Behind the Scenes on Saving Mr. Charlie’s Trees

Aliss Valerie Terrell
7 min readJan 17, 2023
(Athens, Georgia, August 2023. Photo Valentine Terrell-Monfeuga)

I’m glad I didn’t know the preview/trailer would take such a long time to make, but no regrets! As my French friend and editor Chris says, “You can’t learn this in film school.”

Believe it or not, I hope to share it soon.

Detailed progress report below. Meanwhile, a glimpse behind the scenes that will shed light on where we are now in the process:

Sunday August, 21st 2022, in peak hurricane season and post-COVID airline chaos, I manage to land in Atlanta, GA with V and drive to Athens for a two-day shoot starting with interviews at the UGA forestry school that I had set up over the previous year.

Monday: We rendezvous with our videographer Kyle at 7:30 am, drive to campus, introduce ourselves, set up equipment, then film interviews of faculty and students most of the day, including one impromptu with the Dean himself, gleaning a lot of very interesting information and finishing off with a shoot at the iconic Tree That Owns Itself near our hotel.

Tuesday morning, for the nth time, I try to get interviews with the people who urged and oversaw the sale of the 1000-acre wildlife sanctuary and tree farm that Mr. Charlie entrusted to the university for safe-keeping (75–80% to logging interests), but they refuse to take my calls, for the nth time. Kyle films me trying to reach them and we end the morning with B-rolls (background and area shots on campus). Quick lunch.

For early afternoon, I’ve scheduled a session with Danna Smith, Founder and Executive Director of the Dogwood Alliance.

As a leading expert on Southern Forests, the dangers of industrial logging and its impact on local communities, she is the best person to put Mr. Charlie’s story in context with environmental issues and climate justice.

I’m hoping to find a location on the UGA campus to interview her, but the buildings we scout are occupied with classes and meetings and the outdoor areas are too noisy due to traffic and lawn mowers, so the only possible place turns out to be our hotel room.

It looks larger in the photo above due to the angle, but is really a tight fit, just enough space to tiptoe around the giant bed, bolted to the floor (?) that cannot be budged. A heavy settee in front of the window leaves a very small surface for us to place a squeaky chair.

Danna has generously taken time out of her busy schedule and drives down from Asheville, N.C. for the occasion. She needs to get back on the road and arrive home before nightfall as she’s traveling elsewhere shortly after our shoot. We agree to wear masks and distance to avoid all risk of COVID contagion before she gets on her flight from Asheville.

While Kyle and V ready audio, lights and cameras upstairs, I greet Danna downstairs in the lobby, our first in-person encounter after months of zooming and emailing. We touch base and go over the interview questions. I’ve already texted her to apologize for the room. It’s cold, damp and smells of mold. The window is sealed shut so we’ve kept the hall door open as much as possible to ventilate, but the air is very stuffy there, too, and doesn’t make much difference. Good sport Danna’s brought a sweater and isn’t worried.

Why don’t we change rooms, you ask? Because the hotel’s fully booked, we’re out all day and evening, don’t have time to negotiate with the hotel staff and aren’t sure what they’ll give us in exchange if we do. The one saving grace in the room is the background view from the window, a lush green that turns out to be a wall of invasive kudzu, but at least it’s more photogenic than the parking lot/highway backgrounds we’d have on the other side of the building.

Danna and I go upstairs, V installs the mic and we’re ready to begin.

(iPad screen shot taken later of raw interview video on my computer)

While Kyle tests the mic and tries to rearrange the lights, V runs downstairs to buy mineral water for Danna to have handy.

The set up’s not ideal, but the best we can do. Danna looks great on the monitor, without a speck of make-up. Let’s roll.

I refer to my notes for a lead-in and ask the first question.

Stop. Frequencies from Wi-Fi devices elsewhere in and around the hotel are bleeding into the audio. We can’t use what we just filmed. Kyle works some magic. Let’s roll. Ask the question again.

Bang clang bang. Somewhere someone is doing carpentry or plumbing? Stop interview, wait, start again.

Then loud voices, trash cans slamming, vacuum cleaners. Cleaning staff in the hall, V asks them to come back later, shuts the door to muffle the noise, and we roll again.

Miraculously Danna doesn’t lose her train of thought. We go through the questions and get her wise and informative answers.

Goodbyes, thank you’s, we’ll be in touch.

Cut to Paris, September: Chris and my partner Lewis export files Kyle uploaded on hard drive to Adobe Premiere on my computer, it bugs constantly, will have to get a new one. De-rush for hours, read through and correct transcript. Make sure I got the content I need. Early draft of synopsis and voice over.

Research stock material and family photos. How to tell the story in 2 minutes? Start lining up images. Listen to music. ID excerpts from interviews, cut down to minimum with most impact. Find other media. Rough demos on iMovie for Chris, to save time. Show to people for feedback. Appointment with lawyer for copyright advice. Copyright and licensing purgatory. One refusal, new drone footage from Dogwood to replace it. Plan captions, photo credits and end credits.

Keep going over trailer. Interviews good but Danna doesn’t look like herself. Overhead lighting casts dark shadows on her face when she turns her head. Can’t use the close-ups. Use wide shot only. Boost exposure? Still doesn’t do her justice. She’s not a Prima Donna so probably won’t be bothered by this, but I’m bothered. What can be done?

Now: working with Kyle and Chris to solve this before finalizing last details. Stay tuned.

Progress report: week of January 1–8

-Thanked life-long friend and new donor Laura for generous contribution.

-Researched American Forest Foundation on tip from life-long friend Sherry, AFF potential ally?

-Planned digital file storage reorganization on hard drives with Lewis

-Asked Lewis to save Dogwood Dropbox with new drone footage and stills to our Dropbox

-Chris did Back Up of new edits on SSD hard drive

-Lewis did BU on Master HD

-Integrated feedback from focus group done over the holidays, organized notes

-Wrote shorter “meaner” trailer to make if needed

-WeTransfer-ed new drone footage and iMovie demo for next edits to Chris

-Made list of next edits (V7!)

-Zoomed with Chris for V8, planned next steps, briefed him

-He finished and sent me V8, I veiwed all versions to map out final steps

-Rewrote and timed new voice over

-Paid for license and downloaded music from Universal Music, checked how they want it credited

-Wrote out final versions of captions, photo credits, end credits, and VO

-Do I want Ken Burns movement for stills?

-Still have to record new VO and send to Chris

-Ask him for his hours

-Meanwhile, earning a living, home/family stuff

Week of January 9–16

-Listened to Michelle Obama reading from “The Light We Carry” on BBC: “When they go low, we go high” (Reminder to stay in integrity with my values)

-Telephone appointment with Dean of Forestry School on January 10

-Did he and everyone on UGA Forestry staff have all the information about the sale? Was there a miscommunication? Were they misled by lawyers and financial officers? Make sure they have all the information, including the videos of Mr. Charlie they may not have seen. Do they have any idea I called and emailed the UGA foundation for 7 month before the sale was finalized, literally begging them to help me find a way to preserve the bequest? Is there any chance to move the mountain? Would be great to have allies on Board and faculty

-Went through my archive, pulled out agreements signed by UGA and Mr. Charlie, letters from faculty, affidavits from friends and family to serve as reference during discussion

-Wrote 3-page script outline for phone appt w UGA to stay on track

-Confirmed appt

- 45 minute phone call with Dean and Head of Development: Could they use their clout and contacts to preserve the bequest at this point in time?How much did the sale bring in and what are they doing with the money?Has there been a public announcement? If not, why not? Do they not want it to go public?

-Sent follow-up email with video links info and confirmation of requests for help

-Emotional exhaustion


-Emails with Kyle and Chris for Danna Smith visuals

To be continued….

For more information:

Video link:

Originally published at on January 17, 2023.



Aliss Valerie Terrell

I’ve had several lives since coming to France: grad student, singer songwriter, writer and filmmaker, marriage and mothering….