past week participated in the basketball scenes. The crowd had to cheer loudly not to mention sacrificing their day or days to sit on the hard gym benches.

One woman in the crowd woke up two hours earlier than planned, thinking she would have to wait in line just to be an extra during the first scenes shot June 25.

She arrived at Neville and entered the movie set an hour early, but there was plenty of room for her and others.

Still, enough volunteers showed up that Saturday to get crowd shots mixed in with the action on the court, but Ray needed a bigger turnout for filming the scenes of a state championship game this past Wednesday, his last day of shooting in the gym.

Keller Williams Realty pitched in where needed. The business provided lunch daily for the main actors, as well as all the extras. Its employees called people over three weeks to encourage them to turn out. One day, the business locked its door and herded its employees to the gym.

"How great is that?" said Ray's wife and film partner, Jill Ray. "This community is so good to us, and we love this community."

"There is much more than goes into movies," said Hayley Wheeler. "I'm never going to look at it the same now that I know what happens."

Davies is a 21-year-old student at the University of Georgia. He's spent most of his life focusing on sports and participates in the decathlon and the javelin events for the Bulldogs. However, an injury this past year held him out of several meets and gave him a chance to work on his acting career, which started as a youngster in commercials.

"It's my favorite type of filming project to do just because people that are a part of faith-based films are volunteers," Davies said. "They're not there because they're getting paid. It's because they believe what the message is in the movie."

Davis is a soon-to-be junior at the University of Texas and worked on several films. He, like Davies, prefers the faith-based movie sets but also tries to drive a message home without getting in the audience's face.

"When I study my lines and study the part, I think about how I want people to watch it and not think they're being thumped on a Bible instead of being talked to like a big commercial for being a Christian," Davis said. "You have to make everything natural, and that's why you work so hard."

Davis plays Michael, the main character, who moves into the town of New Hope prior to the new school year. Both actors will be around through the end of July to film the final scenes."

"I know what it's like to be an extra it's annoying, it's boring," Davis said. "I tell them when I see it on the monitor, it looks so real. That's why at lunch I just go up to them and say thank you so much for being here.

"I want to go up to everyone one of them and say, `I know what you're going through.' If they only knew how well they paint the picture. They really do that."

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