Texas has no shortage of talented locals getting their crack at the entertainment industry big-time — and now the latest is ready for her moment in the spotlight.
Ella West Jerrier, who's already earned notice in the North Texas dance world, has a starring role in Terror in the Woods, a Lifetime movie inspired by true events that will premiere on October 14.
Ella, who is 12, is the daughter of Jay Jerrier and Karen Lynn Smith, known by local foodies as the owners of Cane Rosso, the successful Neapolitan pizza chain with a dozen locations across Texas.
Jerrier, who has documented her rising star via pithy posts on Facebook, is learning what it's like to be a "showbiz dad," following her from auditions for Broadway plays in New York to film roles and voiceovers in Los Angeles.
"Ella had danced for years, when one of her instructors suggested she sign up with an agency," he says. "She's auditioned for all sorts of things and gotten a few, including commercials for H-E-B and Stoneyfield Yogurt. She's had many good opportunities — but this Lifetime movie is the biggest. Usually, you'd expect to get a few minutes of dialog in a show or maybe a supporting role, but she and the other two girls are in 99 percent of the movie as the leads."
Ella plays Rachel, who with her friend Kaitlyn (Sophie Grace), attack a third friend Emily (Skylar Morgan Jones). Sony recently did a movie called Slender Man about two friends who try to stab their friend to death, but Lifetime insists it's not the same story, saying that Terror in the Woods raises questions about mental health and kids' use of the internet.
To see a one-minute video preview, click here.
Either way, it represents a big showcase for Ella that is likely to lead to other things, and Jerrier has temporarily moved to Los Angeles with her to help make that happen.
There are dance and acting lessons, improv sessions, and meetings with agents. There are karaoke nights with other tweens and their guardians — "grizzled vets who've been out here for years," Jerrier says — and auditions for guest roles in TV series.
With network TV, it's not easy to break in unless you're a known name; but these days, there's an entire alternative world of opportunities.
"It used to be limited to shows on networks, but now you have all of the cable and digital platforms — Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, even some of the brands are launching their own channels like DC Comics," Jerrier says.
He and his wife have been supportive of both of their daughters' pursuits — their other daughter, Emma, is big into lacrosse — but it's not a case of them pushing their kids into something they don't want to do.
"I’m living vicariously through Emma in lacrosse, and Karen lives vicariously through Ella's dancing," he jokes. "But Ella has always been 100 percent on. She has always been an entertainer. This is what she wants to do. Entertain people, make people laugh. She likes to be on the stage with the spotlight on her. She has driven a lot of this. I think kids these days are way more in tune with what they like."
One other factor that has persuaded them to pursue has been the unsolicited encouragement they've received from people in the industry.
"You see some kids and then you see her, and she's actually good," Jerrier says. "We've had multiple unbiased third parties give us feedback that she can do this, and that we ought to cultivate it. From acting coaches to casting agents who see a lot of kids, they've all said, 'This kid can do it.'"