Marcus Mizelle was the kind of kid who spent his teen years making home videos in order to alleviate the boredom he felt in his rural hometown.
In this case, the town was Kinston, and when Marcus was 18, his mom suggested he go to film school. But that wasn’t for Marcus – he spent a short time at Pitt Community College basically ignoring his teachers while drawing storyboards – so he headed to Wilmington, where he soon found work as a grip on the TV show “One Tree Hill” and a host of other productions.
Marcus jumped from there to New Orleans, where he also found work in the biz, then decided, “I had some money in my bank account, and it was time to go to Los Angeles. So I booked a train ticket, and a week later I was on the train going to L.A.”
The first year in Tinseltown was magic. “Every day I woke up, I felt I was on vacation,” says Mizelle, who was soon gigging as a grip, and eventually began making music videos for artists like Aloe Blacc. Now, at age 33, he’s the writer/director of “Actor For Hire,” a comedy-drama which has been making the rounds of the film festival circuit, and which can be seen on streaming services and video on demand.
“I wanted to do a movie about the industry that takes place in L.A., because I love L.A.,” says Mizelle. “I met a guy named Jesse (O’Neill), a real sweetheart, who became my lead actor, and hearing his stories about being an actor in L.A., it was so funny. So it was stealing a few of his real life situations” and turning them into a movie.
“Actor For Hire,” whose executive producer was Dustin Taylor, another Kinston native, follows the lead character through the soul-destroying audition process, where he learns no one seems to want a bald thespian. So Jesse buys a wig, begins to get work, and even befriends an Aussie superstar. But his love life is a mess, and after falling out with the Aussie, he moves back to small-town New York. Then Jesse’s fortunes reverse yet again.
The film, which has a totally professional look, was shot over 16 days on a miniscule budget of $14,000. It was made with a three-person crew, which included the director, and the actors weren’t paid. “I wrote a lot of the parts for actors I already knew, or who had auditioned for me” says Mizelle. “I save all the head shots of people who audition for me.”
Marcus says the film and the screenplay he wrote are two different entities, because he didn’t have the money to shoot what was written. Which is one reason why he’s currently in the process of raising $250,000 for his next film, “Balderdash,” a crime comedy about stolen art. “I knew from (‘Actor For Hire’) we need a crew this time and some marketable cast,” he says, “because when you don’t have cast, you don’t make your money back and you don’t get distribution.”
Mizelle has been on the crew of major films like “21 Jump Street” and “The Last Song” and worked on TV shows ranging from “Army Wives” to “Treme.” But now that he’s moving up in the business, he hasn’t abandoned his North Carolina roots.
“I’m still a die-hard college basketball fan, and I’m a Duke fan,” he says, “and I think I have a humble, down-to-earth quality that folks have back there.”
Watch the movie
What: “Actor for Hire,” written and directed by Kinston native Marcus Mizelle
How to see it: Currently available on digital HD on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, VuDu, Microsoft store and more. On Demand on Dish Network, Cox Communications, SuddenLink, Charter On Demand, VerizonFIOS and more.
Cost: $3.99-$12.99, depending on rental or purchase