Create, Consume… Contribute, Devour…

Within each of us resides a desire to create and a hunger to consume… a passion to contribute, yet an appetite to devour. Unfortunately for most of us, it’s much easier to sit idle and watch a film than it is to step up and make a film. It’s much easier to read words from a printed page than it is to write words on a blank page. It’s much easier close our eyes and listen to music than it is to open our souls and create the music within us. And therein lies the problem. The hunger to consume often chews up our desire to create. Our passion to contribute is often swallowed by our appetite to devour.

And yet what is it that we devour? What is it that we consume? It is the labor, the sweat, the tears, and the struggles of others who have stepped up and made the film or have written the words on the blank page or have opened their souls and released the music within. We consume and devour the very art that others have created and contributed. And not always, but every once in a blue moon, we consume and devour a piece of art that stirs our souls. We watch a film that inspires us or we read a book that compels us or we hear a piece of music that lifts us to the point that nothing can stop our desire to create and our passion to contribute. We have to make that movie. We have to write that book. We have to record that song.

And this my friends, is culture—the never ending cycle of creation and consumption, of contributing and devouring. It’s not just art… it’s us. It’s not just who we are… it’s why we are. We have been created in order to create. We have been given gifts in order to contribute. So what’s your excuse? I’m too tired, I’m too busy, I’m too… what is it? What’s your excuse?

Now pay attention because this is a test… In the wee hours of the morning a light turns on and an 83 year old grandmother enters her kitchen and begins preparing the meal of the year; the meal where the entire family will gather around and offer thanks; the meal we traditionally call Thanksgiving. She preps the turkey (which actually started thawing in her sink two days ago). She stuffs it with stuffing stuff and she bakes it in the oven for the bulk of the day. She makes the cranberry relish, the sweet potatoes, the mashed potatoes, the beans of green, and the pumpkin, apple, and cherry pies. While those are all baking she sets the table with her best linen table cloth, her finest china, and her mother’s mother’s silverware. The stem glasses are filled with water, tea, and wine. The turkey is carved. The candles are lit. The crowd has arrived. Within minutes thanks has been offered, every belly is full, and most all of the food has been consumed. It’s all done. Some things take hours, days, weeks, or years to prepare, but only moments to consume.

Now for the test. Where did our Thanksgiving story begin? How did it start? “In the wee hours of the morning a light turned on”… And that’s how it is with every creation… a light turns on… In our heads, in our rooms, in the morning, at night, in the car, on a walk, when you least expect it… a light turns on. We see the idea for the film, the novel, the song… and it starts to glow and it starts to grow and it starts to… consume us! We the creators become consumed with the act of creating the piece that will one day be consumed by the consumers. And the cycle continues… create, consume… contribute, devour… create, consume… contribute, devour… create, consume… contribute, devour… it doesn’t ever stop and it won’t stop and it can’t stop. As long as we are here. As long as we as created beings contain within us a spark left over from the act of creation itself. It cannot stop.

Now you have a choice. That spark of creation that resides in your soul can be fanned into flame giving you a burning desire to create… or you can take a bucket of your excuses and pour them on that spark and watch as it’s red glow becomes… darkness. The choice is yours. Will you merely, like the vast majority of your peers, be content to consume and devour the creations of others? Or will that ember within you become a fire of creation itself?

As you leave here today you will make your choice. It’s rather simple really, you will either create or you won’t. But choose wisely please, because this thing we call culture that all of us breathe will be directly affected by your decision.


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10 Ways To Encourage The Artists In Your Life

Why do I try to encourage artists? Because I am one and I know what it’s like to face deep and heavy discouragement. I know that dark night of the soul when you feel utterly worthless. I know what it’s like to think you will never create anything that anyone will ever want to engage with. I know what it’s like to fall again and again only to get back up to fall once more.

As a writer I’ve wondered why I bother. Why do I bother to write another word when there are already so many words out there? I don’t know the magic formula for making my words jump out at people, but then someone somewhere will let me know how much my words meant to them and that’s all it takes. I’ll press on to complete another sentence, another paragraph, another article, another script, another screenplay.

As a filmmaker I’ve wondered why I bother. Why do I bother to create another film when there are already so many films out there? I don’t know the magic formula for making my films jump out at people, but then someone somewhere will let me know how much my film meant to them and that’s all it takes. I’ll press on to complete another script, shoot another scene, create another movie.

As a painter I’ve wondered why I bother. Why do I bother to create another painting when there are already so many paintings out there? I don’t know the magic formula for making my paintings jump out at people, but then someone somewhere will let me know how much my painting meant to them and that’s all it takes. I’ll press on to complete another canvas, another panel, another piece of art.

As an artist I create art to satisfy a deep longing within myself, to prove to myself that I can do it, to attempt to connect with my fellow man, to leave something behind when I’m gone, and to touch the heart and mind of others. But if it weren’t for the occasional encouragement I’m confident I would have stopped a long, long time ago. Why? Because as an artist perhaps I see the world from a slightly different angle than most, and perhaps that angle on the world is a little heavier.

So let me offer ten suggestions for encouraging the artists in your world…

10. Tell them what you like about their art

9. If you have ever admired them for the work they create, let them know

8. Ask them what they are currently working on

7. Ask to see some of their work

6. Ask about how they got their start as an artist

5. Simply “like” their tweet or facebook post about their work and maybe even share it

4. Attend a showing, a reading, a screening of their art

3. Help them set up a showing, a reading, or a screening of their art

2. Commission them to create something unique for you

1. Buy some of their art… and pay the asking price!

I recently posted on facebook asking friends for ways to encourage artists. Many of the responses were more pointed toward advice to artists. Advice and encouragement are similar, yet very different things. Some advice can be encouraging, but often advice can have a way of being subtly  discouraging; as if the advice-giver has the answer to a problem the artist didn’t know he had.

One of my artist friends (Rachel Ward Hull) grew up in West Virginia with an artist for a dad. She told me, “as the daughter of a nearly-starving artist, we always joked that Poppa would sell his work for $5 of gas, a chocolate milk, and a Little Debbie honeybun.” That about sums it up. For most artists we don’t create art to get rich. We create art to engage the world around us and if we can get a few bucks for gas, a chocolate milk, and a honeybun, we might just be encouraged enough to create something new, something inspired, something that someone might pay even more for… and one day, maybe we could afford to buy two honeybuns.

If you have other suggestions for encouraging the artists in your world, please share them below.

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The Main Quirk With iPhone X’s Portrait Mode

I was one of the crazy ones that woke up at 3AM on October 27th, 2017 to pre-order a 256GB iPhone X. I was preparing for an upcoming trip to Israel and I wanted to take this camera (I mean phone) along to help capture some of the amazing locations in that beautiful land. I knew I would be shooting tons of video with the iPhone X running on a gimbal (the DJI OSMO Mobile) and wanted access to the best iPhone camera I could get. What I wasn’t thinking much about in my planning was how amazing Portrait Mode would be on the new phone for still images and how much this feature would distract me from shooting video, nor did I realize one of the major quirks I would experience with it.

The iPhone X arrived about a week before I left for Israel, so I didn’t have a lot of time to put it through it’s paces. My attention was consumed with making sure I could get the iPhone X properly balanced on the OSMO and that I had a way of capturing good, clean audio with my RODE mic. Again, my focus was on the video capabilities of the new device and not on the stills. I had upgraded from an iPhone 6, so I was new to Portrait Mode. I took a few shots with it prior to leaving for my trip, and was impressed with it’s quality, but I didn’t shoot in enough situations, nor study the images closely enough to see some of the quirks that would appear in the field.

My trip to Israel was a pilgrimage of sorts with about 70 team-members on two buses. The entire trip I was the dork running around with the gimbal and slowing the team down because I always needed “one more shot”. We were rushed most of the time, because there are far too many amazing sights to see in Israel. As one of our tour guides put it, “you get to run where Jesus walked!” With my focus being on the video, I would try to take as many still pictures as possible, but since we were always in a hurry to get back on the bus, I was not always in a position to look at and study the images in the field. I got the occasional glance to see if something looked decent, but I was never really able to check the details until I returned to my hotel room and backed up all my footage and images. And that’s when I started to notice the interesting quirk about Portrait Mode on the iPhone X. It tends to over-choke the mask on the foreground object and sometimes confuses foreground for background data (and vice versa).

Let me say first, that I love, love, love shallow depth of field. Soft backgrounds and crisp subjects are magical. That’s the thing I’ve disliked about most phone photography in the past is that images tend to be flat with relatively no separation between foreground and background. As a matter of fact, for nearly 30 years of shooting video I have always preferred under-lighting a scene to force my iris wide open to capture that shallow depth of field. With the iPhone, Portrait Mode has become my “go to” setting for stills. That said, it doesn’t work the way a traditional DSLR camera and lens works.

I don’t know how the magic is made in Portrait Mode on the iPhone, but somehow the geniuses at Apple have pulled it off. The two lens camera is able to distinguish subject from background and somehow it softens the background while keeping the subject crisp. Now “Portrait” Mode implies capturing the image of a person, but since I’m the guy who loves a shallow depth of field I use it to shoot anything and everything, from Israeli plant life, to beer bottles, to Corinthian column capitals and what I noticed is that sometimes Portrait Mode has a hard time distinguishing the subject from the background and on occasion parts of the image get blurred that should be sharp. This can be very aggravating and can ruin a great image.

Olives in the Jerusalem Market — This animated GIF image clearly shows the problem. Notice the blurred green olives in the foreground at the bottom of the pile. Those should be crisp like the rest of green olives. This would only require a simple Photoshop fix, but an extra step none-the-less.

The good news I learned is that when you shoot in Portrait Mode the iPhone actually saves two images; one soft-focus and one entirely crisp, and this may just be Apple’s safety net for us pros. For most shots, someone with a few Photoshop skills should be able to quickly fix an image by replacing or rebuilding some of the foreground. An extra step indeed, but definitely worth it to save that important shot.

A few years ago I stopped carrying my DSLR in favor of the iPhone’s camera in my pocket. The lens on my iPhone 6 was extremely limiting, the flat images were disappointing, but the convenience of a camera with me at all times was fantastic. I tell people continually,“the absolute best camera in the world is the one in your pocket when you need it.” It’s always better to capture the moment with an old grainy flip phone, than to miss the moment altogether. Now with the iPhone X and Portrait Mode’s shallow depth of field, my pocket just got a lot happier and my photos just got a lot better!

Below you’ll find several more animated GIF samples showing the some of the issues I came across in the field:

Notice the top of the beer bottle gets blurred with the background and the sides of the bottle get choked in too far.
Notice the yarmulke on the shopkeepers head gets blurred into the background.
The trees in the far distance between me and my wife are seen as foreground data and are kept crisp. Most examples are of foreground info being seen as background, but this is one where background info was seen as foreground.
Granted this is a hard shot to distinguish foreground from background, but it’s the worst case I experienced on my trip to Israel.
I added the wide shot to this sequnce for perspective, but notice the brim of the artists hat above his nose on the close-ups.
When we arrived in Jerusalem we took communion at an overlook above the city. Notice how the top of the cup at the bottom of the frame registers as background data.
In this one, notice how the coke logo on the can in the foreground is blurred.

Please share this with anyone who needs it and comment below about your experiences with Portrait Mode.

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More Than Just A Casual Hate

she was 28 when the rain raged against her skin
and the late autumn night was black as hate
and the wind blew her spirit over the edge

she had to do it because she hated him so
more than just a casual hate was this
it burned and it fumed and it consumed her night beyond night

she hated him for stealing her youth
and for this he would pay
she hated him for controlling her life
and for this he would die

she couldn’t kill him herself, but she knew who to call
and the phone shook in her palm as she set the price
and when she hung up — thunder tore through the night laughing its evil laugh

rain pounded the window — like tears of the dead
lighting cracked the sky — like the cry of a tortured soul

today she’s 32 and the sun shines bright in her little town
but tears still rain down her cheeks night beyond night
she can picture his face and often wonders what things would be like if only she…
she can picture his face and often thinks — he soon would be turning four.

written 23 OCT 1992 while airborne between Dallas and Miami.
©1992, 2017 — Kent C. Williamson, In Search of Many Schemes

Inside the Journal: The poem as it originally was written on October 23rd, 1992 on a flight from Dallas to Miami. Kent was on his way to Haiti to film a documentary for a Haitian-based organization called Eben-Ezer Mission.
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Charlottesville’s Summer of Racism

The Summer of 2017 will probably be remembered as a Summer of Racism… at least from the mass media’s point of view. In my little town of Charlottesville, Virginia, it really began brewing in the Spring after our City Council voted to remove two Confederate war statues from a couple of parks downtown. That decision was soon put on hiatus for 6 months by the court system, but at the same time City Council also voted to rename the two parks from Jackson & Lee to Justice & Emancipation respectively, and that decision was put into place right away.

On the 13th of May, a rally (unofficially sponsored by Tiki Brand torches) took place in Lee/Emancipation Park (or Leemancipation Park for short). This was a precursor of the Alt-Right Jamboree on the 12th of August where White Supremacists (mostly out-of-towners) and Antifa (probably also mostly non-locals) politely exchanged business cards and agreed to meet up for drinks to hash through their differences and better understand each other… I mean, beat on, screamed at, and pepper-sprayed each other while Police in riot gear watched from a distance and helped clean up the mess after the melee was over. And of course, both of those racist events were the crusty slices of stale bread on each side of our KKK sandwich. Back on the 8th of July, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan came to town for their protest in Jackson/Justice Park (or Jackson4Justice Park). I attended both the KKK rally and the Alt-Right fiasco with a camera on my shoulder to document these moments of Charlottesville’s history and from my perspective the KKK rally was a walk in the park compared to the Alt-Right/Antifa mess.

So that’s been Charlottesville’s Summer of Racism (the 2017 edition). It’s clear that White Supremacy exists and at these rallies they get their chance to come to our town and bang their drum, but all of the rallies, City Council meetings, and discussions about racism has made me wonder… what does racism really look like on a normal day in Charlottesville? Not when people come to town to argue over statues and spread their hate, but what does racism look like on a day-to-day basis here?

The community memorial in memory of Heather Heyer on Fourth Street in Charlottesville. The Race Jewelers sign glows through the window from their store located on the corner of Fourth Street SE and Water Street.

For the last six months or so I’ve been asking my friends and colleagues where they see racism in action… not the racism you hear about on the news, not the systemic racism that effects our society but often makes me feel helpless to try to change, not the racism that a friend told you a story about, but the racism that you personally witness, experience, or even may participate in. As I’ve asked this question, I’ve seen the looks on my friends faces as they think about the question; white faces, black faces, and others. And you know what? The silence I’ve heard in response is very interesting.

Some of those I’ve asked jump right in with a story of racism they heard about in Chicago or some other city. Their example is about racism “out there”, which I don’t deny exists, but I try to pull them back to their own lives and direct experiences with racism. Often that’s when the crickets begin chirping. Not that racism doesn’t exist, we all know it does, but it just doesn’t often occur in their day-to-day experiences.

Now I’m the first to admit that the few friends I’ve had this conversation with in no way constitutes a scientific sampling. I also admit that my circle is relatively small; the company I run only has a handful of employees, the church I attend is cozy, yet somewhat diverse, the paths I walk are often off the beaten path. So that’s why I want to bring this up here… to broaden it out and to hear from you about your own up-close experiences with racism. How have you seen it? What does it look and feel like? If you have a story to share, I ask that you please respectfully share it so that each of us can benefit from your personal experience.

I’ll close with an interesting story dealing with race. Last month I spent a couple days with a new black friend of mine. We were able to share several meals together and spent a lot of time just hanging out and getting to know each other. As we ate, he told me about an important meeting he had just wrapped up with another African-American man. During the meeting, the man pulled him aside and said, “I’m glad you’re one of us!”, meaning, “I’m glad you’re black like us!” As my friend retold the event and let those words sink in, he shook his head in silence.

We’ve come a long way since the slaves were freed following the Civil War. We’ve come along way since Martin Luther King, Jr. walked across the bridge in Selma. And someday, maybe we’ll say we’ve come a long way since Charlottesville… but until then, no matter how far we’ve come, it often seems like we’ve barely taken a step.

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The Sadness of Charlottesville

There is much to be sad about here in Charlottesville. This past week our City Council voted to shroud our two prominent confederate statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The move is intended to be seen as a symbol of mourning over the death of Heather Heyer who was killed when she was struck by a car during the upheaval at the Alt-Right rally earlier this month. Unfortunately, the shrouds look a lot like giant garbage bags which immediately caught traction on social media with those who want these monuments torn down and tossed out like a plate of bad leftovers. A prominent photographer friend of mine posted a picture as the drapes were being placed on one of the statues. He ended his post with these words about Charlottesville… “This is not the place I use to know”. I won’t try and put words in my friends mouth about what exactly that means for him, but there is a bit of that sentiment in the air here.

Let me say that I don’t really consider myself a “Southerner”. I’ve lived in Virginia since 1993 and in Charlottesville since 1995, but I’m a Texan by birth. It’s true that Texas fought as part of the confederacy, but many from Texas are much more “Texans” than they are “Southerners”. As a matter of fact, lots of Texans are Texans before they are Americans, which you’ve probably encountered along the way. Let me also say that in no way am I part of “The South Will Rise Again” movement that we occasionally hear about. My ears always perk up when I hear stories of the secession of Texas (not that it would ever happen), but as Texans we tend to be independent folks who often think we can do things better on our own. BTW, the modern day discussions of secession have nothing to do with slavery, just in case anyone reading this is wondering that in this current climate.

So what do I find sad about the current ongoings?

• I find it sad that the great little city of Charlottesville has become known around the globe for the ugliness of White Supremacy and the ugliness of Antifa. I stood in the midst of both of these groups with a camera on my shoulder and saw some of the ugly parts of humanity. Both of these groups are tiny slivers of society and truly do not represent the great people of Charlottesville.

• I find it sad that “voices of reason” on both sides of the statue debate are totally drowned out by the extreme voices that the media loves to cover.

• I find it sad that the “f” word was used in abundance by many different people in their anger at our recent City Council meeting and that no one with any authority attempted to make the conversation more civil.

• I find it sad that one of our community members lost her life. And I find it sad that the “cause” has turned her name and identity into a rallying cry for their political purposes. Who was she? Most of us never knew her. Was she an artist? Did she excel at sports? Was she strong in math & science? Was she a church-goer? An atheist? Did she love animals? Who was she? Most of us will never know and now she has been immortalized by those who seized the opportunity and have collectively galvanized her into something that probably was only a very minor part of her life. That saddens me.

• I find it sad that more than 150 years have passed since the Civil War ended and that my black brothers and sisters still have to deal with the emotional and psychological chains of slavery. And I find it sad that even when the statues of Lee and Jackson are removed from their parks that the issues of racism won’t go away with the monuments. True, those who feel oppressed won’t have to look at the statues any longer, but all of those white supremacists will still blend into our society. Those who hate people for the color of their skin will still shop in the same stores, eat at the same restaurants, work at the same jobs, and hate with the same hate. The point is that the statues are not the problem… the heart of man is the problem.

• I find it sad that in the progressive little City of Charlottesville we’ve had parks for 100 years with statues of confederate generals, but no one ever worked hard to create a park dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr. or any other civil rights activists. What would the dialogue in Charlottesville be like today if 40 years ago the city had carved out a park and installed a statue of MLK? He has a performing arts center named after him, but buildings are different than statues.

• I find it sad that those who use this statue as a learning tool to never repeat the mistakes that our forefathers made, will no longer have that opportunity once the monuments are gone. I’m not one that looks at these statues as “heroes of slavery”. When I look at any confederate statue I look with a tinge of pain and grief and I’m also reminded of how lucky I am to even exist in this world. Two of my great-great-grandfathers (non-slave owners) fought for the South (one from Texas and one from Mississippi). The one from Texas left Cherokee County with 6,000 other men… only 600 returned from the war and he was one of them. So I consider myself very fortunate that he even survived, because if he hadn’t I wouldn’t be here. So my sadness about the tearing down of monuments has absolutely nothing to do with slavery. It has more to do with feeling of gratitude I get when I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to be alive in this world.

Ultimately, I believe that within each of us resides both the ability to do great good and the ability to do great evil. We are unbelievably complex creatures and Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were no different. As a follower of Christ, I try to focus on the good within me and unleash it onto those in society around me, while I try my best (and sometimes fail) to arrest the evil within me before it comes out and wreaks havoc. As Derri Daugherty of The Choir sings in “What You Think I Am”, “I’m nobody’s angel, I’m not that good. I’m no red devil In the wicked wood. I’m a dedicated minister and a downright sinister man. I’m a whole lot better and a whole lot worse than what you think I am.”

A friend from California recently asked me that when these statues come down, as Christians, “shouldn’t we be rejoicing?” I guess I don’t know. I’m sure some will see it that way and I understand their reasoning. As far as rejoicing, I want to rejoice whenever I see my black friends and neighbors accomplish great things. I have several that are filmmakers and artists and I want to celebrate with them in all of their accomplishments. I want to rejoice with the accomplishments of the civil rights movement. I’ve taken all of my kids to Selma, Alabama to walk the Edmond Pettus bridge and I’ve taken them all to Memphis, Tennessee to stare up at the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, because I want to instill in them a love and respect for the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and all that he did. I also want to rejoice when I see a black father loving on his kids and involved in their lives. They say now that over 70% of African-American’s are born out of wedlock. With statistics like that and the fact that the family unit is the building block of a society I would argue that the issue of “family” is far more important today than the issues of “slavery” and “oppression”, but unfortunately, nobody’s out in our parks and streets marching about that.

This article  originally appeared in a slightly modified form as a response to a Facebook post.

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Charlottesville’s Mid-Life Crisis

The mid-life crisis of my little city of Charlottesville, Virginia, has taken a turn for the worse. At Saturday’s Alt-Right Rally we lost 3 lives. One hit by what appears to be a madman in a vehicle, who also injured a number of others in his moment of rage, and two Virginia State Troopers who died when their helicopter crashed into the earth.

Following last month’s KKK rally here in Charlottesville, which I also wrote about, the city began to brace itself for this version of the racial hornets’ nest. After seeing and hearing the bubbling hatred from both sides at the KKK rally I expected something similarly disappointing yesterday, and let’s just say that unfortunately, the Alt-Right rally exceeded my expectations.

As a filmmaker and a documentarian I approach events like these from a very different viewpoint than most who attend. I try my best to be like a fly on the wall, pointing my camera in the direction of the most interesting action in front of me and capturing what it sees—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I don’t currently have a plan to make a film or even a short video from the material I’ve captured, but I realize the significance of these events and so I feel almost obligated to be there to be the eyes and ears of those who can’t, those who choose not to attend, and for future generations. This is a part of how I serve both my community and my society.

That’s what I was doing at the Alt-Right Rally when I was punched three times in the face by one of those “peaceful counter-protestors” you’ve probably heard so much about. Fortunately for me, she was the 5 foot, 92 pound variety of counter-protestor and not the 6 foot, 300 pound version. Besides knocking off my glasses and roughing up my lip a bit, I’m no worse for the wear. This occurred early at the rally when I was attempting to film something that she and a few of her friends didn’t want filmed. That’s when she started throwing her punches. What was I trying to capture with my camera when this occurred? A couple of counter-protestors had been pepper-sprayed and were receiving aid. I was trying to document people helping their fellow man when I became the victim of her fury and rage. It’s crazy what will set people off when they are so on edge at a rally like this. I guess in some way it’s probably easier to punch a middle-aged member of the media with a 20 pound camera on his shoulder than it is to punch one of the young, angry, racist, alt-right members with pepper spray in his hand. Unfortunately, the greatest harm she did was to my camera. She grabbed a cable and yanked it with both hands which ripped it in half and left my viewfinder inoperable for the remainder of the day. Imagine trying to document an event like this without being able to see what your filming.

The hatred I saw at the Alt-Right rally flows in both directions. The hatred of white supremacists is it’s own ugly breed of hate. It’s a type of evil that must consume it’s carrier like a cancer, eating away at any good healthy cells that remain. In many ways, it’s easier to diagnose than it is to cure, but at least it’s diagnosable. We can label it, call it what it is, and weep for the victims it claims. Or, as I witnessed at the rally, we can label it as racism, call it what it is, and then become consumed with hatred toward the person who caught the disease. Now the hatred I saw from the counter-protestors is not nearly as easy to label, define, or diagnose. This makes their version of hatred more complex and perhaps more insidious. I fully believe in the idea of a “righteous anger” where the ideas of racism and white supremacy can anger us to the point of action. But our actions are very telling. If we examine them carefully, our actions can let us know if we crossed the line from “righteous anger” into pure hatred—which is what I witnessed at the rally in Charlottesville.

One benefit of a rally of hate like this is that the hatred from both sides is evident and on display. I consider this a benefit, because it’s good to be able to look into someone’s eyes and know what they hate. It’s very revealing. The concern, of course—the danger—is the harsh reality that when the rally is over, and the outfits, gas masks, and flags are all put away, these people just blend right back into the society around us. They go to work with us. They eat at restaurants at the next table over. They walk our streets. And although their wardrobe and signs might be back in their closets, the hatred they have for their cause is still in their hearts.

There was a lot of violence yesterday which made it very different from the KKK rally last month. And as I examine the two events in my mind I think much of yesterday’s chaos could have been avoided with one simple addition to the layout at the park; the media moat. At the KKK rally there were two sets of barriers between the KKK members and the counter-protestors. This double-fence (provided by the City) gave a gap of ten or twelve feet between the anger of each side. This “moat” was only accessible by members of the press. I could point my camera in either direction and capture the rally and the counter-protest. Yesterday at Lee Park there was no media moat provided. This put members of the media right into the midst of the melee where they could get punched in the face. The Alt-Right Rally had more participants than the KKK rally did which may have made the moat harder to establish, but I really believe that if the city of Charlottesville had provided a media moat that the violence between the two groups could have been stemmed.

Perhaps one of the overlooked consequences from yesterday’s event was what I call the “hijacking of statue protection”. For those who may not be aware, both the KKK rally and the Alt-Right rally stem from a decision that Charlottesville City Council made to remove two confederate statues from two public parks. The park where yesterday’s rally occurred contains the statue of General Robert E. Lee and the park where the KKK gathered has a statue of Stonewall Jackson. Charlottesville has a good number of level-headed non-racists, including some black friends of mine, who don’t want the statues removed from the parks. But I’m afraid yesterday’s events will make it much harder for their voices to be heard. Why? Because now it will be very easy for the left to equate “statue protectors” with “racist, white-supremacists”. I can hear it now, “Oh, you’re one of them. How dare you want to keep the statues. Why don’t you take your racist, hate-filled ideas and leave this town?” I’m guessing after yesterday, it will be a bit easier for those who want the statues removed to hate those good citizens who want to keep them. May our potentially misguided assumptions of others not foster division among the good, well-meaning people of this city.

Which brings me to the Reverend Martin Luther King,Jr. One of my favorite quotes of his is this… “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” I don’t know how we do it, but I believe that love is a better response to the evils of racism than hatred can ever be. We must find ways of living out this type of love in our communities. Every time we are called names, or spit on, or punched in the face, we must… we must retaliate with love. Hatred breeds only more hatred, but a righteous anger can lead us to love and I truly believe that love conquers all.

As the events were winding down yesterday around Lee Park, I was walking the streets thanking individual police officers and members of the National Guard for doing their jobs. I looked down in the gutter along Market Street and saw the most profound sight of the day. Laying there among the trash was a plastic bronze eagle, the type that would adorn the tip of a flag, perhaps the flag of one of the racists at the rally, perhaps. But what made it profound was that the head of the eagle was tucked under a discarded face mask that someone had used to protect themselves from pepper spray. A bronze eagle that represents America’s freedom, made out of plastic (probably in China), lying discarded in a gutter trying to breathe through a face mask. I stared at it for a moment and then I knelt down and picked it, tucked it securely into my pocket, and walked away.

UPDATED: 3:20pm, August 13, 2017 — This article was updated to adjust event timing to “yesterday” where one instance originally said “today” and to include the following paragraph which was omitted in the original…  “One benefit of a rally of hate like this is that the hatred from both sides is evident and on display. I consider this a benefit, because it’s good to be able to look into someone’s eyes and know what they hate. It’s very revealing. The concern, of course—the danger—is the harsh reality that when the rally is over, and the outfits, gas masks, and flags are all put away, these people just blend right back into the society around us. They go to work with us. They eat at restaurants at the next table over. The walk our streets. And although their wardrobe and signs might be back in their closets, the hatred they have for their cause is still in their hearts.”

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The KKK Took My Cville Away

I awoke this morning disappointed… and a little encouraged. Yesterday I attended my first KKK rally right here in my little city of Charlottesville, Virginia. If you’re curious as to why I attended a rally of the Ku Klux Klan you can read my reasoning here. The rally went off as expected. The KKK preached their hate. There was a large police presence. I witnessed several non-Klan arrests and saw 3 pepper grenades deployed to help disperse the crowd afterwards. All in all it was an afternoon of “entertainment”, our town made the national news, nobody was shot or seriously injured, I was documenting the event and captured some great footage… so why do I awake today disappointed?

I’m certainly not disappointed with the members of the KKK. They delivered exactly what they promised… a protest against the removal of confederate statues in Charlottesville. They applied for their permit to demonstrate, it was granted by the city, and the police presence protected them throughout the event. I don’t agree with their message, in fact, I’m staunchly against it, but I love the fact that I live in a country where all speech can be protected by our constitution and our police force—even hate speech. The moment that is taken away, we all have something more serious than the KKK to worry about.

My disappointment did not begin until the KKK showed up about 45 minutes late. Prior to their arrival at Jackson Park (now called Justice Park) the crowd was chanting things like “Black Lives Matter Here” and I found myself proud to live in a town that was willing to stand up to threats and defend the black lives in our community. And then the KKK arrived and the mood shifted drastically. The chants in defense of black lives became curses of white men in robes. The love and support being spoken of our black brothers and sisters turned into group hatred being demonstrated toward the protestors. “F— you, KKK!”, “Go to hell, KKK!” And while the venom continued to build within the counter-protestors, the majority of them never realized that their hatred toward their fellow men and women is not very different at all than the hatred of the KKK. In one sense “hate is hate”. It’s much easier to feel justified in our hate when we are part of a majority that hates the actions or beliefs of a minority, but reality is that hatred is hatred. It eats our souls, consumes us, and eventually spits out our bones.

I was also disappointed with the counter-protestors comments and reaction to the police presence. Printed signs and vocal chants of “Cops and Klan go hand in hand” were seen and heard throughout the park. People yelling at state and city police officers, “Why are you protecting them?”, “Is this how our tax dollars are being spent?”, and “You’re just as bad as the KKK!” were heard through the duration of the rally and afterwards. The negativity toward the police was so bad that I stopped filming for a while and instead walked the entire media moat that separated the crowd from the KKK and told every police officer I saw (probably 30 of them) “Thank you!” for doing their job. I wanted each of them to know that at least someone appreciated what they were doing. And what exactly were they doing? They were not there to protect the KKK (even though they did that as part of their jobs) but they were there to protect the voice of dissent. And for that I am unbelievably grateful. The police presence alone probably cost the city $100,000 or more. And as I stood there watching the Ku Klux Klan spread their venom, I thought to myself, “Thank God I live in a country that allows these voices I disagree with to be heard” and “Thank God we pay our police to help make this type of event safer for everyone.”

So this is our America; a place where haters can apply for a demonstration permit and have it granted, a place where counter-protestors can believe their hatred is more “pure”, “just”, “moral”, or “righteous” than the other guy’s hatred, and a place where police officers will get up in the morning to do their job to the best of their abilities all while hoping they’ll get to come home that night and tuck their kids into bed. I won’t soon forget talking to a black, female police officer at the rally yesterday. I thanked her for doing her job and mentioned something about this having to be one of the craziest days for her on the force. Her sigh, head nod, and the look in her eye told me I was 100% right.

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Screenwriting: Writing Your No-Budget Feature

I wrote this article back in 1999, but when I recently re-read it I realized there is a lot of valuable information for no-budget screenwriters to consider. So without further adieu…

Fade In:  The bus flies over the cliff. The airplane misses the runway. The stadium is packed with screaming fans. These are scenes you do not want to find anywhere near the script for your no-budget feature. Why? Because you have no budget and these scenes require money… and often quite a bit of money.

The first screenplay I ever completed was a thrilling adventure of a young U.S. serviceman who had to escape from Russia with top secret documents and, of course, he fell in love along the way. Russian Skies included location shooting in Russia, Norway, and the United States. It also required a high-altitude hydrogen balloon, a submarine, and to top it off, it was a period piece set in 1956.

This screenplay was obviously written for a Hollywood-type and has collected far more dust than I ever thought it would. Over the next few years I continued writing for big, juicy budgets and along the way I discovered something… my screenplays were not getting produced! Yikes! So I decided to do something about it and I set out to produce my own no-budget feature.

When I started writing When Love Walks In (my no-budget project) I was forced to look at things very differently. I knew from the beginning that filming in my living room would cost far less than filming in some foreign country. So I decided on a modern day love story, cast myself as the lead, and begged my wife to let a film crew take over our house.

Filming a scene in the dining room into the living room of my duplex where we shot When Love Walks In. Notice our flatbed garden dolly which we bought for $99. It wasn’t perfect, but it did the job for this low-budget feature.

Writing no-budget films is very different than writing your average Hollywood feature. For starters, with a no-budget project you most likely will be using no-name talent. This means many things, but most importantly it means that you had better have a very good story to tell. It is your story and your story alone which will keep the audience watching. Make it the best it can be.

Your story also must be shootable. What does this mean? It means don’t include a bus careening over a cliff unless you have someone willing to donate a bus, a cliff, and a stunt man to your cause.

Carefully consider the locations you will need. As I got further into my script, I started exploring what locations I might have or realistically be able to get access to. I knew I could use my living room… and my bedroom, guest room, and bathroom… not to mention kitchen, dining room, basement, deck and yard. These locations would not add much production value, but they would be very functional for a good chunk of the film.

My house was the only location I could guarantee use of, and to tell the story of When Love Walks In, I would need two more houses, a park, an outdoor mall, a couple fields, a daycare center, a vineyard, an art gallery, and a train station. For these I would have to rely on the generous people of my community (and a few insane friends). In remarkable fashion, they all came through for me.

Prepping to film the climatic scene at the train station where John Redgrave catches up to Annelise and begs her not to leave. At the time the old train depot was a library so we coordinated with our local librarian to secure the location for this scene.

Here are several other areas to consider when writing your no-budget feature:

  • Characters – Will you find actors who can play your roles? For free? For points?
  • Number of Locations – The more locations required, the more complicated and costly production will be.
  • Props – Can you get everything you need? Can you afford to buy them? What do you have sitting around the house? Who can you borrow from? (I needed an urn to hold the dead wife’s ashes, so I asked the minister of my church. He pointed me to a man in our congregation who owns a funeral home. This man was thrilled to help.)
  • Vehicles – Can cast members drive their own cars in the movie? For example, if the person playing the part of John owns a 1985 Mazda with three hubcaps and no paint, then in the movie John drives the Mazda… unless he can talk the soundman into lending his car.
  • Wardrobe – Be prepared to raid your actor’s closets and visit Goodwill.
  • Stunts – Keep them to a minimum if you need them at all.
  • Extras – Watch out for scenes requiring a lot of extras.

Be practical as you write your no-budget feature. Write it shootable… but most importantly just write it. If you don’t get the script finished you’ll never make the film. And if you never make the film, you will never experience the thrill of no-budget filmmaking.

Some of the cast & crew from When Love Walks In. Left to right: David Oulashian, Brad Embree, Karen Williamson, Savannah Williamson, Ahmad Russell, Terri Moore, Nick Bovee, Chase Williamson, Kent C. Williamson, Ardath Williamson, Ed Williamson, Brad Williamson, and Morris Priddy

2017 UPDATE: A couple of items of interest… Russian Skies the high-budget screenplay mentioned in this article still has not been produced (which means it’s still available or still collecting dust depending on your take). When Love Walks In wasn’t released until 2005. It won a number of awards at festivals and is still finding audiences today.

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The Curtain Has Closed On My Forties…

Well, last night the curtain closed on my forties, which means that today it opens on my fifties. For the last few years I’ve had a sinking feeling about the arrival of this day. Mainly because from 47 though 49 I thought of myself as “late forties”, but at 50 it’s really hard to think of yourself as anything more than “middle aged”. Of course, if we’re lucky enough to get 70 years, then I guess 35 is really the middle, so welcome to “middle age” my 35 year old friends.

Last night I celebrated my last day of 49 by watching the opening night performance of the Arthur Miller classic Death of a Salesman at Live Arts here in Charlottesville. The Pulitzer Prize winning play tells the story of Willie Loman, a washed up traveling salesman who has a hard time recognizing the emptiness and ordinariness of his life and whose desire to make the necessary changes is just not quite strong enough. It’s a brilliantly written story that some find depressing, but in it there is a painful hope as Willie’s son Biff comes to terms with his own emptiness and takes charge of his life to begin the process of change; to pull out of the downward spiral that consumes his father.

In many ways Willie Loman is “everyman”. His emptiness is our emptiness. His ordinariness is our ordinariness. His struggle to make a better life is our struggle. Even in hard circumstances we see glimmers of hope of how life could be better. Sometimes we pursue that hope and the doors open, but like Willie, sometimes those doors close.

I don’t believe in happenstance — I believe in design. Which is why I had to be in the audience of Death of a Salesman on my last night of my forties (an audience who, by the way, gave a standing ovation to the cast of the show — Bravo!). Over the last week as my turning 50 drew nearer I began to have an amazing (even surprising) sense of peace about this big day. And guess what I realized? It’s you, my friends, who will make “middle age” so wonderful.

When I was in my 30’s I didn’t have many friends in their 60’s and 70’s, but now in my 50’s I do. I also now have many friends in their 20’s and 30’s. This alone is going to make my middle age 50’s an enormous joy; the wisdom of those ahead of me, and the crazy adventure of those coming into their own behind me. In many ways I feel like I’m perfectly balanced on one of those old school teeter-totters; my older friends on one side and my younger friends on the other… perfectly balanced.

So as I stand on the edge of a new decade of life allow me to make a declaration (my anti Willie Loman declaration). As long as God allows me to stand on this great green earth I intend to do the following: to create out loud (films, art, beauty), to emote out loud (tears, laughter, joy), and mostly, to love out loud (family, friends, even enemies). I hope you will help keep me accountable to these passions and that you may even be inspired to pursue your own.

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