Atlantic City not only is hosting the Garden State Film Festival this year — it will be represented.
In the “Home Grown” category, audiences won’t get any closer to home than “Mom, Wake Up!” which not only stars Atlantic City natives, but also was written, directed and produced by city residents.
Longtime Police Athletic League Coach Michael Bailey wrote the play nearly 14 years ago, and it got great reviews locally.
“I kept telling Michael, ‘You’ve got to make this into a movie man,’ because the story was so good,” said Derek K. Cason, Bailey’s co-producer who also was cinematographer and editor.
But Bailey got involved in other plays, and they came and went, until he finally decided to adapt ‘Mom, Wake up!’ into a screenplay. The movie began filming in summer 2008. Five years of editing and post-production work later, the film was accepted as part of this weekend’s film festival in its first trip to Atlantic City.
Debuting noon Saturday at the Tiara Ballroom in Trump Taj Mahal, “Mom, Wake Up!” tells the story of Lamar, a well-liked high school student who finds himself trying to protect his two younger brothers as their mother is led into drug addiction by her new husband.
But Cason stops Bailey from giving too much away. They want the audience to experience the story in the theater — and are excited to find out how it’s received.
“A lot of Michael’s plays really have to do with getting the information out to the community about how they can get beyond their circumstances and still be successful,” said Arnelle Lyles, who is listed as assistant director but who wore many hats in the production — including real-life mother of one of its stars.
Her son, Eric Phillips, plays Lamar’s younger brother, Derrick.
“I think it’s important for people to see actors and actresses that they see every day portraying these characters,” Lyles said. “It just does something to the story. It brings it home.”
While Phillips says he was lucky growing up in Venice Park not to have the problems his character does, he knew people who did. Emerson Kidd — who stars as Lamar — still does, as a mentor in the school district.
“I kind of related to it a little bit,” he said. “It was (an interesting character) to me to play because I see it all the time. I see how drugs can affect younger kids.”
Bailey and Cason met as kids playing junior league football for the Atlantic City Dolphins. Bailey, however, is quick to point out that Cason is older. Both also have coached kids, including two of their stars: Kidd and Phillips.
A group of kids from the Police Athletic League will be there to see the show, along with many community members who have parts in the movie — even if just for a split second. That, Cason explained, was one of the biggest editing obstacles as they tried to trim the movie to just the right length: two hours.
“We didn’t want to cut anyone,” Cason said. “There’s a lot of people in the movie that, if you blink, you’ll miss them.”
The credits may be a little fast as a result, but they made their goal ... with an additional six seconds.
They laugh at some of the things required to give the movie a genuine look.
There was the time Bailey had to buy a “prop” crack pipe from a worker who knew him.
“They have them sitting right there on the counter at the gas station,” he laughed.
“It’s easy,” Lyles piped in.
“So, you just ask for one,” Bailey continued. “You have to do what you have to do.”
One day, while filming a scene with a fake gun, the cameraman’s mother requested they have a police presence so that the fictional scenario didn’t cause a real situation.
“Overall, I think the story was told well and that’s what the audience is going to look at,” Lyles said.
“To be accepted out of all these films is really great,” Bailey said.
“I’ve been playing it up on Facebook and everything,” Cason said. “Now our hope is, once it’s shown, it will shine on its own.”
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