By Nick BeJeaux
Trafficking Hope has grown from a passion into a tour de force combating slavery in Baton Rouge and around the world. The newest weapon in its arsenal? Feature films.
Caged is the first of a trilogy chronicling a Louisiana family’s harrowing experiences with one of the worlds most profitable and terrifying industries: human trafficking. Based on the novel by Molly Venzke, who adapted her work for the screen, the suspense thriller will follow Aggie, a 67-year old black Cajun, as she sets out across the world to find her kidnapped granddaughters with the help of two New Orleans’ businessmen.
Venzke’s book, the first of three of her Justice Trilogy, was written specifically to bring attention to human trafficking and help TH. According to her, 100 percent of the proceeds attached to her book go straight to TH.
“I’m close friends with the founders of Trafficking Hope and I believe in them; they have great integrity and they’re the example of how a non-profit should be run,” said Venzke. “My husband and I would give and give to help, but I had an aching inside of me to do more. Finally, on day it dawned on me; I had been a ghostwriter for years, why not write a book?”
While she and her family live in Seattle, her friends in Baton Rouge and TH keep her coming down here often enough to be a Tigers fan. Venzke also made trips to research for her book with the help of TH, and even interviewed survivors to help her piece together a story that’s entertaining, but also very real.
“In the novel and the movie there are things for dramatic effect, but the situation is very real,” she said. “This first book is a call to action, the second will explore how human trafficking operates in America.”
Lisa Arnold is a producer that is working with Venzke on the project. The pair returned this weekend from a scouting trip in Athens, Greece, where the latter half to the story takes place. According to Arnold, they’re particularly interested in the Plaka, Boula and downtown neighborhoods of Athens.
“Downtown, we found this alleyway where someone has hung old lamps and chandeliers overhead; they light up at night and it looks wonderful,” she said. “Boula is a marina area with a mountain in the distance – it’s very impressive – and Plaka is a beautiful beach area that’s reminiscent of the islands.”
Arnold knew from the beginning that Venzke, the creator of the story, had to be involved for the movie to work.
“I asked Molly to be the screenwriter. It’s her baby,” she said. “It took us a year to finish the script, but Molly took the time to add depth to her characters that can sometimes be lost in the transition from book to movie. No one believes in a story more than the writer, and that shows in her work.”
While shooting for the first film has yet to begin, a plan for the second film has already been drawn up. According to Arnold, the second screenplay will precede the novel and the same is expected for the third. Also, the Caged franchise is slated to grow beyond the realm of novels and film.
“Our strategy is very meticulous. It’s not just emotional for us,” said Venzke. “Besides the movies and book, we’re going to be creating all kinds of material for non-profits, junior high and high schools. If we can get these kids even a little bit savvier, they become less likely to walk into the path of traffickers.”
While Venzke admits that human trafficking has become a “trendy issue” to be involved in, it’s a bandwagon that she and more importantly society can’t afford to miss.
“Fortunately and unfortunately this is a trendy issue,” she said. “Still, people have no idea that it’s happening or even believe that it’s happening in this country. I’ve talked to some police officers that don’t believe it. Hopefully by the time the second movie and book are out, that will have changed.”
Caged 2 is the working title for the sequel, and is expected to be released about two years after the first. According to Arnold, the first movie will take about six months of shooting and another six months of promotion before it hits the screens. When a release date is determined look for it here in DIG.