Shot entirely on the Mississippi coast, school principal Sean Riley’s second film, “Royal Jelly,” used local talent to create a bee horror film.
Now available on major streaming platforms including Amazon, iTunes and YouTube, the horror feature sees protagonist Aster, a high school outcast and bee enthusiast played by Southern University alumnus Elizabeth McCoy. from Mississippi, taken under the wing of a mysterious mentor, only to discover that she is being groomed like the next queen of a beehive.
Riley, writer, director and producer of the film, said the idea for the story originated in 1999 but was reworked in 2019, with production starting the same year and ending in 2020.
He came up with the idea for the film after learning about bee hierarchies at USM as an undergraduate student. Riley found it interesting that the bee hierarchy, with females at the top, contrasts with traditional societal roles. He wanted to incorporate that into his film.
“It’s kind of like overturning what we might think of as mainstream society,” Riley said. “I knew the concept was the foundation for making a good movie.”
The bees in the movie were manipulated by Dan Allen, a beekeeper from Jackson County, Mississippi.
Riley also wrote, produced and directed “Fighting Belle” (2017).
In addition to lead actress McCoy, a theater graduate from USM, the film also features Raylen Ladner, a Mississippi native, a supporting actress; Christopher Boler, USM film graduate and sound engineer; Adrienne Newell, Hattiesburg resident and background actress; and Joe Hodgin, composer. Several USM theater students were also background actors in the film.
Filming locations for “Royal Jelly” included Gulfport, Biloxi, Diamondhead, St. Martin and Lucedale.
Riley was an educator at a Mississippi public school for 18 years, having served three years as principal of Benndale Elementary School in the George County School District. Riley graduated from USM with a film degree in 2001.
“I did ‘Royal Jelly’ while working full time as an elementary school principal and graduating (as an education specialist),” Riley said. “Oh, and there was also this little COVID-19 thing going on at the time.”
When people find out they think I must be a crazy workaholic. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you are really passionate about something.
Lead actress McCoy described the film as Riley’s passionate project. She said the shoot took over a year instead of the typical two months because it had to be shot on weekends.
“’Royal Jelly’ has been a great experience,” said McCoy. “There are some really talented people on the coast. … I feel like it’s becoming more and more common to shoot movies in Mississippi, and I feel like it’s starting a bit. … I feel like all the projects I’ve worked on in Mississippi have been very unique.
McCoy, a native of New Orleans, has appeared in other shorts, series and films, including a lead role in the film “Twisted Ambitions” and a role in the television documentary series “Dark Waters: Murder in the Deep” .
McCoy said that working on the film had helped her grow as an artist and that working with bees was the most unique take-out.
“It was a scary process at first, but I got pretty comfortable with (the bees). … It was just fascinating to see the queen bee in the hive and how different she is from other bees.
Supporting actress and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College graduate Ladner said it was exciting to see filming locations in her hometown.
“The first time we shot was actually at Diamondhead and I drove two minutes for the shoot,” Ladner said. “… It’s amazing to be able to integrate my own home life and my own territory into such a cool project. “
The film was picked up by distributor Uncork’d Entertainment for worldwide release.