A group of cheerleaders works on a routine while members of the track team go through a practice session at Fresno High School. It might seem like most days at the school, except for the detectives who are visiting the campus to investigate a murder.
Don’t scan the crime news for information on the death of a teenager. The school activities and police visit are for the filming of a pilot for a potential TV series, “Vengeful.”
The production – starring Clovis North High School graduate Jordan Murphy – spent most of the extremely hot weekend filming in Fresno and Clovis. More than two dozen local extras showed up for the shoot at the high school. (Note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Murphy attended Clovis High School).
Murphy was happy the filming was happening so close to her home.
“It takes some of the nerves off by them shooting the pilot here,” Murphy says. “I am so use to auditioning in L.A. and that’s such a big city with so many people. I get really nervous when I go on auditions there. But, being home makes it feel more comfortable.”
It feels almost like it was meant to be.
Jordan Murphy, who stars in “Vengeful”
Murphy plays Danielle Blackstone, a senior in high school who is trying to find herself among all of the peer pressures. It’s Blackstone who is murdered and the series looks at events leading up to her death. Murphy is not out of the series after one episode – each show is a flashback that will have clues to the identity of the killer.
Murphy loves the murder mystery genre.
“When I was young, I would always watch ‘Pretty Little Liars’ and this show reminds me of that,” Murphy says. “I have made my guesses about who is the murderer, but every time I tell the director my guess she’s just like ‘OK.’ Not knowing who did it makes it very exciting.”
Murphy came to acting after spending 13 years as a figure skater. When her athletic career came to an end because of an injury to her right foot, she discovered her passion for acting.
She has been building her credentials through the De Vore Talent Agency, which – along with another local talent agency, Premiere Talent – provided the majority of actors and extras for the filming.
Most recently, Murphy was in the locally produced horror movie “The Gallows.”
David Chavarria of Premiere Talent scouted locations for the shoot. He says that if the pilot becomes a series, the plan is to shoot all the episodes in the Fresno-Clovis area.
The production also shot at the Manna Cafe in Clovis. The local restaurant stands in for the Rumy Cafe, a hot spot for many of the murder suspects.
The local punk metal band Farooq is in the scene as the cafe’s house band. Band member Phillip Camacho says that despite not playing the kind of music normally heard at this kind of cafe, the band was selected from 10 finalists by Rhonda Stern, a local lawyer who is the production manager on the shoot.
She also is Murphy’s mother. Both have been working in the film and TV industry for a while, but this is the first time they have been on the same project.
“Vengeful” director Nia Malika Dixon originally traveled from Los Angeles to Fresno to meet with Stern for legal advise. Once the director saw the town had all the locations she needed for the shoot, Fresno became the home for the filming of the first episode of “Vengeful.”
Most of the cast spent the shoot trying to figure out who among them is a murderer. Although Dixon has 10 scripts written – just in case the pilot is bought and turned into a series – only she knows who committed the crime. The script refers to the guilty party as “the killer.”
Five days of filming have been completed, with one more planned later in August. Once filming is complete, efforts will be made to sell the concept to a studio. Fresno’s K.P. Phagnas, a local film producer working with “Vengeful,” will spearhead the efforts to sell the project.
“Studios have a shopping list of things they want in a show and this one has a lot of those items. There’s the teen angle, plus the detective elements that are so popular,” Phagnas says.
His efforts to sell the project started long before filming started, including finding investors to fund the production should it get a green light.