It started with a driver’s license. Married couple Dezron Odomes and Essence Wallace-Odomes were carrying two different licenses around, one for the state of Georgia and one for the state of Mississippi. Essence’s license had expired in 2020, prompting the couple to make a trip back to Jackson for a renewal. To get her new license, however, she had to turn in her Atlanta license due to a new law.
As they walked out of the DMV office, Essence turned to her husband with a thought: “Is God telling us to move back home?” This wasn’t the first time she’d ask herself this question. It was a question that persistently nagged at her for some time.
Jackson was home. They both grew up in Jackson. Essence attended Murrah High School while Dezron went to Callaway High School. They had a godmother in common who introduced them. They were producing their own projects in Jackson.
The couple was producing a documentary in Jackson, “The Underdog,” when they decided they wanted to return home more permanently. They had already produced multiple other projects in Jackson and felt like the move was the natural next step in their careers.
The Odomes started their own production company, Chosen Productions, which provided a camera crew to film and other services to deliver final products for clients. The Odomes sat down with their family to make sure they understood that if everyone could get on board, it could be game-changing for the city.
“My mom was like, ‘What don’t yall have? What do you need that you don’t have?’ And we were like, ‘A studio,’” Wallace-Odomes said. “God had been downloading a vision about a studio, but we were still thinking this is years down the line.”
Her mom had a location in mind, and once she confirmed with the owners that it wasn’t in use, they offered to sell it to the married couple. The two purchased the building using their own funds, and three months later, the family of four moved to Jackson.
“We already knew inside that that was our assignment,” Wallace-Odomes told the Mississippi Free Press inside The Chosen Studios in Jackson.
The couple launched The Chosen Studios on Nov. 10, 2023. The studio space provides editing services, a sound stage, wardrobe, a recording studio and a hair-and-makeup room. In 2020, the couple expanded their parent company and renamed it The Chosen Entertainment & Media, a conglomerate of entertainment and media brands.
The Chosen Studios is one of three branches that are a part of the parent company. The other two include The Chosen Productions, which provides production services, and The Chosen Channel, which will be a direct-to-consumer distribution channel that provides marketing and distribution for brands.
“Home is home. So, it’s like no matter how far away you go, you’ll always be anchored to home,” Dezron Odomes added. “I think when we left early on, it was always like in our minds to bring something back home.”
‘A Training Ground’
Dezron Odomes attended SAE Institute Atlanta, majoring in audio engineering. He had always been into music, producing beats and being a rapper himself. As much as he enjoyed it, he noticed he was not making any money from it. In one of his classes, a guy came in to discuss audio for film, like music scoring and location sound.
“I remember holding (a boom mic), and I’m like, ‘Man that’s easy,’” Odomes said. “When I met her, we started doing a lot of independent projects together, and I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll just give it a try because I’m not making no money trying to rap or do music. Let me see where film takes me.’”
From there, Odomes began scoring films and working in location sound. Once he got on set and saw how he could use his love for music and incorporate it into film, he realized he did not have anything to lose. The job was the perfect fit.
Essence Wallace-Odomes had always wanted to be an actress and a preacher, but she went with the former, leading her to enroll in Spelman College in Atlanta. After some time at Spelman and realizing theater was not the medium for her, she left the school. But then tragedy struck.
“I was in this really bad car accident, near death, and it was one of those moments where life can happen quick, so you better do something about it,” she said.
After recovering, she moved to Los Angeles and attended UCLA for acting in film and television. There, she was exposed to pre-production, production and post-production classes that helped her understand a lot of the gifts she did not previously know she even had.
“Shortly after, I moved to Atlanta, and I just started connecting with people that I knew from Morehouse’s filming program. One of my friends was like, ‘Can you produce my short film?’ And I was like, ‘I never did that before, but OK.’” Wallace-Odomes said. “Once I realized what I could do and what my role as a producer was, then I realized this is how acting and preaching come together.”
Dezron has done sound design and audio for Tyler Perry productions such as “Acrimony,” “The Oval,” “Sistas,” “Bruh” and “Ruthless”; NBC game show “Don’t”; and concerts for Nicki Minaj and The Rolling Stones. Essence has worked on productions like the film “Furious 7,” reality-TV series “Like a Boss,” “Acrimony” and other TPS shows. She has also marketed for films like “Annabelle,” “Same Kind of Different As Me,” “This is Us,” “A Wrinkle in Time” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
The couple got a wealth of experience working for Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Ga. The Odomes said they worked very hard there and without that experience, they would not have developed the skills needed to create The Chosen Studios.
“Nobody was showing us how to do it for ourselves. So regardless of what anybody has to say about him, Dezron and Essence will always say thank you because it put us in a different environment, different mindset,” Wallace-Odomes said.
Essence said that The Chosen Studios is combining the Hollywood business model and what they learned at TPS to create their own model. A regular day on set for some studios could shoot up to two or three pages per day, while a normal day at TPS shoots 100 pages per day. Chosen Studios falls in the middle between 10 and 15 pages per day.
“It was a training ground,” Dezron Odomes described of his time at Tyler Perry Studios.
“What he did and how he does it … it makes other tasks a lot easier and a lot more efficient and quick to execute,” Odomes elaborated. “He would say, ‘I’m losing $10,000 for every minute we sitting here.’ And when you think about it like that, you have to be efficient and move at a pace. If we’re doing it at this pace, we’re saving so much money that could go to the bottom line, that could go to marketing, that could go to the crew.”
Their motto and that of The Chosen Studios is to take what has already been done and add some fresh energy to it while bringing people with them who want to do the same thing, Odomes said.
Walking into The Chosen Studios, the first thing the eyes catch is the black-and-white aesthetic, similar to a clapperboard. The front desk will eventually have an executive assistant, and the hope is to start bringing in a team and interns as soon as January, Wallace-Odomes explained.
To the right of the lobby is a meeting room, and on the left are two production offices, one for a line producer or coordinator, the first point of contact when entering the studio. Line producers mainly oversee production and contracts and make sure businesses and vendors have what they need.
Our goal was to make the most out of our space,” Wallace-Odomes said as she moved over to the next production office, which has various desktop computers set up around the room.
“The point is to be able to get people in and out. Come in and do what you need to do on a computer and get out so that it can service multiple people,” she continued. “A lot of these people will be production assistants or assistant directors. That’s why you see all the motivational quotes on the wall because production assistants usually have to do all the dirty work.”
Though production studios do not have a standard size, The Chosen Studios is small in comparison to the studios the married couple has worked at in Los Angeles and Atlanta. The studio includes everything it needs in-house, and it’s a big enough size to suit the work to be done in Jackson while the company has an opportunity to grow.
The wardrobe room is right beside the production office with its mini dressing room; mirrors; and wardrobe rack, which was already filled with various outfits, shoes and other accessories. Down the hall is Wallace-Odomes’ favorite room: hair and makeup.
“We usually have about two hair people on our production and maybe one or two makeup artists depending on what the needs are. We wanted to have it like a beauty shop feel, so that’s why you see ‘Barbershop’ and ‘Beauty Shop’ on there,” she said, pointing to the movie posters on the walls in the room.
“With the exception of these, the other big (movie posters) that you see throughout the studio are projects we’ve produced before, but the smaller ones are ones we are encouraged or inspired by,” she added.
The space also has a recording studio, the Sound Bar, which is where her husband will be most of the time. The left wall of the room is decorated with album covers and artists across hip hop and R&B. The room can be used for picture and sound editing and music scoring. The Sound Bar will eventually have a photobooth for photo opportunities.
Past the bathrooms and mini kitchen is the final and biggest room in the space, the sound stage. Sound stages give crews the ability to build multiple sets in one place and not have to go from location to location.
“Literally every sitcom that you see is on a stage. A lot of TV shows and sometimes movies do certain scenes. Music videos are always on stages,” Wallace-Odomes said.
The Odomes are a handful of young Jacksonians moving back to the capital city to invest and provide resources here. They see The Chosen Studios as a good focal point for not just trying to build a film community, but a community of like-minded young professionals who want to bring innovative ideas to the city and not sit around and complain.
“I feel like a lot of people have been abroad and are getting a lot of resources, knowledge and connections,” Dezron Odomes said. “When you go to these other places, you see they are thriving and have so much going on. Let’s anchor down here and build the type of community that we’ve seen elsewhere.”
‘Bigger Than Film’
On Tuesdays, Essence Wallace-Odomes volunteers with students in Canton, Miss., helping digital-media students. She has been able to engage the students so much that they have developed a project that they will shoot at the end of January that they plan to market and distribute.
“They were the first ones to say, ‘We need you, and we want help,’” she explained. “I didn’t go in as if I knew everything the first day I went in. I’m like, ‘What do you guys want to do?’ And the kids started expressing themselves to me what they were dealing with. I said, ‘OK, let me teach you how to take all of what you’re dealing with and turn it into a solution.’”
While Wallace-Odomes is focused on engaging younger generations of aspiring professionals, she also wants to engage the untapped talent here in the state of all ages. She feels if people come to the studio and see all it has to offer, they will buy in.
“Everyone thrives in doing what they love. So first communicate, what is it that you love? And nine times out of 10, you’re going to communicate something to me, and then I’m going to come back and say, ‘You know, we have that on set, and this is how much money you can make doing this, and there’s a place for you regardless of your interest in film,” she said.
During the official launch of the studio on Nov. 10, the couple hosted a series of panels where the Mississippi Film Office, the Mississippi Film Society and other industry executives and producers attended. Thabi Moyo with the Mississippi Film Office attended and mentioned that everybody here is in silo, which Wallace-Odomes found disheartening.
“I haven’t lived here, so I haven’t had to come up in an industry from a place of competition,” she said. “I think because of the nature of Mississippi and how the lack of film industry is so scarce, a lot of the film community here is afraid to let go. And you have to master the let-go.”
The next phase of The Chosen Studios will include a green-screen stage and a storage space for wardrobe and sets. The ultimate vision is to have what they call Studio City. In January, the duo will be launching The Creative Revolution, which will bring industry leaders, community organizations and business owners together to see how they can help them see their place in the field.
“We have some offers that will incentivize people being involved, whether it’s discounts, studio and equipment rentals, (or) partnership programs to help storytellers get their content made,” Wallace-Odomes added.
The producer is also gearing up to showcase her project “Love Never Fails,” a fictional TV series based on her upbringing in Jackson. It was shot at Murrah High School, her alma mater. “If you grew up in Ju City (a nickname for Jackson) and went to high school there, you’re gonna be like, ‘This is us,’” she asserted.
The Jackson native is proud to be from here and always has been. She left because she did not think she could pursue her dreams here, but now she and her husband are back to bring opportunity to a new generation of Jacksonians.
“It’s just become bigger than film for me,” Wallace-Odomes said. “It’s like the one thing that I ran from and hated so much is the one thing that now drives me and gives me passion to keep going and fighting for my hometown.”
The Chosen Studios is currently accepting applications from high-school seniors in Jackson Public Schools and Canton Public Schools. For those interested in an internship, apply here. Essence Wallace-Odomes is touring some of the high schools through Dec. 15.