Church Hill residents’ ‘Palm Royale’ TV series drops Wednesday

Published 3:45 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2024

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NATCHEZ — Natchezians can watch what Tate Taylor and John Norris have been up to on Wednesday when “Palm Royale” premiers on Apple TV+.

“All you have to do is say, ‘Hey, Siri, play ‘Palm Royale,’ ” Taylor said Tuesday morning. “People have been asking me, ‘How do I watch it?’ It’s easy.”

Plans for the 10-episode comedy series, which features an all-star cast including Carol Burnett, Laura Dern, Kristen Wiig, Ricky Martin, and Allison Janney, have been in the works for almost six years.

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“The pandemic and then the strike just decimated this industry. No one has really worked in five or six years,” Taylor said. 

That’s part of what makes “Palm Royale” so special. It’s a rebirth of sorts for not only Taylor and Norris but for all in the TV and film industry.

“‘Palm Royale’ is a fun, comedic romp of people trying to reach greener grass in Palm Beach, Florida, in 1969,” Taylor said. 

Taylor and Norris are executive producers and Taylor directed many of the episodes in the series.

“Tomorrow, we drop the first three episodes and people can watch all three if they want. Then, we will drop one new episode a week for a total of 10 episodes,” he said. “Please let Natchez people know there was no way to recreate Palm Beach in Natchez.”

Nor was it filmed in Palm Beach. It’s not allowed, Norris said. The series was filmed in Los Angeles.

Taylor, known primarily for his film direction in movies like the Academy Award-nominated “The Help,” “Get on Up,” “Ma” and “The Girl on the Train,” said directing a television series gives more time for character development.

“The Help” received three Academy Award nominations. Octavia Spencer won Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Help.”

“I view this as a 10-hour-long movie. It provides the luxury of playing more and doing more with your characters. The only caveat I found is there are lots of cooks in the kitchen on a TV series,” he said.

Creating a Natchez hub for the film industry

While working on “Palm Royale,” Taylor and Norris have been busy preparing for the time when the film industry recovered, which seems to be happening now. The two are committed to making Natchez a hub for the film industry and training Natchezians in the jobs needed to make films.

The two bought the former Kelly’s Kids property on Liberty Road in Natchez with partner Jason Owen, a music producer and talent manager. The Arkansas native has represented and developed artists like Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Little Big Town, and Kelsea Ballerini.

The facility is now known as Sandbox Stages.

“We used this time during the pandemic and the strike to get ready for the party to come,” Taylor said. “We partnered with Jason Owen because we are both Southerners and while there is lots of stuff coming out of Hollywood and New York, we want to develop the industry for people between those two places.”

While the two still operate at the Crooked Letter Picture Co. facility at the corner of North Canal and High streets, the Sandbox Stages property is more than 100,000 square feet and provides the space needed for a true film studio.

“The Crooked Letter building is very small and limiting. It’s great for doing green screen work. That’s why (actor) Morgan (Freeman) likes it so much. But we wanted to create a place that could accommodate the needs of any film production. Let’s swing for the fence with this thing.”

The Sandbox Stages studio facility will be one of the largest film studios in the South with four stages under one roof and a 12,000 production office attached to it, Taylor said.

“We’ve been doing the renovations in the building for about six months,” Taylor said. “We hope it will allow Natchez to become a film and television production center.”

Castle Rock Entertainment, a motion picture and entertainment company, plans to film a movie in Natchez, he said.

“Then, we have one, two, three, four movies that are written and ready to go, all of which we can film here in Natchez on that stage. And our goal is to have a TV series on that stage and create a year-long working studio,” Taylor said.

“We were dealt some blows with the pandemic and the strike, but we have really invested in Natchez and Mississippi and we want to make it undeniable to anyone in the film industry what we have here,” he said.

Lobbying for film incentives

“Our next big hurdle is to attack the film incentive legislation in Mississippi. Right now, the film incentive money has a cap on it, and it has been used up quickly in the last three years,” Taylor said.

Norris has been working with legislators to raise the cap on the film industry incentive.

“If we can get those incentives raised, we could bring in a Marvel movie. But if people can’t get those incentives, they won’t film here when they can go someplace else and get them,” Taylor said.

“Increasing the cap on film incentives has gotten an incredible amount of support in the Mississippi Senate and House. And, it’s gotten a lot of support from (Governor) Tate Reeves, (Lieutenant Governor) Delbert Hosemann and Jason White (Speaker of the Mississippi House),” Norris said. 

Incentives in Mississippi and Louisiana are about the same for the film industry — 20 percent rebates in Mississippi and 25 percent in Louisiana. But the total rebates that can be given in the state is capped at $20 million a year in Mississippi.

“That’s about a 10th of the cap in Louisiana and about a 100th of what it is in Georgia. We have a lot of room to grow in terms of bringing business here and creating jobs,” Norris said.

He said a major film producer wanted to bring the $90 million film “Vampire” to Mississippi to film on the Gulf Coast but didn’t because incentives in the state were maxed out.

“The goal is to increase that cap to draw in more business,” Norris said.

“We need everyone in Natchez to contact our legislators and tell them they need to increase the incentive cap,” Taylor said.

Church Hill

Taylor and Norris fell in love with the Church Hill community years ago and own Wyolah, a historic home, as well as other property there.

With the store and restaurant Church Hill Variety open now, Taylor and Norris feel like they have made progress in sharing the community with others and providing those who live in the community with a gathering place.

“I find Church Hill Variety so rewarding and fulfilling,” Taylor said. “Now, people in Church Hill can say, ‘Let’s meet up at the store.’ No one had a place to meet for fellowship and friendship here other than at church on Sundays. Now, we can go to the store and get a beer or a pop, and workers and delivery drivers can have a place for a good, hot lunch. We are going to start doing dinners soon. It’s a great place to unwind with a nice tribe.”

You never know when one of Taylor’s stars will be in Church Hill Variety lending a hand. Octavia Spencer has been seen waiting on tables at the restaurant.

Church Hill Variety is located at 13411 River Road, at the intersection with the old Wagner’s Store building and Christ Church.

“Wagner’s Store is being restored now thanks to Carter Burns and Mimi Miller and will become a museum. And Christ Church is being renovated,” Taylor said. 

Robert VanNewkirk and Angel Roberts, who are long-time friends of Taylor and Norris and have partnered with them in Church Hill Variety, bought The Cedars about a year ago and are creating a retreat center there known as The Field and Forest. For more information, visit

“They are developing a world-class, five-star place that can be rented in its entirety. If someone wants to have a wedding at Christ Church, the whole wedding party can move out here,” he said. “It’s about creating a feeling and a culture. And, of course, when I have a movie here, the entire crew can stay at The Field and Forest.”

Taylor and Norris said they feel completely at home among the caring, diverse Church Hill community.

“Everyone has a different mindset politically, but no one talks about it or cares. People out here care about each other and will drop anything to help anyone else,” he said. “We hope to only enhance the community that is already here and has been here for many generations. Great people. This is an artistic place of creativity, love, and fellowship.”