Film School 101

About that whole interested-in-filmmaking talk I’ve been rambling on for the past half a decade…Well, it’s finally being realized. Matthew Perdie moved to Alabama, and has temporarily taken up residence in the Fair Hills Farm Guest House as a live-in tutor in filmmaking for the Read family. Having our minds crammed with months and years worth of film school in a few weeks hasn’t been the smoothest and most peaceful process. But we’re learning a lot, and the prospects of future productions are exciting!

The lessons have involved film analysis…

More "Notorious".

Analyzing Hitchcock’s “Notorious” has been thrilling and amusing.

Rachel filmed a clip of the scene in which Devlin "finds out Alicia is assigned a spy job which requires her getting lovey dove with another man."

DEVLIN’S “CONSTERNATION”: Rachel filmed a clip of the scene in which Devlin “finds out Alicia is assigned a spy job which requires her getting lovey dove with another man.”

More Hitchcock...this time, "Rear Window".

More Hitchcock…this time, “Rear Window”.

Now for some good ol' historical drama...John Adams (2008).

Now for some good ol’ historical drama…John Adams (2008).

…as well as producing our own short films.

Amanda's Epic Fail

My first attempt at actress/director. You can see the result in my face: This just bombed.

Oh, the complexities of editing a movie!

Oh, the complexities of editing a movie!

THE LIST Screen Test (Lesson 5, 360p)

Amanda Read and Matthew Perdie experiment with a scene from one of their project scripts. The bonus blooper reel demonstrates improvised ways of staging the same scene, which is actually written to take place at a café bar. “Fred and Ginger’s” was a café name invented by Rachel Read while playing around on the chalk board during staging.

Playing Chess (Lesson 2, 360p)

How is Ben to keep his big sister Beth from beating him in chess? Little sister Becca comes in handy…This short film was made on day three of our film school with Matthew Perdie. Our roles were assigned to us at random upon drawing our names out of a basket. We added an amusing blooper at the end, which gives a glimpse of the challenge behind directing small children (and having a young boy hold the boom mic for so long).

Closet Doors (Lesson 1, 360p)

A little boy attempts to sneak past his brother to get a board game out of the closet on a stormy day when he gets more than he bargained for. (This is the result of our first film lesson with Matthew Perdie. He gave us the assignment of shooting a short film in five hours with no advice or help with equipment we had never learned how to use before. Amanda had a more elaborate, lighthearted plot idea, but when we started running out of time, the plot took a dark turn – no pun intended, but we misjudged the lighting too on that stormy day.)

Look at that! The green screen at Longleaf Studios!

Look at that! The green screen at Longleaf Studios!

We’ve also done a little location scouting for the web series. Until next time…

Get ready for the adventure!

Get ready for the adventure!


The Power of Narrative

Our languishing culture is made up of individuals, not a collective mass audience. Most of them are blasé, complacent individuals. To simply confront them with holier-than-thou accusations or rah-rah chants is fruitless. Moral outrage doesn’t make sense to them anymore, and misplaced skepticism is profuse. How do you cure a patient who refuses to believe they are ill?

This is an age-old problem with an age-old solution. Do not merely inform them. Show them.

Imagine the thoughts that must have gone through the prophet’s mind as he walked to the residence of the King of Israel. Nathan was approaching David, the legendary musician and warrior who was – as God Himself said – a man after God’s own heart.

But David had just committed adultery with Bathsheba, and after learning she was pregnant by him he deliberately had her husband put on the front line of the fiercest battle so that he would be killed. After Bathsheba mourned her husband’s death, David took her as his wife. David had disgraced himself in front of YAHWEH, but he had grown so full of himself that he hadn’t even realized it.

How did the prophet break the news to the complacent king? With a parable.

Despite its subtlety, the story was powerful enough that David empathized with the story’s protagonist who was done wrong. He was so outraged by its heartless antagonist, in fact, that he said, “As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die” (II Samuel 12:5).

Then Nathan exclaimed, “YOU are the man!”

The realization brought David to his knees. He felt conviction because he had witnessed his own actions analogized in a story he had never heard before – a story from which he was otherwise personally detached. He was thus caught vulnerable, with no witty excuse prepared in order to plead his innocence. David was truly guilty.

The American people need to be told stories about themselves that they haven’t heard before – stories that suddenly reveal that the sort of character we despised is what we ourselves have become.

That’s why Matthew Perdie and I (likely to be joined by my siblings and some friends) are planning a venture into narrative film. He’s doing all the groundwork in New York City while I’m doing the screenwriting out here in Ohatchee, Alabama. I experimented with screenwriting a few years ago, and as I have just three classes left before graduating from college, I look forward to trying my hand at it again. Historical drama and epic are my passion, but modern themes will likely be explored first.

Our goal will be to use narrative film to awaken people’s consciences to seek the truth.

Alabama recovering from tornadoes, country music stars plan benefit concert

OHATCHEE, Al., May 18, 2011 – On June 14th, “Bama Rising: A Benefit Concert for Alabama Tornado Recovery” presented by Verizon will take place at the BJCC arena in Birmingham. Among the artists to be featured are Taylor Hicks, Kellie Pickler, Martina McBride, Bo Bice, Sara Evans, Ashton Shepherd, Darius Rucker and the group ALABAMA, which will be reuniting for this performance, having retired in 2003.

The Bama Rising website quotes ALABAMA’s Randy Owen stating on behalf of the group, “My hope is that this will bring happiness and help to my fellow citizens in Alabama. I believe it’s extremely important that we do this benefit, and I want everyone in the state to feel like they are part of it. I hope we all can pull together to help get through the worst natural disaster I’ve ever seen in Alabama. I appreciate my friends in country music, everyone that’s been involved, and anyone that’s helped in any way.”

Tickets will be available on Friday, May 20th at 11:00 A.M. Central Time, ranging in price from $25-$150.

In light of the many events that have happened, I’ve struggled to figure out which article should serve as my column’s overdue breakfast. It’s fun to appear invincible online publicly, without having to acknowledge that my absence was due to such mundane things as midterm exams, final exams, and lack of electricity, water, telephone, internet and sleep. But I suppose it would only be fitting and proper to acknowledge some of the issues before more time passes…

Click here to continue reading at The Washington Times Communities.


LITTLE BROTHERS AFTER THE STORM: David (8) and Benjamin (4) Read inspect damage from a tree that fell across the family swimming pool and garden arbor. (Photo by Abigail Read)

NOW WE HAVE TO CLEAN IT ALL UP: Joseph Read (16) takes a look at an uprooted tree. To put it in perspective, he's at least 6 feet tall. (Photo by Abigail Read)

SURVIVED THE STORM: A Canadian goose nesting at our pond hatched out three adorable goslings right after the tornado. (Photo by Abigail Read)

“For You have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm…” – Isaiah 25:4

Alabama governor ridiculed for evangelistic remarks

Governor Bentley

As a citizen of Alabama, I’m always on the lookout for news from my state that would interest a national audience enough to highlight in a column. Thus, the other day I was at first excited to see that our new governor had made broad headlines.

Disappointingly, the story turned out to be another one of those nonissues that only get attention because the media knows the effective additives to leaven them with.

After his inauguration on January 17th, Governor Robert Bentley (R-AL) spoke to a large crowd at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (once pastored by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.). David White of The Birmingham News reported the incident as follows:

“‘There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit,’ Bentley said. ‘But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have, and like you have if you’re a Christian and if you’re saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.’

Bentley added, ‘Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.’”

In summary, Bentley reiterated Jesus Christ’s message of spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood (Matthew 12:50, Mark 3:35, Luke 8:21) to a bunch of churchgoers, and extended a hand to any in the audience who might not yet be followers of Christ…

Click here to continue reading at The Washington Times Communities.

Alabama Policy Institute Dinner features Fred Barnes, Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Moore

Photo by Brandon Robbins

Photo by Brandon Robbins

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., November 11, 2010 – The conservative outcome of the midterm elections was a reigning topic of the Alabama Policy Institute’s Annual Dinner, which took place at the Cahaba Grand Conference center. Established in 1989, the API is “a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families,” and drew an audience of 1100 people to its annual dinner.

Alabama’s newly elected governor and lieutenant governor, Robert Bentley and Kay Ivey attended the event. Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Moore and Fred Barnes formed the panel of guest speakers, all of whom have spoken at previous API events.

“The panelists are all people whose opinions and insights are highly regarded,” Gary Palmer, API president and panel moderator told me via e-mail. “In addition, they are all individuals that I have known for many years and that have also known each other for many years. I think the familiarity helps account for the excellent chemistry of the panel.” …

Click here to continue reading at The Washington Times Communities.

My father took this picture of me with Fred Barnes

My father took this picture of me with Fred Barnes

Election Day thoughts – oh, the insane diversions!


Yesterday, S.E. Cupp published a humorous list of this election season’s bright spots, blunders and oddities. As the hours count down to the moment that everything is said and done at the polls, I think I might be able to expand her list slightly.

Alabama is playing a relatively quiet role in this round of elections. But the other night, a negative political ad in my own state finally caught my eye as it flashed across the television screen. In fact, it made me laugh out loud:

A Supreme Court Justice who…might end a woman’s right to vote. What else do you need to know about Tom Parker?

Whoa, flashback to the race in Florida between Alan Grayson and Daniel Webster. Grayson released a bizarre attack ad calling Webster “Taliban Dan,” including strategically edited footage of Webster saying the words “submit to me” in a church service. Apparently when the going gets tough in a campaign, blowing the damsel in distress caller is presumed to be an effective lure for voters (it’s easier to blow than a turkey caller, too)…

Click here to continue reading at The Washington Times Communities.

Dr. Wiley would not approve: BP’s Corexit mythology

Harvey Wiley in his lab; heart shaped oil glob at Gulf Shores, AL (courtesy Rachel Read)

Harvey Wiley in his lab; heart shaped oil glob at Gulf Shores, AL (courtesy Rachel Read)

What part of “acute health hazard” does BP not understand? History shows why government approval doesn’t mean much.

This month Orange Beach, Ala., resident Margaret Long discovered residue of BP’s dispersant of choice – Corexit – floating by her house on Cotton Bayou. The uncomfortable proximity of toxic dispersant is not a surprise to those of us living in Gulf states.

Two months ago, I strolled along the Gulf Shores, Ala., beach to find a long, snaky boom floating across the surf and “BP mobiles” (as we dubbed them) scuttling about, scraping petroleum residue off the white sand. While examining the boom, I stepped on a sticky tar ball. Along with other beachgoers, I had to stand in line near the hose and bucket labeled “Tar Wash” to scrub the stubborn substance off my bare feet. One man present told me about a friend of his having asthmatic attacks during a beach visit. “From the petroleum in the air?” I asked. He seemed to both nod and shrug at once. The air did have a faint tarlike odor.

But, ironically, the petroleum substance causing allergic reactions probably didn’t spill out of the depths of the Gulf.

The petroleum-based dispersant employed by BP in cleaning up the worst environmental disaster on record actually may be an agent of disaster in itself.  Corexit is fast becoming an infamous name, with the toxicity of its makeup being more than suspicious. The same brand of dispersant was used during cleanup of the Exxon Valdez spill more than 20 years ago, and the average lifespan of every cleanup member exposed to it is 51 years. Nearly all of those crew members are now dead.

None of this matters to a panicking oil company, of course. Corexit is government approved.

But government approval isn’t genuinely worth much and hasn’t been for quite a while.  To figure that out, simply follow the story of Harvey Wiley (1844-1930), chief of the Bureau of Chemistry (a precursor to the FDA). He also happens to be the star of the screenplay mentioned in my silly little bio. During the Teddy Roosevelt administration, Wiley managed to bring the hazardous adulterations in the food and drug industries to the attention of Congress. After years of researching the effects of preservatives and additives used by many manufacturers, Wiley helped write the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act.

The law was barely enacted before a convoluted legal battle took place that manipulated the definitions of the act for the dissenting manufacturers’ benefit. The Pure Food and Drug Law was far too popular nationwide to overturn, so the companies that were sloppy in their practices managed to find scientists who produced data that made their crimes look less heinous. Their allies in Congress subsequently amended the law to suite their tastes. The result was power vested in a new board of unscrupulous scientists instead of the Bureau of Chemistry. All the substances that Wiley predicted would insidiously cause disease – from sodium benzoate to saccharin – were “government approved,” and the American public has been consuming them (plus more) for more than a century.

Thus, BP’s Corexit splurge is certainly not the first time that long-term health and safety has been sacrificed for short-term profit.

We could possibly cut the instigators at BP a little slack if no other cleanup option existed. But, in reality, there are plenty of effective, less toxic and natural methods available, such as that offered by OSEI. Corexit is actually known to be less effective than some of the other options. Furthermore, we have even more vivid historical and scientific evidence of its harmfulness than Wiley ever could have acquired about toxic preservatives through his Poison Squad: We have the chilling aftermath of the Exxon Valdez cleanup to observe!

But money speaks louder than evidence to ticklish ears.

Nalco, the synthetics company that makes Corexit, has Rodney F. Chase among its board of directors. Before coming to Nalco, Chase worked at BP for 38 years. That leaves much financial expediency to the imagination. Furthermore, BP obviously wants to dump into the sea whatever it takes to make the oil “disappear” quickly and easily, and, thus, help keep its fines low and reputation high. The dissenting manufacturers in Wiley’s day wanted to dump into their sub-par products whatever it took to make them look fresh and nutritious and, thus, keep their profits and reputation high. Both schemes have been scorned by the American public – we the people who end up suffering the consequences.

The primary purpose of our nation’s government is to protect its people. Wiley insisted that, for the safety of the American people, the Bureau of Chemistry ought to abide by the standard that no substances are to be released to the public until first proved harmless. The Food and Drug Administration standard of today seems to have eroded to allow anything on the market until it is proved harmful.  Based on the dispersants given the green light, the Environmental Protection Agency seems no different.  I have to add here that the FDA seems to have jumped onto the Corexit bandwagon, even arguing back in May:

“As part of FDA’s effort to monitor the development of this crisis and its potential impact on the safety of seafood harvested from the Gulf of Mexico, this is an assessment of the potential toxic human health impact of the chemical dispersants as per their potential to adversely impact seafood…Though early dispersants contained agents highly toxic to marine life, manufacturers have refined formulations of more recent generations of dispersants to dramatically reduce toxicity…In conclusion, the available information indicates that dispersants have little or no effect on the bioaccumulation potential of oil contaminants, nor do they themselves accumulate in seafood.”

That argument sounds eerily similar to arguments with which Wiley was faced.  I don’t mean to make you ill, but that’s coming from the same department that approves the food and medicine on your shelves.

While researching for and writing The Crusading Chemist (which I hope to revise again), one of the historical threads I discovered and worked to incorporate into the script is the tension between government and science. Government, in this sense, can refer to the political operations of a country or company, and, by nature, it desires some sort of stable, unchanging system to rule. Science, however, is a tentative medium. In politics, tentative equals manipulative.

At the beginning of this month, federal scientists were unabashedly announcing that most of the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico was gone. In other words, “Look, our strategy is working! The dispersant is busting up the oil – who cares if it’s busting red blood cells too?”

But soon scientists in Georgia called attention to evidence that perhaps 80 percent of the spilled oil remains, merely drifting deep beneath the surface of the sea. That’s what Corexit does — mess with the oil’s molecular structure so that it sinks rather than floats. The oil spill is being swept under the rug, not cleaned up.

Reflect for a moment on the origin of this disaster. It wasn’t oil or offshore drilling alone that contributed to it.  These industries offer a great deal to our economy and should not be naively considered to only equal bizarre disaster.  Rather, notice that it was the preposterous notion of drilling in dangerously deep water that initiated the fiasco.

Meanwhile, 19 million acres of flat, empty, essentially barren land brimming with oil are sitting atop Alaska: ANWR. As Greta Van Susteren discovered while touring the enormous state with Todd and Sarah Palin, many misconceptions about ANWR exist because of misleading agendas. So, while BP is shooting itself (and the coast – and ocean life) in the foot way out at sea, there is untapped potential way out in no-man’s land that could be utilized in far safer ways.

The ruthless antics of British Petroleum are not signs of a capitalist problem or whatever-ideology-is-politically-expedient-to-attack problem. They are rooted in the human problem of careless ambition. As sources of order and information, both government and science are powerful tools. But, as human institutions, both are only a human ego away from imploding.

Powerful men can’t stand to be proved wrong.

Read more of Amanda’s column Not Your Average Read in the Communities at The Washington Times

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