Rejected film company ‘close’ to opening elsewhere

Gauntlet Film & Media had wanted to buy Fifth Ward High

In the near future, Wendell King will be enjoying the best revenge possible against his critics: announcing that his film production studio will be opening somewhere other than the former Fifth Ward High School.

King’s Houston-based Gauntlet Film & Media Entertainment had offered to purchase the former school buildings and campus for $320,000, but community opposition at the May 1 Avoyelles School Board meeting scuttled the deal. He was contacted at his Houston studio and asked for an update on the project he had hoped to locate at the unused school property.

“I am not at liberty to reveal the location at this time, but we have made an offer. It is in Louisiana,” King said.

‘HURT AND ANGRY’

King said he was “hurt and angry” when he received reports about community members accusing his company of producing pornography.

“We have never made pornography,” he said. He seriously considered filing slander charges against his accusers, but decided “to take the moral high ground on the issue and say nothing more about it. The best punishment for them is that we are not coming there.”

King said when his long-time friend and company representative Rev. Ameal Jones Sr. told him about the Avoyelles School Board meeting where the company’s offer was rejected, “I just sat there, shaking my head.

“There I was trying to help them and I’m getting beat up, being called a pornographer,” King said.

“Ameal said the School Board told him we had to sign this and sign that and agree to this and the district attorney had to do this and that,” he continued. “I told him we weren’t going to be talking to the district attorney because we hadn’t done anything wrong. It was a simple property transaction.”

King told Jones to “pull the plug” and look elsewhere for the new studio’s location. He said he was in no mood to “negotiate additional terms and conditions” to allow the proposed purchase to move forward.

“We didn’t go too far away,” he said. “The people there were warm and friendly and welcomed us with open arms,” King said.

Gauntlet is still looking at possibly building additional satellite studios, “but it would take a lot for me to consider coming back to the Avoyelles School Board.”

He left open the possibility that the production company could purchase non-School Board property in Avoyelles Parish, but added that the Fifth Ward situation left a bad taste in his mouth.

“We have a lot of positive things we are doing,” King said. “We have a lot of faith-based projects going on, including producing a talk show featuring Ameal and producing several morality shows.

“We are talking with Pure Flix -- a network similar to Netflix, but with religious programs,” he said. King said he considered his offer to buy the closed school property “a bail-out of the School Board on my part. And then they sit there and call us pornographers. That’s what hurt the most.”

ABOUT THE SCHOOL

Fifth Ward High was closed by a federal court desegregation/consolidation order in 1988. It was later used as Marksville Middle School when that school was damaged by fire, only to be shuttered again when the School Board closed the three middle schools and moved the middle grades to the elementary and high schools.

The 8.5-acre site is one of three the board had asked Joffrion to sell. The other two are the former special education school that most recently housed a parish detention center and the closed Bunkie Middle School. The closed Mansura High/Middle complex is also on the market.

The Fifth Ward property is appraised at $371,000, but state law allows the School Board to sell it for at least 85 percent of that. GFME’s offer was 86 percent of the appraised value.

In a statement released at the time the offer was made, GFME said its purpose “is to build a platform for local artists and businesses to display their talents and products and to help strengthen the economy by encouraging the residents to invest in the growth of their community.”

At the May 1 board meeting, Jones defended the company by saying GFME “will promote a safe, moral, responsible atmosphere. I would not do it (pornography) in the Fifth Ward community, just like I wouldn’t do it in my own community. We have a choice on the movies that will be produced and we don’t want to bring down the community.”

In an online description of its operations, GFME says its team members have been “actively involved in the music scene, both live and in the studio, and know exactly what it takes to create and capture world-class sounds for your project.”

That post also notes the company includes “script writing, storyboarding, light design, location scouting, photography & video, cranes and glidecams to make your project look like a Hollywood masterpiece. Our post-production engineers can work magic on your project with editing, motion graphics, voice-overs, music composition and have the content ready for delivery to television, cinema and online.”

The company produces music videos, corporate videos, independent and short films, TV shows, TV advertising, sporting events, online media videos and cinema advertising.

NO PORNOGRAPHY

GFME has been in business for 13 years “and we have never produced pornography,” King said. “We have done quite a bit of music videos. They can get a little racy, but nobody is taking off their clothes or anything like that.”

King said he will make “a major announcement” when the deal is finalized and work begins on the new studio. He expects School Board members and those who opposed the project will regret their decision in the near future.

“It hurts my heart that we weren’t allowed to come to Fifth Ward, but look how we were treated,” he said. “What would you do if you were in our position?”

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