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Jason Keller wrote the screenplay for “Machine Gun Preacher,” based on the true story of Sam Childers, whose book, Another Man’s War: The True Story of One Man’s Battle to Save Children in the Sudan, tells the story of his journey from biker to preacher to fighting to protect the children of Sudan and Uganda from genocide.

How did you get involved in this project?

Almost four years ago one of the producers called me and said, “I just heard the most amazing story.”  Sam was coming to Los Angeles so we met.  I didn’t know if I wanted to do the movie at first, as electrifying as the story was.  What the story let me to was Central Africa and I wanted to drill down and understand what the LRA is and about the child soldiers, and I couldn’t not write the movie.

That is such a large, overwhelming topic — how do you create a movie script out of that?  How do you decide what to leave out?

I didn’t want to write a political movie.  That wasn’t what touched me as I started to learn about Sam’s life and Central Africa.  I think of myself as fairly well-informed.  I read the newspaper, I’m constantly watching the news, I always challenge myself to learn about things that are not easy to learn about.  And here was a part of the world I thought I knew and as I got deeper into it there was an emotional response to what I was learning.  Innocent civilians being slaughtered and no one was doing anything about it.  I wanted to do a movie that would make people inspired, even angry, but not clutter it with politics.

What I’m proud of is that it isn’t so neat and tidy about Sam or about Central Africa.  There are no easy answers.  Sam’s not a great guy, even now.  It’s not a story of a bad guy turned good guy.  It’s about a human being who decided to make different choices, but he’s still flawed.  He’s still violent.  He’s still intimidating.  He’s still making mistakes.  It’s that messiness I responded to as a fellow human being.

You had quite a challenge with making this a movie that will appeal to a mainstream audience.  You have a religious conversion and you have problems in Africa.  How do you make those accessible to a wide audience?

Both of those issues are scary for Hollywood and to some degree to audiences.  We didn’t avoid those issues but we told a story that didn’t try to tell you what was right or wrong.  I didn’t take this project on to defend the way Sam does things.  Do you agree with him?  Let’s talk about it.  You might disagree with the religious components of this movie but let’s talk about it.  Let’s spark a conversation.  That’s the only way that we’re going to stay vigilant about these issues that are so vital.

Gerard Butler gives an extraordinary performance.

He has the physical presence for the role and like Sam he comes from a tough background, was going down a bad path early in his life.  He’s a perfect fit.

You lived with the family for a while in Pennsylvania.  What was that like?

It was crazy.  Every time he’d come to LA, we would meet.  As I was being pulled deeper and deeper into the story I realized I needed to go where this guy lives, see the church he built with his bare hands, meet his family.  I slept in their very modest house tucked out of nowhere in Pennsylvania.  I even slept in the church once, just to get the feeling of it.

That was the thing that really hooked me when it came time to commit to writing Sam’s life.  There are far too many amazing tales and he could tell you stories that would make your head spin around.  I listened to those, eagerly, for months and months and they were interesting and important.  But it wasn’t until I grasped the price that that man pays and that his wife paid and continues to pay for what he does over there.  Once I got that, it punched through all the other stuff and I was able to see that raw truth, that’s when Sam and the family came into focus for me and I knew this was the story I had to tell.

 

Paige Hemmis of “Extreme Home Makeover” has enough warmth and enthusiasm to power the show’s bus across the country.  It was a lot of fun to talk to her about the show’s 9th season, which starts this Sunday with a two-hour special featuring First Lady Michelle Obama and moves to Fridays in late October.

What’s going to be different this year?

We’re going into Season Nine, which I can’t believe!  We’re trying to go bigger and better and really help families that turn around and help everyone else.  We just got back from Delaware, where for the first time in our history we had to shut down production because of the hurricane and then go back.  That family runs a soup kitchen out of their tiny house and they give out 1000 meals a week.  We gave them an industrial kitchen and tons and tons of space so that they can continue to help the community.  That’s what we’re really trying to focus on, those people who look beyond themselves so that if we help one family that will help thousands of families in the future.

Did you get to go to the White House?

We film two shows at once and Ty flies back and forth.  So while they were working with Michelle Obama, we were in Utah on another project.  It was a fabulous experience.  The other team got to meet Michelle Obama and Rhianna in the same week!

Any other special guests coming this season?

It’s fun for us to have them, and we become fans and get all giddy and turn into little schoolgirls when the guests come on.  This week we have Chris Powell from “Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition.”  He’s helping me create a boot came for this mom who’s into fitness.  She works with mothers of kids with autism and she runs this boot camp for free.  I am so sore, even talking to you now, I am hurting in places where I didn’t know I had muscles!  He’s helping the mom but he’s also kicking my booty and getting me in shape and that’s fun!

Tell me about the special chair you had created for the wounded veteran.

Last year we brought in a company from Los Angeles.  They call themselves dorks but they are the nicest, sweetest guys.  They’re brilliant of course. They have created all this technology and last year they created a sip and puff system that allowed a father to pitch a baseball to his son.  This year, they created a chair that looks like an egg if you saw if from the back but it’s a sensory chair.  If you press “beach” a beach scene comes up in front of you and you hear beach sounds and even smell beach smells like salty air.  He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder so this helps him relax.  I snuck away and sat in it a couple of times and it’s really fun!

I understand that you are entirely self-trained in home repairs.

I feel like I am still learning.  About 15 years ago I had a rent-to-own program to help people get into their first home and save them money.   I would buy the homes and fix them up.  I was a wedding planner at the time and could not afford to bring in people to do the repairs.  I went to home improvement stores and got the books and try and try and I made a lot of mistakes but learned a lot.  At first I could repair a hole in the wall but by the end I was redoing electrical and doing roofing and bathrooms.  If you mess up, it’s wood or drywall — you can replace it.  Then on the show, I said, “I know how to fix stuff but to demolish and start over, that’s something else!”  But now we get to do the fun stuff.  Before I would fix an old toilet.  Now, I get to start from scratch, which keeps me learning all the time.

Grammy® Award-winning superstar Will.i.am (Black Eyed Peas) and Grammy® and Academy Award®-winning Jennifer Hudson have joined an all-star lineup of industry artists and professionals serving as mentors for The Hub TV Network’s new original reality music series “Majors & Minors,” premiering Friday, September 23 (8 p.m. ET).

Over the course of the TV season, “Majors & Minors” follows the journey of 12 talented young performers, ages 10-16, as they are mentored by some of the biggest and most successful artists and coaches in the music industry. The Hub TV Network, a destination for kids and their families, is a joint venture of Discovery Communications and Hasbro, Inc. 

Music star (and “Black Eyed Peas” founder) Will.i.am and singing/acting sensation Jennifer Hudson join a star-studded team of previously announced top musical artists as mentors (“Majors”) in the ground-breaking series. Also bringing invaluable music experience and star power are Adam Lambert, Brandy, Leona Lewis, Colbie Caillat, Avril Lavigne, Sean Kingston, Jordin Sparks, Claude Kelly, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder and Mike Posner.  Each mentor will provide guidance to the gifted young cast as they begin their roads towards individual stardom. While no one is ever voted off, one lucky “star-in-the-making” will claim the ultimate prize of a recording deal with Boardwalk Records/RCA Records and an opportunity to be featured in a cross-country concert tour.

In the premiere episode, viewers are introduced to the 12 cast members as they participate in the nationwide casting call process along with more than 40,000 young hopefuls. Selections of the final 12 were made by some of the music industry’s top professionals. R&B singing sensation songwriter Brandy guest stars as the premiere episode reveals the back stories that led each of the kids to this point on their journey to their dreams. Brandy also serves as a series mentor and producer on “Majors & Minors.”

The first original track from “Majors & Minors,” titled “One World” will be available on iTunes and all digital retailers beginning Tuesday, September 20. “One World”, which is performed by the “Majors & Minors” cast is featured in the premiere episode and was written by Evan “Kidd” Bogart, Justin Gray, David “DQ” Quinones, Nikola Bedingfield and the “Majors & Minors” cast.

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Winter the dolphin plays herself in this week’s terrific family film, “Dolphin Tale,” directed by Charles Martin Smith.  While the movie’s human characters are fictional, the story of Winter is true, and Winter herself is already a star, having appeared on the Today Show, CNN, and the BBC.

Winter was only three months old when she was hurt by getting tangled in a crab trap line.  She lost her tail and two vertebrae as a result of her injuries.  As explained in the film, without a tail for balance and steering, a dolphin will sustain severe spinal injuries.  Dr. Mike Walsh and Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics created the artificial tale for Winter, and she has adapted very well.  The Clearwater Marine Aquarium website explains:

How, you might ask, does one go about preparing a dolphin for a prosthetic tail? It certainly is challenging: attaching a complete fluke and joint onto an inexperienced dolphin had never been done before, but it was a challenge we felt good about! When we first started to train Winter to allow us to put the prosthetic on her body, we found Winter took to the process quite well. However, the series of approximations, or learning steps took some time. Over the course of several months, Winter learned the correct body position to be fitted for a stretchy, plastic sleeve, one that is also used for human prosthetics. Her trainers have creatively fashioned a more form-fitting version of the sleeve – it works wonders although it looks strange to say the least! The sleeve, in its original form, is ultimately used to attach the prosthetic fluke to her peduncle. After the sleeve is in place on her peduncle, the muscular part of a dolphin before the tail-flukes, we are in turn able to put the prosthetic on top of the sleeve. Once the prosthetic is in place, we check to ensure a snug and comfortable fit. We will ask Winter to swim with the prosthetic for a lap or two around the pool and re-check the fit of the tail before we start the workout! Tail flukes are the powerhouse of the dolphin. Without her prosthetic, to compensate for the absence of flukes, Winter utilizes her entire body in order to propel herself forward, moving from side-to-side like a shark. Behaviorally, our goal is to use the prosthetic as a cue or “discriminative stimulus” to swim in a normal up-and-down fashion working all muscles that surround the peduncle while still maintaining her ability to swim comfortably when the prosthetic is off. In our latest sessions, we attempt to convey the idea that calm behavior is the name of the game; persuading a playful animal to pay attention is like trying to get a pre-schooler to be studious. Our training process with the prosthetic tail is an ongoing process. As mentioned earlier, it takes many creative minds to build what is ultimately the best for the animal.

As the footage at the end of the movie shows, Winter has been an inspiration to disabled children and veterans learning to adapt to their own prostheses.  Clearwater Marine Aquarium has resources for kid who want to learn more about dolphins.  And you can follow Winter on Twitter: @winterdolphin