3 weeks ago

Alabama native bringing VR production to Sidewalk, looking to make feature film in the state

Meredith Riley Stewart has found a new home in Hollywood, but lately the Phenix City native is feeling a pull back to her home state.

Whether it’s showcasing her virtual reality (VR) short film at this week’s Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham or scouting locations in the Chattahoochee Valley for a new feature film, Riley Stewart is finding her way back to the South.

After living life as a dancer in Philadelphia and as an actor in New York, she has found living in Los Angeles is not such a far cry from Alabama.

“I feel like L.A. is sort of the perfect blend of more of the charm and connection to nature that Southerners have with the grind and hustle of New York,” Riley Stewart said. “It’s kind of the perfect combination for me. I feel at home there. And there are so many Southerners in L.A. It’s always my tell, that I will say ‘y’all’ in some room and they’re like, ‘Wait a second, you’re not from L.A. Where are you from?’”

The University of Alabama graduate has even found that a well-placed “Roll Tide!” can lead to connections in Hollywood.

“In my resume under ‘education’ I just squeeze in a little ‘Roll Tide!’ and I can’t tell you how many casting directors I’ve had conversations with about SEC football because that’s on there,” she said. “It’s been a smart little addition. We can have a conversation that makes me more human. It’s not about the story. It’s not about the character. It’s about something totally different.”

It keeps rolling when she’s at home.

“I am married to an Alabama boy as well,” she said. “We literally just changed cable packages because we were with somebody who dropped CBS and he was like, ‘What? We can’t … no, no … I have to …’ Our life sort of revolves around football in the South. He’s counting down how many days until the opening game.”

Riley Stewart is counting down the days until her immersive VR experience “SEE ME” is shown at Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival this weekend. Alabama Power is a sponsor of this year’s festival.

“’SEE ME’ is a short-form, experimental VR experience that invites the audience to step inside the subconscious mind of a woman, invites you to sort of experience what daily life is like for many women, including the constant barrage of commentary that happens for them in our society,” Riley Stewart said.

Other than being shown for friends and family, “SEE ME” has been shown publicly only at last week’s Macon Film Festival in Georgia. Based on the reactions there, Riley Stewart said viewers should come in expecting something intense.

“They should know that it challenges the male gaze,” she said. “VR is a unique concept for that because of the headset aspect of it. Not only are you feeling the experience of a woman, but you are potentially stepping into a male gaze on these women. That idea of challenging the male gaze – because it can be uncomfortable, especially in VR where your eyes are covered, your ears are covered, you’re sitting in a chair – and when these women approach you, because it looks like they’re coming right at you, some people wanted to hide, you kind of can’t get away. It requires people to be ready to confront it.”

In Macon, women would take off their headsets with tears in their eyes and the men felt uncomfortable and shared what they felt in a conversation with the filmmakers after the showing. At Sidewalk, the film will have multiple showings at the Lyric Theatre Aug. 24-25.

“We hope they can get through it and then they can take a breath and either realize what many women go through or so many women watch it and say, ‘Yes, that’s what happens.’ For us to be able to add a voice to their experience is powerful,” Riley Stewart said.

“That’s really the point, is to have that eye-opening empathy,” she added. “Really it’s about how our society objectifies women, and women finally finding a voice and the strength – whether that’s physical or of character – to speak up and demand to be seen as an equal human.”

A friend Riley Stewart made in Hollywood, Celine Tricart, is a leader in VR filmmaking and directed the acclaimed “The Sun Ladies” documentary about women soldiers in the Afghanistan army.

Riley Stewart wanted to make something impactful to address the objectification of women, and began working on “SEE ME” just as the #MeToo movement was beginning.

“That’s something I’m always trying to do with things I decide to spend my energy on now,” she said. “Media is such an influential culture shaper. There is such an opportunity there to create change in our society and that’s what I want to do with the media that I create.”

It is part of an evolution Riley Stewart has gone through since graduating from the University of Alabama with degrees in dance and biology and then dancing professionally in Philadelphia. Hosting on QVC and shooting commercials gave her the acting bug. She took professional classes and earned a role as a dancer on the first season of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” which gave her a Screen Actors Guild card and allowed her to pursue other acting roles.

She’s had roles on ABC’s “Scandal,”NBC’s “Days of Our Lives,” Lifetime’s “Devious Maids” and Martin Scorsese’s movie “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Riley Stewart co-produced “Flip The Script,” the first digital series by Women in Film. She created “AutocorrectFU,” that features funny, over-the-top reenactments of autocorrected text conversations. Her “Southern Dish” digital series is about a Southern belle in the Big Apple, embracing the culture clash instead of fighting it.

She has become known for her Southern charm and wise-cracking personality in various pursuits in Hollywood. The production she is looking to film in the Phenix City-Columbus, Georgia, area is in keeping with that.

“The Inheritance” is a faith-based family comedy with Hollywood’s Mustard Seed Entertainment.

As soon as Riley Stewart read the script, she envisioned it taking place back home.

“I just thought, ‘This is so perfect to bring back to my hometown,’” she said. “It’s a beautiful story about family.”

Family and home were important touch points for Riley Stewart.

“In the past 10 years I have lost both of my parents and my aunt who was like my second mother,” she said. “I’m young to have gone through all of that already, but it really gave me a deeper understanding of what’s important about your family and life. While this is a comedy, it kind of centers around the unique place of where people go when it’s time to claim inheritance. It’s this weird thing that happens. It brings out certain character and shades of character that might not have existed before.”

Riley Stewart noted your family has a way of seeing the real you.

“You think you’ve evolved so much and then you have Thanksgiving dinner with your family and remember who you really are,” she said. “The theme of family and that being an important part of your legacy was really something that connected to me immediately.”

Shooting the film will be easier than other productions because almost all of the story takes place on the grounds of one estate. Riley Stewart said some generous people in the Phenix City-Columbus area contacted her to offer their home to shoot in. Columbus has a film office and infrastructure to support moving productions in the area and the film is expected to create 30 jobs and bring about $500,000 in spending.

“I’m really hoping that that’s going to happen … no, it is going to happen by the end of the year,” Riley Stewart said. “There is so much support here. It’s really wonderful. To be a hometown person bringing this movie back, I’m excited about it.”

A second feature film Riley Stewart is looking to produce is important to her for another reason. It’s a drama about public school teachers and the heavy lifting they do as part of their job.

“That one is really dear to my heart because both of my parents were public educators,” she said. “My mother was the principal of my high school. It tells the story of those unsung heroes, the people who really do shape American culture in the microcosm of schools.”

For now, Riley Stewart is excited to be returning to her home state and making her first visit to Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival. She is planning on spending time with friends from Hollywood who are in the Magic City.

“Now that I’ve been in L.A. for five years, looking at my network of people there, I have probably five friends with pieces in (Sidewalk) that I’m going to see in Birmingham,” she said. “So, it will be really cool to sort of like be able to take them to a restaurant I went to in college or something.”

Riley Stewart loves the freedom that being an actor and a producer allows.

“I’m in the fortunate position of just being able to focus on being a creator,” she said. “As an actor, sure, I can audition any time for other people’s projects. But between those, I do have time to develop my own.”

In it all, she can always find room for a “Roll Tide!”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 hours ago

Alabama Forestry Association endorses Brad Mendheim for state Supreme Court

The Alabama Forestry Association (AFA) on Monday announced its endorsement of Alabama Supreme Court Justice Brad Mendheim in the Republican primary for place two on the court.

Mendheim was first appointed to the state’s highest court by Governor Kay Ivey in 2018. He lost election to a full term to that office in the 2018 election cycle but was appointed to a different vacancy, place two, on the Supreme Court by Ivey earlier this year.

In a statement, AFA executive vice president Chris Isaacson said, “We are proud to support Justice Mendheim in his race for a seat on the Alabama Supreme Court.”

“His conservative judicial philosophy along with a proven track record earned over 20 years make him the right person for the job,” he concluded.

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Prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court by Ivey, Mendheim was a circuit judge for Houston and Henry counties from 2009- 2018.

Before his election to that office, he served as district judge of Houston County from 2001-2008 and as an assistant district attorney, making him uniquely qualified as a former prosecutor and trial judge.

“I am honored to receive the support of Forest PAC, a group which has a long reputation of supporting conservative leaders in the state of Alabama,” Mendheim emphasized.

He advised, “My judicial philosophy is simple: to follow the Constitution and rule with impartiality, and I pledge to continue that as long as I am privileged to serve. It is not our role on the Alabama Supreme Court to bring a political agenda to work, and I strongly believe that groups such as the Forestry Association recognize that all who come before our court deserve two things: a fair review of the facts and ultimately, for the rule of law to be upheld.”

During his judicial career, Mendheim has presided over more than 300 jury trials.

He graduated with a BA from Auburn University and went on to receive his JD from Cumberland School of Law. Mendheim and his wife, Michelle, have been married for over 24 years. They are the proud parents of three sons: Connor, Ryan and Carson. They are long time members of First Baptist Church of Dothan, where Brad is a Sunday school teacher and deacon.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

11 hours ago

Alabama’s Tony Cochran launches new initiative to help grow small businesses

After 40 years of business advising, Alabama-based businessman Tony Cochran is excited to announce the creation of Team Delta3, LLC.

Team Delta3 will essentially offer a premier business boot camp, taking on the task of educating business owners on best practices for success with a focus on the three key ways to grow their businesses.

In a statement, Cochran explained, “For over four decades I have watched business owners who are very good at their respective craft, struggle to be successful.”

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He is the president of CK Business Solutions, PC, a consulting and accounting firm headquartered in Albertville.

Roughly 20 years ago, Cochran changed his focus from delivering traditional business, tax and accounting advice to one of helping business owners find solutions to everyday problems. His passion for helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses, develop repeatable processes and face the modern-day challenges in an increasingly competitive world has led him to be a part of an elite group of business advisors.

“Many universities, small business incubators and consultants have tried various ways to help businesses grow,” Cochran outlined. “Our approach at Team Delta3 is to take proven techniques and present them in a concentrated, focused ‘Boot Camp’ style environment so that each participant leaves with the tangible game plan needed to grow their business into a thriving enterprise.”

Beyond his own successful advisory businesses, Cochran has been recognized by a number of organizations for his leadership and civic contributions.

He is a board member of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) and previously served on its executive committee. Currently, Cochran is a member of the 30th (XXX) class of Leadership Alabama, chairman of the board of the Albertville Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the board of his church, founding chairman of the Albertville City Schools Foundation, board member of the North Central Alabama Girl Scouts and in 2002 received the Citizen of the Year Award the highest award given for community service in his hometown. He also holds the designations of CPA and CMGA.

However, the impressive involvement does not end at the Alabama state line for Cochran.

Later this month, he will be a VIP at the Living Legends event in New York City.

Living Legends brings together the top business consultants in the United States to exchange ideas and develop a nationwide network of renowned consultants in marketing, internet sales, branding, growth and general business. These include people such as Martha Stewart, Michael Gerber and Clint Arthur.

As a VIP, Cochran will be internationally recognized for his skills and contribution to business clients throughout the course of his career.

“For someone who calls Sand Mountain home, having the opportunity to be a part of an event as large in scope as Living Legends is an incredible honor. I look forward to integrating concepts and collaborators from Living Legends into the new venture of Team Delta3 and our BootCamp experience,” Cochran concluded.

“BootCamp” participants can expect intensive training during the course of the three-day event. Concepts related to market growth, key performance indicators and applied metrics will be developed for each business. These indicators will be the drivers that provide owners measurable results.

Find out more here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Bradley Byrne previews attacks that are sure to come against Tommy Tuberville

Former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville is the frontrunner in the GOP primary race for the right to take on United States Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) but eventually, the attacks will come.

U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) may have been showing how Tuberville’s opponents are going to take him on in the near future at a meeting of the Tennessee Valley Republican Club on Saturday morning.

Byrne touched on the carpetbagger allegation without mention Tuberville, saying, “I’m from here, not from wherever else. I love Alabama and know what we need to get done.”

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Later he added, “I didn’t come back here to run because it’s convenient. I love this state and I love fighting for Alabama. And that’s exactly what you’ll get with me – a fighter.”

This is hardly a new tact for Tuberville’s detractors, and it may be effective because Alabama is a very proud state that loves its homegrown products.

Byrne further questioned Tuberville’s reason for running.

I’m not running for this seat because I got bored and needed something to do,” he said while touting his service to Alabama. “I’ve spent most of my life serving. I want to help the people of this great state.”

But it wasn’t all attacks for Byrne on Saturday morning. The congressman also touted his experience in Washington as the most important for Alabamians to support his candidacy.

“It’s more about being able to sit in a room and get things done for your state. I know how to do that, and I’ll be able to keep getting things done for Alabama,” he explained.

Byrne would mention the Space Force command and praise North Alabama as the perfect place for it while adding, “There is nowhere in the country better equipped for it, and as your senator, I’ll continue to fight every day to see that we get things like this done.”

How an argument about experience and effectiveness works in 2020, and in the era of Trump, remains to be seen.

What is clear, is that the issues Byrne is talking about on the campaign trail now will continue to be heard as long as Tommy Tuberville is an untraditional and inexperienced candidate with an apparent lead in the polls.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

13 hours ago

Tuberville: Alabamians ‘trust football coaches a heck of a lot more than they trust politicians’

Former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, a 2020 Republican U.S. Senate candidate in the Yellowhammer State, on Monday appeared on Fox Business’ “Varney & Co.” to discuss his support of President Donald Trump and the state of the race to unseat Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

Tuberville reiterated his belief that “President Trump has saved this country.”

He said he was unsure who the president will support in Alabama’s GOP senatorial primary, if anyone, but emphasized Trump’s support “goes a long way in the state.”

Tuberville also reaffirmed that he will not take his salary if elected to the U.S. Senate.

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“[W]e’ve got to get away from the career politicians,” Tuberville remarked. “I’m not an establishment [candidate], I don’t owe anybody anything. I’m not taking a salary. I want to do it for the right reasons.”

The guest host then asked the former college football coach if his ties to Auburn might dissuade some Crimson Tide fans from voting for him.

“You know, before I decided to run, I did my due diligence,” Tuberville responded. “I went across the state talking to people about this.”

“And you know, at the end of the day, the people of Alabama — they trust football coaches a heck of a lot more than they trust politicians,” he continued. “So, I’m going to get as many (University of) Alabama votes. I’m going to get Auburn votes.”

“We need something strong, you know. We need people who make decisions for the right reasons. And they trust football coaches in this state, I promise you that,” Tuberville concluded.

Watch:

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Mondays for Moms: Let them be little

Let them be little

I was rocking my littlest one to sleep this weekend when out-of-the-blue stressful thoughts began savagely invading my somewhat peaceful brain …

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What about those dishes, Erin? You forgot to clean the kitchen table after lunch.

When are you ever gonna get to all those baskets of laundry that are piling up like garbage piles on trash day? 

And how about those windows that have prehistoric fingerprints on them from when the babies were just that … babies … ahhh!

Then, my little girl’s hand gently stroked my arm. She had no clue that her simple gesture soothed her over-stressed momma instantly.

Today, I am rocking my little girl comfortably in our glider tucked away from the crazies of the real world. But, one day I’ll be rocking nervously back and forth in my bed waiting to see the lights from her car pour onto my comforter signaling she has made it home safely once again.

Today, I am cutting the edges off of my toddler’s toast to make sure she enjoys every bite. But, one day, I’ll be desperately avoiding cutting the “helicopter mommy” cord on her wedding day wishing more than anything to be “slaving away” on the heart-shaped PB&Js in the kitchen again.

Today, I am hoping she doesn’t scream “mommy” one more time while I hide under the dining room table searching for any amount of sanity that might be miraculously hidden under there. But, tomorrow, I will be giving any amount of money to hear her say my name each time a need arises in her precious adult life.

Today, I am folding her sheets and towels only to discover her playing hide and seek tucked deep in the laundry basket among all the dryer sheets and warmth. But, one day, I’ll be reluctantly walking the aisles at Target with her shopping for dorm linens, shower shoes and bath caddies.

Today, I am reading her bedtime stories and singing soft little tunes as I have the privilege of tucking her in. But, one day, I’ll be reading her name on a graduation pamphlet and fighting back tears as I sing hymns of congratulatory praise for her accomplishments.

So the laundry, the dishes and the tidying can take a seat. All those chores can be done when I get around to it … whenever that may be.

Because right now, I’m gonna let her be little. And soak up every last minute of it.

To receive encouragement and read more about thriving rather than simply surviving in motherhood, check out Erin’s book, Cheers the Diaper Years: 10 Truths for Thriving While Barely Surviving here.