First Missouri Filmmakers Approved for Reinstated Tax Credit Aim to Spark Change in Underserved Communities

June 5, 2024

After four years in the making and with the help of a talented team, the St. Louis-based inspiring short film Vision is out now. The story focuses on Louis, a teenage artist living in North St. Louis who meets a mysterious man who gives him a pair of sunglasses that empowers him to see the potential all around him. He must decide if he will use his newfound vision for his own purposes or the greater good of the community. 

“The main character, Louis, was based on a few kids I worked with. The children from the neighborhood participated in a community art program run by the organization. They were amazing artists with tons of potential. They were also dealing with major issues around the social determinants of health that affect so many people in this region,” said co-writer, Theodore Simpson. “The other main character, Elijah, was built around Louis’ need for affirmation, faith and a catalyst for action.  As we built out Louis’s arc, we wanted him to feel realistic about what situations teens living in the city face.” 

Along with the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, other presenting sponsors of the film are Guild Mortgage and Missouri Humanities Council funding. Vision is also the first film directed by a Missouri filmmaker to receive the newly reinstated tax credit. 

“It has been a nearly four-year process, and the RACSTL grant helped us get over the final fundraising goal. In fact, the RACSTL grant put us over the $50K budget mark which then made us eligible to apply for the newly reinstated MO Film Tax Credit,” said Dan Parris, director and filmmaker. “We were the first Missouri based filmmakers to be approved for the tax credit and the first short film to be approved.”  

Vision was produced by Speak Up Productions and Under The Tree Designs and filmed locally, from location to cast and crew, including lead actor Zion Thomas and well-known storyteller Bobby Norfolk. The film was directed and co-written by award-winning filmmaker Dan Parris with an all-star team including award-winning actress/producer Jessica Ambuehl, South by Southwest award-winning post-production studio Outpost/Bruton Stroube, Grammy award-winning composer Courtney “J.R” Peebles, and Director of Photography Josh Herum whose recent film “A Road to a Village” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and is being distributed worldwide. 

Being filmed entirely in St. Louis, you can spot a few historic and recognizable sites in the film, such as Sumner High School, the first high school for African American students west of the Mississippi River in the United States, a brief cameo from The Gateway Arch and even some St. Louis residents.  

“There were a lot of people locally walking and living life, and not a lot of them see film sets. We had a lot of interested individuals looking and coming up to talk, and that was really fun. We were in the community, and it felt like the community was involved and people were curious,” said Zion Thomas, who plays the main character Louis. 

Parris has a background in documentary filmmaking and creating videos for nonprofits, and after seeing another fiction style short film, he came up with the concept for Vision. He makes films to start conversations, and this film aims to inspire individuals and communities to improve neighborhoods challenged with poverty, homelessness and disinvestment. The film is a collaboration of numerous St. Louis organizations, all with the goal to better the community and the story reflects the mission of the nonprofit LOVEtheLOU. 

“I am very selective about what I produce because of the amount of time and effort that is needed to bring something to life with excellence. But Vision immediately grabbed my attention and heart because of the client’s mission (LOVEtheLOU) and the message of the project,” said Jessica Ambuehl, producer. “With a little vision, anyone can make a positive difference in their community.” 

“We want the film to start conversations about a bigger and better vision for St. Louis and other rust-belt cities,” Parris said. “Films alone don’t change the world, but they can launch conversations and relationships that can change the world.” 

Vision will be on a local screening tour throughout the city, aiming to do up to 30 screenings in total. To attend an upcoming screening, learn more about the film and all the people who made this project possible, head over to and follow the films Facebook page.