A Biloxi native whose resumé includes touring with Joe Jonas is returning to his hometown to shoot his first film. Trent Dickens, a 2004 graduate of Mercy Cross High School, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his short film "Panda," which he also wrote.
"Biloxi is a really big deal to me and I always try and come back and support it as much as I can," he said. "For my first film, I wanted to make sure that I did it on the Coast and used a local cast and a local crew and helped contribute to the area's film economy, and I really wanted to show Biloxi on film."
The film will shoot at the end of the month in Biloxi, Ocean Springs and Pass Christian.
A labor of love
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He said "Panda" started as a treatment for a music video.
"I know the music video platform very well, and I started writing 'Panda' as a video, but two years later, it became something else," he said. "It's my baby -- I've seen it all the way through from conception to where we are now."
"Panda," he said, is a "neo-noir" short film about a man who hides from the world behind a mask. The title character becomes entangled in a night filled with drugs and violence on his way to self-discovery.
Dickens, who appeared in the 2016 Mazda ad campaign "A Driver's Life: Driving Matters," said he used his money from the commercial to fund a trailer for "Panda." The trailer can be seen on the film's Kickstarter page.
"I was fortunate to do that commercial for Mazda and I took all of that money and hired a crew and shot the trailer to make sure it was done properly," he said.
South Mississippi filmmaker Darnell Fayard Sheffield ("Iniquity," "Monsters Anonymous") will be one of the producers on the film. Dickens said he is happy to be working with her.
"Darnell used to baby-sit me," he said. "So to come back and do a film with her -- I just know that it's meant to be."
He said the response to the crowdfunding campaigns has been positive.
"We've already raised about $3,500 of the $15,000 we need, and we have about 18 days left to go," he said. "The support has been great."
From Biloxi to Los Angeles
Dickens moved to Los Angeles after high school to pursue a career in dancing and he also pursued his passion for filmmaking.
"I always wanted to go to film school, which I did about four years ago," he said.
His dancing career did take off, landing him jobs with Jonas, Justin Bieber and Chris Brown, among others.
"I have been a dancer for almost every big male pop star," he said.
He toured the world with Jonas for about eight months.
"It was like summer camp," he said of the experience. "And I got to see a lot of beautiful places around the world."
He's done production work on "Ray Donovan" and "Mortal Kombat: Legacy" and on the pilot episode for Marvel's "Agents of SHIELD."
"I got to work with Joss Whedon on that and I learned so much from him," he said. "It was a great experience."