Sunday, March 30, 2008


So much has happened lately. I look through hundreds of photos I've taken in the past month and lament my lack of blog time. Easter gave Alden and Zion their first egg hunts, at Grandma's house. Hanna was there, and I think it may have been her first hunt, too, judging by the fun she had. This cute photo was her idea:

Zion has an amazing eye. You can't keep an egg (or a tiny spider, or ant, or smidgen of chewing gum) hidden for long with Zion nearby.

Check out the adults. I call this relaxed participation.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cooking Frenzy!

I can still hear my kitchen panting after all the action it got last week. Like me, my kitchen is desperately out of shape.

The marathon came about because my mouth is bigger than my brain. It started because, Hanna Fanta, an incredible woman who gives her life for teenaged orphan girls, was visiting.

We held a fundraiser for her girls at fellow filmmaker Lee Ann's house. I naively offered to bring Ethiopian food with us.

WOW, did I underestimate the prep time (and the FUN) involved!

My friend Mari Tyson was a LIFE SAVER. She grew up in Soddo, Ethiopia, very close to where my daughter Zion was born (on the same hill, in fact). On the way to get Hanna at the Charlotte Airport, Mari and I stopped at The Nile Grocery to buy injera (3113 N. Sharon Amity Rd. Charlotte, NC 28205, Phone: 704 531-6221). I'm including the address because this woman makes excellent injera! We were fed a lovely dinner, and bought some spices as well. We then wandered around the Charlotte baggage claim (becuase CLT never seems to manage to put correct or even close flight numbers on the digital read outs over the bags), and somehow managed to eventually find each other.

On the drive home, the two of them started talking about the meal. It was instantly apparent to me that I was ill prepared for what was to come. So, the next morning I asked my nanny if she would come early to help. Thankfully, Mary also offered to come. Four women, one meal. No problems.

Mary and Hanna ran out to get food, leaving Camille and I with instructions to dice onions as small as we could.

THIRTY onions!

We filled my largest mixing bowl, and sat down proudly. When the shoppers returned, they shook their heads . . .

nope, not enough onions.

We need at least 15 more.

The cooking commenced. We played Ethiopian music in the background and the kids stood at the open door peeling carrots.

More beri beri, yep, just a touch more because the meat takes the heat.

A little more beri beri . . .

Just in time, we finished four great dishes and headed to Lee Anns for a fantasic review of the days' work.

Check out Lee Ann's blog in a day or so to see her update about our wonderful evening. I'm convinced that the two of us will go to Ethiopia together and make a film someday soon, and I can't wait!!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

How do orphans happen?

Here is a piece of another video I'm working on about orphans. It is the story of a boy in Southern Ethiopia.

Hanna Fanta

Hanna Fanta is with me this week. She cares for and mentors teenaged girls that have lost parents to AIDS. The stories she has told me over the past 24 hours are chilling, yet, her work leaves me with hope.

Here are some images of her organization, Children's Heaven, that I put together last night from photos Hanna brought with her. Hanna is the woman hugging the girl near the end of the montage. The neat thing about Hanna is that she maintains deep relationships with her girls, like a mother would. And though the overall need in Ethiopia is great, Hanna never wants to lose these personal relationships, and will guard against becoming a BIG sponsoring agency.

I hope the others copy her model of orphan care, because I believe that going deep may be more effective than going wide.

Maybe, if each of us does a little bit, we can change our world.

Today we will make Ethiopian food for a get together at my friend Lee Ann's house. Hanna will talk with our friends about her work in hopes that she will find some women willing to sponsor a girl. Tomorrow, we will do the same thing in Atlanta at Laura's house, then over the weekend, we go to Raleigh, where my mom is hosting another get together.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

David's Surgery, OK

I have gobs of stuff to update, but no time to do it, sorry! But, here is an adorable shot of baby Mia that Jen sent to me to help brighten your day.

In short:
Sarah's gymnastic state meet was a fun chance to go to Myrtle Beach and visit friends.

David is recovering from surgery and is doing well.

Hanna, from Ethiopia, made it to South Carolina last night and we look forward to a crazy schedule visiting groups who want to know more about her work with older girls whose parents have died of hiv.

More soon . . .

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My satisfaction

I saw this poem on my dad's blog and am wondering what (or who) motivated it?

Times are changing once again
The things we sought
When we were young
No longer satisfy the youthful ones

Since I'm rapidly closing on 40, I may not be the youthful one, though I imagine my life is different than what most people in the previous generation sought. My youngest brother, heading home from college today, could have kicked off the thoughts behind these words. I will ask my dad.

That is the nice thing about knowing the author, the ability to request clarification.

What do you think the next generation seeks?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Zion's mom

We got a package from Zion's birth mom.

In it were treats for everyone in the family, and a crocheted, happy, yellow blanket.

I struggle to express my emotions, the gratitude for this precious thoughtfulness on her part, and for my friend Ruth's gracious help mailing the package - which I'm sure was costly.

Meeting my child's birthmother was one of the most significant moments of my life. I hope some day to find words which convey what her relationship means to me.

Welcome UFOs

This is today's yard work.
So, should I go ahead and set up a camera to record time lapse so we don't miss the saucer landing, or just have one standing by so if we hear it, we can run and get good quality video?

He also is apparently digging a large hole. Hopefully not the proverbial hole . . . .

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Need Seed

David walked in last night and announced, "You need to get the boy some seeds."

Alden was outside playing for quite some time when I checked on him and was greeted by this scene. Maybe it is a Chinese ritual, but I think it is more a desire to see things grow. I love it.

Today, the focus was on the circle. Beautiful, and no doubt meditative---until Zion came over to help.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Larry Norman

The week I didn't write brought news of two lights going out in our world. I heard them both the same day. Driving that morning, the kids asked me why I cried when I learned Larry Norman was dead. I tried to explain the ways a musician can influence your life, and how I felt I knew Larry though the honesty of his music.

David and I once drove to Florida for a Larry Norman concert--I think it was 13 or 14 years ago. It was in a theater-become-coffee house, and when he asked for requests, David yelled out a favorite, "do Six O'Clock News!" Larry smiled, then replied, "I don't think we have that kind of coverage tonight."

Here are some of the Lyrics, and you can listen to it at this link
I've got a ticket for southeast Asia,
I got my camera and press card badge
They only pay me to stay the weekend;
What if I never come back?

The flight was pretty rough
I got a room, took a sauna,
The bellboy gook put my bags on the bed,
He left without his tip.

Then I loaded up my Hasselblad full of film
And I stepped outside, I stepped outside.

I'm taking pictures of burning houses
Colored movies of misery.
I see the flash of guns, how red the mud becomes,
I've got a close-up view.

I'm the six o'clock news - what can I do?
All those kids without shoes - what can I do?
Military coups - what can I do?
I'm just the six o'clock news.

Larry posted this to his website the day before he died:
I feel like a prize in a box of cracker jacks with God's hand reaching down to pick me up.

We'll miss you, Larry. Thanks for leaving us some great tunes, Bro.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

SC Film Incentives, part 2

Please see part 1 below.
This is sound guy and good friend, Tony. Love his shirt picturing the big fish made up of small fishes about to devour the fish who thinks he's big.

My final weeks at Commerce, when not on the phone tying to explain what was going on in SC to producers (previously) interested in shooting here, were spent analyzing details of money spent by films in SC. At the same time, Joe Taylor refused to approve an outside study analyzing the same numbers, saying he wanted to keep the analysis in house rather than at the University of South Carolina.

The research office was one floor up from my office. I went upstairs and asked the person working on the data if I could help decipher what it meant, as film can be a bit challenging to understand (i.e., what does a best boy electric do? why do you need C-47's in lots of 1000, do we have film makeup trailers in SC? etc). The researcher said my help wouldn’t matter, that Joe Taylor didn't allow him to do "real" research. If the numbers were not what he wanted to see, he said Joe Taylor would revise his question until the numbers were what he wanted. This researcher was burning up his vacation time looking for another, what he called "more ethical" job.

One of my favorite "results" from the Joe Taylor approved research was his claim to Governor Sanford that film professionals wages average $8-$10 an hour. This was far different than what I saw on the same spreadsheets his research department used, so I tried my hand at Taylor math.

Some film techs and production personnel work both pre and post production, some work only production proper, some day play. If you take all the film technicians, and all the extras (background talent) and the police officers that come in for the one day big scene and so forth, and assume they ALL work every day of the entire show, and then divide all those salaries by the number of days on the show, you may come close to that per hour salary.

Or, you might just sit back and say, hmmmmm.

When I told a fellow film technician about Taylor's average film wages, he responded, "I'm sure Sanford didn't believe that line, I charged him WAY more than that on his last political campaign ad."

I think rock bottom of the union scale for a film tech is around $22.50 an hour. There are at least 2 hours a day at time and a half as well. Double time after 10 hours, which is a normal shoot day, but many film projects go over. That doesn't even take into account retirement benefits, workman's comp, social security, golden pay on the sixth day and meal penalties.

In other words, our film industry is not in danger of being overrun by desperate, non-documented workers, unless it is SC film techs sneaking into Canada so we can find work.

Another Joe Taylor saying was, “I can fly over Columbia dropping money out of a helicopter and have more impact than these film incentives.”

Well, after weeks of refusals, Joe Taylor decided he better hand over the raw data we had been analyzing to the legislators requesting it. The data was analyzed by a group at the University of South Carolina. Their findings were announced at a press conference I attended last week. Here is a quote from The State newspaper. The photo shows Army Wives producer Barbara Del-I-can't-spell-asandro attending the press conference. Army Wives was allowed to maintain the intended incentive package. They shoot in Charleston.

At the height of South Carolina’s film incentive program in 2006-2007, seven movies created about $25 million in total economic impact for the state, according to a USC study released Tuesday.
South Carolina’s benefits from the financial incentives given to film production companies outweighed the costs to the state, the study concluded.

I want to be under that helicopter. With Joe Taylor in charge or our state’s commerce development, who needs the lottery?

To support the Film Incentive Bill H 4815, currently in the SC House, please contact your representative.

SC Film Incentives, part 1

More on Joe Taylor pushing SC's film industry off the roof.

Here is an excerpt from an article written by SC Speaker of the House, Bobby Harrell and printed in The State newspaper this past weekend.

In June, by using a loophole in the law, Commerce changed and reduced the incentives we offer film productions. The resulting negative impact on the film industry in our state was immediate. We have seen projects that were attracted to South Carolina forced to go to other states at the last minute because incentives originally advertised to them had been suddenly changed.

As a result of the changes that were made, we have seen a mass exodus of the film industry from our state. We have lost our competitive edge in an industry where tax incentives make or break deals.

I worked for Commerce last year, and left the film office as soon as it became apparent that Joe Taylor, secretary of Commerce, was manipulating the film incentive legislation in a manner directly opposed to legislator's intent. The incentive proviso with the unfortunate wording "up to" in front of the intended incentive amounts was the loophole he used.

Let me insert here that I lean far more toward Libertarianism than many in my field. However, though I generally oppose corporate welfare, I think it is unethical to try and thwart elected officials' promises to their constituents. SC legislators intended that the incentives listed in the film proviso be used. Those elected officials promised us they would try to lure film, at first with incentives, and later, when we establish a base of talented, well trained technicians, by other means. It was a five year plan that involved priming the pump with incentives. The booming Canadian film industry gave us a fantastic example of how successfully such a plan works.

Joe Taylor's arrogant decision not to honor this contract with the people of SC appalls me.

I drafted a letter to Governor Sanford, and had it hand delived to his office. The letter my concern over not only the bait and switch done to incoming films at the time, but also what I see as a brain drain at the department of Commerce under Secretary Joe Taylor.

Sanford never sent me a response.

My first view of Joe Taylor's bait and switch came to light the day we at the film office got a call from a livid film producer who had set up shop in SC. It was a low-to-medium budget production, primarily black cast. They came to SC because of the incentives we told them they would receive, set up an office, and began to hire crew. Bang! The incentives on their paperwork drastically changed from what was promised AFTER they got here - after they started spending money - and, as a result, their main financer pulled about 1/4 of the film's money, basically shutting them down.

Just what SC needed, to bring in a black film and then say, "HA, SUCKERS, we tricked you!!!" Some serious political string pulling got it pretty much back on track with the promised incentives. I almost wish it had gone public - just picture what the NAACP would do with that news. But, though the community at large may not have heard about it, you can bet Hollywood did. I was inundated with calls from producers wanting to know what was going on.

That is when I knew I had to leave. My reputation in my industry, whatever it's worth, was at stake.
Here is part two, if you want to keep reading.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Seeing an ocean for the first time

My parents have been going to Hilton Head for maybe 20 years, two weeks at the end of every February. Alden heard enough stories about the beach from Lydia and Sarah that he was READY.

Here is his first look at the ocean:

It is a pretty neat moment to share with someone.

Here is Zion's first day at the beach, two years ago, with Grandma. She was saying "woof" to the seagulls.

Back on line

Last week felt a bit like Genesis 1:2.

I seldom get depressed, thankfully, but the combination of the accident at ACS, my friend Ruth Dropper's wreck in Ethiopia, money woes, some medical stuff with the kids and more horrific news from Kenya, news that my friend Rod's son caught dengue, as well as the seemingly never ending saga with my computer, dimmed my voice for a few days.

Despite a frustrating episode of LOST last week, I'm back. Ruth assures me she is okay, and is resting in the Netherlands where I know she will be watched closely by people who love her. Jennifer's baby becomes more adorable by the hour, David and I have passed our 14th anniversary, Kenya has signed a power sharing agreement, and our guy at work is back with only a long scar on his head--no brain damage. Joanna is here at the house and we celebrated her 27th birthday at Hilton Head Island with my parents. Film legislation was introduced at a press conference I attended last week. If passed, it will help SC's film industry. Rod's son is out of the hospital. And, this weekend I get to see two of my favorite friends, Laura and Emily.

I think this week feels more like Genesis 1:3.

Oh, and I charged a new computer on my Am Ex. Sometimes, you just have to reach for the plastic.