ST. LOUIS — A few years ago, Terverius Black, an independent hip-hop producer in Huntsville, Ala., was getting nervous about the state of the record industry.
To hedge his financial bets, Black started a commercial cleaning business on the side and consulted with a financial adviser about how to survive in a down economy while still living out his artistic dreams.
Black, now 36, mentioned to the adviser that he had directed several music videos of the hip-hop artists he'd recorded and was hoping to one day go from producing records to producing movies. He'd just finished his first script, he told her, about a Christian hip-hop group struggling to stay true to its values in a music industry filled with distraction and sin.
A few weeks later, Black — who is African-American — had $200,000 in his bank account, courtesy of the financial adviser's aunt, Lavon Colman — a white woman from Memphis. Colman's father, a minister, had held tent revivals with a black pastor in civil rights era Tennessee, Black said.
"She told me it was the only time when you'd see blacks and whites together in Memphis then," Black said. "She said she funded this movie because she figured it was an opportunity to see blacks and whites work together again. I tell you, my mouth fell to the floor when she told me that."
Black hired two St. Louis musicians to make up two-thirds of his fictional Christian hip-hop group, True City.
Courtney "J.R." Peebles, 31, and Willie "P-Dub" Moore, Jr., 30, went to middle school and high school together, were on the same swim team and got into music around the same time.
The church introduced both men to music and Christianity, but they would each leave their gospel roots and their traditional church-based faith before finding their own ways down those paths.
Moore was a young musical phenomenon in St. Louis. Known as "Pretty Willie," he was performing in nightclubs by the time he was 13 and living the nightclub lifestyle soon afterward. After Nelly's success, hip-hop producers were trolling St. Louis for new talent. Moore was picked up by Universal Records and moved to Los Angeles.
But after opening shows for some of his musical heroes and seeing the lives they were leading, Moore turned away from the hip-hop lifestyle and toward his Christian roots, eventually moving back to St. Louis with his wife to raise a family.
Peebles also dabbled in the nightclub scene. But he recognized, by the time he was 19, that the Christian values he learned from his mother were a better guide to navigate life.
"I realized I didn't have control of my own life, and I also realized being Christian is about more than just words," Peebles said.
Black called St. Louis "huge in the Christian hip-hop scene," and both Moore and Peebles are well known in that circle.
Black knew Moore's music, and he met Peebles at last year's Stellar Awards, which recognizes achievement in African-American gospel music. He knew he wanted the two to play members of True City in the film called Stand. Black didn't do any casting calls.
"The Holy Spirit led me to pick who I wanted," he said.
A few weeks later, the two men headed to Huntsville for the 16-day shoot.
The story is about three friends who are struggling to feed their families with menial jobs while pursuing a career in the music business. When they finally get a shot at fame, though, they're forced to decide between compromising their values or sticking to them.
"The story is similar to our own lives," Moore said.
Black said he was "99 percent done" with the film but is still searching for a distributor. The film's trailer is posted on Stand's Web site, Stand-movie.com. He hopes to show the film at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, in March.
The movie is set, Black said, in "a really bad neighborhood, where some kids have no role models to show them the difference between right and wrong."
"So they make decisions on what feels good, what would satisfy the moment," he said. "How can you blame them when they've never had someone show them right from wrong? The movie is about standing up for what is right and for what you believe."