Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Guest Blog: Leslie Morgan and 1 Woman, 15 Dogs & 1150 Miles

Independent filmmaker Leslie Morgan showcases the independent spirit. We are cheering for you Leslie! Keep us posted on your progress! Click here for the 1150 Project Web site

Here's Leslie's Journey. 

About the 1150 Web Series, Created by Leslie Morgan

Known as the last great race on the earth, the Iditarod is an 1150-mile sled dog race across the most dangerous and extreme terrain of Alaska. Fifty-eight year old Kathy Frederick is one of the oldest female rookie competitors to ever compete in this treacherous race and I, Leslie Morgan will be documenting her journey.

Kathy left a very cozy and successful life as a lawyer in Pennsylvania to move to Alaska to live out a lifelong dream of competing in the 2010 Iditarod. The race is the longest dog sledding race in the world and more than 1/3 of the competitors don’t finish the race. The web series will document Kathy’s journey the three months leading up to the race in March of 2010. You, the viewer will get to experience her journey with daily blog updates and web posts. Using live streaming, users can watch Kathy in real time and ask her
questions about her training. Will Kathy be able to fulfill her life long dream and actually cross the finish line? You’ll just have to watch what happens to find out.

Leslie's Personal Journey

I have had a few people curious about me, my background, who I am, why I am doing this so I decided to write this very personal entry to perhaps give you insight into who I am and why I chose to leave the comforts of Los Angeles, CA for the remote and rugged landscape of Willow, Alaska. This probably will be one of the longer written entries on this blog.

Last April my dear friend and business partner got very sick; we still don’t know what is wrong. No diagnosis has been made. I won’t go into too much detail as to try and respect his privacy.  However, I will say what was bad has gotten much worse and I have to be honest when I say I am not certain how much longer he will be here in this life. I am hopeful, but it has been an immensely challenging time and for the most part we had to go our separate ways. We worked together for about six years trying to build a business together and along the way he became my best friend.  Working side by side with someone 10 hours a day 7 days a week for six years can do that. Now we had our fights and our struggles, but we always joked that we were like an old married couple without the good parts of being married.  It is rare to find someone who balances you, but he was the ying to my yang, the peanut butter to my jelly and sometimes the oil to my water!

When he left in April to go to Atlanta to try to get better medical care, it was probably one of the hardest times in my entire life. It breaks my heart to even think about it and even now I can’t help but shed a lot of tears that he is no longer apart of my daily life. It is hard for me to truly explain unless you knew us, but the best analogy I can give is being without him has felt like I lost both my legs in an accident that was not my fault.

My business partner and I had a production company, films and television shows in development and right before my business partner got sick we almost got our first feature off the ground… that is until the financier pulled out. It was back to square one, but I was left to go it alone as he had to leave to try and get better. Throughout our time together we had a lot of almost there’s and it should have happened and we were so close we could taste it moments.  We had money for awhile to develop projects, we developed projects, we had money to make a movie. Then one day we didn’t have development money and we didn’t have money to make a movie. This was our cycle, the ups were way up and the downs were way down and suddenly we weren’t left with much and my business partner, worst of all, was not even left with his health. Every day for him is a struggle. Some days if he can make it out of bed he is lucky. I miss him terribly, but I knew I had to do something because his illness made me realize we only have so much time in this life and we better use it wisely!

For many months I was pretty lost and didn’t know what to do. Some days I delved into work, working 14-16 hours a day on the projects we had together to try and make something happen on my own.  Other days I could barely get out of bed and when I actually made it out of bed, I felt like I accomplished something. At the time I had a business doing consulting work, that supported me, but I also began  freelancing for websites producing content.  During the summer I got to work on a really fun web show called NARROW WORLD of SPORTS for Berman Braun and produced a segment for as well. At the end of the summer an acquaintance of mine posted a link to a web site about a dog musher named Kathleen Frederick. I looked at her website and was drawn instantly to her story. While on the site I found this page…

Shameless Huskies Volunteer

As soon as I read about Kathy, her journey to compete in the 2010 Iditarod, saw those beautiful dogs, I knew what I had to do! I instantly e-mailed Kathy explaining how I saw her website and was interested in volunteering for her for three months, but there was one condition. I wanted to document her life as she trained for the Iditarod. I knew it was a long shot; I knew that she could say no, but in my heart I knew I wanted to tell her story. Here was a woman who was almost 59 years old, competing in one of the toughest competitions where even veteran competitors have to pull out. She had a dream and she was going for it. One woman’s website was an inspiration to follow my own dream in doing this project.  It was the perfect time as I had no other immediate prospects; I was growing tired of struggling to do my own work in Los Angeles. I wanted something that I could control, a project that was mine that I could solely  be responsible for. I knew that I had to do something because everything that I was trying to do in Los Angeles just didn’t seem to work out.

At the end of October/ beginning of November Kathy and I were able to solidify my trip out to Alaska.  When I first read about her I thought I should try and shoot a feature film. I scrambled to try and get a business plan together, find $, the things I would always do before. Then it hit me. Why not just scale it back; create a project for the web. It would be video posts (episodes essentially 3-4 minutes in length), pictures, written blogs and live streaming once a week. I would create an entire interactive project that could eventually turn into a feature or maybe put it on DVD or Blu-Ray. By scaling the project down, asking for donations and doing it all myself it seemed much more tangible.

In December, I put together a short proposal that I sent out to about 200 friends, family and colleagues. To my surprise I got enough money together to buy my ticket to Alaska, buy a small SONY HD handicam with some accessories and some winter gear. Kathy offered to let me borrow any outerwear I would need as we are about the same size so that saved me about $1000+ in expenses.

During this time I decided to take a web class over at Dogma Studios called WebTV Prep with Brian Rodda and Damian Pelliccione. The class focused on the ins and outs of how to create your own television show for the web. I knew a lot coming in, but the class allowed me to pitch the project to class and get feedback from other people in how to really make the project better. Everyone was incredibly receptive, which solidified I knew I had something.

In December I worked with my friend Josh of Untangled Solutions to get my website up and running. Around this time one of my clients left me so I was down to one major client, enough income to get me by through till June. The site launched January 4. The first week of January I packed a bunch of stuff, bought the camera, re-learned Final Cut Pro (I hadn’t edited myself since 2002 even though I had worked along side editors). Working along side and doing it yourself is quite different.  Then on January 13th I flew here and have been here and will be here till the end of March.

Two days ago that other major client decided to part ways as he was struggling financially… so when I get back to Los Angeles I will either need a full time job or a few new clients for the first time in five years.  Being alone in a remote place was not an ideal time to find out your life back home was falling apart. It is frightening, but instead of freaking out I simply have tried to focus on making this the best project it can be. Plus listening to Kathy’s struggles to make ends meet to follow her dreams puts everything back into perspective!  Also I will say this if you want to donate to the project it will help immensely. Simply click on the donate button up above near the middle right of your screen. Hey what can I say a gal needs to eat even in a remote part of Alaska=)

Yesterday I spoke to my business partner. He felt well enough to talk to me on the phone. He told me how proud he was of me; I was following my instincts and that something good would come of this. I told him that I hoped someday we could work on something together again, and ultimately the reason I came here was because of him.

I guess if even one person finds inspiration in this, by following their dream, doing what is in their heart in spite of the odds I succeeded. Plus hopefully you will become a fan of Kathy like I have.


Unknown said...

Thank you so much for your support Jane! I am a firm believer in all of us indie producers supporting each other and our endeavors whether it is spreading the word or buying tickets to each others movies... by championing each others work it allows us to grow and broaden our reach! So thank you so much again!! I am a big fan of all you do so your support truly does mean a lot to me

Sled Dog Action Coalition said...

Please don't hype the Iditarod. For the dogs, the Iditarod is a bottomless pit of suffering. Six dogs died in the 2009 race, including two dogs on Dr. Lou Packer's team who froze to death in the brutally cold winds. What happens to the dogs during the race includes death, paralysis, frostbite (where it hurts the most!), bleeding ulcers, bloody diarrhea, lung damage, pneumonia, ruptured discs, viral diseases, broken bones, torn muscles and tendons and sprains. At least 142 dogs have died in the Iditarod.

During training runs, Iditarod dogs have been killed by moose, snowmachines, and various motor vehicles, including a semi tractor and an ATV. They have died from drowning, heart attacks and being strangled in harnesses. Dogs have also been injured while training. They have been gashed, quilled by porcupines, bitten in dog fights, and had broken bones, and torn muscles and tendons. Most dog deaths and injuries during training aren't even reported.

On average, 52 percent of the dogs who start the race do not make it across the finish line. According to a report published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, of those who do finish, 81 percent have lung damage. A report published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine said that 61 percent of the dogs who complete the Iditarod have ulcers versus zero percent pre-race.

Iditarod dog kennels are puppy mills. Mushers breed large numbers of dogs and routinely kill unwanted ones, including puppies. Many dogs who are permanently disabled in the Iditarod, or who are unwanted for any reason, including those who have outlived their usefulness, are killed with a shot to the head, dragged, drowned or clubbed to death. "Dogs are clubbed with baseball bats and if they don't pull are dragged to death in harnesses......" wrote former Iditarod dog handler Mike Cranford in an article for Alaska's Bush Blade Newspaper.

Dog beatings and whippings are common. During the 2007 Iditarod, eyewitnesses reported that musher Ramy Brooks kicked, punched and beat his dogs with a ski pole and a chain. Jim Welch says in his book Speed Mushing Manual, "Nagging a dog team is cruel and ineffective...A training device such as a whip is not cruel at all but is effective." "It is a common training device in use among dog mushers..."

Jon Saraceno wrote in his March 3, 2000 column in USA Today, "He [Colonel Tom Classen] confirmed dog beatings and far worse. Like starving dogs to maintain their most advantageous racing weight. Skinning them to make mittens.. Or dragging them to their death."

During the race, veterinarians do not give the dogs physical exams at every checkpoint. Mushers speed through many checkpoints, so the dogs get the briefest visual checks, if that. Instead of pulling sick dogs from the race, veterinarians frequently give them massive doses of antibiotics to keep them running.

Most Iditarod dogs are forced to live at the end of a chain when they aren't hauling people around. It has been reported that dogs who don't make the main team are never taken off-chain. Chained dogs have been attacked by wolves, bears and other animals. Old and arthritic dogs suffer terrible pain in the blistering cold.

The Iditarod, with all the evils associated with it, has become a synonym for exploitation. The race imposes torture no dog should be forced to endure.

Margery Glickman
Sled Dog Action Coalition,

Jane Kelly Kosek said...

Margery, Thank you for pointing out the downside of the Iditarod. All sides of an issue should be examined and explored. My blog posting is to support Leslie Morgan's work as an independent filmmaker documenting her journey. It would be great for you and Leslie to discuss your coalition and how your side could be explored in her work on documenting the Iditarod. Could make for a very interesting exploration in Leslie's work.

morganglory said...

I couldn't agree more Jane. This is an exploration of one woman's journey. Obviously there are multiple sides to every story and as someone making a documentary it is my job to explore all issues that come up within the confines of the film I am trying to make. I am not hyping the Iditarod either. I am hyping a woman who has a small kennel in Willow, Alaska who set out to try and complete a dream. I have seen first hand how she treats her animals and I have to say she treats these dogs like her own kids often times bringing the dogs inside to sleep with her at night.

As for Iditarod policy I know that rules have changed and I can not speak to that as my film is not about the race per se, but the woman running in it. I can speak of Kathy and her facility and how much attention she gives those dogs every day; the hours she sits massaging the dogs, playing with the dogs, and simply loving the dogs she has. The few retired dogs have gone to incredibly loving homes.

I think like in everything in life, there are positive and negative aspects. Some people I am sure do not treat their animals like Kathy. Just like some parents probably should not have children.

Also as you will see in future episodes I do talk about certain down sides to the sport such as injuries (to both people and dogs, 1/3 of the people don't make it across the finish line either).

Again this film for me was simply a testament about people fulfilling their dream and I respect everyone's opinion on dog sledding as well as their concerns. Again though there are negative aspects I know that when the race was founded it was to celebrate these animals. Sled dogs have helped save many lives back in the day by taking vaccines to people in need.

Again I would say that this documentary is not celebrating the Iditarod, the race, but one woman's life...