PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — Sacred Hart, a new movie and drama television series, concluded filming today in Pensacola.

Sacred Hart Hospital’s medical director, Dr. Darin Brooks, is a man burdened by his tragic past, while just trying to make it through to fight another day. The father of four, whose children have all followed his footsteps and joined him as resident doctors at the hospital, is surrounded by drama. While bearing the tragic loss of his wife’s passing after being in a coma, Brooks has to fight off the continuous advances of the nurses and their affairs, deal with his children’s mothers and their continuous drama and have his authority constantly questioned by the board of directors.

The show’s creator, Elrico Tunstall said he came up with the idea of the show on the couch with his wife.

“Four years ago, I was at the house, watching T.V. and it kind of hit me,” said Tunstall. “My wife and I realized that the same things are always on. With me, being the type of person who is really into different streaming services, I started thinking about things we haven’t seen yet. It just came to me, we have never seen a hospital owned by an African American family, where they were successful and ran it from top to bottom. It really expanded from there.”

Tunstall said there are 90 actors, 20 crew members and more than 200 extras working on the film in Historic Pensacola. He said it is important to have opportunities like this to keep the talent from leaving the city.

“This project is of extreme importance,” said Tunstall. “Look at the talent that leaves our city, each and every day. They leave for Atlanta, New York and California. By creating this project, we are able to have something for people to stay here. It’s getting to the point where we are losing a lot of talent. This project is going to draw and keep what we need here to keep Pensacola forward in the future.”

Creator and director of Sacred Hart, Elrico Tunstall (Right) gives direction to Jeff Sapp and Favor (Left)

Executive producers discuss Sacred Hart

For executive producers Bill Marshall and Ladaron Clardy, this project is opening doors for the city of Pensacola that haven’t been opened before.

“We have tons of talent here and we knew that we had the ability to do something that hasn’t been done with a major movie in this city,” said Marshall standing outside of Five Sisters Blues Café.  

By incorporating local businesses as the backdrop of many of the movie’s scenes, Marshall said it is a way to show the history of their lives growing up in Pensacola.

“We spent a lot of time on Belmont-DeVilliers when we were younger,” said Marshall. “After sports events or things like that, we would come to this street and hang out. This building was actually a place we would come and eat. It’s sentimental to do stuff down here on the blocks.”

Clardy agreed with Marshall and said it was the neighborhood that brought them all together when they were young.

“We would come from all around and eat at the chicken stand,” said Clardy. “There are a lot of memories in this area.”

Marshall said making this movie is a way to show the Black community that there are other things they can do to broaden their mind, not broaden their pockets.

“This gives you an outlet to try different things, and hopefully cause a generation of separation from some of the curses we have,” said Marshall. “We are just trying to open the door to try and get people behind us so we can bring them along with us.”

Executive producers Ladaron Clardy (Left) and Bill Marshall (Right) with Anwon Boneface Johnson (Middle)

Actors talk about being apart of Sacred Hart

Pensacola reality TV celebrity Anwon Boneface Johnson plays Omar, one of the bosses in Sacred Hart. He got his start on reality TV on two seasons of Ink Master and now has tattoo shops in Warrington and Atlanta.

“It is a small role, but I’m grateful for it,” said Boneface. “I am aware that small opportunities open the door for greater opportunities. It was a small opportunity that led me to being one of the first people from the city on a national stage that wasn’t an athlete. So, what they are doing here is creating more opportunities. I wouldn’t even call them small, because they are opportunities that can open doors down the road. This is one of the things that we don’t have here. I think them bringing this will create those types of opportunities for the people here.”

Boneface said everything drives off of motivation, when asked about children of color seeing him on T.V.

“We are what we see,” said Boneface. “We are just trying to change what the kids see. Everything is influenced. Nobody wakes up and chooses to be anything, everything comes from what you see, and we are just trying to change what the kids see.”

Jeff Sapp, Erial McDonald, LaMonica Lewis and Favor are all lead actors in Sacred Hart.

For Sapp, he said his journey in acting started four years ago with Tunstall’s Manager of the Year Acting Core Part Three.

“Elrico brought me in and invited me to take the actors core class and that’s where I met Favor,” said Sapp. “A lot of what I’ve learned not only came from Elrico, but it also came from Favor, who was one of my instructors. I have learned a lot. Elrico actually signed me for representation as an artist, but he saw the potential in me and I wanted to act, so here we are now.”

Lewis said she saw the casting call on Facebook and new that she had to audition.

“Even if I didn’t get a role, I knew that I had to at least go,” said Lewis. “I did acting in high school and a little bit in college, but for the past five years, I haven’t done anything besides modeling.”

McDonald said she started acting when she was 18 but had no clue that she would be on the cast of Sacred Hart.

“I thought I was going to be a little Beyonce somewhere,” said McDonald. “But I love acting. I started acting with little kids and I saw just how serious they were. It was magic. I did a couple of extra spots for a couple of movies, but I stopped when I had my son. It was a good five years of just being a parent, then I saw the audition on Facebook. Everybody started sending it to me nonstop, so I figured I needed to audition. I didn’t know that this community was going to become mine. This is wonderful.”

Favor, who said he is from the “Gump,” is the veteran of the set.

“I’ve known Elrico the longest, probably looking at eight years,” said Favor. “I started in Actors Core One and became an instructor for the rest of the time. We are now more like family. I have been on the Walking Dead and a few other movies. Those types of experiences and things that we bring is what brings the magic to what we have going on right now. Life is my experience.”

Favor, Erial McDonald, Jeff Sapp and LaMonica Lewis are all lead actors in Sacred Hart.

The acting process in Sacred Hart

Tunstall said when he was writing the script, he based his characters off of the actors themselves.

“During the script writing process, I’m watching these characters come to life before my eyes,” said Tunstall. “Take Erial for example. She is a sweetheart. So, I wrote her character to be a sweetheart, but I turned it up to 11 and made her so sweet that she’s crazy. By doing this, it makes it easier on them to act to their fullest potential.”

For McDonald, who plays Dominic in Sacred Hart, she said she can see where Tunstall was going, but sarcastically said that she is not crazy.

“My character is nice, sweet and innocent,” said McDonald. “Then later on, she’s a little crazy. Now, I hear people say this about me, but I don’t see it. I’m not crazy.”

Lewis plays Naomi in Sacred Hart, a doctor at the hospital. She said naturally, she is like Naomi.

“Naomi is very determined,” said Lewis. “She is driven and not going to take no for an answer. She comes from a great family, but they don’t treat her the best. So, I think she just has tough skin, and naturally, I am like that. So, I think bringing LaMonica into Naomi and engulfing myself into Naomi is going to be good to watch.”

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, Sapp had to change characters two hours before filming, changing him from the antagonist to the protagonist.

“It was a challenge,” said Sapp. “I was actually a little nervous about it because I had already done all of my character analysis and really dug into this one character. I had to make it happen for the sake of the production. Elrico does an amazing job of applying real life personalities to characters, which allows us as actors to dive in.”

Favor said Tunstall has a gift when it comes to crafting characters.

“When you come into that class, he starts seeing you, starts seeing your mannerisms and he is already starting to create things in his head,” said Favor. “Somebody can walk in and say a couple of things and he’ll immediately know which genre of acting they will excel at. With me and being around him, he just knows me. He understands who I’ve been and who I am now. So, he takes those characters and turns them up 10 notches. A lot of what I am character wise is my previous life. It makes it easy.”

Erial McDonald acting with Favor and LaMonica Lewis during the last day of filming on Tuesday.

The importance of Sacred Hart for the Pensacola community  

When asked about the importance of Sacred Hart to the Black community in Pensacola, there was a unified “Wooh!” from the actors.

“This is going to be big for the Black community here in Pensacola,” said Favor. “What we are doing is setting history. We shot this in record breaking time, nine days. The things we have done, have been record breaking. So, it is a major win on that level.”

Though it will be big for the Black community, Favor said it is also big for the community as a whole.

“It’s not just about Black community. It’s about community, period,” said Favor. “This is a diverse set, a diverse cast, a diverse crew. I don’t think we narrowed it down to the black community, I think we narrowed it down to the Pensacola, surrounding area community. We don’t want to leave anybody out. God is ahead of everything we do here and therefore, we don’t take it to just one area. Now, it is going to be big for the Black community.”

Lewis said it is going to be great for people to see a successful Black family running a hospital.

“You’re going to see the professional side, but you’re also going to see the don’t mess with me side, from the father, all the way down to the children,” said Lewis. “I think that is going to be great to see on screen.”

The crew talks production of Sacred Hart

Assistant director Kalvo Griffin, from Troy, Ala., said once he heard the story and the concept behind the show, he was all in.

“I’ve been down here for about seven years,” said Griffin. “My background was in journalism, and I used to work for WEAR, which is what brought me to the area. Eventually, I started doing film production and I started doing it full-time.”   

Niceville High School graduate Shawn Yabui is the Director of Photography for Sacred Hart. He said he shot the original pilot for the show, but things slowed down when COVID hit.

“Finally, we were able to start things again and Elrico got a ton of actors and brought me back on,” said Yabui. “It was like peanut butter and jelly with me and Elrico.”  

Yabui said the teamwork is what makes things on set flow.

“This is a tight knit group,” said Yabui. “From actors to even Elrico, they all want to help out. I just love the teamwork and it makes me smile every day.”

Griffin said he loves working on the project because of the community involvement.

“The community has been so supportive of the project,” said Griffin. “We are trying to make film big in Pensacola. The outreach of the community has been amazing from the local businesses to the actors and crew members. They are helping out in anyway they can. That is so beautiful to me. I’ve seen so many long-lasting relationships and bonds be birthed from this production.”

After nine days of shooting, Yabui said that it is now time for post-production.

“Production has been rigorous,” said Yabui. “From 9 a.m., until 4 a.m. we are going non-stop. Now, the real work starts. We are going to collaborate with editing and sound mixing.”

Director of Photography Shawn Yabui (Left) and Assistant Director Kalvo Griffin (Right)

What Sacred Hart means to a local Black business owner

Rev. John Powell owns 2.2 acres on Belmont-DeVilliers, where a lot of filming took place for Sacred Hart.

“We purchased the area in 2010, and we have been trying to maintain it ever since,” said Powell. “It is good to know people like Elrico and his outstanding young people. I’m so proud of what they are doing. It makes an old man like me feel pretty good.”

With this movie featuring several historic places in Pensacola, Powell said it is an awesome feeling.

“It seems like Pensacola gets forgotten a lot,” said Powell. “We talk about New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but we never talk about anybody from the south. At one time, the Belmont-DeVilliers Historical Black District was the heyday, it was the one place where we could share and care. I’m glad to see things are happening and growing back in this area. People are so proud that things have turned around these last 10 years. It’s looking real good.”

Rev. John Powell owns 2.2 acres on Belmont-DeVilliers.

Premiere of Sacred Hart

Tunstall said there is no set date on when a premiere for the movie will happen.

“We are now starting to get into post-production. So, from there, we will know a little bit more,” said Tunstall. “Attentively, maybe November or December.”

For more information on Sacred Hart, visit their Facebook page, or subscribe to Tunstall’s Youtube page.

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