Actress transitions to writer/director
Jeryl Prescott Sales’ show-business evolution now includes director, writer and producer credits.
Sales, a former Wake Forest University associate dean, is making the festival rounds with “Stand Down Soldier,” a full-length feature in which she stars and wore all of the creative hats.
“It’s my baby,” she said about the film, which she screened at the National Black Theatre Festival Film Fest and a/perture Cinema earlier this month.
She plays Army Sgt. Stacy Armstrong. A wife and mother of an adult son, Armstrong returns from a deployment to the Middle East to fight new homefront battles, including one against Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and another to save her marriage.
Prescott Sales said she was inspired to write the screenplay by the bevy of female veterans whom she had encountered over the years.
“I really used the experiences of 14 women to put into this story,” she said.
The script, which took Prescott Sales a year to write, earned accolades at the Beverly Hills Screenplay Contest and the California Film Awards. The honors convinced Prescott Sales that the film had to be produced, even though that meant she would have to reach into her own pocket to do it.
“I called in a lot of favors,” she said, “and made my good friends work for pennies compared to what they usually get.”
She turned to well-known, accomplished friends to cast the film, including Harry Lennix, who recently had a keen role in the summer blockbuster “Man of Steel.” The movie also stars singer Cle Thompson and Eddie Rouse, both of whom are former Winston-Salem residents who now live in Los Angeles. Prescott Sales’ husband, Leander Sales, edited the film. A Winston-Salem native and former UNC School of Arts professor, Leander Sales is a well respected film editor whose credits include Spike Lee’s “Get on the Bus.”
It was her husband who pushed Prescott Sales to shift her budding acting career into overdrive. Prescott Sales got her first taste of stardom as a kid in Hartsville, S.C.
“I grew up in the church, where I was always performing,” she said. “That was my initiation into performing and being comfortable in front of people.”
At Clemson University, she took part in community theater productions while earning her undergraduate degree. She would maintain the acting/studying juggling act as she earned master’s (at N.C. A&T State University) and doctorate degrees.
Acting in local stage productions was a mere pastime when she settled in Winston-Salem in the 1990s to began her professional career as a professor and college administrator.
Leander Sales – then just a close friend – saw her perform on stage and thought she had much more to offer.
“He said, ‘You know, you are pretty good. You should take it more seriously; get an agent and see what happens,’” Prescott Sales recalled.
She took the advice and followed through. Bookings for regional and national commercials came quickly. In 2005, she was cast in her first major Hollywood feature – “The Skeleton Key” starring Kate Hudson and Gena Rowlands. Steady work on network dramas like “One Tree Hill” and “Criminal Minds” followed. Her breakout role came in 2010 when she was cast as Jacqui on the AMC hit “The Walking Dead.”
“I have been so fortunate … very fortunate,” she said of her ability to land roles.
The Saleses and their two young sons left Winston-Salem for Los Angeles nearly seven years ago so that they could pursue their careers full time.
With the abundance of entertainment options that cable networks and the Internet have yielded, Prescott Sales thinks the possibilities for “Stand Down Soldier” are limitless.
After the Winston-Salem screenings, she travelled to Massachusetts to show the movie at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival. Her goal is for as many people to see the film as possible, but not soley because the attention will benefit her career.
“My desire with the film is to make people aware that these women sacrificed so much and that their sacrifices aren’t over when their active duty ends,” she said. “When one soldier is deployed, a whole community is affected.”
To keep track of the film’s screening schedule, follow Prescott Sales on Twitter at Jeryl@theRealJeryl.