Five former Orangeburg residents came together to help make a touching film about a serious subject.
“Now That You Know” is an independent feature film that uncovers layers of relationship dynamics on the personal journey of André, a young man, as he processes and accepts his diagnosis of HIV infection.
Beverly Rhodes wrote the screenplay and is the executive producer of the film. Alan Brooks served as director. L.B. “Tré” Addison plays the role of Jeremy, and Jessica Gathers portrays Allisa. She also served as a wardrobe stylist assisting her mother, Sharon Gathers, who was the wardrobe, hair and makeup supervisor.
The film was mostly shot in the Atlanta metro area and suburbs, with a few scenes shot in Birmingham, Alabama.
“One of the focuses of the movie is education and prevention of HIV,” Rhodes said. “And Jeremy’s role in there is of a ghost. ... Jeremy dies of AIDS and, of course, we know that AIDS is a result of HIV in patients if it’s not treated.”
“So we wanted to bring that perspective in, too, and also the relationship between HIV and domestic violence. So there were a lot of different themes in there that we wanted to bring to light – peer-to-peer relationships, parents and child relationships, faith relationships, just the dynamics of the complexity of the HIV virus itself,” she said.
Brooks said he had a vision for the film.
“I wanted it to be youthful, fun and very cinematic,” he said. “I didn’t want it to look amateur. I wanted it to be real life. I wanted it impact a lot of people who watch it in the way that HIV impacts people in their day-to-day lives.”
“Of course, I had a line that I drew, but I still wanted it to be believable and realistic,” Brooks said.
That included Rhodes and him casting people “who not only looked the part, but they became the character,” he said. “Everybody who played their roles fit their roles to a ‘T.’”
“I think Alan did a great of job of bringing that to life for us,” Rhodes said. “Everything pretty much that I had in mind, he was able to bring it to life through the direction in the movie.”
“This movie is for the masses,” Brooks said. “It is not just for blacks or whites; it’s for everybody.”
“It’s a universal story – it just happens to be told from an African American perspective,” he said. “I’m very excited to let the world see that because I feel like once they watch the first 10 minutes of the movie, they’re not going to look at race, they’re going to look at the story and the humanity of the characters.”
Sharon Gathers said she had worked with Brooks in the past when he made a student film while attending the Savannah College of Art and Design, where her daughter Jessica was also a student.
“I got my first exposure of doing a film with makeup,” she said. “It was really fun, it was different and I really enjoyed it.”
When her daughter Jessica auditioned for “Now That You Know,” an opportunity came up for Sharon to work with makeup, hair and wardrobe in the film.
Knowing that this was a film that “would be out on the silver screen for the world to see – that was a challenge,” Sharon Gathers said.
But just knowing that God has a plan for her and that Rhodes and Brooks believed in her as well helped her believe in herself, she said.
“It pushed me to that next level,” she said.
Addison’s character Jeremy is mostly shown as a ghost who appears to the character of André.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge the subject matter of the movie and my character having passed away with HIV and AIDs and having to go into some of those darker areas of that struggle, I think that was a pretty illuminating experience for me as an actor," Addison said.
“There was one point in time that I was an actual corpse and we’re doing a scene in the morgue,” he said. “And (Sharon) is having to make me look dead, for lack of a better word.”
Addison said it shows the significance of “where you bring in hair and makeup, how it acts and how it manifests to the talent and portrays a story. I think that’s a great intersection between the two art forms.”
“There was an opportunity for me to actually work on the crew part of it,” Rhodes said. “We had a lot of interchangeable roles and jobs, and everybody pretty much rose to the occasion to do what was needed to be done.”
She praised Sharon Gathers’ work on the film.
“She’s a very authentic wardrobe person. She actually looks at the dynamic of the scene. She goes back and looks at the timing and the period of something we wanted filmed,” Rhodes said.
“So she was an asset to us when it came to making everything look real and making it look authentic for the movie."
“And making a 30-year-old look like a teenager,” Addison said, laughing.
Jessica Gathers said her character Allisa is one of André’s best friends.
“And she’s pretty much the support system because when you’re going through something as HIV is, you want to have that support system,” she said. “You want to have family and friends who are there to support you along the way.
“And in the movie, that’s a big thing that André ... needs. He needs someone to lean on through this situation, just as a friend who’s listening to him, not judging him."
Her character is there to comfort him “but also to keep things a little lighthearted and ... ease the tension,” she said.
Jessica said that in the past, she and her mom have done many projects together as background actors. But assisting her mother with the production side of this film was important to her as well.
“Wardrobe is one of my biggest passions, and I wanted to help her in every way that I can,” she said.
With wardrobe, it’s important to maintain continuity, to make sure the scenes line up, she said. Also important is the choice of colors and matching clothing to each character’s personality, she noted.
Jessica said she also worked in some other behind-the-scenes roles, such as assisting with sound.
“Pretty much, I just wanted to help out any way that I could,” she said.
Along with Addison and Jessica Gathers, the cast includes Gavin Harden as André, Timmy Richardson as Jordan, LeShone Garth as Jennifer, Nytia Nikole as Nurse Kimberly, Christopher Darby as De Rock, Ronald "RP" Pickens as Police Officer, Breanna Kinney as Tammy, Shaheed Phillip as Coach Davis, Michael Taylor as Rico, Kristina Nikol Cureton as April, Mike Bryant as Paul, Harrison Russell as Corey, Mario Ponder as Lamar, Tia Morris as Monica, Christa Hines as Tamera and Donald Perry as Hero.
“We have some great actors. We have some first-time actors as well,” Brooks said.
“It was really an awesome experience,” Rhodes said. “I can’t believe ... that many young people would have had that opportunity, to be able to be a part of a movie like that and on the level that we were doing it on because it was very professional.”
She said she doesn’t think any of the actors have worked in a feature film before.
“So this was a great opportunity for them and a great opportunity for us to learn a lot from them,” Rhodes said. “They came in with their professional attitudes, they came in to work and they did an awesome job.”
Even with the serious subject matter, they had fun on the set.
“We had a blast off camera,” Addison said. “Like Alan said and like Miss Beverly said, a bunch of young kids.”
But there’s also some levity and humor in the film as well.
“What attracted me to the script is a coming-of-age story. And yes, you have such a serious matter,” Addison said. “But Miss Beverly did such a wonderful job with the script as far as incorporating those relatable instances and those relatable feelings that everyone goes through and experiences when they’re in high school and they’re coming of age.”
“So you have laughs. It’s not just having fun off-camera; there was fun on-camera as well,” he said. “You have moments where you’re laughing; you have moments where your heartstrings are being tugged. But you also have relatable moments where you can say, “Oh, I remember me and my friends going to this party.’”
The film isn’t just a serious and somber tale, Addison said.
“I think when we talk about the plot of the movie, we emphasize the HIV part of it, which is very prominent, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not completely a morbid movie where you’re sad and upset the entire time,” he said.
The film has universal themes that cross all boundaries of nationality, gender and sexuality - themes everyone can relate to,” Addison said.
Rhodes, Brooks and Addison all live Atlanta, and Jessica and Sharon Gathers both reside in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was really chance that brought the five former local residents together again – they said they hadn’t really kept in contact with one another in recent years. The opportunity to work on this film changed that.
“Now That You Know” is currently in post-production as it goes through the editing process and a musical score is added.
“Once we get post-production done, we can do pretty much whatever we want with the film,” Rhodes said.
She said once the film is complete, they plan to begin showing it at film festivals.
“Also, we’ve put together a distribution plan for the movie,” she said. “We have premieres coming up; we’re going to do screenings at different locations. We have a tour of the different colleges where we’re going to be screening."
“We’re going to be looking at actual movie theaters ... we’re looking at doing distribution through DVDs and television,” Rhodes said, adding that she hopes HBO, Netflix or Amazon might pick up the film.
But even with their big plans, the five former local residents haven’t forgotten where they came from.
Brooks noted, “I definitely want to have an Orangeburg premiere."