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.

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The Car Wash

In November and December, I directed a short film called The Car Wash with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’s Edith Ivey. I’m very proud of it, and the film is all about communication.

I hope you enjoy, it’s been sent off to festivals for 2010. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, rate it on YouTube and please write a review on IMDb, it’s tremendously helpful:

Let me know what you think!

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

Everything Breaks

When I was in high school, I took an AP British Literature course for which our teacher assigned us a creative project. We had make a mask representing our identity in the context of a story we were studying. Being an aspiring artist, I bought some plaster and a facial mold, creating the surefire concoction that would win me a good grade. After leaving it alone for a few days, I returned to take it out of the cast for decoration. Sure enough, the mold had taken form, but the plaster was very soft and crumbly in the back. One wrong touch and the whole thing would collapse. My teacher kept the masks until the end of the year, when she returned them to us. It’s been sitting in my room ever since.

After dividing Thanksgiving between two parts of my family, I went home to clean up my room before Christmas Week. This is the only time during the year that I have the opportunity to stay at home and visit, so it needs a touch-up periodically. Mom doesn’t mess with my room, despite its vacancy, and as such it has become a museum to the past.

Because I stay there once a year, it’s become a sort of dumping ground for things I don’t need. These include:

  • A fine assortment of 3 1/2 Inch Floppy Disks
  • Puka Necklaces from my “Surfer Dude” years
  • Boy Scout Neckerchiefs
  • My first cell phone, a Nokia Brick
  • Boomshekleka. a South American, Papier-mâché God, created by my 7th grade imagination
  • An empty case of beer (Bud Light) from my rebellious “I’m cool! I’m in high school and drink!” stage
  • Whitey-Tighties from Elementary School
  • 1999 Band Member of the Year trophy
  • A McCloud Class of 2006 Chocolate Bar

The list continues. You see, at one point in my life, each of these things meant something different to me than they do today.

Over Thanksgiving Dinner, my Nana recalled a family Bible that sits in her Cedar Chest, where she keeps all of her most prized belongings. This Bible marched across the country with her Grandfather during the Civil War, only to be returned to the family after he was killed in combat. As she began to reminisce about her life, she reminded us that she is the last person in her family lineage. After she dies, the tree doesn’t go out any further. That Bible doesn’t hold the same meaning as it did 150 years ago.

As I began to clean, there were programs, newspapers, pictures, and magazines from years gone past, and I wondered if it meant anything, or if they were just things that had begun to accumulate on my dresser. Would someone still care about any of it 150 years from now? As I began to move one of the piles, I bumped into the mask from high school. It crashed to the floor and split in half, with no hope of restoration. It’s soft and crumbly you see, because it never did settle.

Perhaps this is the great holiday tragedy, as we lift our cups to friends and family on Thanksgiving, we prepare to shop ’til we rot, cycling back and forth every year, revisiting the stuff that once meant something to us.

Generally, we’re soft and crumbly people, putting on a nice front while falling apart under the surface. Then one day, when we can look back further than we can see ahead, the only thing that’s left is what these things meant to us, because there’s no one left to understand their purpose.

Because no matter how hard we try, eventually, everything breaks.

The Long, Winding Road

This is my final editorial for the year in The George-Anne Daily, the unedited version (100 words were trimmed for print). They asked me to write a piece to wrap-up the year, so I tried to cover the events, while paying tribute to those graduating. I hope you enjoy it.

Some of my best friends are graduating in a week, leaving the 30460 forever. This is the great tragedy of life, I suppose. We have a short time to really become a part of another person’s life before that era is over. Suddenly, your best friend is a person who represented one part of your life, but no longer is in it. The relationship becomes less important, while the moments you shared linger.

This year, our campus community has shared many of these moments. Ten of us began the semester attending the Presidential Inauguration, witnessing history in person. In these difficult times, it reminded each participant that a new page turns each day, some more significant than others. Bill Ayers, who became a household name in the past election cycle, re-discovered that everyone is not willing to turn a page, sparking a great controversy on our campus. While he was unable to speak at Georgia Southern, and all students were not able to attend the Inauguration, we learned that Eagles enjoy having a conversation about these topics.

We witnessed the first broadcast of the Statesboro Film Festival, a new creative avenue for students and community members to enjoy each year, while watching last transmission from Michael Guido. The Sower has left his seeds to the soil, ours to cultivate. No matter what your story may be, there is an opportunity for you in our town to tell it and find listeners.

Georgia Southern reached a record spring enrollment at 16,664 students, an increase from 804 last spring. Each year, more and more people are discovering that special something we have here, even though no one can really put a finger on it. As prospective students have toured our campus this semester to capture this spirit for themselves, the Regents’ System has ended guaranteed tuition for incoming freshmen. I hope this change will not prevent prospective, future Eagles from discovering the conversations and opportunities for expression in our town.

These represent only a few moments in our time together. There are countless others that I will never know, because we did not share them. These are the nights you shared with your best friends and significant others, the moments we talk about when stories are told. Indeed, for many of us, it is hard to grapple with the concept of staying in Statesboro without our closest circle at our side.

People come and go, the times change and we grow, as every encounter defines the person we are becoming. As these moments come to an end, it is not necessarily bad, but simply the end of one era and the beginning of the next.

Raise your glasses high for a toast, to the times we have shared, the comrades we’ve lost, and the moments yet to come, because there is a long, winding road ahead.

Impressions from the 2009 NAB Show

nabshow

There is a recurring theme occurring across the entertainment spectrum: as a content producer, if you’re not ready to take your productions to mobile platforms, very shortly, your content will become obsolete. This theme was ever apparent at the 2009 NAB Show in Las Vegas, NV, where each vendor clearly demonstrated this quickly moving trend in the broadcasting industry.

The days of programming for Sunday at 8:00 PM are dying, no matter how hard the networks try to fight it. I attended an extremely insightful session with Stephen J. Davis, CEO of the Family Entertainment Group, where we discussed this in an engaging Q&A format. While his company does work with traditional programming methods (they have a new show coming to ABC Family this January), he recognizes the fact that social media is going to be a critical component of promotional platforms in the future.

Utilizing the Internet for promotion, this type of mobility will require content producers to accept the fact that we must be placing content on the web as part of our distribution model. We as professionals must maintain the quality of our productions, just as we were creating it for primetime or a theatrical release. Today, we’re sharing the same outlets as amateur creators on YouTube. In the near future, it is not going to be about budgets or production length, but how traditional advertising methods can be integrated into programming.

Product placement is back to stay, as viewers don’t want to sit through advertisements that aren’t masked as entertainment. Most of our most popular television shows are using it today, and not all successfully. Take “90210,” which plasters Dr. Pepper around everywhere. It’s even part of the script. As an aside, this really breaks my heart, because I respect Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah, the showrunners, more than about any other duo working in television (though, they are leaving the series at the end of this 1st season, so I wonder if they had much to do with it).

Anyway, as people quit watching scripted television on scheduled airing, the cost of production requires product placement models to keep costs under control. It will require creative executives to find ways that it can work, without being obtrusive to the show. Working on Theater of the Mind, I am reminded of the beginning of radio and television history, when companies like Maxwell House sponsored specific hours of television and radio with an advertisement at the beginning.

After NAB this week, I am a lot more willing to move to mobile platforms, and think that I will do some experimentation with Di Passaggio before we go to DVD on Amazon later this year.

The second emerging trend goes back to the home; this, of course, is the advent of 3D Television. Now, I know that I just waxed on for a while about mobile platforms, but 3D Television is coming. With everyone demanding mobility, there’s got to be a way to keep people watching television in their homes. Industry leaders, such as Sony, were demonstrating these technologies. Alioscopy actually had a “glasses free” 3D TV, but it gave me a headache looking at it (I apologize, you can’t take a 3D picture with a 2D camera, but you can see some of the artifacts):

Glasses-free, 3D television by Aliscopy

Glasses-free, 3D television by Aliscopy

One thing is clear; content is still king. No matter what format consumers demand as a delivery option, the material delivered must be watchable and entertaining. While YouTube and other such services are popular, people ultimately want to see a film or a television series.
They simply want to watch it their way.

New Trailer

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, the final/theatrical trailer for Di Passaggio has arrived: