Who knows? Greenwood just might become known as a South Carolina film city.
Did you know a feature film, “Abandoned at Birth” began filming in Greenwood in June?
Filming has wrapped, but look for details about the movie’s premiere after the first of the year from Greenwood-based I AM Jervonne Productions.
The movie is based on a true story.
“A lady, who is in her 60s, searches for her mother and finds she was left at the hospital. But, through an online search engine, she finds her family,” Jervonne Thacker explains. “The woman then ends up being able to meet her mother just one time.”
That’s just one venture of spouses Jervonne and Russell Thacker of I AM Jervonne Productions, a multimedia production company that relocated to Uptown Greenwood from Atlanta, about a year ago.
“We did a casting call when we first moved here and have done acting classes,” Jervonne said. “There are a number of local actresses in this film. ... We want to have a local premiere at a local theater, hopefully, around mid-February.”
Filming for “Abandoned at Birth” wrapped in late November, Jervonne said.
Tee Spearman, 22, of Hodges, plays Barbara, the woman in the film who abandons her baby at the hospital.
Spearman said she was asked to be in the movie and this is her first film project.
Self-described as shy, Spearman, a photography student, church worship leader and nanny, said she “really had to get out” of her comfort zone to act, but said she could relate to the storyline.
“I also wrote a song for the movie,” Spearman said. “It’s about remaining strong and never judging a book by its cover.”
Emerald Otisi, 29, of Greenwood, plays Tina Barnes, the woman who started her life as an abandoned newborn.
“Harboring a lot of built-up emotion to play this role was very challenging,” admits Otisi. “Tina has a lot of troubles, but, the message of the movie is just because you’ve started somewhere doesn’t mean you have to finish there.”
Outside of involvement in a few stage plays while at Emerald High School, Otisi says this is her only other acting experience.
“It has opened a lot of doors for me already,” Otisi said. “It’s pretty amazing because almost everybody in it is from little old Greenwood. I hope people come out and see the movie.”
Alysia Nicole, 35, of McCormick portrays a woman who counsels the character Tina Barnes.
“I did a stage play with Jervonne Thacker last year and she reached out to me about this movie,” Nicole said. “I didn’t come into the project until October, but it has been a great experience.”
Chad Dudley, 49, of Easley is a member of the production team and he’s acting in two roles in the film.
This is his second film with I AM Jervonne Productions. He was involved with their 2018 movie, “The Perfect Prayer.” Dudley also has a number of other film projects set to release soon, too.
“’Abandoned at Birth’ is a great, great story, Dudley said. “I’m pleased to be part of a production of this scale that highlights seasoned actors as well as new talent making their debuts and this area,” Dudley said. “With COVID-19, we had some restraints, but we pulled this together. It actually enabled a lot of people to be available when they might not have been otherwise. We were able to cover so much in a little bit of time, with a dedicated cast and crew.”
I AM Jervonne Productions does film, videography, photography, acting classes, graphic design and more.
“We like to network and create a film family with people in the industry,” Jervonne said. “It’s helpful to make contacts with people like makeup artists, event planners, other photographers and so on. We linked up with three photographers when we got here.”
Jervonne, 50, was born and raised in Spartanburg and Russell, 49, was born in St. Louis, Missouri and was raised in Atlanta.
“It was divine intervention that had us come here,” Jervonne said. “This was a happy medium for me to visit my mom in Spartanburg and to not be too far away from my father in Georgia and Russell’s family who is there.
“And, there was no one really here doing production,” Jervonne said. “So, we decided Greenwood was a good fit...In Atlanta, the market is kind of saturated, with a production company on every corner.”
Collectively, the couple have a combined 50 years of experience in production.
Jervonne started acting as a child in community theater and singing. She later transitioned to film and television. She has authored an autobiography, released in 2010, under the name Jervonne Johnson, titled “Trapped Inside”. And, she has written a stage play, “Shut Up and Eat the Apple” and a short film and completed feature films. Ironically, she has a degree in nursing and worked in dialysis until age 23.
“I was in a car accident and thrown from the car and was in a wheelchair for a year,” Jervonne said. “That’s when I got into writing. At the time, I was in my second year of pre-med studies.”
Russell has worked on movie sets and in casting for many years, and, he has done photography for years, touring with some major performers, Jervonne said.
“I started taking pictures at my dad’s construction sites,” Russell said, noting he has a degree in advertising and photography from Atlanta Portfolio Center. “When Covid-19 happened, we were on tour with Martin Lawrence.”
Jervonne said she likes to teach aspiring actors ins and outs of the industry, including terminology they would encounter on a film set.
For their feature film, the Thackers are working with lots of locals. Greenwood mayor Brandon Smith also makes an appearance in the movie.
Scenes have been filmed at local spots including, Break on the Lake, Woody’s Pizza, Southern Soul on Main, Emerald City Tattoo and Synergy Counseling.
Jervonne said some doors have been closed to the production company’s requests for on-site filming but many others have been receptive to working with the new business.
Additional ventures have included modeling and fashion shoots with regional designers and featuring shoe lines available at Blossom Shoes and Such of Greenwood, Greenville and Columbia.
I AM Jervonne Productions has also been collaborating on bridal fairs and drive-up Santa photo shoots.
“I needed a photographer when I moved to Atlanta,” Jervonne said. “But it was almost like destiny when we connected. ... Our first date was a photoshoot.”
The Thackers are parents to a son and three daughters, ages 35, 29, 21 and 20. They also have a 7-year-old god-daughter.
Their upstairs studio space on Waller Avenue in Uptown Greenwood is near Johansen Precision Eye Care.
“We have a full studio with a green screen, a dressing room and set rooms, as well as office and conference space,” Jervonne said. “We’ve also done photography from the rooftop.”
Additional production company staff includes Ashley Sansone and Ty Rabdieau.
“We want to be able to branch out to other area towns for production opportunities,” Russell said.
Earcelia Paul-Hill, founder/owner and licensed professional counselor for Synergy Counseling of Greenwood said she and her staff were excited when I AM Jervonne Productions contacted them about the possibility of filming scenes at Synergy’s East Cambridge Avenue location.
“They needed a location for counseling scenes,” Paul-Hill recalled. “They came on a Saturday, October 10. It was interesting getting to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff. There were more than 15 people here, from the makeup artist, to actors playing a psychiatrist and one playing a child.”
Paul-Hill said the film cast and crew toured Synergy’s building and selected locations that worked for the film.
“We’ve been in this location for a year and Jervonne (Thacker) remarked that it was a God thing that they got to film here, because they have driven by this house and mentioned that they wanted to use it,” Paul-Hill said.
Paul-Hill said she’s looking forward to seeing the movie when it’s released.
“I know how challenging it can be for a business in a new location,” Paul-Hill said. “I just paid it forward when they asked about filming here. ... I have to admit, I got excited just seeing another African-American female getting a business started here.”