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People / Interviews Companies / In Depth
Interview with Meredythe Dee Winter
Birthplace: Cleveland, OH
Education: B.A., Communications / Visual Arts, University of California at San Diego M.A., Creative Arts, Interdisciplinary Studies, San Francisco State University
Years in Film: 14 Years
Awards: 1999-2000 ASCAP Award for Educational Children's Music
John Lennon Songwriting Contest Finalist
1991 Recipient of the Bob Marley Peace Award

Sound Bites............
Big Break: I was introduced to Ross Hagen. I told him, "I can write anything you want, all you have to do is tell me how you want it". So he put me to the test and he liked what I came up with.
Turning Point: So I started to reevaluate what I was doing in my life. I'm not doing this to be rich and famous and shop on Rodeo Drive. I'm doing this because I really care about kids. I want to help kids that are under-served in this country.
Current Project: I'm working on developing "POW! Planet One Workout". It's a health and fitness show for kids and family. Obesity in preteens is up 75% and in teenagers; it's up 100%. Which means kids between three and 10 are not getting enough exercise.
Goals: I want to have "POW! Planet One Workout" be a daily interactive enhanced television show. I want to be the Shari Lewis for new media in the next millennium. I think she was great and it's really sad that we lost her.

Interview with Meredythe Dee Winter by Lotus Fong
Lotus: How did you get into television?

Meredythe: I took the back off the box and climbed in.


Meredythe: You finally got it , huh?

Lotus: I kept thinking about cereal boxes!


Meredythe: Remember those big, old black and white television boxes?

Lotus: Yeah!

Meredythe: I started making films when I was 17 years old. After I won my first film festival, I decided that instead of pursuing just being an actress, I would go to the university and pursue filmmaking. I studied with a lot of avante garde filmmakers and artists. People like Ira Schneider, father of experimental video, Louis Hock, a wunderkind from Chicago Art Institute, Standish Lawder, considered the father of experimental film, Jean-Pierre Gorin who worked with Jean-Luc Godard, Eleanor Antin, a wonderful performance artist and Babette Mangolte, one of the first French women cinematographers.

These were artists that would be featured in "Art World" and "Art Week" and only 10% of the population would even know what they were talking about or doing. It just changed my perspective and journey.

I went to Hollywood in 1985. A friend helped get me a job as a production assistant. Within a month, I ended up working in a studio once owned by Mary Pickford. I was hired to be a receptionist and that same afternoon I was introduced to Ross Hagen. I told him, "I can write anything you want, all you have to do is tell me how you want it". So he put me to the test and he liked what I came up with. He said, "Okay, you're hired! Instead of being a receptionist, you're now a screenwriter".


Meredythe: I said, "Cool, this is like a Cinderella story." So within a week we did the first rough draft and the second week we had the whole shooting script. I read 175 people in five days. The film was a teen, punk comedy, rock film kind of ala "Rocky Horror Picture Show". I wrote songs, co-authored the screenplay and casted. Unbeknownst to me, the studio was going bankrupt.

These Indianapolis racecar drivers had bought the studio. What do they know about running a Hollywood movie studio? I ended up doing another production with Ross and his wife Claire, "Reel Horror", which went to the Milan Film Festival - I was the Bulleted Ballerina, the ghost of Mary Pickford, the producer and director's assistant. So I worked about 24 hours a day for a week! Then I started getting P.A. jobs here and there. Eventually, I got into computer art and video.

Lotus: What prompted you to do children's programming?

Meredythe: I saw Mitch Snyder on "60 Minutes" and he said there's a law in Boston that if it's too cold and you don't take a dog off the street, they can throw the dog owner in jail. But there's no law, in this country that below a certain temperature, human beings needs to be taken off the street.

So I started to reevaluate what I was doing in my life. I'm not doing this to be rich and famous and shop on Rodeo Drive. I'm doing this because I really care about kids. I want to help kids that are under-served in this country. I wrote a proposal that was funded by a small National Endowment of the Arts grant to teach computer art and video to kids. I wanted these kids to feel like stars - Will Smith or Mariah Carey or whomever is "flava du jour". We wanted them to have the experience that they could be somebody. I thought, "What can I do to teach kids about taking care of the earth?" Because if they care about the world around them, they'll care about others and themselves.

That's how I started with "The Recycle! Kids". Steven Spielberg's not in the ghetto looking for talent but I am. I'm down there in St. Vincent De Paul / Joan Kroc Center for the Homeless and in the tougher neighborhoods - Bloods / Crip territory. There are drug dealers on the corners. "Would you like to buy drugs?" I tell them that I'm a teacher and then I tell the people at the recreation center. They say they can't do anything because these guys aren't holding. Well, they're offering me drugs and there's eight-year olds coming to take these workshops and there's nothing they can do about it.

Lotus: How old are these kids?

Meredythe: The kids are ages four to 12; they do "The Recycle! Kids" - sing and dance. Then they might draw pictures on the computer and do a postcard to the world. I was writing all these songs. And we were shooting music videos with these kids. I got a grant to do public access, a cable TV pilot, the original "Planet 1" which they still air sometimes. It's really embarrassing to see it.


Meredythe: It'll probably be on "America's Funniest Home Videos" some day. Anyway, it was so easy to teach these kids songs and dances in a few minutes. And these are kids are living in homeless shelters and very low income, underserved neighborhoods. Some of our sponsors have given us products.

Some of these kids don't get a new pair of shoes at Christmas or anytime. So we've taken them out to a museum or a festival, they get to be on TV, or in a music video, and they've gotten a new pair of shoes. It's a big deal for them.

Lotus: How did "Planet 1" and "Planet X" evolve?

Meredythe: I met Don Durban through friends who had organized the 25th Anniversary of Earth Day in Washington D.C. I had 90 of "The Recycle! Kids" performing on the National Mall in front of the Smithsonian. He had done some sports programming and there was a definite synergy. He had "Planet X" and I had "Planet 1". So we started putting the shows together. We did the first 13 episodes of Planet-X and worked 24/7 for a number of years.

We were really on the cutting edge of how you market to Gen X. It's a very underground, guerilla show. We use pro athletes and currently air on a variety of cable networks. We've done over 80 episodes in 5 years. "Planet X" is very reality based - very "in your face".

Lotus: Can you share a memorable "Planet 1" episode?

Meredythe: We did a show in Oregon with Keiko, the whale from "Free Willie". I was told that he responded only to little children and his trainers.


Meredythe: I had on this killer whale hat and I went over and talked to him. I said, "I'm not a real adult, I'm a big kid". Keiko swam over to the side and let me pet him a couple of times.


Meredythe: This was better than meeting Mick Jagger!

Lotus: I understand that you've received appreciation letters and awards from Vice President Al Gore, the Boys and Girls Clubs, UNICEF and the United Nations Environment Programme. What's your next challenge in your career?

Meredythe: I'm working on developing "POW! Planet One Workout". It's a health and fitness show for kids and family. Obesity in preteens is up 75% and in teenagers; it's up 100%. Which means kids between three and 10 are not getting enough exercise. If a parent can't afford to put their kid in soccer, baseball or ballet, a lot of these kids just don't the exercise they need.

When I was exercising one day, I thought, "Wow, I just finished this great album [Planet 1 Songs: The Show Vol. 1] and I have all this great, high-energy music". I'll mix the original show with my music and create the "POW! Planet One Workout". Workout your body, workout your brain, workout your world! Kids like this music. It's not like Barney. It's hip-hop, reggae, boogie-woogie and rock and roll.

Lotus: What's your role in the American Film Institute/Intel Enhanced Digital Television workshop?

Meredythe: We were one of 11 groups chosen to participate. It's our second year. We try to answer questions like, what is enhanced digital TV? What is interactive TV? How do we take the web and television and blend it together? Who are we creating this for? How is going to work? How is it going to work for the general consumer?

Gen Y is the first generation that is truly "wired" - that's grown up with computers and cell phones and all these other things. There are some at the upper end of Gen X who aren't as computer literate or computer savvy as Gen Y. This is all being geared to Gen Y. Some people just don't get it. It has nothing to do with age. It's all where you are mentally. We need to understand that this IS taking over the industry. It's going to be mainstream in five years.

Lotus: Where would you like to be in five years?

Meredythe: I want to have "POW! Planet One Workout" be a daily interactive enhanced television show. I want to be the Shari Lewis for new media in the next millennium. I think she was great and it's really sad that we lost her. Right now, I'm looking for an angel for my shows. There's nothing quite like this show on television. I'd like to go to places like Pocatello, Idaho and bring Hollywood to those kids. If that means we go do the "grocery parking lot" tour and we come and do our music and then we videotape our segments in that area, that's great. Some kid might e-mail us and say, "Our school has the best bake sale". Why is it the best bake sale? So we're out doing a concert tour and we'll go and find out.

We want kids to e-mail us suggestions. I really want this show developed. The reason I'm doing this is because we're trying to help homeless and under-served youth and bring art education to all kids. Bring multi-cultural types of things, have them understand the world and take care of the environment.

Lotus: What's the "Planet One Posse"?

Meredythe: It's how we're getting the older kids involved. Through the "Planet One Posse" - they are the youth leaders. The kids are proud to be part of the Posse. If they're part of "Planet One Posse" and they're working towards peace, doing good things in the neighborhood, helping senior citizens, helping their mom and dad, doing well in school and getting educated.

That's one of our biggest messages - get educated. Stay healthy and fit, become productive members of society. Do something in your community to help someone less fortunate. That's really the goal of all this. The kids have an opportunity to be on TV. It's almost like Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame. Okay, what's cool about you? Why should we put you on? We're discovering new talent and we're making kids have self esteem and they go "Wow, I can do that. I can BE somebody. I don't have to live in the street. I don't have to be at a homeless shelter."

Lotus: What episode gives you the most personal satisfaction?

Meredythe: The network submitted one of our "Planet X" episodes for an Emmy. The episode, "Andy Goes to Bosnia" was about disabled and amputee athletes. We thought it was really great because a lot of sports programming doesn't get to that kind of level. One of our wheelchair athletes, Andy Houghton, went over to Bosnia with the United Nations Relief Committee to pass out wheelchairs and teach wheelchair sports to people who have been disabled because of the war. It was the most amazing footage. I'm very proud of that.

To see these people running, jumping, rollerblading. It's not like you go, "Oh I feel sorry for that poor guy in a wheelchair or that girl that's a double amputee". These people run faster and are healthier and are more fit than most of us. And to see these challenges and obstacles that they've overcome and how remarkable that is. When I feel sorry for myself, I think about a lot of these amputee athletes and wheelchair athletes that I've met. They're out there and they're pushing themselves and look what obstacles they have to overcome. If they even see it as an obstacle. They accept... This is my life... This is what I have to do.

Lotus: Who do you find inspiring?

Meredythe: There's another little boy, Rudy Garcia-Tolson, who's a double amputee. We did an episode on Rudy's triathlon team. Rudy swam, Robin Williams biked and Scott Tinley ran. Rudy is amazing to me. I show the kids these segments. So when they say they can't do math or they can't do this or they can't do that, they can see Rudy, a little boy who has no legs below the knees, swim in the ocean and finishing a triathlon. He just completed all the legs of a triathlon recently, by himself. They call him Braveheart. This is the stuff that touches me.

I want people to see and understand people like Rudy. And I want them to teach their children too. We have to be a more tolerant world. We can learn from all sorts of people. That's something really special that we've done with our show.

Lotus: Can you share a favorite "Planet X" experience?

Meredythe: One of the greatest experiences with "Planet X" was in 1995 when we went to Montserrat, a little island off the coast of Antigua, for a Fat Tire festival. We climbed over 3,000 feet to the top of the volcano there. The next day, the volcano ashed the town. If we were up there when it ashed, we'd be dead because of all the dangerous gases. We were very lucky.

We were also very fortunate that the Ministry of Education agreed to let us visit one of their elementary schools. These beautiful little children read poems they had written about the volcano and what it's like to have a volcano destroy part of your island. Earlier in the year, they had a hurricane. These kids had been through a lot in a year. We did interviews and they read their poetry and did some of their native dancing and they sang some of my songs. It was such a remarkable experience.

Lotus: That's incredible! Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

Meredythe: Thank you so much Lotus.

Lotus Fong is a writer living in California.
She enjoys Cuban food, Gong Li movies
and Doris Day musicals.
Lotus can be reached by clicking -->


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