Crowdfunder Pick: Out in Alabama

What would you do to become a moviemaker? Bonnie Blue Edwards is the campaigner behind our Crowdfunder Pick of the Week, Out in Alabama, and her decision to change her life from Alabama cheesemonger to fully-fledged New York City artist took her to an unusual place: egg donation. We invited Edwards to tell her fascinating story.

You won’t catch many people watching Christmas movies during the summer. Especially in the blazing hot South. But my sister, brother, and I watched Ernest Saves Christmas with delight any time of the year. We loved Santa, Ernest, and the Elves, but even more than that we loved one particular background extra—our mother.

She was in an incredible shot, between the camera and one of the main characters as they were checking in at the airport. I don’t even remember which main character—all I remember is my mother’s super stylish pink blouse with 1980’s style shoulder pads, and her funky dangling earrings. I used to brag to my friends about my mom being in a film (and let’s admit it, sometimes I still do). That, ladies and gentlemen, was my first introduction to showbiz.

Out In Alabama

Sister, brother, and Bonnie circa 1992

Yet, as a tomboy hoodlum of the ’90s living in a small Alabama town, the film world was light-years away. My entertainment was running amuck in the neighborhood, going fishing and adventuring in the forests. The inkling of a magical universe of art and storytelling and, God forbid, celebrities, was nowhere in sight. But, being introduced by my artist mother to theater at a young age began to mold my rambunctious ways.  Although I was an athlete, I was also a singer, an actress and a writer, an ambitious and hardworking youngster who moved from school to school, gearing up to quickly flee Alabama. The night of my college graduation, my mother’s speech to my friends and family stated, “Bonnie was born a fiery red, and that fire has never gone out.”

I was a fearless student both at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and at the University of Washington in Seattle, studying international business. Then, the fickle recessional world was my slippery oyster. After job searching and pursuits abroad, fate plunged me back into Alabama feeling much older.

Out In AlabamaLiving back at home with the parents, I worked multiple part-time jobs as I gnawed on the thought of what to do next. I felt disconnected from dry international business, and found myself drawn innately to the art that had inspired me as a youngster. But the longer I stayed in Alabama, the more I began to ponder the notion of being in Alabama forever. At the time, my primary source of income was working as a cheesemonger—preparing, caring for, and knowing a whole lot about cheese. Sometimes I tricked my brain into thinking I could go far as a cheesemonger, maybe even have my own goat farm on some inexpensive Alabama land. Maybe I could marry a good ol’ hardworking cheese-making boy. Maybe, even though I had always cringed at the thought, I could have babies.

And that’s when I woke up. I needed to be somewhere else—somewhere with endless possibilities. I needed to be in New York City.

At a trip to the gynecologist for my annual checkup, I noticed a flyer on the wall for egg donation.  Then, it hit me. Although every fiber of my being told me it was not my destiny to be in Alabama, or be a cheesemonger, or a mother, I could still at least be part of the beauty of procreation. Even though I was not where I needed to be, I could help someone else accomplish their dream of having children. When I inquired to the doctor about egg donation, she smiled and said, “There is a great need for more egg donors.”

Returning home, I researched into the process of egg donation. I read about how all women are born with billions of eggs cells that are lost batch by batch during menstruation. In the donation process, the eggs that are typically lost through the monthly cycle are cultivated using hormones and then removed through a vaginal surgery. What makes someone the ideal candidate to be an egg donor, besides family history and psychological health, is the size of her ovaries and the number of follicles.  Well, I had just discovered at my checkup that I have larger-than-normal ovaries and above average follicle count. Plus, knowing that people in my Appalachian-derived family have ridiculously long life spans, I figured why not share my genetic gems instead of let them remain unused.

One very important detail I also dug up in my research was that the monetary reward for egg donation was twice as much in New York City as it was in Alabama. So, I decided that even if I went to New York and landed flat on my face in pursuit of something… I would still at least have earned some cash and experienced a slice of the Big Apple.

Out In AlabamaWith quick preparations, I was off to New York City. I spent a few months living with friends in Queens while I worked again, but now full-time, as a cheesemonger. I searched the city up and down for that bright shining opportunity I was seeking. And although six months later I had scouted out a comfy apartment in Brooklyn, I had not made much progress in finding anything else. I had sent application after application to any open position remotely related to the arts. Nothing.

One day, waking up feeling the heavy ache of dissatisfaction, I had an email in my inbox from The Moth—the international storytelling organization based in New York. My heart stopped as I remembered the day, months ago, when I had emailed their internship coordinator my cover letter and resume—the same day Hurricane Irene closed down subways as I sat anxiously in my Queens bedroom. After interviewing, I excitedly jumped on board full time to intern.

During the first week in The Moth office, when my love for the internship overpowered exhaustion from working full time in two places, I helped the Artistic Director, Catherine Burns, cut through a box containing an antique chair. It had been shipped, she said, all the way from Alabama. “What?” I said nervously. “I’m from Alabama.” She looked at me and smiled, “So am I!” Maybe it was my optimism, but this link to Alabama felt like an indication from the heavens that I was in the right place.

In the midst of starting the internship, I had also started Columbia’s Egg Fertility program. The process had involved in-depth interviews, evaluations, and physical exams. Yet, I had been stamped as fit and my information had been presented to an anonymous recipient. First things first, we both began daily hormone capsules to get our bodies on the same cycle. Meanwhile, my abdomen swelled and my emotions went a little haywire, but my happiness and satisfaction blossomed. Then, many months later and just as the internship was about to finish, the eggs were removed from my ovaries.

Quitting my job as a cheesemonger, I had no clue what would come next. Fortunately, I was asked by Catherine and the founder of The Moth, George Dawes Green, to be the associate producer for their upcoming project—the long-form story theatrical debut by Edgar Oliver. Again, that nagging intuition shoved me to say yes with no real producing experience and we worked hard altogether to put the performance, Helen & Edgar, on stage. As luck would have it, the show got a rave review in The New York Times and thrust me into the company of talented individuals.

Out In Alabama I followed my pathway of introductions, producing more sold-out theater performances and even going on tour as a videographer, until I was eventually hired to help develop a short documentary about mental health with an award-winning filmmaker. The same filmmaker was gearing up to direct Stealing Cars—an independent feature film starring Oscar-winning actors and producers. As assistant to the director of that project, I was presented with the real showbiz—not the my-mom-was-an-extra-in-a-movie-kind—full of long days, hard-work, and dynamic personalities. But all in all, as any filmmaker knows, it formulated unforgettable camp-like friendships.

But after wrapping Stealing Cars, the documentary I had previously been developing was no longer a project. The research I had done into mental health as associate producer had connected me to many inspiring people who all had wonderful stories to tell. And I felt horrible that the project they were excited to be part of had dissipated—their stories never to be told, at least through our film.

Feeling at a crossroads again and longing to share the stories of others, I remembered where I came from—the four-wheel-riding and catfish-frying depths of the South. From a hesitant cheesemonger to the proud donor of eggs. From a diligent intern to a full-fledged producer.  If I had made it this far, then why not forge ahead on my own project—one near and dear to my heart, that I had been secretly developing on my own for almost a year? After all, as my mother had said, I was born a fiery red.

Now, what will be my directorial debut is in motion through Kickstarter with Out in Alabama—a documentary about the brave Alabama communities that embrace LGBT rights. I was inspired to start the project as a means to support my home state while encouraging a worldwide movement. With Academy Award-winning filmmaker Cynthia Wade as consultant and two other firecracker ladies (Bren Coombs in LA and Jeanette Sears in NYC), the project is pioneered by passionate forces of nature. And although I cannot predict the trajectory of the Kickstarter campaign, at least I can guarantee my commitment to sharing the voices that want to be heard.

It dawned on me in a quiet moment: Without the timely monetary reward from being an egg donor, I would not have moved to New York City and taken on an internship, all leading me to become a filmmaker.

And so the world goes, circling and connecting all the different pivots of where you were meant to be.

Out In Alabama

With cinematographer Jeanette Sears. Photograph by Cameron Gray.

Watch the Kickstarter pitch embedded below to hear Bonnie Edwards tell you about the film herself:

Campaigners: Bonnie Blue Edwards

Target Amount: $25,000

Amount Currently Raised:$4,305

Campaign Closing Date: May 23, 2014

Funding Goes Toward: Creative planning, brainstorming, permits, insurance, legal fees, crew wages, food, housing, equipment, transportation and travel, editing, mixing, music, distribution, and promotion. Basically, everything.

Donor Reward Highlights:

+$45 or more: Go to a private party in Birmingham, Alabama, with the  filmmakers, documentary participants/supporters, sneak peek footage, live music, and probably alcohol.

+$100 or more:  One ticket to a screening of the film (upon its completion) in Birmingham, Montgomery, LA, or NYC, which features a Q&A with the filmmakers and participants/supporters, plus a poster or tote bag.

+ $500 or more: Attend a private screening (only 6 contributors total) with a group discussion about the film in the Birmingham area, NYC, or LA with the filmmakers and ten of your friends and family members.

Find out more about Out in Alabama at the film’s Kickstarter pageOut in Alabama on Facebook, and on Twitter at @OUTinAL. MM

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