Archive for the ‘ Personal ’ Category

Reflecting on Steve Jobs

Growing up and reflecting upon my years spent at Reidsville Elementary School in Reidsville, GA, one of my distinctive memories is walking into Anna Shuman’s Gifted Classroom and seeing assorted “Think Different” posters hanging around the room. Specifically, one with Jim Henson that you might recall.

Our school did not have Apple computers, strictly running Microsoft Windows 3.1. In fact, I was a little too knowledgeable, hacking into and crashing the school system server in 4th grade (on accident, of course).

But at home, we had an Apple II where I first played “The Oregon Trail” on an 8.5′ Floppy Disk. Beyond saving my family from dysentery, in those early years, I used our Mac to start imagining my future. Designing imaginary databases of people and creating assorted office materials, I imagined myself running a company, something that all of my friends and family knew about.

This evolved into something known as “The Kids Club,” and it was The Kids Club, not simply “a” kids club. For one of my elementary-aged birthdays, one of our family friends got me a brown briefcase filled with office materials that would help us run the organization.

As the club grew to double digits, we would organize a multi-day “summer conference” in addition to our regularly scheduled monthly meetings, all utilizing these databases created on that Apple II.

Soon, the Apple II was out-of-date and the company was fading (so I would learn later) fast without Steve Jobs at the helm. Our family upgraded to a Packard Bell with Microsoft Windows 95 on it, along with tons of software, including Spiderman Cartoon Maker, a program that first taught me how to tell simple visual stories.

There is a funny fact about filmmaking, the simple truth that your career is not only dependent upon your creative output, but also how well-known and organized your work is to a demanding public. If I had not spent all those early years learning how to run a fake business on an Apple II, I seriously doubt that I would be experiencing my nominal success today.

Like Steve Jobs, I came back to Apple. Visiting Goodwill in 1998, there was a used PowerPC with Mac OS 7 in the store across from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. It was fully functional, selling for only fifty dollars. After begging my parents for it, I had my very own computer again.

I’ve owned Mac products ever since, including an iMac, iBook, iPod Color, the original iPhone, three MacBook Pro’s, the iPhone 4, and an AppleTV.

I remember taking my iBook with me to High School, and everyone wanted to know what it was. No one else was using Mac products in my area at the time, it was still too niche. It was the first edition of Mac OS X, simultaneously running Mac OS 9 in Classic mode.

I used OS 9 for only one thing — a Hollywood Mogul game where you developed movies from conception to release. It was very basic, but it was my first taste of what it was like to run a production company.

Through all of these things, though I was an avid reader, the Mac first gave me a platform to imagine things for myself. I was able to look beyond my town of 150 people, to move past my K-8 school with 600 students, and create a world that was all my own.

Looking back at the posters of the “Think Different” campaign, while it was strictly advertising, it represented something more to the people that used Apple products; the innovation of the man who guided the process, Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs understood the importance of surrounding himself with people who could better execute his vision.

Running a creative company demands collaboration, and those that are most successful know it cannot be done alone. When he returned to the company in 1997, Apple was rotten to the core. A myriad of bad business decisions and misinformed creative choices had put the company in a rut for which many expected it never to recover.

But Steve had bigger plans, older and wiser than he once was leaving Apple in the 1980’s, innovating through his work at NeXT Computing and Pixar Animation Studios. I don’t have to tell you the story of Apple’s rise over the following decade. The products that my classmates once wondered about are now household names and industry standards.

Walking into that gifted classroom that day so many years ago, I was being tested for entry into our county’s Gifted program for exceptional and talented youth. Through the Galaxy Program, students were pulled out of regular classes once a week to study more comprehensively and creatively.

I didn’t pass the test that day, much to my own personal frustration and to that of my teachers, who knew I was bored in the regular classroom. Completely impatient, I rushed through the test so I could get on with my next task. But as you learn, life is not about being the fastest to the finish line, but being the most consistent.

Initially, Steve Jobs set out to change the world, only to find resistance. On his second attempt, he learned from his mistakes and went on to build the world’s greatest technology firm.

Throughout time, the earth has been given pioneers who have pushed the limits of what simple minds did not believe to be possible. When man was not given wings, the Wright Brothers believed we could fly. Dreaming of a connected world, Henry Ford made the automobile accessible for everyone. Looking to the stars, John F. Kennedy believed humans could walk on the moon.

In these times of political, social, and economic unrest, perhaps now more than ever, we are called to think differently about what is possible to make the world a better place.

Jim Henson’s The Muppet Movie remains to be one of my favorite films. In that picture, Kermit the Frog sings “Rainbow Connection.”

I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me.

In many ways, a man I never met helped me to start chasing those dreams. I hope it is beautiful on the other side.

Thanks, Steve.


Everything I Learned At Georgia Southern: Senior Year

In my final four weeks as a Georgia Southern student, I’m going to look back at how each year has defined my life and has led me to where I am today. This is part four of the four-part installment.

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” he wrote, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…and one fine morning…we beat on, boats against the current, bourne back ceaselessly into the past.”

A few months ago, one of my classmates realized that he once lived in the same apartment I have dwelled for the past three years. When people move into previously occupied spaces, we rarely think about the previous tenants, because the space becomes our own.

I remember very clearly the day I moved into 734. It was a hot Saturday in August, and there were boxes upon boxes of new things that had been purchased specifically for my first apartment. That day, my Mom had to work, and I had to move in alone. With the help of my friends and their families, things got done pretty quickly, and soon enough, everything stayed where it was put.

Over the past few years, there are countless stories these things could tell. Living room pictures could speak about palate nights, when we put big blankets on the floor and our friends slept over. The kitchen silverware would remember Thanksgiving Dinner’s and Community Breakfast’s, as everyone would chip in with something to eat. Even the bathroom towels can recall nights when we celebrated too much, and were forced to clean up.

The first thing you notice when you start packing is not so much the things, but the items taken off the wall. As the pictures frames, posters, and personal belongings go out, all that remains is an empty room. It is such a strange feeling, because we grow comfortable with this place that we call our own. You see, the home we have built is not with glass, concrete, and stone, but with the people that occupy the frames we pack, capturing moments that live on forever in the snapshot.

In College, you take a lot of classes and learn many lessons along the way. Yet the things you remember are not the campus activities or responsibilities managed, but the quiet moments when you needed a family that was ready to help at a moments notice. You see, in life we rarely have the opportunity to know people as intimately as we do now. Here, we have true friends who can finish sentences before we start saying them. It takes years to form such relationships.

Robert Herrick once wrote, “gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a-flying, and this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.” Four years ago, this moment seemed an eternity away. Many of the people and things that once defined my life have faded into the past, but I remember and appreciate them all for changing me in that moment.  While many of us will remain friends, moving on to do great things, our relationships will never again be what they are today.

When people go in and out, life becomes like a moving truck.

Some things we keep and some we discard, while others get lost along the way. But through each experience and encounter, we learn something about ourselves, as everything we touch defines who we are becoming.

Someone else will soon live where we lived, as others did before. Our very existence will fade into obscurity as the people that knew us leave this town to live their lives as we do now. But for an all too brief moment in time, these walls were ours, these moments we shared, and our life soon again is redefined.

As we drive away, our rearview mirror bourne ceaselessly into the past, there is a portrait of every single being who touched our lives. Some are clearer than others, as memories guide us across the years to moments we never forget.

For those, I am eternally grateful.

Everything I Learned At Georgia Southern: Junior Year

In my final weeks as a Georgia Southern student, I’m going to look back at how each year has defined my life and has led me to where I am today. This is part three of the four-part installment.

There is this uncomfortable feeling that sets in as you become a junior. It is not something one can identify with a moment or experience.

Instead, a general sense of foreboding creeps in as you begin to wonder what will happen next in life. You have made your college friends, while leaving behind the high school relationships that did not matter. There is enough distance between you and the past to enjoy the present, but something around the corner becomes a constant bother.

I was not sure who I was entering my junior year. While I had forged my identity with friends, there were parts of my life that were not satisfying at all. For too long, I had served my own self interests before thinking about the way they impacted other people.

When that emptiness set in, it made me wonder why I came to college in the first place. Was it because I saw it as the next step in my life journey? Because my family expected me to attend? Perhaps it was neither. I started asking myself, what passions make me get up in the morning, excited to start the day?

For me, it was creating film.

After producing a big project upon graduating from high school, I had just finished directing my first feature documentary. It was winning some national awards and getting into film festivals.

The thing about film work, though, is a demand for consistent quality and frequent output. I knew that if I wanted to get where I wanted to go, it would require extra work and longer hours. Just because one project was successful did not guarantee that people would pay attention to a 20-year-old.

Soon, the activities that exclusively involved my friends would be adjusted to advancing my professional career, slowly breaking away from the social life I had come to enjoy. There were skills to learn and opportunities to build.

To better prepare my professional presentation, I became a Southern Ambassador, learning to sell a message to strangers. To better manage a group, I was elected to Delta Tau Delta’s Executive Board, working with our national office to keep the local chapter running. To become a better steward, I joined Student Government Association as the Publicity Coordinator, getting involved in my campus community.

While these things never replaced relationships, a burning passion for my future had grown over the course of the year. As it came to a close, I began to realize everything I came to enjoy about being a college student would soon fall away, as the “real world” started creeping its way into my life. There were bills to pay, tasks to manage, and events to juggle.

I realized that uncomfortable feeling was transition, moving from youth to adult responsibility.

Everything I Learned At Georgia Southern: Sophomore Year

In my final weeks as a GSU student, I’m going to look back at how each year has defined my life and has led me to where I am today. This is part two of the four-part installment.

Towards the end of my freshman year, me and several of my fraternity brothers started talking about getting an apartment together. Being the meticulous person that I am, we went to every complex in town to look at flyers, units and compare features to decide what would be the best place to call home. We thought it would be nice to stay put for the next three years, but certainly didn’t plan on it.

Though visiting each other frequently, we went our separate ways for the summer, soon to discover a new fall season upon us. Compared to my freshman year, it was a much different experience this time around. Despite the fact that I was moving again, it wasn’t to an unknown territory or quantity. It was with the people who I had grown to know well during the past year.

For the first few months, we pooled our money together for groceries and a “family dinner” every night. In fact, we shared pretty much everything, from cookware to laundry detergent, with no arguing. Our close, intimate circle grew bigger, as the friends of our friends grew to be part of our circle.

We were practically inseparable. Without many campus responsibilities and intensive classes, we were able to spend countless evenings together, going out or staying in, while experiencing countless activities in each other’s company. We began to know each other better than any of our friends in high school. Together, we took weekend trips and distant journeys to places like New York City, moving as a single unit.

Somewhere around February, we started to realize that the end of the academic year would mark the halfway point in our college career. It didn’t seem like it could be so, because we just started the year before. Friends began to be accepted into their upper division majors, while others didn’t meet the qualifications and had to readjust their life goals, all within a matter of weeks. It didn’t seem right or fair to make so many big decisions in such a short period.

At the end of the year, we had a luau party that everyone went to. After a few too many drinks, we all went swimming in the pond next to a house on Cawana Road. The mud was thick as we walked around in it, and suddenly, someone had the bright idea to start throwing the mud around. Soon, we were all drenched in the thick, black substance. No one was angry, though, not just because we were drunk, but because we had become more than friends – we had become a family.

It didn’t matter what choices we had to make or what directions we were heading, because in that instant, we had each other. While I knew we would continue to be friends, soon we wouldn’t have time to spend evenings together, travel, or have family dinner.  Because for the first time in our lives, no matter where we lived or what we did, it was time to start growing up.

Everything I Learned At Georgia Southern: Freshman Year

In my final weeks as a Georgia Southern student, I’m going to look back at how each year has defined my life and has led me to where I am today.

The first thing I noticed was the license plates. There were so many people from different parts of the country, with backgrounds much different than mine. In the parking lot of Johnson Hall, I moved in by myself because my Mom had to work. Collecting my things into the orange bins, I realized things were going to be different than in my town of 150 people.  At home, everyone knew me and all of my life history. Here, I was just another freshman.

I went to a fraternity party with a friend of mine from high school. Never even considering Greek Life, I found it interesting, but didn’t plan to do anything with it. After a long night of partying, the president at the time convinced me to sign up for rush; he even filled out my online registration.

In the “interview process” you go through during Rush, I overheard someone with the same interests. We went to IHOP for a late night snack and hit it off quickly. While I didn’t end up getting the bid that what I wanted, I made a friend that would end up sticking by me.

After a failed Greek attempt, I hung out with my friends from high school. It wasn’t bad. They were my friends after all, but I wasn’t challenged or experiencing growth as an individual. Everything was the same as it was, just in another place.

Soon after, the fraternity reconsidered their decision and invited me to join. So began the process of becoming Greek, and my life changed forever. Suddenly, I started to see things in a different light, looking at people in different ways, learning to get along with people that I wouldn’t have ever thought about hanging out with otherwise. I started to participate in community service, leadership activities, and considered getting involved in other organizations my brothers took part.

Some of them were great, and others weren’t for me. Unlike high school, where you had limited choices, here there was the chance for opportunity and diversity. The absolutes in life were no longer as clear, with new ideas and viable alternative lifestyles that I had never experienced.

While Johnson Hall doesn’t stand anymore, the principles that surrounded my first impression still stands. In college, you meet a lot of different people, some who accept you for who you are presently, while others recognize that together, you can become something better.

College becomes like a moving bin; you put things in, you take things out, and sometimes, you don’t have help to guide you. But along the way, you discover that being here means more than what you are.

It means where you happen to be going.

Remembering an Evening with Dixie Carter

Tonight, I am deeply saddened by the loss of Dixie Carter to the film community.

A kind, caring, and compassionate woman, she played a vital role in helping me and my team get to the places that we have reached today.

I was 18 years old, and it was the weekend before I began as a freshman in college at Georgia Southern University. I was producing my first feature documentary, That Guy: the Legacy of Dub Taylor, with one of my future production partners, Mark Ezra Stokes. We had gotten a lot of character actors, western enthusiasts, and historians to come on board, but we were having a hard time getting “names.”

That’s something that a lot of first time filmmakers have a difficult time doing.

We were working with agents across the country to book actors who had worked with Dub Taylor during his 50 year career. This was difficult, as many of them had died or weren’t interested in working with people on such a low budget.

That’s when Dixie Carter stepped in.

After contacting her agent, Dixie contacted Mark directly with a phone call. He worked his charm on her, and she granted us an interview at her childhood home in Mclemoresville, TN, where she was caring for her ailing father.

We piled up in the car at 5:30 AM and arrived around 3:00 PM, to find this sign as you entered her little hometown, reminiscent of my city of 150 people:

The house was what you’d expect, a big old southern house:

We arrived, and the housekeepers directed us into the study, where we waited for her to make her grand entrance. They informed us that she wanted to provide Sweet Tea and Cookies as a snack, since we had traveled so far to see her.

Now, if you’ve ever worked in documentary film, you know that this is an unusual phenomenon.

You normally get in, do your business, and get out, because people have other things to worry about.

Not here, not her.

A few moments later, she arrived and began the interview. Dixie wasn’t feeling very well that day, but she wanted to make sure that we got the content we were looking for. While the topics circled around the Western, her work with Dub Taylor on “Designing Women,” etc, she said something that has always stuck with me.

Referring to American society, she stated “We’ve lost our sense of romance and beauty.”

At first, I thought it was an old lady being sentimental for the old days, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I agree with her.

There are so many things that “enhance” our daily lives, there isn’t particularly any sense of mystery and wonder anymore. We have to one-up ourselves and build on each new innovation. We forget the simple things in life.

Common courtesies are one of these simple things, and this is something Dixie never forgot.

She wanted to put us up in her guest house, because she kind’ve knew we didn’t have the money to stay in a hotel, and provide us with a dinner. Alas, we got a phone call on the way up that another interview we needed to get would be the next morning in Atlanta.

We had to pull an all-nighter after driving since 5:30 in the morning, exhausted already.

Since she didn’t want us to go hungry, she sent us with Pimento Cheese and Pineapple sandwiches and two gallons of Sweet Tea to get us going through the ride.

She took us on a tour of the grounds, with remnants of her husband Hal Holbrook’s birthday party. He had just left the night before to go do a play on Broadway.

The way she carried herself with class and grace reminded me of my own grandmother, even some of my former teachers.

The fact of the matter is, Dixie Carter was the first person who was willing to take a gamble on a couple of young guys who weren’t sure what they were doing.

She kept commenting about how impressed she was with our dedication to work with her, but we were equally and even more excited about her willingness to work with us.

Though I never got the chance to see Dixie in person again, she stayed in touch with our team at JamesWorks Entertainment via email. She always wanted to know what we were up to, what new projects we were doing, and always, to stay in touch.

I’ve been doing this film thing for a few years now. While I have a lot to learn, the first lesson I ever learned in film came from Dixie Carter.

If you treat people with kindness and respect, it reciprocates, and people are more likely to work with you.

Sure, this isn’t a great revelation. But when you’re a young, impressionable 18-year-old, the people you work with help form the ideas you have about working with others.

Dixie Carter taught me that dedication and a little extra work ethic opens doors that you never thought were possible. Just because you have enjoyed a successful career and worked with a variety of talents around the globe, it doesn’t entitle you to be a nasty human being.

Believe me, there are a few of those out there.

After working with Dixie, we were able to attract other “names” and other people, because she opened the gate for us. We weren’t a couple of kids with a camera anymore, because we were serious about doing our work.

Agents and publicists started to pay attention, and today, we have worked to have so many more opportunities that weren’t even a chance for a couple of idealists from South Georgia.

Since then, I’ve been able to make films across the United States, Europe, and Africa, winning awards and visiting festivals across the country. I’ve met lots of people, each teaching me something along the way.

But out of all the individuals I’ve met on this journey, there are only few that haven’t lost their sense of romance and beauty.

Dixie Carter was one of them.

A New Decade

James, year 2000almost 10 years ago

Do you remember what it was like in 1999?

It was the turn of the century, turn of the millennium, and perhaps, one of the scariest points in my life up to that point. Y2K was coming! The entire world was facing a shutdown, because our computers running Windows 95 or 98 were going to switch to the “00’s,” forcing our dial-up modems that went into the World Wide Web to throw our entire power grid into electrical chaos!

Of course, none of that really happened, but it scared my 7th grade mind. And my, how does a decade change things.

I didn’t properly appreciate the length of time that spanned a decade at my ripe old age of 12. Some would probably say I don’t at 21, but a lot has happened in ten years.

We got dial-up at our house, the Supreme Court solved a Presidential election, September 11th took place, my father died an unexpected death, I left middle school, the War in Afghanistan escalated, I invented an elaborate media concoction about working on major motion pictures, the Iraq War began, went to the world premiere of The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, my grandmother died, watched the rise of MySpace and Xanga, had my first alcoholic drink, graduated high school, began to actually work on movies (with That Guy: the Legacy of Dub Taylor), saw the fall of Xanga, went to college, saw the fall of MySpace and rise of Facebook, became a Charter Member of Delta Tau Delta on my campus, directed a film in Italy (Di Passaggio), my grandpa died, rode the rise of Twitter, went to the Inauguration of the first black president and live tweeted it, directed a film for the university that premiered in Vegas (Theater of the Mind), served as Team Advisor at the National Student Leadership Conference on Journalism and Mass Communication, produced a film in Ethiopia (Land of Higher Peace, using dial-up for the first time in Africa in nearly a decade), and directed my first scripted film, The Car Wash, with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’s Edith Ivey.

I’ll graduate in May 2010 with a B.S. in Public Relations from Georgia Southern University, and if anyone accepts me, graduate school after that for an MFA in Film Directing.

A lot more happened in this decade, but those are the things at jump out at me. But that’s the funny thing, you know, all the blanks that are in-between. All the moments that I spent, all the people that I met, that simply don’t come to mind.

I realize that each of these years have led me to the place that I am at now. These events define me, while knowing that a lot can change in an instant, or even a few short years.

God, the next decade will be quicker, won’t it?

My friend Jenny and Me, December 2009