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Film Company Donates Money to Church

May 09, 1997

The production company whose film shoot at an African American church in South-Central Los Angeles was canceled Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council has nonetheless paid the church the $700 permit fee to help pay for a new piano.

"We found out the church really needed the money, so we gave them the money," said Joseph Merhi of Pepin, Merhi Entertainment Group, which is making a TV movie about the burning of a black church by a group of skinheads.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban the filming outside the Pilgrim Congregational Church of Christ on Normandie Avenue because the filmmakers had requested permission to shoot blank rounds from automatic weapons. The council members said the simulated gunplay would be insensitive to residents struggling with real-life violence.

The Rev. Terdema Ussery said his church planned to use the $700--plus $700 from Tuesday's shoot and $460 donated by church members paid to serve as extras in the film--to pay the debt on a $4,400 piano purchased last month. The church was without a piano for months after its old one broke, but Ussery said God spoke to him at 2:30 a.m. one day and told him to get a piano. A local company agreed to give him 90 days to come up with the money.

"As far as I was concerned, this was an answer to my prayer," Ussery said of the church's selection as the site for the film. "It was a good deal as far as faith and showing the membership how He will supply your needs."

Ussery said he thought the council's action was unnecessary because the scenes outside the church were "positive" images of the police helping stop racist violence against African Americans. He also said the movie industry can be an economic boon to inner-city organizations like his.

"It doesn't create hostility," he said of on-location filming. "It kind of creates a fun atmosphere."

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