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The Pot Baron of Reality Television

The newest in the crop of marijuana shows launches on Sunday, April 19 when CNN introduces “High Profits” just in time for 4/20. The eight episode series features Brian Rogers and Caitlin McGuire, owners of the Breckenridge Cannabis Club, as they work to become marijuana moguls and eventually franchise their stores. It follows on the heels of MSNBC’s well received docu-reality series “Pot Barons of Colorado.” After wrapping up that marijuana infused marathon, executive producer Gary Cohen says he’s hooked.

“Pot Barons was a crazy sprint” says Cohen, who is the Emmy award winning founder of Triple Threat Television based in Stamford, Connecticut. “Those six months were as demanding as any I could remember.” Cohen deployed an eight-person team who worked around the clock out of a house in Denver. The program focused on the most successful ganjapreneurs in Colorado including the founders of Medicine Man, Euflora and Dixie Elixirs. Now he is developing and pitching new programs. “I expect to do lots of pot shows,” says Cohen.

Cohen got his start in television producing sports and documentaries. Triple Threat TV produced nine films for ESPN’s highly acclaimed 30 For 30 series. His team also produced ten episodes of MTV’s True Life and eight episodes for Biography. His foray into marijuana shows is a natural evolution for the producer of non-fiction programming who is a self-described marijuana lover and advocate. “I’m comfortable saying I am a marijuana person. Thanks to efforts of a lot of people who have been working at it for a long time I lived to see a day I never thought I would live to see. Prohibition is over.”

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Cohen is exploring how to do the marijuana version of various television genres such as talk shows, documentaries, cooking shows and music shows. One of those is a talk show with the Denver Post’s Cannabist pot critic Jake Browne who gets high and hangs out with celebrity guests. Cohen is shopping a pilot where Jake parties with former Denver Bronco Nate Jackson who wrote a book about getting high in the NFL. Cohen thinks a program like this will attract celebrities. “Marijuana is part of a brand. They’re eager to be identified with it in the right way.”

Cohen admits not every network is open to the idea of pot shows because there could be ad sales issues.   Even so, there are more channels willing to listen to a marijuana pitch now than there were a year ago and the reaction is “oooh that’s sexy, maybe we’ll get some viewers we don’t normally get.” While he was in Washington D.C. at the non-fiction television summit, Realscreen, he went up to a women’s network and asked if they were interested in talking and they said “yes, definitely. Let’s set up a call for next week.”

“There are an awful lot of people who get high. My interest is in leading the charge. I don’t want to follow the crowd. I want to do more. I feel like there are huge opportunities and we are getting out in front of some of them.” Cohen is looking at cable television and over the top networks and channels that are delivering programs through phone apps and streaming video on demand. “At the same time there is a marijuana revolution there is a television implosion,” he says. “There are more and more media outlets and millennials are not paying for cable.   You and I grew up in a world of half hour and hour television slots. Uh uh. Game over. Four minutes or eleven minutes or 71 minutes, it’s whatever it is. People will find it if they want it and it speaks to them. The doors have blown off old media and everything is different going forward.”

Cohen looks forward to returning to Colorado and cultivating his relationships with the Pot Barons. He describes his time in Denver as a “dreamy busman’s holiday.” In the meantime, he is casting for talent for new shows and producing a public service announcement for medical marijuana with a cast of 25 people with different conditions. He is also considering doing a documentary following the upcoming vote to legalize marijuana in California. “This is exciting work for me. The kind of people who are drawn to the industry are positive, energetic, they’re hard working like nobody’s business, they’re free thinking, they’re open minded, they’re creative. Six months ago I couldn’t have done it and now I can and now I really want to.”

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Going Back to Paniolo Country

My mother always had her head in her art. One of my earliest recollections growing up was her gluing tiny glass stones into mosaics of colorful peacocks. Then she shifted to ceramics and for years our cars could not park in the garage because of her kiln and workshop. When I sang in a choir called Na Kani Pela we needed to raise money so we could represent Hawaii for the Bicentennial. She conducted a group of moms who worked to make centerpieces of town criers from the 1700’s for our banquet. She was always up to her elbows in art projects. When my dad died she took up painting and during this time entered what I consider her most confident and creative period. I have paintings hanging in my home of a rabbi, of Japanese carp called koi, and of Parisian street scenes like you might see on Montmartre. She put her art away for a time when she remarried and spent years dancing the tango. I am a tanguera she once told me. For a time music took the place of paint and canvas. Now she is back at it with fancy figurines and fans and masks. Her art is full of fantasy and whimsy and old Hawaiiana. My favorite piece is an oil painting called Paniolo Country.

Paniolo Country by Art by Jael

I love cowboys and Hawaii and asked my mom how this painting came to be.  I am curious what catches her eye.

Years ago Dad and I flew to Molokai, Kalaupapa, which was the leper colony, with Bob Benson in his private little plane from Frito Lay. He asked us to join him for the day and he would get a special pass because they were getting ready to do away with the leper colony and turn it into a museum. As frightened as I was of flying, and especially in a small plane, we joined him with his wife Beth for that once in a lifetime opportunity. What I saw from the top of the cliffs was what the painting depicts. I remember thinking, wow, what a view! I thought this was the best view in the world and the poor people there cannot fully enjoy it. I did not paint this painting till after Dad died. It was when I saw one day in a magazine something similar and it reminded me of what I saw in Kalaupapa looking down. They used to throw the lepers down the cliffs into the ocean before Father Damien came. You could only reach the top at one time on horseback to bring supplies. There was no other way except a very narrow trail for horses and mules.

Paniolo Country is just one of many paintings and unique pieces you might enjoy at Art by Jael.  Her inspiration comes from the scenery of Hawaii and the imagery of her own imagination. Perhaps you will find yourself a treasure.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

To see photography by Vicky Collins visit Vicky Collins Photography.


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Gone to the Dogs

My friend, Niza Knoll, has an art gallery in the Santa Fe Arts District in Denver.  Knoll Gallery is a fantastic array of creativity and is emerging as one of the best galleries in Denver (in my humble opinion.)  Each year Niza does a juried exhibit featuring art on dogs.  Gone to the Dogs 3 opens this Friday, August 19, and runs through September 17.  I asked Niza why she does this particular exhibit each year.

“I grew up with dogs and always loved their company when I came home.  They give us unconditional love.  They fill an empty spot in my life.  I like being needed.  It always fascinated me that a creature so different than us can connect with our feelings and moods and be able to live with us.  I have always connected more with people that like dogs or cats so I thought it would be fun to share my love for this amazing creature with others.  It really has been lots of fun and I have met some great dog lovers.”

A couple of springs ago I was fortunate to have an exhibit at Niza’s gallery and I had a couple of dog photos that I took on display.  The chihuahua on the sidewalk was taken at Union Square in San Francisco, California. I loved how this pampered pooch was in complete lockstep with her owner. She was a little diva of a dog.

The other photograph was taken in Talkeetna, Alaska.  Talk about a dog and master looking alike. What characters!

Hope you can make it to see Niza’s show.  Her gallery is at 915 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, Colorado, 80204.  The Denver Dumb Friends League will be there with adoptable dogs so maybe you’ll come away with art and a pup to love.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

To see more photographs visit Vicky Collins Photography.

 


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“Life” Lesson

I’m reading Keith Richard’s book “Life” and came across a passage that really speaks to me.  It’s about how one needs to walk the walk before they can be authentic and talk the talk. Keith Richards is writing about the early days of  the Rolling Stones when he and his band were still teenage nobodies dreaming of creating the epic blues sounds of their idols, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson.  The passage goes like this:

“The drive in the band was amazing among Mick, Brian and myself. It was incessant study. Not really in the academic sense of it, it was to get the feel of it. And then I think we realized, like any young guys, that blues are not learned in a monastery. You’ve got to go out there and get your heart broke and then come back and then you can sing the blues. Preferably several times. At that time, we were taking it on a purely musical level, forgetting that these guys were singing about shit. First you’ve got to get in the shit. And then you can maybe come back and sing it.”

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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Where’s Doonesbury?

I must have been out of town when the Denver Post yanked “Doonesbury” along with “Peanuts” and some other comic strips.  I’ve been thinking I should write in or call or say something because I miss “Doonesbury” and I’m annoyed, but I haven’t and apparently neither have many others.  Westword wrote a blog about this.

http://blogs.westword.com/latestword/2011/06/denver_post_yanks_doonesbury_peanuts.php

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development



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Prostitution in Perspective

When I was a senior at St. Andrew’s Priory in Honolulu I was selected by my high school government class to spend a week at the Hawaii state capitol observing the legislature. My assignment was to select one bill under consideration, research it and follow it through the session. I chose the effort to legalize prostitution. At the time, Hawaii had a very active sex industry. My school was close to Hotel Street where the ladies of the night did business.  The bill eventually died (I don’t recall whether it was in committee or if it actually got to the floor) and prostitution continues to be illegal in the 50th state, as it is in all states except Nevada.

Prostitution, Mustang Ranch, Nevada, Reno

Prostitute at the Mustang Ranch outside Reno, Nevada

Recently I revisited the subject of prostitution for a story I’m working on for HDNet World Report.  What got the report off the ground was Senator Harry Reid’s speech before Nevada’s legislature on February 22 in which he called for “an adult conversation” about ending legalized prostitution throughout the state.  Prostitution is already against the law in counties with more than 400,000 people, which includes Clark County (home of Las Vegas) and Washoe County (home of Reno.)  Senator Reid said that Nevada would be more business friendly if the state finally eliminated legalized brothel prostitution from the rural counties as well.  “Nevada needs to be known for innovation and investment,” Senator Reid said, “not as the last place where protitution is still legal.”  As you can imagine, his comments have stirred up quite a pot.

The point of this blog is not to rehash the morality of the world’s oldest profession, nor is it to discuss the economic impact of brothels in the rural areas of the state, or make the case that legalized prostitution seems safer and smarter than its illegal cousin.  The point of this blog is that this journey opened my eyes to the humanity of women who do this kind of work.  Before I criss crossed Nevada visiting brothels I had a predictable response to prostitutes.  They were messed up and misguided.  Who could possibly do this kind of work?  Why would anyone sell their body to a stranger unless they needed the money to finance a drug addiction?  They must have a crushing amount of baggage that would lead them to this lifestyle.  And, of course, many do.  But the ladies we met in the rural and suburban brothels that dot the landscape were attractive, smart, friendly, savvy, confident and defied stereotypes.  Most were not fallen women without other options.  Many were educated and had goals in mind.  They were wives and mothers.  This was a means to a different end.  And at least in the brothels, pursuing their careers as independent contractors, they were confident and satisfied.   Now I’m certain the lives of women who do this illegally, on the streets, is much more dangerous and seedy. But in the safety of the legal brothels we found women who do this with class and dignity.

Asya, Donna's Ranch, Wells, Nevada, Paul Beban, HDNet World Report

Asya with HDNet World Report Correspondent Paul Beban at Donna's Ranch in Wells, Nevada

We met Asya at a small rural brothel called Donna’s Ranch in Wells, Nevada.  She had been working illegally on the street for years with a pimp who eventually dumped her.  Asya cried when she told us how painful that experience was.  But she chose to better herself.  She was sweet and chatty and enjoyed flirting with the truckers over the CB radio.  She smiled and batted her enormous false eyelashes and said she loved her life.  Asya was going to do this for two more years then wanted to start her own jazz bistro in her hometown of Houston.  She said it would be “groovy.”  Her friend, Simone, was a pretty blonde who had finally escaped the streets.  She said she had so many arrests that she would be in prison if she was busted once more.  She was happy here with a big huge laugh and strong opinions.  She loved to help in the kitchen and fancied herself a good cook.  She was saving to buy a house and was proud to be paying her taxes and contributing to social security.  “I do my part,” she said.

Demi, Emily, Mustang Ranch, Nevada, Reno

Demi and Emily at the Mustang Ranch outside Reno, Nevada


At the Mustang Ranch outside of Reno we met Demi.  “This is not my first passion, believe it or not,” she told us.  Demi became a prostitute to get through college and now owns a fashion boutique with her mother in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Her goal is to open one in Los Angeles.  “This is a means to an end for me to create my own life.”  Emily, stood out in a crowd.  She had cascades of platinum blonde hair and a girly dress and once made $84,000 in a month.  She was living with her grandmother and son in a car before she came here.  “I have options.  I just choose to do this as my option.”  She loves her job and her enthusiasm was palpable.  Both wanted me to know how empowered they felt and how proud they were to be Mustang girls.

Finally, at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Dayton, Nevada near Carson City, we met Paige and Brooke.  Paige is a 19 year old, new to the business.  She is studying nursing but hopes to become a physicians assistant instead.  She had the body of an athlete and said she participated in all sports in school.  She spent her free time trying to perfect pole dancing in the parlor and was very good at it and completely comfortable with the television camera.  And then there was Brooke.  She is a household name for her role in HBO’s series “Cathouse” and was featured in Hustler.  She was beautiful, smart and articulate.  We figured she has a career as a politician or lobbyist should she ever change course.  She came here of her own accord.  Wasn’t cutting it financially in Illinois working with adults with developmental disabilities and figured she would try something new.  “I’m using my best asset that I have been given which is myself,” she proclaimed.  Was this her long term career? “No.  I think I’m more of a free spirit than that.  When this is not enjoyable, when it’s not fulfilling, when the wind changes I’ll change with it.  Right now this works for me.  I’m having a good time, I’m making a good living, setting up a good future for myself, able to have the choice to do whatever I want.  And how lucky am I turning 30 to be able to say that.  Really.”

Paige, Brooke, Moonlite Bunny Ranch, Dayton, Nevada

Paige (L) and Brooke (R) at Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Dayton, Nevada

This was one of the most interesting immersions of my career and I came away from it with the realization that many of these women, at least in the legal brothels, are comfortable in their skin and see this as a career like any other.  They are not ashamed and seem to have a good time and they are able to look at the men who come through their doors with compassion.  Many prostitutes, believe it or not, go on to become nurses.  It was an eye opening week for me.  Each of these women made it clear to me they were doing this of their own volition.  They were in charge of their lives.  They were calling their own shots.  You can meet these young women on HDNet World Report on April 12.  See if they don’t make a big impression on you too.

For more on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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My Week in Detox

He told us his name was Ray Casados but on the street they called him Rah-Rah. He was a young tatted up heroin addict who was spending 90 days at the Hoy Recovery Program in Velarde, New Mexico, hoping he could finally kick the habit that had him by the balls, and move forward with a new life as a barber. He hailed from nearby Espanola, a drug trafficking corridor with multigenerational drug abuse and entrenched, life crushing poverty.  Rio Arriba County where he lives has the highest rate of heroin overdose deaths in the country.  Ray wanted to stop dealing drugs, to make money legitimately, and stay out of jail. He knew this was his last chance, that if he didn’t get his shit together he would probably spend the rest of his life in prison.

We met Ray and the other clients at Hoy while attending Ami Vitale’s multimedia course at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops.  It was a five day intensive that taught us how to tell our stories using DSLR cameras and Final Cut Pro.  Neither my partner, Karsten Balsley, or I had shot or edited video before, and like Ray, our learning curve was incredibly steep.  I shot with a Nikon D7000, Karsten with a Nikon D3S.  We are both accomplished photographers but everything was different.  We were told out of the gate that we would learn from our failures and over the week there were many mistakes and setbacks.  Karsten was cracking up as he helped log the tape because he could hear me saying “shit, shit, shit” as things went to hell in a handbasket.

For me the biggest revelation was that with multimedia production I could get out of my news box and break rules that have been ingrained in my head for 30 years.  I was also forced to be aware of things I simply take for granted when working with professional photojournalists and, especially, sound men.  I count on my photographers to notice things like lighting and composition so I can pay attention to producing.  Now I was doing it all myself.  These days in news production, sound men are often left by the wayside, but you come to edit with screwed up audio and you’ll tear your hair out.  I can’t thank Ami enough for her creativity, Jake for his patience and Final Cut expertise, and my classmates for their support as they struggled through their own projects.  We completed our stories in four days. No one got much sleep.

The week of the course was one of the most intense of my life, but at the end Karsten and I returned to Hoy and showed our piece to Ray and the other men and women at the center.  Throughout my career I have not had many opportunities to sit in a room with people watching my work. For this audience, that has been through so much, there was laughter and back slapping and especially gratitude that we were able to look at them and see their humanity. I know I saw Ray sit up taller that afternoon.  I believe Ray, Karsten and I now have a skill set we can use to make a difference for ourselves and for others, all because of our time in detox.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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Goat Tears: Wish I’d Thought of This

If all commercials were this much fun I think I might want to produce them. Kudos to editor Brent Herrington at 3008 in Dallas for a very clever way to sell pain reliever. I won’t forget Mission Pharmaceutical’s Thera-Gesic or the crying goat.  More fun even than the Aflac duck!

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Blair’s First Filmmaking Job

My 12 year old son, Blair Ewalt, a budding filmmaker and 7th grade student at Denver School of the Arts, just produced his first professional film.  It is a two and a half minute promotional piece for an exhibit called “The 4000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks” at Denver’s Mizel Museum. The exhibit opens on February 2, 2011.  

It took Blair less than two weeks to produce the video.  He shot it in high definition and edited it on Final Cut. He did the videotaping over Christmas break so he didn’t miss any school.  What makes me particularly proud about this is that his father and I didn’t get him the job.  The marketing manager of the Mizel Museum, Sue Stoveall, remembered his audition film for DSA, a short called “A Christmas Gift,” and thought he had the right stuff.

He will have his first paycheck soon and the museum is sending a press release out to the Denver Post and other media singing the praises of the middle school kid who they hired.  Congratulations, Blair.  Someday I’m sure we will all be working for you.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.

 

 


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The Grinch Who Stole Christmas Cards

As we speak I have 10 Christmas cards. I used to have a huge stack by mid-December but then I gave up on sending them. I guess I brought this on myself. I broke this tradition with much guilt and trepidation. It seemed quite sacrilegious to give up on holiday cards. We wrote a couple hundred each year (at great expense I might add) with pictures of our kids. But then it got so tiring with celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas and making tamales. Something had to give. Besides some years they didn’t go out until after Christmas or even New Year. Christmas cards in the mail by New Years. Then I found many of the people who sent me cards started sending them electronically. Singing, dancing Christmas cards online. And then I discovered I was keeping in touch with all those people who I used to send cards to on Facebook or by email. The once a year communication seemed unnecessary when you were in touch all year long. Of the ten cards I have, three are from people my parent’s age and one is from a charity asking for donations. It seems to be a lost art. But I miss those holiday greetings. The letter from Jim O’Donnell documenting every sporting event he went to all year long. The one from Ian Pearson with words that jumped off the page. The card from Orin Friesen which always made me laugh. And of course the pictures of children in various stages of growing up, even if they’re not so cute as teenagers, that lived on our refrigerator all year long. I think our electronic connectedness has caused one of the most civilized practices of all to disappear, the annual greeting in the form of a card, delivered in the mail saying happy holidays, merry Christmas and happy new year.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.