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DESOTO, Texas (AP) — Growing up, Justin Baylor's claim to fame was a segment on the 1990s game show "Masters of the Maze."
Commercial spots for Cheerios and Just for Feet soon followed.
"Something about the lights did it for me," said Baylor, a 2003 graduate of DeSoto High School.
This school year — more than a decade after his high school graduation — he returned to the fluorescent-lit hallways as the school's broadcast media instructor. The program didn't exist when he was a student.
With him, he brought an 80-minute script he wrote for a student production. He began writing the film last year while a physical education and film aide at Grand Prairie Fine Arts Academy.
This summer, Baylor and students from DeSoto, Grand Prairie and Cedar Hill will begin shooting his film, "Faith in Fury: A Serious Film."
The production is budgeted at about $10,000 and is funded by Baylor, along with funds from private investors and area churches.
Baylor also is soliciting help from students enrolled in cosmetology and automotive classes at DeSoto High School to aid with hair and make-up and props.
The film is scheduled to premiere next spring at the Granada Theater along Lower Greenville Avenue and The Kessler Theater in the Bishop Arts District. Baylor also plans to enter it in student film festivals.
"This process is about showing them how long it takes to make a film," said Baylor, who majored in mass communications and minored in theater arts at Sam Houston State University.
Later, he worked as a sound engineer in Los Angeles, picking up jobs on commercials, musical productions and films.
The production chronicles the story of two friends — one African-American and the other Hispanic — and racial tension at a high school. That comes to a head in the film when the two are pitted against one another in a fight because of the color of their skin.
Baylor credits the idea to his year teaching at Grand Prairie and the demographic cliques he witnessed at the school. One scene when an argument broke out between African-American and Hispanic students during a basketball game is verbatim from a PE class he supervised.
"There were too many cliques going on. There was racial tension that shouldn't even be there, especially with kids this young," he told The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/1FpnEdB).
DeSoto senior Josh Sanders, 18, didn't deny racial tension at school, but said he hasn't seen anything significant.
"It probably needs to be talked about a little more," said Sanders, who eventually hopes to be a producer or hip-hop artist. A student of Baylor's, he's cast as Jamal in the film.
"It's something that needs to be addressed. I hope people get that racial tension is not the rule, and that everybody is the same," he said. "We're all here. We're all humans. Let's just get along."
DeSoto senior Nicolas Contreras, 17, echoed that he hasn't noticed racial divides at the school, but he has heard stories.
A student in Baylor's television media class, he plans to attend the University of Texas at Arlington after graduation and major in film. He hopes to become a cinematographer or director.
Contreras calls himself a storyteller. He talks of favorite films and movies such as "The Tree of Life" and "The Soloist." He likes the power they have to make people feel a certain way.
He posts self-made videos with friends to YouTube and has written a 15-page script for a short film.
Baylor recruited him to help shoot footage for the student film.
"I've never done anything on this level," said Contreras, who said he grew up going to the movies with his family. "This film is more practice. This will help get me ready for the bigger projects I'd eventually like to do."
Contreras made his first film when he was 15. But he said he doesn't remember what it was about.
"It was just a little thing, not even a minute," he said.
Currently, Baylor's film is in pre-production. This month, Baylor is holding a casting call for extras. Students from Grand Prairie and Cedar Hill are cast in the lead roles.
On a recent Monday, Baylor, Sander, Contreras and two other students read through the script and shot footage at DeSoto High School of students eating lunch in the cafeteria and filing down the hallways between lunches. They're reference shots to check lighting and location for when the six weeks of filming begins in early June around the campus.
As the bell rang, students dumped their sack lunches in trash cans. Others left Styrofoam trays with uneaten apples on the round tables.
Contreras pointed the camera at the students' feet to get a close-up of their sneakers walking out the double doors.
"Let's shoot the mayhem of them leaving and going to their classroom," Baylor said.
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com
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