Saturday, December 8, 2012

Storytelling Starts with Family

My Uncle Jimmy died on Friday night.  My mom’s older brother was the first “creative” person I ever knew.  He had an amazing ear for music and could pick up just about any instrument and play it.  He was a carpenter, builder, creator who spent most of his career building various structures for others.  But what fascinated me the most about him was his interest and talent in photography.

He was the photographer at my parent’s wedding in 1969.  I only saw a few select shots growing up and I remember my Mom telling me that in many of the pictures she’s telling him to hurry up.  And in the more formal portrait shots with grandparents or parents, either she or my dad had their mouth open.   When my parents celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary I asked my Uncle Jimmy if I could have his negatives and any other prints he had from their wedding.  I wanted to print some shots for a surprise party planned for my parents.  When I started looking through everything he shot, I found that the ones I really loved were the more candid, documentary style shots, not as popular for wedding photography in those days.  They captured the essence, joy and story of the event.  And they gave me insight into the “youthful” versions of my whole family.

A snapshot of one of my favorite Uncle Jimmy photographs
When I was born, my uncle was already a father to three beautiful daughters, giving his 5 siblings 3 nieces, Debi, Sheri, and Tresi, to play with and spoil.  I was his first niece or nephew, and that was unique to him and me.  He had 11 total nieces and nephews on our side of the family.  But I was the first.  One of my favorite family pictures is one he took when my parents first brought me to Dallas to meet the family.  I have it framed and hanging in my stairwell.  He’s not in it, because he took it, but it tells a story.  He caught a moment– not everyone is looking at the camera, or even smiling.  You have a few faces barely visible, but you get a sense of the pride and excitement my aunts, uncles and grandfather had that day.  There I am perched atop my cousin Debi’s head.   I’m so grateful that he took the time to shoot those photos.  He was a true documentarian.

When I was a kid he called me “tortilla head” because of these silly barrettes I used to wear with circles of lace on them.  I hated it at the time, but I know it was a term of endearment.  When I got to Junior High and dumped the barrettes, I got into a special class that allowed me to do a project of my choosing.  I asked Uncle Jimmy if he would help me produce a music video.  He recognized my interest in photography and storytelling and worked hard on that project with me to help nurture it. He was my director of photography and editor.  He did the edit with two VCRs, which was quite difficult and cumbersome.  But we completed the project and he came the day we played it for the class.  I could tell he was so proud of our creation.  I don’t think I ever told him outright how much I appreciated him.  That I regret, because visual storytelling has become my career.

I didn’t really work on video or photography again until I got to college.  But every time he saw me at a family gathering he would talk to me about our project and ask me to help shoot video footage. He was earnestly trying to nurture my interest.  And in a roundabout way he really did.  I am a documentary lover and prefer that storytelling style over all others.  I appreciate other photographers that get it and see the story through their lens.  The mechanical workings of the camera, which he also loved, don’t interest me, but what that human operating the camera captures certainly does.

I wish I could have told him all of this in person.  He was sick earlier this year and seemed to be on the mend.  I hoped to see him over the holidays.  He died suddenly, which makes the feelings of regret stronger.  If any of my nieces, nephews or children expresses an interest in storytelling, I will nurture that interest, without pressure, just like you Uncle Jimmy.  Thank you.  

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Amy, Kim and Lori organize arts and craft supplies

It’s been a week of different communities for me.  

I just got home from working at a homeless shelter all morning.  We’re cleaning out their childcare room, reorganizing the donations they do have, repainting, asking for more donations of toys and educational materials and providing new rugs, furniture, storage.  In a few weeks we’ll put the entire 900 square foot room back together with what we gather and have a celebration with our preschool organization and the families living in the shelter.

I am helping lead this project and it has not been smooth sailing lately – as I think happens with any volunteer activity.  There were multiple misunderstandings and several hurt feelings and multiple threats to quit.  Part of that was our dependence on email to manage, which isn’t effective.  We’re all mothers to pre-school age children, so it’s rather difficult to get any decent amount of time to focus on anything, and we all lead busy lives in our own way.  But the madness in our method was creating a lot of team dysfunction, and worse, a lack of support for one another.  And if we can’t support each other in our own smaller community, how were we ever going to pull off a project to help children who have no choice of whether or not they are homeless? 

On the flip side of my week, I attended the Women’s Business Council Parade of Stars Gala, where awards were given to women business owners, and companies who are advocates of women-owned businesses.  Here was a grand example of women supporting and celebrating one another.  The energy of collaboration and genuine interest in helping women-owned businesses succeed was palpable.  Here was the energy my volunteer group needed.
The next morning we met face-to-face and I insisted we do some team building.  It seemed to help us focus and appreciate each other.  Today we launched the effort at the shelter and our volunteer turnout was fantastic.  We accomplished more than we expected to in the entire first day by noon.
Laurie lining the shelves

Making a difference is important to me.  Being a part of my community is too.  I truly believe being able to share the positive, forward-moving energy from my entrepreneur/business community with my volunteer/neighborhood community will eventually help some of these kids break the cycle of homelessness. 

It’s amazing how far a little positive energy can go.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Making a Difference

I started CM Productions in October 2000 because I knew I could do something great if given the chance to do it my way.  And there have been many great projects over the last 11 years on which I am proud to put my stamp.  But there are some that not only made me proud, but made a difference for someone else.

As a company, we’re evolving and growing.  In December, we sat down and decided what our core values are as a company.  We discovered they’ve always been there, but now we’ve said them out loud and will soon publish documents that formalize them into our culture and guide others who join us. 

Making a difference is one of our values.  We want to do something that has an impact in our community and makes life better for others.  Personally, it is important to each of us to volunteer and donate our time.  I am deeply involved in a project for Family Gateway, a Dallas homeless shelter that serves families with children. as well as Children’s Medical Center

As a company, we have talents in visual storytelling that not everyone can offer.  And we especially like telling stories about causes we believe in, like Family Gateway.  We produced a wonderful story that highlighted success stories of clients who turned their life around after getting help at Family Gateway.  It is an honor for us to meet the people and in turn tell their stories, like the single dad with 3 young kids who was suddenly homeless 20 years ago.  Family Gateway helped him.  Now he’s a successful entrepreneur and two of his children have graduated college.  

Today I edited a pro-bono commercial for my high school geometry teacher.  He’s retired now, but offers tutoring and wants to get the word out about his services. My hope in doing this spot is that we make a difference for someone who is struggling in math because they seek his help. Where the future takes them is up to them.  He is a terrific math teacher and could make a positive difference in someone’s life.  He has already for many -- see his fan club on Facebook: I was in Mr. Walter Dewar's class, and I survived.

Now that I recognize that Making a difference is a value for CM Productions it has truly given me guidance in what I choose to pursue.  Do you know what guides you?