Inside 2023 Louisiana Film Prize Winner THE CANDY LADY With Writer/Director Monique Derouselle

Chris Hadley
10 min readNov 18, 2023

When scribes of the literary and cinematic mediums find themselves boxed in by writer’s block, the anxiety caused by their momentary creative emptiness precipitates spells of immense aggravation and painful self-doubt. Yet as soon as the emotional tidal wave of writer’s block crests, a single idea can rejuvenate the imagination within every author’s mind, and it can serve as the missing link between a mere intellectual concept and its spectacularly executed documentation on paper (or film, if it’s a screenplay).

In writer/director Monique Derouselle’s 2023 Louisiana Film Prize-winning fantasy/comedy short film The Candy Lady, though, writer’s block leads to some magical and hilarious consequences for a neighborhood candy lady and floundering short story author, Debra (played by Cheryl Shelton) on a single afternoon. After serving her refreshment-seeking customers, Debra tries to put her characters and their narratives onto paper, but her struggle to go from first page to first draft — and visits by her nephew Marvin (Chris Jones) and repairman neighbor Oscar (Duane Terry) — add to her lack of progress.

Little does Debra realize that something extraordinary occurs when she steps away from the old-fashioned typewriter she employs to write her stories: the epic, muscular characters that she attempts to develop in textual form inexplicably leap off the page and into the real world, bewildering — and amusing — Debra, Marvin, and Oscar as they become unexpected co-protagonists of a living and breathing storybook.

A second-time entrant into the Film Prize, Derouselle — a screenwriter, director, actor and theatre instructor for the Lafayette Public Schools whose empowering teen majorette comedy Rising Dawn placed in the top 20 films of last year’s competition — not only won the 2023 event’s $25,000 Best Film grand prize for The Candy Lady but also made history as the first Black female recipient of the annual festival’s #1 award.

Adding to the honors for The Candy Lady, the movie’s lead actor Cheryl Shelton was honored for her portrayal of the title role with the Prize Fest’s Best Performance trophy, (I recently talked to Shelton about her memories of making The Candy Lady and her experiences at the 2023 Film Prize on my audio interview series The Viewfinder Podcast, which you can listen to at the link below.)

While The Candy Lady’s next showing on the festival circuit is still to be determined, Derouselle is now building on the short’s Prize Fest momentum by building the story’s universe: she’s currently penning a feature-length expansion of the film. Even in its currently brief form, The Candy Lady — like Derouselle’s debut Rising Dawn — celebrates the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and women communities and tells their stories through entertaining, relatable and endearing characters.

Derouselle chatted with me about the ways that her second Film Prize short achieved such positive representation of that community, plus how it showcased some of Lafayette’s talented local filmmakers and actors, and how the movie’s success at the 2023 Prize Fest has made her an inspiration to moviegoers, her professional peers and her students.

Monique Derouselle, writer/director of the 2023 Louisiana Film Prize-winning THE CANDY LADY.

Chris Hadley: This is the second film you’ve done for the Louisiana Film Prize, after the 2022 teen coming-of-age comedy Rising Dawn. How did the experience of making that film, as well as the lessons you learned from directing and writing it, and the experience of having it be seen at last year’s Prize Fest, help to prepare you for making The Candy Lady for the 2023 Film Prize?

Monique Derouselle (writer/director, The Candy Lady): Making Rising Dawn, my first short film, gave me all the experiences one could have in filmmaking. I was stressed and feeling that imposter syndrome while on set for Rising Dawn. Ultimately, I learned not to take myself too seriously and to have fun in the writing and the directing process while also staying true to the story I wanted to tell and the feeling I wanted people to have when they watched the film.

We had a lot of fun while making The Candy Lady and it showed on film. I enjoyed my 2022 experience as a top 20 filmmaker (at the) Film Prize, which was also my first time attending (the event). It’s a friendly competition where everyone is learning and appreciating (each other’s) work. That took (the) pressure off of (my experience at) the 2023 Film Prize, where again I just learned to have fun and enjoy the process.

CH: The Candy Lady, like Rising Dawn, is another movie that carries forward your mission of presenting positive portrayals of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and women in entertainment. Discuss how both films have helped to accomplish that mission, and how they’re providing opportunities for BIPOC and female filmmakers and actors to succeed in the industry.

MD: With Rising Dawn, the mission was clear: to show a relatable and fun, no-trauma film for Black teen girls. While touring my film at festivals around the country, I am often told that I did just that. Even one college student told me that she was in the band in high school and she wished that a film like this was out at that time.

The Candy Lady, on the other hand, displays a more mature Black woman in a lead role that is likable, motherly, and funny. It is an homage to all the candy ladies in Black neighborhoods around the country. Cheryl’s performance as The Candy Lady was everything and it shows since she won Best Performance at Film Prize. I like to imagine that these two stories live in the same world (and) that the majorettes in Rising Dawn go to the Candy Lady’s house for after school snacks.

CH: Like Rising Dawn, The Candy Lady was filmed in Lafayette. In what ways did that city, as well as the talented filmmaking and acting communities who call it home, contribute to the production of this movie?

MD: As I live and work in the Lafayette area, it is easier for me to make films here because this is where I have more resources at my disposal. Once you get into the artist community, you will realize that the scene is small so everyone knows everyone. I was able to cast and hire my friends and people whose work I have admired for a long time. There is a lot of talent in South Louisiana on both sides of the camera and even when people didn’t know they had things in them I am happy to challenge and inspire them to push past their limitations as I want people to push me.

Cheryl Shelton (winner of the 2023 Louisiana Film Prize’s Best Performance Award for her portrayal of the title character in THE CANDY LADY).

CH: You worked on this film with actor Cheryl Shelton, who plays Debra, the titular candy lady/author who inexplicably finds her short stories being magically realized in outrageous fashion. What qualities did she bring to the role, and how did you — as a writer — identify with the creative journey (and occasional struggles) that Debra experiences in this movie?

MD: I have known Cheryl for many years and was honored to play beside her in the 2020 theater production at ULL (the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) of (the acclaimed Marcus Gardley drama) The House That Will Not Stand. In that production, I (saw) that Cheryl is a hard worker and (had) the dramatic and comedic chops to pull off the role of Debra in (the film) even if she did not think she could. Cheryl’s natural qualities were brought out in the role of Debra and just heightened a little with the wild situations that came up in the film.

I’d like to think that my writing was clear enough to help her understand this character and how to play her. Honestly, I did not have to give her much direction. She knocked it out of the park. While writing the film, I had to think of all these scenarios. Talking (about them) with my husband and friends (and work-shopping those ideas with them) helped. I fall asleep typing all the time so that part of the film is directly related to real experiences.

CH: What was the production process like for The Candy Lady?

MD: Production happened very quickly. Although I had been thinking about it for a while and for me thinking is writing, I wrote the script for The Candy Lady in January. I began casting and reaching out to crew in late January/February and we filmed during my spring break in April. I was able to use one of my friends’ homes who plays a large character in the film as well. We staged the space a few days leading up to the shoot all with borrowed items from my home and the set designer’s home to add to the already existing pieces in the home.

The shoot took two days and it was bananas. We seriously could have used another six hours or so (to shoot the film) but the shoot was as smooth as (it could) be and we got what we needed. The thing that stuck out for me was just how special and magical it felt on set. We (were) all working hard, but having fun. I fed everyone gumbo one day, which they all loved!

The editing turnaround was also very quick. Again, I had a friend and talented music teacher create the original score, a friend of a friend make the animations needed (for the film), a filmmaker I had admired but never had the chance to work with did the color, and my sound designer from Rising Dawn (worked) on (The Candy Lady’s) post-production. They communicated well with one another and stayed on top of deadlines, which made that process smooth. Of course, we could have used a little more time (to work on post-production for the film) but again, we got what we needed.

CH: How were the special effects for The Candy Lady put together, specifically during the typewriter scenes?

MD: I reached out to service artist friends of mine and one suggested Jimmy Tancill, an animation professor at (ULL). We had several conversations about what I wanted and what he could do and agreed upon what we thought would work best. I needed a visual element to make the typewriter look magical and I think we pulled that off.

CH: Are there any plans to expand The Candy Lady into a full-length feature?

MD: Yes. There was an overwhelming amount of support and encouragement, particularly from the judges, to (expand) The Candy Lady into a feature script. I already had that inkling, but you never really know until you hear it from other people. So that is definitely on my to-do list.

CH: The Candy Lady won the $25,000 grand prize at this year’s Prize Fest, in addition to placing in the top 5 films of the 2023 Fest and winning the Fest’s $3,000 Founders’ Grant (which will help fund the production of your next film for the 2024 Prize). How will all of that, as well as the historic achievement of being the first Black female filmmaker to win the Film Prize, boost your profile in the film industry and of those whose talents you’ve partnered with on both sides of the camera?

MD: Wow, that really puts things into perspective. I guess I am still getting used to all of this. I jumped back into teaching my students and never had a chance to celebrate or think about (this) historic moment. I am just very, very proud that all of the hard work that I have been putting into perfecting my craft over the last decade-plus is showing off. I hope that this film is as successful on the film festival circuit as the Film Prize judges predicted and (that it) highlights the amazing talent (that) Acadiana has to offer. I do believe that The Candy Lady will boost (the profiles of everyone) that worked on this film.

L-R: THE CANDY LADY co-stars Chris Jones (as Debra’s nephew Marvin), Cheryl Shelton (as Debra) and Duane Terry (as Debra’s neighbor/local repairman Oscar).

CH: What have you taken away from having The Candy Lady be part of the 2023 Fest, and what do you hope audiences take away from watching it?

MD: I have thoroughly enjoyed the 2023 Prize Fest experience not only because we won the grand prize but because of how encouraging and complimentary everyone was of the film. I enjoyed being in the theater with a packed audience and hearing how much joy the film brought them. As artists, we constantly battle with imposter syndrome and insecurities so my biggest takeaway was getting the validation I needed to continue to tell stories the way I want to tell them and knowing that they will evoke emotions to the audiences watching them. I hope that audiences have a joyful experience watching the film. My main goal is to make quotable, re-watchable films so I hope that is the case with The Candy Lady.

CORRECTION (1/7/2024): An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted that Derouselle was an acting instructor at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL). She is actually a theatre teacher for the Lafayette Public Schools, while Shelton is a professor at ULL. My apologies to both Derouselle and Shelton for the errors.

Check out the official trailer for The Candy Lady here:

The Candy Lady on Instagram:

Listen to my podcast interview with the film’s star Cheryl Shelton here:

NOTE: The Viewfinder Podcast is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and other audio platforms.



Chris Hadley

Writer, @SnobbyRobot, @FSMOnlineMag, Writer/Creator, @LateLateNewsTV