A Budding Filmmaker and His First Paid Gig



Jalen Moultry loves SpongeBob SquarePants. When he’s not drawing SpongeBob, he’s talking about his favorite superhero, Spider-Man. We asked what Jalen wanted to do when he grows up, and he told us, “I wanna make movies, and I wanna be an actor.”

At the Reardon Center, we often find field trip opportunities for our students to better understand the careers that interest them. But how could we find a job-related activity that related to Jalen? Turns out it was easier than we thought.

In October, a film titled Gifted came to town, and working on it had particular appeal for Jalen. First, its extras casting director had also been responsible for hiring the extras for SpongeBob 2. Second, the director of Gifted was Marc Webb, who was also the director of Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2.

It was clear to us that Jalen’s interest in SpongeBob, Spider-Man and working in film could help him address some of the anxieties and struggles we work on at school, so we helped him land his first job as a movie extra in the film. Since one of our teachers, Mark Stokes (a.k.a. “Mr. Mark”), has also worked in the film industry, we sent him along with Jalen to facilitate conversations about careers in film.

The first thing Jalen learned about working in movies–even the ones with big budgets and big stars–is that it takes a lot of patience to wait for everyone to get their jobs done before filming can start. While waiting with the other extras, Jalen quickly learned that his natural kindness and polite words were a strength when meeting new friends.

For much of his long work day, Jalen was in a bus scene with a few other kids and the film’s star, McKenna Grace (star of Disney’s “Crash and Bernstein” and “The Young & The Restless“). Meanwhile, Chris Evans (star of Captain America and The Avengers) and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (The Help, Snowpiercer) milled around throughout the day, shooting their own scenes when the kids and crew weren’t being filmed.

Between camera setups, Jalen eagerly ran over to Mr. Mark and asked, “When do I say my lines?”

Mr. Mark informed him that, as a background actor, Jalen would get paid without even having to memorize any lines. Jalen thought that was pretty impressive. As he processed that thought, Jalen realized that being a background actor was quite appealing… “but, well, it is kinda long.”

Jalen met several film professionals throughout the day, each of whom helped him understand how important it is to work together when making movies. They explained how, by honing in on their specific skills and passions, they were able to make a great, unique and fulfilling career for themselves. The crew members Jalen talked to most included sound technician Elanor Rimassa, extras casting director Marty Siu and a handful of producers who commended him on his great attitude and kindness to others.

As Jalen waited on lunch, he talked to SCAD graduate Kody Cunningham about why Kody decided to stay in Savannah and help build the local independent film scene as a director and cinematographer. Jalen thought it was pretty cool that filmmakers could do what they love right here in Savannah. During this conversation, Marc Webb, the director of Gifted, overheard Jalen talking and walked up to him. “So, which do you want to do more: Act or direct?”

“That’s a good question,” Mr. Mark added. “Jalen, this is the director of this movie. He also directed the Spider-Man movies. Would you like to act more or direct?”

“Um, that’s okay,” Jalen replied. “I’m already a background actor.”

And with that statement, Jalen passed up, in his mind, the opportunity to direct a major motion picture so he could continue with a promising career as an extra.

And continue, he did! Though we had initially planned for Jalen to work on set one day, Webb requested that he come back two weeks later, along with four other students for some close-up shots of the scene he had filmed before. Jalen took what he learned on Day One to succeed for yet another paid day of hard work and collaboration. Even without Mr. Mark on his second day of work, Jalen continued to impress the film crew with his focus and politeness, and he had a nice conversation with Octavia Spencer during lunch.

When Jalen says “I wanna make movies, and I wanna be an actor,” he now knows exactly what that looks like. Should he ever turn from his promising career as a background actor, he’s already made some great connections in the film industry. Movies may not be all explosions and fun as Jalen had thought before. They do include some unique challenges and the potential to make new friends, though, and that’s what Jalen likes.