5 months ago

Roy Wood Jr. wants to help grow the television and film industry in Alabama

Comedian Roy Wood Jr. came home to Birmingham to produce a television show but ended up playing the part of Nick Fury in the Avengers movies … sort of.

“Organizing the infrastructure needed to make sure a television show could happen here in terms of finding all of the resources – you knew they were here but you had to find them,” Wood said. “It was like Samuel L. Jackson in the Avengers movies going around from hero to hero to form the Avengers. You had to go to Iron Man, ‘Hey, do you have a camera? Cool.’ You had to go to Captain America, ‘Hey, do you have a truck with stuff in it? Cool.’ Then you’ve got to go over to the Hulk, ‘Hey, Hulk, we’re trying to shoot a TV show. Do you have lights? Do you have a building where we can put the camera and the truck stuff? Cool.’ ‘Hey, Comedy Central, these guys have trucks, lights, cameras and it’s just as affordable as Atlanta. Can I do my show?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Thank you.’”

It took Wood 18 months to assemble the pieces needed to produce a television show pilot in Birmingham and show Comedy Central he could do it at a cost that compared to Atlanta.

“It was worth it because at the end of the day we were able to shoot the pilot for ‘Jefferson County: Probation’ here in the state,” Wood said.

Roy Wood Jr. talks filming Comedy Central pilot in Birmingham, growing film industry in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

He did so with a 90-person crew, 60 of them Alabamians and many of them minorities.

“It was a very inclusive crew and staff and that’s something that I’m very, very proud of,” Wood said. “Because, ultimately, where film and television are concerned, if you’re trying to grow an industry, there has to be opportunities to work and so many people look past Alabama. To be from here and have an opportunity to shoot a project and to not fight first for Alabama to be a place, I would be remiss if I didn’t do that.”

The pilot for “Jefferson County: Probation” is still in development at Comedy Central.

“We’re looking at maybe reshooting a scene or two and maybe reworking some of the script,” Wood said. “I still maintain a great relationship with Comedy Central, lots of projects in the hopper. ‘JeffCo’ is just one of those that’s taking a little longer to get done.”

Wood hopes that the show gets picked up and he intends to shoot it and some of his other ideas for shows in Alabama.

Alabama has had some success getting movies to shoot here.

The Alabama Film Office reported 20 film and TV productions qualified for state incentives in 2019 and spent nearly $72 million while in Alabama, up from $63.5 million during the previous year.

“Film productions have a huge economic impact when they come to a community,” Kathy Faulk of the Alabama Film Office said in a recent story. “Many local behind-the-scenes crew, such as carpenters, electricians, painters, technicians, make-up artists and extras are hired. Creating jobs is what this is all about.”.

While such one-off projects are important, Wood said a television show can be even more significant.

“Film is very important to things working in a place, but I honestly believe that TV can help sustain a market,” he said. “You need a television show that shoots regularly, and not just reality shows. I know that there are reality shows that shoot in the state and they are viable and they are important, but if you have a scripted show, that is shooting 10 to 13 episodes on a regular revolving door.”

Wood joked that just like Chicago has a growing list of shows with “Chicago” in their names, he doesn’t see why the same couldn’t happen for Birmingham.

“’Chicago Med,’ ‘Chicago Fire,’ ‘Chicago Pizza,’ ‘Chicago Truck,’ ‘Chicago Hospital,’ ‘Chicago Police,’ like, that’s what I dream for, but in the short term, we just hope that the pilot comes together and that Comedy Central gives us the green light,” Wood said. “In the meantime, we continue to develop the show. And that’s not the only project. The more stuff that I write, the things that I create, I think there are ways to do things around here that are just as on point as anywhere else in the country.”

“Jefferson County: Probation” was inspired by Wood’s own brush with the law as a teenager when he was able to avoid jail and serve time on probation for attempting to use a stolen credit card to buy some blue jeans. The experience taught him how great of a role probation officers play in helping people go straight.

“What I discovered was how much of the system is based on just whether or not someone cares,” he said. “This is a television show about what would happen to recidivism if more people cared and also if the people on probation always did the right thing.”

It’s a different part of the criminal justice system than we’re used to seeing on television, Wood said.

“I think it’s a story about an honest piece of America that’s rarely discussed,” he said. “When you generally discuss law enforcement and entertainment, it’s either catch the crook, court with the crook or the crook in jail. There’s never a conversation about what it looks like to re-enter society as a different person or maybe you didn’t change. Either way it’s about the men and women that work day in, day out to interact with these people to help give them the opportunities to rebuild their lives after making bad mistakes.

“The job of probation (officer) is considered law enforcement, but I think it’s probably 70% social work,” he said.

Expanding an industry

Wood would like to see it easier for other movies and television shows to be produced in the state.

“There were so many problems that I had to solve first, before even making the proposal to Comedy Central,” he said. “When I talk about that, I’m talking about things like just making sure that there’s just the infrastructure of just having the proper grip trucks that you need – the things that you need just in terms of making sure that you have trained crew.”

He wants to be involved in finding the solution.

“I think doing what I can to build film and TV in Alabama is very important,” Wood said. “This isn’t something that’s exclusive to Birmingham. There are great vistas down in Mobile. Mobile has a very strong production crew. Huntsville is making noise. To me, this is about the state of Alabama and if I have an opportunity to bring my projects here that are ‘bona fide’ by the (West) Coast, then it helps to bonify the state. That’s not a bad thing and I think that’s a very fair contribution.”

Wood grew up in Birmingham and he said he learned to appreciate the city and the state after he left it. Wood said he soon learned that building up the image of Alabama was more important than trying to build up the image of Birmingham.

“I think that Alabama stands to gain as a group,” he said. “The reason why building Alabama is important is because when you leave your respective city in Alabama, nobody cares about your city, they just say, ‘You’re from Alabama’ and then they crack jokes or they make assumptions on you based on the state you’re from, not the city. So, whether you like it or not, when you leave Birmingham, when you leave Huntsville, when you leave Tuscaloosa, to the rest of the world, you’re just from Alabama. They ain’t got time to separate us because they think we’re all dumb. So, to me, it’s important to uplift the state and talk about the state as a whole because once those perceptions change, then I think that’s where you can have a lot more growth.”

Not that Wood is interested in taking on everyone who has something negative to say about the state.

“In the meantime, we can’t be worried about what the outside thinks about us, we have to rebuild and repair from within,” he said. “I think that Alabama’s a very resilient place. I think it’s a place that is very focused on growth. There are a lot of people in this state that I believe don’t do things that benefit this state. There are a lot of people in positions, in elected positions in this state that I truly don’t believe are for this state. But in spite of that, we’ve still got to work and pull your bootstraps up because if there’s one thing that’s clear, there’s nobody on the outside gonna help us.”

Wood’s father worked in radio and, after going to Florida for college, Wood would return to Birmingham where he got a job at 95.7 JAMZ in 2001. His comedy skits on the radio and his work on his stand-up comedy career earned him recognition at Comedy Central and a regular spot on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”

These days, Wood very much wants to use his standing with the network to help make his home state better. He’s become an ambassador for Birmingham and Alabama to his friends in Hollywood and New York and when he brings them to town he takes them to places like Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-QNiki’s WestGreen AcresMilo’s and Yo’ Mama’s.

“When I’m home, I’m trying to get all of the stuff I can’t get when I’m somewhere else,” Wood said. “If I come home and my friend wants to go to Applebee’s, I’ll curse them out. No disrespect to Applebee’s, but I can get that other places. When I’m home, you can’t get Niki’s West in New York City.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 mins ago

Trump fires TVA board chair after outsourcing uproar

President Donald Trump on Monday announced that he was removing the Tennessee Valley Authority’s board chairman, Skip Thompson, an Alabamian.

Thompson, a resident of Decatur, is the president and CEO of Corporate Billing, a subsidiary of Birmingham-based National Bank of Commerce. He previously served as the president and CEO of both First American Bank in Decatur and First Commercial Bank in Huntsville, as well as serving on the board of Decatur Utilities.

Trump appointed Thompson to the TVA board in 2018. He was elected chairman of the board last year.

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The president on Monday cited TVA’s plan to outsource information technology jobs overseas as the reason for firing Thompson and one other board member. Trump warned the other board members that they would be next if the outsourcing continued. The president also called on them to replace the organization’s CEO, who Trump said was making far too much money.

The president added, “Let this serve as a warning to any federally appointed board: If you betray American workers, you will hear two words: ‘You’re fired.’”

The TVA is the electricity provider for much of North Alabama. Self-described as “a corporate agency of the United States,” it is regulated at the federal level and not under the jurisdiction of the Alabama Public Service Commission.

Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) applauded Trump’s move on Monday.

“TVA fires AMERICANS & hires cheap foreign labor,” the North Alabama congressman tweeted. “TVA executive salaries EXORBITANT. TVA=NO competition, unlike private sector execs who compete to earn profits to earn pay… WAY TO GO [President Trump]!”

RELATED: Doug Jones: ‘The TVA has lost its way’

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

19 mins ago

The cancellation of in-class schooling should lead to more school choice, not less

The global coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on our way of life, our economy, our politics, and with school about to start for most Americans, it is about to change how that institution works as well.

Reportedly, one-third of Alabama’s school systems will start fully online and two-thirds of schools will open with in-class options.

Each school system has these options at their disposal, and the local systems should do what they feel is best.

Parents, however, are at the mercy of elected officials and school administrators who more often than not will defer to the whims of the all-powerful education associations that still dominate local, state and federal elections.

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The Alabama Education Associaton (AEA) is still around and still a player. In spite of their lack of popular support, Republican and Democratic politicians bow to them.

And why shouldn’t they? These groups are still able to motivate teachers and generate campaign contributions.

Is the AEA as powerful as it used to be? Obviously not. Is it still strong? Yes, very.

The school systems that have completely shelved the beginning of the school year for an online-only option are now leaving some parents in a lurch with young kids at home and no way to teach them and earn an income themselves.

But if you are an educator, you are in luck. The school systems are working to provide teachers with the ability to bring their children to school.

Huntsville City Schools has not made this choice yet, and wouldn’t you know it, but teachers are rather annoyed by this.

(Note: I shared the following posts on Facebook and many of those involved were aghast that their Facebook posts were shared, so I will just quote them)

I have 3 littles and am waiting to hear from the district so I can plan for them. You are right, when teacher mommies and daddies know that their own personal children are cared for, it makes it so much easier to go above and beyond for the children of others.

Could it work that teachers could bring their kids, The kids would be disbursed to the appropriate grade and taught in class. Mom would teach her grade level and when school is over they would go home. Their kids would be the lucky ones.

Have you heard anything about our educators, who are teaching remotely, being able to take their school-age children to their classroom? They only have a few days left to make plans.

These teachers will be allowed to bring their kids to work, and they will get what they want.

Parents? Deal with it.

Your “littles” aren’t “the lucky ones.”

You “mommies and daddies” don’t need the assurance that your “children are cared for” so you can perform.

This is embarrassing but telling. They have the stroke and they call the shots.

And why shouldn’t they? Alabama schools are 51st out of 50, so give them more power. Help kill the school year for everyone and then demand the school systems take on the responsibility and liability — and there is a liability here — so teachers can keep working.

Yes, yes, what about those babies?

The decision-makers are risk-averse, but they are also in a situation where they want to take care of the teachers.

But this is not the only concern at play.

Alabama’s political leaders should demand a special session be called to allow all parents who want their children to have the opportunity to be enrolled in an in-person classroom to have that option.

If the local school district says “no school for nine weeks,” 85% of the monies spent on their child should be given to the parents to make other plans.

This is the same percentage of money parents who take advantage of the Alabama Accountability Act receive, which teachers and their politicians hate, too.

But that’s how this works: perks for them but you just take what they decide.

What kind of assistance can this provide?

Private school? Parenting pod? Hiring childcare?

Make the parents produce receipts to get the money. It is unacceptable that the leadership has left actual parents out in the cold like this.

Something should be done for these parents. Unfortunately, nothing will be done unless your kids are one of the “lucky ones.”

Educators and politicians have left parents and students out on this one, so when this is all said and done, don’t be surprised if the push for vouchers and school choice grows.

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

51 mins ago

Alabama-built ship recovers astronauts after first crewed SpaceX mission

While SpaceX is just about the only major American aerospace company without a presence in the Yellowhammer State, Sunday’s completion of the historic Demo-2 mission still managed to have an Alabama connection.

Demo-2 was SpaceX’s first-ever crewed mission for NASA and the first crewed orbital launch to depart from the United States since the final flight of the space shuttle program in July 2011.

The mission lifted off on May 30, when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket powered Endeavour from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After a one-day trip, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at the International Space Station.

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On Sunday, the Endeavour Capsule splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, with the two astronauts strapped inside. This marked the first crewed ocean return since July 1975. The Endeavour’s splashdown was also the first Gulf of Mexico return to Earth in NASA history.

The SpaceX recovery ship GO Navigator met Endeavour and hoisted the capsule aboard shortly after it landed in the water off the coast of Pensacola, FL.

GO Navigator was built by Master Boat Builders, which is located in Coden, AL.

An unincorporated community in southern Mobile County, Coden is located near Bayou La Batre.

Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, who is the Republican nominee in Alabama’s First Congressional District, highlighted Master Boat Builders’ contribution to the mission.

“I am so proud of the fact that Master Boat Builders in Coden, AL is playing a key role in history, with the recovery of the Space X mission today. Go Navigator was built by the Rice Family / Master Boat Builders in 2010,” Carl said in a Sunday Facebook post.

GO Navigator joined SpaceX’s recovery fleet in August 2018. Since then, it has gradually been upgraded to meet advanced mission needs. The vessel is now equipped with a medical treatment facility and helipad for emergency situations.

Its sister ship, GO Searcher, was also built by Master Boat Builders. The vessels typically work in tandem on SpaceX recovery missions.

You can view video footage from GO Navigator’s recovery efforts on Sunday here.

Since the end of NASA’s space shuttle program, Russian-made rockets and spacecraft had ferried astronauts to the International Space Station before Demo-2.

Both SpaceX and Boeing are part of NASA’s push to begin what is essentially a commercial space taxi service to the space station.

“We are entering a new era of human spaceflight,” commented NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Boeing’s Starliner was designed in Huntsville and is launched into space by an Alabama-built, United Launch Alliance (ULA) rocket. The Starliner program hopes to conduct its first crewed mission to the International Space Station in 2021.

Starliner made history last year, becoming the first-ever American orbital space capsule to land on U.S. soil when it touched down at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on December 22.

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

4 hours ago

Aderholt offers motion that would provide more law enforcement funding instead of lawyers for illegal immigrants

U.S. Representative Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) offered an amendment last week that would transfer $15 million from a Democrat-led effort giving undocumented immigrants legal assistance to a program that provides grants to criminal justice systems across the country.

The motion was introduced on Friday during the debate on an appropriations bill in front of the House.

In the Democrats’ bill, there is a $15 million pilot program that would give grants for organizations that “provide legal representation to immigrants arriving at the southwest border seeking asylum and other forms of legal protection in the United States.”

Aderholt argued that his motion “rejects the cause of any defunding of any police programs, and it increases the support for the many vital and compassionate missions of state and local law enforcement officers.”

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The program to which Aderholt’s amendment would have redirected the $15 million is the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program.

The Byrne JAG program is named after former New York Police Department officer Eddie Byrne, who was killed in the line of duty in 1987.

“In our nation, the fair administration of justice demands that competent and effective public defenders are a part of the system. Our annual Byrne JAG appropriations help to uphold this fundamental principle,” Aderholt told his colleagues while speaking on the House floor.

The JAG program bills itself as the “leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions.” Among the common uses listed for the funds are law enforcement, drug treatment and mental health initiatives.

United States law has long allowed for those in the country illegally to be represented by a lawyer, but never at the expense of the federal taxpayers.

“Madam speaker, our immigration laws are clear, and they prohibit taxpayer funds from being used to provide lawyers to unauthorized aliens,” stated Aderholt on Friday.

“Furthermore, an annual appropriations bill is no place to debate or overturn immigration law,” he continued.

Aderholt’s motion gained the support of all present Republican members and 12 Democrats, but ultimately did not pass by a vote of 197-219.

Watch:

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

5 hours ago

McInnis: Alabama businesses need our congressional delegation to pass liability protections

Before Congress heads out for August recess, members of Congress must pass the next round of coronavirus relief. As American families are struggling to make ends meet, there are a host of issues that need to be addressed. For Alabama businesses, reasonable liability protections from coronavirus-related lawsuits will be key to help protect small businesses and aid in our economic recovery.

Small business owners across the state have faced unprecedented challenges during this crisis. From the uncertainty regarding shutdown orders and trying to protect the jobs of their employees, to spending time and resources to ensure that they put safety precautions in place to protect customers.

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Now, besides facing uncertainty regarding whether they will stay open, and what the economy will look like over the next few months, businesses may face coronavirus-related lawsuits, particularly if they are essential businesses that have stayed open throughout the pandemic.

The cost of fighting unwarranted coronavirus-related lawsuits, particularly for small businesses, would be devastating and many could not withstand the financial burden. Given that the virus has reached “community spread,” it would be exceedingly difficult for anyone to prove where someone contracted the virus and also prove that they did not contract it in a specific business.

Thankfully, small businesses can be provided a lifeline if Congress passes reasonable liability protections for coronavirus-related lawsuits. We should not extend these protections to businesses that behaved negligently, but should for businesses that have taken the precautions necessary to protect the safety of their employees and customers. Hopefully, Senator Doug Jones will stand up for small businesses and join his colleagues in supporting much-needed liability protections.

Clay McInnis represents District 7 on the Montgomery City Council