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FIRST SUNDAY

Setting The Scene
Director David E. Talbert decided to set First Sunday in Baltimore because it's a city he knows well, having attended Morgan State University there. "Baltimore is one of those cities that has been forgotten,” says the director. "It's plagued with crime and violence. But there is so much beauty in the ‘hood that you never hear about. Like, you never hear about a father walking his son to the bus every day. So in the midst of its chaos and confusion, there is still love in the ghetto. God's still got love for the ghetto. And I wanted to show that.” 

Because First Sunday was shot in Los Angeles, production designer Dina Lipton had to recreate Talbert's vision of Baltimore locally. The First Hope Church, which is the setting for much of the action as well as a central character in the script, was the first priority for the director and the designer. 

"David showed me hundreds of photos he'd taken of Baltimore and I used them all as my guide,” says Lipton. After scouting numerous areas in Los Angeles, Lipton found the perfect locale in Long Beach's Christian Outreach in Action Church. "Its façade is brick, which says Baltimore to me,” she says. "And there are no iconic Los Angeles palm trees in sight to give the city away.” 

The interior of the church needed minor alterations to fit the filmmakers' vision of First Hope's sanctuary. "Most comedies have a bright, colorful glossy look,” says Ice Cube. "But we wanted the look and feel of a hot, gritty Baltimore church that had warmth about it, too. Because it's a character in the film, the church starts to mess with my character, Durell. It reminds him of the good qualities he should be pulling out of himself, instead of the bad ones.” 

Cinematographer Alan Caso collaborated with Lipton on colors for the sanctuary that would create the organic feel that the producers and director were looking for. "I wanted to shoot this movie straight and true, like its characters,” says Caso. "You take the shadows where they are. You take the dirt where it is, and you take the beauty of people who struggle every day just to make ends meet.” 

Production designer Lipton adds, "The walls were originally painted white, which is very bright photographically. With an African-American cast, the risk is that the walls would be brighter than the actors, so we toned them down to a soft beige. This gave it warmth as well as a feeling of age.” 

The director was precise about the details he wanted for the sanctuary interior. "David has great visual style,” says Lipton. "He was very specific in wanting the monochromatic church dotted with burgundy accents. I think it was reminiscent of his own church growing up.” 

"From day one, David wanted to have a mural dominate the sanctuary's main wall, and he had us look up several murals from his memory,” says Lipton. "They turned out not to be exactly what he wanted, so we spent a long time designing ours, because it was going to be the background for all the sanctuary scenes.” 

The result is an imposing 15 by 15 foot mural by artist Gabrielle McKenna-McGraham. "I wanted it to tell a story without having to add much text. I wanted it to represent the pain and hope of the faces of the community,” says Talbert. 

The mural includes a father holding a baby, a mother holding a baby, an older woman reading from a Bible to a little boy, a man working the soil, and an elderly man whose face shows the years of toil and dedication. 

"One of the things I think is important throughout the film is that our characters have a lot of pain, but that they are also good people,” says Lipton. "Our mural mirrors that. And in the end, when the entire community does come out and support the church, it's a reflection of the mural again.  "David and I are so happy with the way it turned out,” the production designer continues. "It

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