From the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to sleep, local casting director Marty Siu is hard at work on her latest project. Siu is producing an online cooking show, created to help feed the hungry in Wilmington and provide jobs for unemployed film crew.
“When the film industry left for Georgia, I had a difficult time finding work,” Siu divulges. “It started getting difficult to afford bills and groceries with three kids.”
Once a fully booked casting director for her own company, Marty Siu Casting, her career in film shifted in 2015 when film productions halted in Wilmington after the film tax incentives were taken away by then Gov. Pat McCrory. Some of Siu’s North Carolina casting projects included “The Longest Ride” (directed by George Tillman Jr.) and “Max Steel” (directed by Stewart Hendler). Rather than uproot her kids to a new state, Siu spent a couple years commuting from Wilmington to Savannah, Georgia, to cast productions such as “Galveston” (directed by Mélanie Laurent). “I hated being so far away from my kids,” Siu says. “It wore too heavily on me.”
The Siu family has been on both the receiving and serving ends of such organizations as Vigilant Hope, a nonprofit organization that feeds those in need three times per week. “I have degrees in both TV production and massage therapy,” Siu tells. “I started doing massages, but it wasn’t paying the bills. Anytime I’d look in the kitchen cabinets, I would get bummed because we didn’t have any food. [But then] we would realize we did have food—canned goods and oatmeal—it may not have been what we wanted, but we had more than a lot of people.”
Finally, it clicked when Siu’s son and his best friend, Donnie Tyree, started making goofy cooking videos with their cell phones to pass the time. “I love to cook,” Siu says. “I’ve served the homeless and domestic-abuse shelters for years. So, I sat down on my couch, said a little prayer, and suddenly an idea sparked. I can’t think that fast on my own, so I knew it was God.”
And so birthed Urban Meals, an online cooking show that Siu hopes will keep on giving as it grows. In each episode, a different chef will be showcased as they prepare a large, home-cooked meal, with locally grown or donated food items from area farmers, grocery stores or restaurants. At the end of the episode, the completed meal will be donated to a local nonprofit organization and served to the homeless and hungry people of Wilmington.
So far, Siu has managed to complete one 7-minute episode with Tyree acting as host and amateur chef. Bobby Dorsch, manager of Piggly Wiggly in Leland, donated food items. The demo lays out the format of the show to potential pledgers, which will continue once funding is reached. Siu plans to use Tyree as a host going forward.
“Donnie is a theatre actor and has never been on TV before,” Siu explains. “He’s fun and has a huge heart for the homeless. In the first episode, everything was done on a volunteer basis.”
Urban Meals is being produced with a shoestring crew, six total, including Siu and Tyree. Meredith Jackson, an actor who plays Sarah Rothstein on the TV mini-series “Odd Man Out,” is working as associate producer. Michael Siu (Marty Siu’s son) is taking care of set photography, and Jeff Turner is handling graphic design needs. The show’s director is Jordan Ray Allen, a writer-director whose work has won Best Short at the Cape Fear Independent Film Festival and was nominated for Best Short Film at the Film Noir Festival in Gisor, France.
“Jordan came to mind because we worked together on a movie called ‘Heart of the Country,’” Siu explains. “Everyone on the set was gathered around a phone, looking at a project he had done. I was so impressed. I had never seen such high-quality work done by a student before.”
The crew is seeking $33,400 to complete their next three episodes, as well as back pay members for the previously produced one. The budget covers four episodes at $8,000 a pop, with most of the funding going toward employing the cast and crew, and acquiring the necessary set equipment for filming. Other costs will include location permits, cast and crew catering, community meals, and miscellaneous costs.
Despite the treacherous financial mountain to climb ahead, the team continues to plan for episode two.
“Christi Ferretti and her wife Kathy Webb who own Pine Valley Market have offered to let us use their kitchen,” Siu tells. “They were some of our first supporters. . . .We are probably going to donate the meal to the Hope Center, [a nonprofit that provides food and shelter for the homeless and hungry,] on the next episode because we have already made contact with them.”
Siu plans on pitching the show to major networks as well. She has friends in the industry with connections to Netflix and the Food Network. “But in order to pitch to them, I want to make sure they understand the heart and vision of this show,” Siu clarifies. “I want them to see what we can do with such a small budget. I want them to see the heart of it and what we want to do for our community.”
So far, the project has reached 37 percent ($12,485) of their goal, and they are pushing hard to gain more pledges before the campaign ends on July 20 at 5:30 p.m. “We don’t get any of the funding unless we get to 80 percent of pledges,” Siu says. “I have had a couple of people say that they’ll pledge, but they have to wait until next week—but people don’t realize the money won’t deduct from their accounts until the end of the 30-day campaign.”
Pine Valley Market has agreed to match all contributions toward Urban Meals up to $500 through today, July 11. Donations can be made here.