It's 1970-something, and a notorious North Memphis gangster called "Lil' Horse" has just robbed a bank. He got away with quite a bit of cash and managed to escape the cops. He's gotten pretty good at dodging them. He's quick on the take-off -- that's how he got his name.
But what to do with all this stolen money? He could put a down-payment on a shiny new Cadillac or maybe buy some of those stylish polyester leisure suits. But instead, he decides to give back to his impoverished community -- the Dixie Homes housing projects. He purchases new uniforms for the kids' baseball team, and with what's left, he pays a few electric bills his friends can't afford. You could say he was a bit of a Robin Hood type.
Sound like something out of a movie? It is. Or at least, local screenwriter Darrell Jones hopes it will be soon. In The Legend of Lil' Horse, Jones paints a picture of the father he never met and his struggle to find him before he died of cancer and hepatitis in prison.
The screenplay, based on the legend of his gangster father and Jones' experiences growing up without him, is currently being shown to several Hollywood producers, and Jones says he hopes it's the start of something bigger -- his own local film company, aptly named Lil' Horse Films.
"Right now, we're developing the screenplay and looking for interested producers," says Kate O'Donnell, Jones' agent in L.A. "We've got a couple of producers who have expressed an interest, but we're moving forward and trying to find more."
Jones, a laid-off jailer, grew up in Lauderdale Courts, and his father was a subject he and his mother, Joyce Ivy, didn't dare speak of. Horace Jones, Lil' Horse's real name, never married Ivy and ran off shortly before his son was born.
"All my life, I was curious about who he was, but it wasn't until I met my half-sister that I found out where he was," says Jones. "She said she had some good news and some bad news. The good news was that she found me in time, but the bad news was that my daddy was dying in a Nashville penitentiary."
Jones made plans to visit his father, but before he could leave town he heard that his father had already died.
Lil' Horse was incarcerated for 27 years on a murder charge. After his death, Jones went to the streets and began collecting tales about his father, piecing together who he was and how he ended up in the pen.
He learned that his bank-robbing father, who was considered by some to be "the king of the ghetto streets," had killed John Black, a rival gangster who supposedly bullied all the neighborhood hustlers into giving him a cut of their profits. Legend has it that Lil' Horse shot Black in self-defense after Black threatened him with a knife in a pool hall. It's the classic good guy conquers bad guy storyline, and after Jones heard the tales, he gained more respect for his father. That's when he decided to write a screenplay and make a short film to try his shot at Hollywood.
"I was always an artist and a writer, but I didn't know I was a screenwriter until I lost my pops," says Jones. "I wanted to let the world know who my father was."
After Jones wrote his screenplay using tips from how-to books, he picked out the important scenes, like the one where his father kills Black, and filmed a 35-minute short film to send to producers. His wife April, who calls herself Darrell's "supportress," helped Jones find local talent to play the roles of Jones' mother, John Black, inmates, a preacher, a drug dealer, and other characters. Jones took on the role of his father.
He also filmed a 90-minute documentary on the film's research process: stories collected from people in the Memphis projects as well as from police files.
There's no scheduled showing of either the short film or the documentary because Jones says his agent has advised him not to show them publicly until they hear back from producers. However, Jones says this is just the beginning of Lil' Horse Films. He has a couple other screenplays he's written, including a mobster film called One of Us, and he's working with local rappers 8-Ball and MJG on their documentary.
"I envision a second Hollywood down here in the Mid-South. We have so much talent here, it's ridiculous," he says. "Lil' Horse Films is dedicated to keeping my father's name alive, and no matter how big it gets, I want to keep it right here."
For more information on Lil' Horse Films, go to LilHorseFilms.netfirms.com.