As 2020 came to a close, Charlotte-based actress Maritalyn Frazier was having a conversation with her manager Donna Rentz about whether or not she should start her own company.
Frazier was sure she wanted to produce a film after spending more than a decade in front of the camera, but wasn’t sure how or when she could do it. After sharing her idea for a film based on a true story that recently occurred in her hometown of Florence, South Carolina, her manager had only one question: Would her first film be her last?
“And I said, you know what, that probably won’t be my only movie,” Frazier recalls, looking back on the fateful day that led to the birth of her new production company.
After nearly a decade in front of the camera, including small roles in Black Panther, Greenleaf, Baby Driver, and Orange Is the New Black, Frazier recently announced the official launch of Never Too Young Productions.
The company’s first film will also be Frazier’s debut as producer. It’s titled Dead End: The Ambush of the Florence 7.
The film was inspired by a tragic incident that occurred in Florence in October 2018, when a Vietnam veteran ambushed and shot seven police officers, killing two.
A promising path leads to a ‘Dead End’
Born Maritalyn Koulebetouba in Florence, Frazier grew up acting in community plays and making television appearances, including one on the long-running children’s show Sesame Street. She even landed a TV commercial for the Slinky, one of the most popular toys of the 20th century.
She spent the following years participating in productions in high school and throughout college. Eventually, Frazier graduated from Wingate University with a degree in communications, and has spent much of her career continuing on that acting path, until the recent launch of Never Too Young.
Dead End: The Ambush of the Florence 7 offers a flipped narrative as compared to the typical police shootings that dominate the news cycle: A white Vietnam veteran shoots seven police officers, killing two Black officers, and lives to tell the tale.
The film will memorialize the two victims who lost their lives on Oct. 3, 2018: 52-year-old Florence Police Sergeant Terrance Carraway, a 30-year-veteran of the FPD at the time of his passing; and 36-year-old FPD officer and investigator Farrah Turner.
On the day of the incident, police showed up at the Hopkins residence to speak to Fred’s son, Seth Hopkins, regarding child molestation allegations. Fred Hopkins fired on officers before they had a chance to knock, then barricaded himself in his home.
Seth Hopkins was later charged with five counts of criminal sexual conduct with a minor under 11 years old (first-degree), and two counts of criminal sexual conduct with a minor under 16 years old.
As a former sharp-shooter utilizing the element of surprise, Hopkins had an advantage over the officers that came to his home that day. An hours-long standoff ensued, ending with Fred’s surrender. One of the victims was not able to receive immediate medical help due to the danger involved with the situation, which may have led to their death.
The incident raised a lot of speculation in the community, especially regarding Hopkins’ intentions. Some Florence locals wondered how Hopkins, a disbarred attorney and husband to a practicing attorney, seemed to know the police were on the way to his home. Others, including Frazier, believe the act was racially motivated.
“It was still a racial thing,” she explained. “The cops that came were African-American. He was upset that Black officers were coming to his house.”
The film will serve as a tribute to the victims’ service and their department, depicting how their untimely deaths affected their immediate families and colleagues on the force, including the surviving officers, Frazier explained.
Dead End is set shortly after the shooting, beginning with the victims’ memorials and leading up to the swearing in of Florence’s new mayor, Teresa Myers Ervin. It will then continue through the trial of Fred Hopkins, which is set to happen in 2021.
The film will serve partially as a biopic about Mayor Ervin and her career following the tragedy of the Florence 7.
“The movie will still be about the Florence 7, but it’s going to be more about the mayor of Florence,” Frazier explained. “The community came together and we voted in our first Black mayor ever in the city.”
Frazier had originally wanted to tell the story from the viewpoint of the victims and leave it at that, but certain circumstances — including the swearing-in of Ervin and Hopkins’ request for a speedy trial — changed the process for her and her team.
She’ll aim to offer a positive perspective on the event by paying homage to those who lost their lives while shedding light on the historic event of her hometown electing its first Black mayor.
“Like with any film, being an independent filmmaker has its ups and downs,’’ Frazier told Queen City Nerve. “I’ve learned so much. We’re still in pre-production and I’ve been meeting for the past three or four weeks to sort out the direction we’re going to go with it.”
Due to COVID-related disruptions and a gag order related to the trial, filming for Dead End won’t begin until next year, with a release set for 2023.
Charlotte’s up and coming talents
In partnership with Donna Rentz, Frazier’s manager and CEO of Sisters In Motion publicity agency, Frazier was able to launch, market and recruit clients for Never Too Young Productions, spotlighting stories like that of the Florence 7, which are often neglected by mainstream media companies.
Along with film production, Never Too Young Production’s work encompasses screenwriting, acting classes, casting and talent management.
In September of last year, Frazier announced the signing of her first client, Dontai Keith, a local author looking to turn his debut novel, Intent 2 Win, into a film. The two first met on the set of Shots Fired, a Fox series that was filmed in Mooresville six years prior to their partnership. Keith called Frazier looking for help to manage his acting career and promote the film adaptation of his new book.
Ever since that phone call, Frazier has supported him through casting, marketing and fundraising efforts regarding Intent 2 Win.
“It’s been challenging, but Dontai is very charismatic and I just love working with him and going through this process,” Frazier shared. “It’s been hard to do a lot of stuff like fundraising. We have a kickball tournament coming up next Wednesday for his movie and I have a gala coming up in September. Some of the stuff that we really wanted to do, we had to push back because of COVID.”
Frazier splits her time between helping Keith raise funds and publicity opportunities for Intent 2 Win and producing her first movie.
This leaves her with barely enough time to find and help out new clients, yet she knows she’s in the position she wants to be in now. She patiently awaits the day more people know her as a filmmaker and a producer rather than automatically associating her with acting.
“You are never too young to follow your dreams,” Frazier said.