Mimi Productions’ FBI-funded film helps kids at risk

A pair of Chicago-based FBI employees found themselves in the film business when the Dept. of Justice agreed they could produce a film to help them make deeper inroads with their at-risk youth outreach program.

The DOJ sent out an RFP to which Michelle DeLong of Mimi Productions responded, in fall of 2014. A month later her company was awarded the project, “Crossroads: Choices and Consequences,” a 30-minute community outreach film that was written by the FBI’s Jeff Jones and Dannie W. Price, Jr.

“At the time, the FBI personnel, who were out in the community lecturing to youth at high schools felt they could make a stronger connection with them with a film,” says DeLong, “Crossroads’” producer and editor.

“They felt showing the teens a dramatic film would help to open their eyes to a different way of life and the DOJ in Washington agreed to fund the project.”

After two years in production, the film is now being used by FBI outreach specialists with great success, DeLong says. “It’s opening up conversations and really hitting home – and we just won a Telly for it.”

The story is about John (Tamarus Harvell), an 18-year old high school student and his lifelong friends, who face tough choices in life: To join a gang and make easy money selling drugs on the street or stay in school, get a job and go to college.

"Crossroads" on set rehearsing a bust scene: Jose Yenque (left), an FBI agent and director David J. Miller.

Casting the 30 actors and about 40 extras took place in Mimi Productions’ new North Center office. All the talent was Chicago-based, except for co-star Jose Yenque, who came from LA to play John’s concerned teacher.

“We were pleased that we were able to cast the film locally and find such exceptional talent. Many of them have appeared in the network TV series filming here,” DeLong says.

Co-starring with Harvell were Eric Lane, Raphael Hayden and Sheila Fortson, Marcus Rashad, Alejandra Vivanzo and Marc Jones.

Working with a $150,000 budget, Mimi Productions’ partner David J. Miller directed led the crew of 48, cast and extras through nine shooting days in late 2014; LA-based Michael Ojeda was the DP.

They filmed around the city at locations that included The KenTones restaurant on the South Side, the Irish America Heritage Center on the North Side doubling for high schools, and “the best location for realism – Cook County jail,” says Miller.

“Price and Jones were on the set and provided authentic details such as how they’d take down the target an how a suspect is questioned. We wanted to shoot at FBI headquarters here, but there were too many layers of security to go through to make it worthwhile.”

The film wrapped with second unit filming in April, 2015. After deliverables were completed three months later FBI personnel began writing a Facilitators’ Guide to accompany the film.

“Crossroads” has been sent to all 56 FBI field office in the US and screenings are being held to at-risk youth around the country through schools, churches and community centers.

DeLong says when she saw the DOJ’s request for proposal, she knew the project was tailor-made for their company, having produced feature dramas “Welcome Back to the Barrio” and “Once upon a Time in the Hood” that had elements of gang life.