Up to date information about children's entertainment – film, TV, DVD and more…. from founder and president of KIDS FIRST! Ranny Levy

Archive for May, 2008

Announcing the Wuzzleburg Preschool Garden Awards Winners

Friday, May 30th, 2008
The National Gardening Association and sponsor Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! congratulate the 75 recipients of the 2008 Wuzzleburg Preschool Garden Awards. These programs were selected for their demonstrated commitment to creatively and actively engage young children in the gardening process as a way to help them get off to a great start and to develop a lifelong love of learning. Each will receive a package of gardening and nature education supplies and resources valued at $1000 from the Gardening with Kids catalog.

For a list of winners, go here.

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AFTRA Reaches Tentative Agreement with AMPTP on Primetime Television Contract

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists—the nation’s second largest performers’ union, representing 70,000 members, has reached a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on a new three-year primetime television contract. The agreement is subject to approval by AFTRA’s National Board and ratification by the union’s membership.

Highlights of the new agreement include:

  • Establishing wage increases in traditional media in each year of the contract.
  • Increasing employer contributions to the AFTRA Health and Retirement plan.
  • Establishing jurisdiction over programs produced for distribution on the Internet and New Media.
  • Establishing new residual structures for paid Internet downloads (electronic sell-through) that significantly increase current rates and establish residual rates for ad-supported streaming and use of clips on the Internet.
  • Preserving performers’ consent for non-promotional New Media use of excerpts of traditional TV shows.
  • Establishing a sunset provision that allows both sides to revisit New Media.• Increasing the number of covered background actors in Los Angeles.
  • Securing rest provisions for background performers in Los Angeles.
  • Renewing and codifying turnaround provisions for stunt coordinators.
  • Improving the terms and conditions for performers who work under the CW contract (formerly WB/UPN supplement).

“This is another groundbreaking agreement for AFTRA,” said AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon. “In addition to achieving meaningful gains in compensation and working conditions for performers, it also establishes AFTRA jurisdiction in the dynamic area of New Media and it preserves performers’ consent for use of excerpts of traditional TV shows in New Media.

“This is a challenging time in the entertainment industry and this was a tough negotiation,” she said. “Our ability to achieve these crucial breakthroughs for performers was a direct result of AFTRA members’ pragmatic approach to collective bargaining. We recognized the hard realities currently affecting the traditional TV business and we focused on creating a framework that would allow union members to participate fully in the emerging new media marketplace.”
“We appreciate the support we received from the Hollywood labor community, and we wish our brothers and sisters in the Screen Actors Guild the very best as they resume their own contract talks,” she added.

AFTRA primetime TV dramas and situation comedies include: “Rules of Engagement,” “Cashmere Mafia,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Flight of the Conchords,” “Dante’s Cove,” “Til Death,” “Reaper” and new CBS dramatic programs “Project Gary” and “Harper’s Island” and the ABC comedy “Roman’s Empire.” The current contract expires on June 30, 2008.

Details of the new agreement will be submitted to the AFTRA National Board at meetings scheduled for June 6-7 in Los Angeles. If approved by the National Board, the pact will be submitted to AFTRA’s membership for ratification. The new three-year agreement will be effective from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2011. Formal negotiations between AFTRA’s 31-member Primetime Negotiating Committee and the AMPTP began on Wednesday, May 7th in Los Angeles. Talks were preceded by months of informal discussions and research by union staff and consultants. AFTRA twice delayed the scheduled start of its primetime negotiations to allow the Screen Actors Guild to continue its primetime/theatrical talks (which began on April 15). Representatives of the following organizations attended one or more of the negotiating sessions: Writers Guild of America, West, Directors Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, Teamsters Local 399, and AFTRA’s strategic partner, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The new primetime television contract is the fourth major agreement AFTRA negotiated this year. The other three contracts, all of which have been ratified, are the AFTRA Network Code, the AFTRA Sound Recordings Code, and the ABC/CBS Network News Contracts.

For more info, go to http://www.aftra.org/press/2008_05_28_pt_agreement.html

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Tonya S. Holly – An Independent Filmmaker with a Heart

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Tonya S. Holly isn’t your usualy LA-based independent filmmaker. The creator of “When I Find the Ocean,” (Director/Producer/Writer) recently received a KIDS FIRST! endorsement and acceptance into the KIDS FIRST! Film Festival. Her film will be released theatrically through Monterey Media this June and the DVD will be release August 5th. The story is about 12-year-old girl, Lily Strickland who has lost her father, a sailor, to the sea. She and her mother go to live with her grandparents. She runs away from home with her pet dog and rabbit to escape abuse from her step-father. She never had closure on the death of her father so she sets out on a trek to the ocean to find the closure she needs to heal her loss. Starring Lily Matland Holly, Diane Ladd, Lee Majors, Graham Greene, Richard Tyson, Bernie Casey, Amy Redford, George Lindsey, and David Fralick, “When I Find The Ocean” has won awards at The Reel Women International Film Festival and The Myrtle Beach International Film Festival.

An Alabama native, Tonya S. Holly has 17 films to her credit; including Toy Soldiers (1991), with Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr. and Lord of the Rings star Sean Astin, as well as Body Snatchers (1993), made in Selma and starring Meg Tilly and Forest Whitaker. A graduate of the University of North Alabama, Tonya did extras casting on the Oscar-winning Blue Sky (1994), starring Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones. For Blue Sky, she cast the UNA Pride of Dixie Marching Band as well as Muscle Shoals singer-songwriter Billy Lawson and several extras from her native area.

Tonya has worked closely over the years with CBS, HBO, NBC, Fox, Morgan Creek, Universal, Buena Vista and a number of independent companies. Her feature-film credits are quite impressive as is her work in television. Tonya opened Gem-Star agency in 1989 to nurture native Alabama talent and founded the Alabama Filmmakers association to promote the film industry in the stage Tonya founded Cypress Moon Productions in 2001, writing and directng the award-winning short film, “The Mirror,” then her first feature, “When I Find the Ocean.”

We spoke last week:

RL. Congratulations on the success of your film, “When I Find the Ocean” and congratulations on securing distribution through one of our member, Monterey Media.

TH. I love Monterey, they have wanted this film for so long. They get it; they wanted it. They appreciate the messages in the film about overcoming obstacles, crossing racial problems of the time, and friendships. As a child I didn’t know prejudice.

RL. This is a wonderful first feature. You’ve taken received some great awards. You should be very proud of yourself. I’ve been told that the film is based on your own true story. Tell me about that.

TH. A lot of it is. I actually believed when I was a child, that if I followed the creek that I could get to the ocean. But, my father was not killed at sea and I didn’t suffer the type of abuse that this girl does. I did get a spanking in the tool shed once but nothing like the girl in the film. I do know other kids who suffered that kind of things and applied that to the character. The loving relationship that I had with my grandparents comes out in this film.

RL What do you hope people will come away from this film with?

TH. I hope it touches on the kid in all of us. In our time when the Internet and videogames have such an influence on us, I believe this film projects the idea that there’s a lot more journeys out there and sparks kids’ imaginations.

RL. Have you had any criticisms of the film that made you rethink it at all?

TH. Of course. One suggestion is that I leave some of the prayer out of it. I would not do that. That’s what this family is about. It’s a story I had to tell which includes this family’s strong faith. I had a person talk to me after one screening about what she had been through – she didn’t know the step father had been abusing her daughter. It took years before she knew it was happening. In Selma at a screening, people commented about friendships they have that cross racial barriers. I had a preacher approach me who said he wanted so many people to see this film. I realize that not everybody likes a clean family film. This film doesn’t appeal to people who thrive on lots of special effects.

RL. Is there anything you would change at all?

TH. I think every director would change many things. If I had more money, there are a few things I would change. I could tweak it forever. There are some places I wish I had more footage. As an independent that’s one place where you’re limited. You have fewer cameras and fewer shots to choose from. There are 23 minutes of footage that I cut of this film. The toughest thing a filmmaker, is when you let it go to the audience. I remember something Robert Redford said at the opening of “Lions for Lambs,” “It’s not my film anymore, it’s the audiences.”

RL. What will success look like for you in the release of this film? Audience? Money? What’s important to you?

TH. When everybody has a copy; when I start seeing it on people’s movie shelves. Really, when people are buying it, then I will know we have succeeded. We’re gearing up for our next film, another family film – the story of Bonnie and Clyde. It has nothing to do with the original film, but the fact that my parents had some old newspaper clippings that caught my attention. We’ve got ten projects in development right now – some have screenplays written already, others are just ideas. I’m a writer first, I call myself a storyteller. When I directed “The Mirror,” my first short film, it was to find out if I could be a director. I found out that I could.

RL. Your daughter, Lily stars in this film. How was it working with your daughter?

TH. That’s what Lily wants to do more than anything in the world – act. She came to me and wanted the role. She really worked hard and deserved it. She never quit. She would stay until the last second every day. She’s involved in plays and we’re looking for an agent for her. My husband and I did the sound track. He plays with Little Richard. Both my mother and father are song writers. He and my mother met and wrote songs together. Music was always part of our lives. My Dad was one of the “Hacker Brothers.” He was related to Elvis. Elvis’ grandmother and my great grandfather were brother and sister. Elvis came to the funeral and came to visit the family a lot. Back when my Dad was trying to make it, so was Elvis – they were poor kids trying to make it in the music business together. My Dad and I wrote a song together that’s in the movie, “Come Day Go Day.” My mother wrote for George Jones and Tammy Wynette. One was a hit, “The Ceremony.”

RL. And, you have quite a line up of other stars: Graham Greene, Diane Ladd, Lee Majors, Richard Tyson… How did you manage to get such high rated celebrities for an independent feature?

TH. It was the script. I sent them the script. I talked with their agent, and the first thing they wanted was to read the script. Richard and I had worked together on Lakota Moon, a pilot for Fox. Graham wouldn’t even talk about anything until he read the script. I met Diane Ladd at the American Film Market, we started talking and she adked me to send the script. I did and she joined. Amy Redford was wonderful. I had seen some things she had done. I thought she’d be perfect if I dyed her hair black and she agreed.

RL. I have to ask what was Graham Greene like to work with? I am such a fan of his.

TH. Totally professional. The greatest thing about him was, when he came to my building. He had been an engineer for music before he got into acting. So, he came into the studio and said, “I have to tell you something – My knees almost buckled. I had tears in my eyes. It was an amazing feeling to be in the building where all these great musicians had recorded. I knew about Muscle Shoals studios my whole life and it’s so exciting just to be in this building.” Back in the day, Muscle Shoals was the most famous recording studio in the world – Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Traffic, Paul SimonBill Hayley & His Comets all recorded there. The sound track for this music has everybody on it – Russell Smith from Amazing Rhythm Races, Heart, Kedmo, Donny Fritz (played with Kris Kristofferson), Donna Jean Bradshaw, and more.

RL. You’ve been involved in promoting the film industry in Alabama. Tell me more about that.

TH. Haven’t gotten the tax incentives passed yet. It passed the Senate but then it was killed. I founded the Alabama Filmmaker’s Association in 1991. They regrouped about 5 years ago and became a sponsor of the American Film Market. Even though there aren’t any film tax incentives still in Alabama, we’ve continued to be a sponsor of the Film Market.

RL. You must be quite the local celebrity. How does someone from Florence, Alabama do all this? Is it difficult to be successful in the entertainment business when you’re not in a major city such as LA or NYC?

TH. I don’t know. I do know that I am very outspoken about shooting in the South and getting people to recognize filmmaking an industry. There are a lot of musicians here. You’d be surprised. I’m sure it would be easier to be in a big city where you can just drive home at the end of the day. But, I chose to raise my kids here. It’s definitely a good place to raise kids. And, I love the scenery. It’s so untouched. I love the people. Property’s not as expensive either.

RL. Many of us have people or experiences in our lives who have profoundly affected them in their careers and personal development. To what do you attribute your success?

TH. Several people that come to mind immediately. My Mother. My Dad. My grandparents. Barbara Streisand is someone who I admire. She sings, directs, produces. She wears all the hats. I’ve always admired her. My Aunts. My mother has five sisters and my Dad has five sisters. They’re so strong. They’ve seen so many things in their lives that people shouldn’t have to see and they’re all so strong. That’s another reason I stayed here because of my relationships with my family.

RL. What do you know now that if had you known it at the beginning of making this journey would have made things so much easier? What advice would you give to filmmakers creating their first independent film?

TH. One of the main things is don’t let too many voices get into your head. If you’ve got that vision, stick with it. One of the things that’s been a strong message in my life, is “don’t tell me that I can’t do it.” I believe that if you can dream it, it can happen. But, it’s not easy. It is extremely hard work and I sacrificed a lot to make sure this picture got done and released. A lot of people would have given up a long time ago. When I first wrote down the title of this film, I was telling somebody about my idea when I was a kid that I could get to the ocean from the stream – that was in 1990. When things pop up that you don’t expect like music clearances – independents have so much work to do. Everybody would leave at the end of the day and I would stay to sign checks. I know a lot of people who would like to let go of the reigns but you’ve got to stick it out and follow it through if you want it to be your work. A friend of mine said, “For your first film, you had to choose the toughest things to deal with: animals, children, food, water.” These are all difficult things to deal with and I had to include everyone of them. Before shotting in the woods, we had to talk with the actors and crew about snakes and ticks and teach them how to handle them. These are things you don’t always think about.

RL. What’s next up for you?

TH. The Story of Bonnie and Clyde is up next. We hope to be in production in the fall. I’m casting it right now. Probably around May of next year it will be released. The other is the trilogy: Sleeping Giant: the Union of the Seven – like a Chronicles of Narnia feeling. We plan to shoot in New Zealand. The other two aren’t titled yet. She is the writer on that. And, they will have a book release as well. Also, When I Find the Ocean will have a book release.

RL. Thanks for taking time to talk with me and to share your insights with KIDS FIRST! News. Best wishes for successful theatrical and DVD releases after that.

For more information about this film or Tonya Holly, go to http://www.cypressmoonproduction.com

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Top 100 Kid Films List – Your Vote Counts!

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Voting for the 2008 KIDS FIRST! Top 100 Kid Films continues until Sunday, June 1, 2008. Please log on to our onsite voting and cast your vote for your top 100 films for kids.

You’ll be asked for your top five recommendation and then, you may select from 196 titles, your your favorite 100. Titles include films such as “The Lion King,” “Wizard of Oz,” “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, “Nim’s Island,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Surf’s Up,” “Nanny McPhee,” August Rush,” and “Shrek.” The KIDS FIRST! Top 100 Kid Films will be announced later this summer.

The KIDS FIRST! Top 100 Kid Films will encompass films suitable for kids between the ages of 2 and 18 that have universal appeal, exhibit outstanding attributes in terms of their production values and portray values and have qualities that make them as applicable today as the day they were first released. This list is unique because it takes into consideration not just what films adults think kids should watch but also what kids like and will watch. Because media has the power to influence children, negatively or positively, the films on this list portray the values and ethics that we, as a culture wish to instill in our children.

KIDS FIRST! is uniquely positioned to create this list because of its 17-year history evaluating and promoting quality children’s films. Any film that KIDS FIRST! endorses must meet or exceed the baseline criteria of: no gratuitous violence or abuse; no inappropriate sexual behavior; no bias in terms of race, gender, culture or religion; no condescension toward children; no replicable unsafe behavior. Additionally, any film on this list has been compared with others and found to be exceptional among its peers.

KIDS FIRST! employs a unique community jury system that involves more than 3000 children and professional adults with backgrounds in education, child development and other child-service professions. Using a set of standardized criteria, created by leading children’s media experts, KIDS FIRST! evaluations are credible and consistent evaluations. More than 10,000 films, DVDs, TV shows, and other media have been evaluated by KIDS FIRST! since 1991. For more information, visit http://www.kidsfirst.org/
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Diary of a Spider – In Stores May 27

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Weston Woods is one of my favorite production companies. I am a life-long lover of the work that Mort Schindel has created. His company’s titles are now distributed by SCHOLASTIC in their STORYBOOK TREASURES™ series. All the titles are literature-based and wonderful. In this latest, Diary of a Spider … and More Cute Critter Stories, all the stories are about creatures both large and small. Featuring more than an hour of colorfully-animated tales and an innovative Read-Along function, it will be available to add to every family home entertainment library on May 27.

The title story, adapted from the best-selling picture book by Doreen Cronin, is a sequel to “Diary of a Worm,” but this time, spider is the star. Kids will learn about the events in the life of a young arachnid: school (where they have vacuum drills, not fire drills), web-spinning and wind-catching lessons and sleepovers at worm’s house, where spider is concerned that he’ll have to eat leaves and rotten tomatoes.

Of the book, Publishers Weekly noted that the story is “filled with verbal high jinks, deadpan humor and visual jokes that offer readers a whimsical glimpse of the world from a small creature’s point of view.” This zany, award-winning animated adaptation is narrated by Angus T. Jones and was directed by Weston Woods Studios’ acclaimed Gene Deitch.

Three more cute critter stories feature the Read-Along option: Roberto the Insect Architect (KIDS FIRST! Best Award Winner in 2006), Norman the Doorman and The Mysterious Tadpole. The DVD also includes the bonus tale, The Story of the Dancing Frog.

The enhanced new line of SCHOLASTIC STORYBOOK TREASURES DVDs offers more digitally-enhanced content than ever before, at least an hour of stories on each release, along with the Read-Along function which highlights words as they’re read, encouraging kids to follow the narration and promoting a love of reading. The DVDs also feature new, kid-friendly authoring for easy navigation plus refreshed, eye-popping packaging.

For more information about the newly-relaunched SCHOLASTIC STORYBOOK TREASURES line, which also includes titles such as KNUFFLE BUNNY…AND MORE GREAT CHILDHOOD ADVENTURES and ANTARCTIC ANTICS…AND MORE HILARIOUS ANIMAL STORIES, please visit http://www.newkideo.com/.

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Saturday, May 17th, 2008

Sesame Workshop in partnership with The Center for Advanced Illness Coordinated Care (CAICC), a nonprofit, healthcare research and public policy organization affiliated with Dartmouth Medical School and supported by the Charitable Leadership Foundation, unveiled a new bilingual outreach project entitled, Here for You: Helping Children Cope with Serious Illness. The Here for You materials consist of an original Sesame Street DVD along with tips to help facilitate conversations between children and parents, caregivers, or health professionals to encourage children to express their feelings and concerns about their illness. This resource was created with the support of Paul Newman, Target Foundation and CAICC as well as content guided by a team of expert advisors, cancer survivors and parents from around the nation.

The Here for You: Helping Children Cope with Serious Illness DVD follows Sesame Street’s Elmo as he visits his cousin Chester, who’s receiving treatment for a serious illness at the hospital. Elmo, with the support of medical practitioners, and children, helps Chester understand and express his feelings of fear, anger, and guilt. The Here for You tips reinforce the messages in the DVD and are tools to assist seriously ill children understand that their feelings are okay to express and are often shared by other children who are in a similar circumstance. The DVD and tips will be made available courtesy of CAICC, which will nationally distribute 5,000 copies to the nation’s 250 children’s hospitals, pediatric medical organizations, and children’s palliative care programs. In addition, all materials will be available for free at www.sesameworkshop.org/hereforyou beginning this summer.

“For any child who has been diagnosed with a deadly disease comes unimaginable fear and uncertainty,” said Congresswoman Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio). “Helping a sick child learn to express their emotions and fears is critically important for both the child and their family to begin to cope with their illness. This is a wonderful program, and I congratulate Sesame Street for bringing some clarity and peace of mind to children during a decidedly difficult time in their young lives.”

“Together, Sesame Workshop and CAICC developed engaging content that addresses the complicated subject of young children facing a serious illness the way that Sesame Street does best: with compassion and honesty. We are always representing a child’s point of view and how adults can support children during these stressful times,” said Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, Vice President for Outreach and Educational Practices at Sesame Workshop. “We are known for consistently breaking new ground with award-winning Sesame Street projects that approach tough subjects such as coping with stress, loss of a loved one and military deployment, Here for You is no exception.”

“It is an honor to work with the talented individuals at Sesame Workshop in order to bring practical guidance to children and their families coping with serious illness” said Dan Tobin, M.D., CEO, The Center for Advaned Illness Coordinate Care. “The Here for You DVD will help children and their loved ones express their feelings and improve the quality of life for the entire family in a way that only Sesame Street could have done. We are excited to carry on this work by having pediatric practitioners in children’s hospitals use this DVD as a conversation starter for children and to contribute in some small but significant and measurable manner, to helping children cope with serious illness.”

Inspired by a donation from Jane Henson, the wife of the legendary creator of the Muppets, and the Here For You DVD, CAICC, is launching the Helping Children Cope With Serious Illness Fund (HCCwSIF). The HCCwSIF will be donating funds to participating children’s hospitals in order to support full time pediatric behavioral health specialists who will provide additional ongoing, outpatient, health counseling for children and families facing serious illnesses. Over the next year, the HCCwSIF will donate funds to Albany Medical Center, Dartmouth and Boston children’s hospitals that are in need of a full time nurse or social worker. The additional health care staff will provide ongoing hospital based, community focused, and health counseling for children and families facing serious illness. The Helping Children with Serious Illness Fund will work closely with hospital personnel to continue creating and implementing a plan for adding full time practitioners to for up to six additional children’s hospitals.

“Children are our future. Every time a child is seriously ill the whole community suffers. This remarkable partnership between Sesame Workshop and the Center for Advanced Illness Coordinated Care will help family and caregivers to communicate with children, allowing them to understand and cope with their illness. That process is the first step toward healing–both the kids and the communities,” said James J. Barba, President and Chief Executive Officer of Albany Medical Center in Albany, N.Y., where the Children’s Hospital at Albany Med is situated.

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