Category Archives: Lights. Camera. Help.

Learn How to Create Great Films with Lights. Camera. Help.

I had a great time last year at the 2012 Lights Camera Help film festival! As part of the festival, they showed my short film, Native Plant Avengers, which used humor and action to talk about the problems invasive species are causing to our native Texas wildflowers.

I enjoyed talking with all the people at the festival. I learned more about how to make films and the causes and organizations the filmmakers championed. I also talked with the festival goers about my experiences with invasive species, Texas Invasives, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Since then I’ve been thinking about my next film to submit to the Lights. Camera. Help. Film Festival, and I started work on it this month!

Create a film for good!

Are you interested in creating a film for your nonprofit or do you have a great idea for a good cause? Mr. Aaron Bramley, Executive Director of Lights. Camera. Help., has been creating great webinars to help you with ideas on how to produce your video, from creating your story, to filming, and to assembling your final film.

Find out more about the film topics and register for the next webinar today.

Hope to see your film soon!

Your friend,


Filed under Aaron Bramley, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Lights Camera Help Annual Nonprofit Film Festival, Lights. Camera. Help., Native Plant Avengers, Nonprofit Organization, Texas Invasives

Invasive Hunter Academy Thrives at UT Austin’s Hot Science – Cool Talks

Commander Ben talks with high school students about invasive species at Hot Science – Cool Talks
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

The UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) has a great Hot Science – Cool Talks series that brings scientists from UT Austin and across the country to talk about their neat science research. Kids of all ages are invited to attend.

Mr. Geoff Hensgen, ESI Outreach Coordinator, invited me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to their most recent event with Dr. Jay Famiglietti, “Last Call at the Oasis: Will There be Enough Water for the 21st Century?

I was excited to, but I wanted to add more information for high school students, since I knew they enjoyed coming to the Hot Science presentations. So I researched about some of the water problems caused by invasive species.

Invasive Hunter Academy Grows

I really liked the new info that I added to the Invasive Hunter Academy. I still have the three fun original steps to becoming an invasive hunter:

  • Know your enemy – Match up pictures of native and invasive plants
  • Know your action moves – Practice the three cool taekwondo moves to take down invasive plants
  • Create your action scene – Build a great diorama to take home

For Dr. Famiglietti’s Cool Talks event, I created a new presentation for young adults with some great information about my nemesis, the Giant Reed. I talked about:

Recorded locations of the Giant Reed around Austin
Source: Texas Invasives website

(1) What invasive species are and specifically the problems of the Giant Reed (Arundo donax). I showed how easy it is to find sightings of the Giant Reed and other invasive species that citizen scientists reported around the state by using the Texas Invasives database.

Giant Reed along the Rio Grande River near Big Bend National Park
Credit: Mr. John Goolsby, USDA

(2) The EPA is considering using the Giant Reed for biofuel because it grows fast and doesn’t impact the food industry. That’s great for a biofuel plant, but the Giant Reed can easily escape into the native ecosystem and take over as an invasive species.

Scientists are concerned that the spread of the Giant Reed to could create an economic and environmental disaster, and for that reason it should not be used as a biofuel.

Giant Reed along the Rio Grande River
Photo Credit: Center for Invasive Species Research

(3) Especially for Dr. Famiglietti’s freshwater talk, I added information about how the Giant Reed is a threat to the survival of the Rio Grande River because it:

  • Reduces the available water supply
  • Chokes waterways
  • Inhibits with power generation
  • Interferes with agricultural irrigation
  • Degrades water quality
  • Threatens the of health of native plants and animals by creating a dense monoculture and crowding out native plants

QR Codes Help Presentations Jump to the Web

I added QR codes to make it easier for people to access the websites that I talk about in my poster presentation. I first added QR codes when I brought the academy to the Wildflower Center as part of Nature Nights this summer.

I saw people use their iPhones and Android phones to scan the QR codes to access my website, so I wanted to add more codes for my Hot Science presentation to help bring people to where they could get more information on the web, like to learn more about the Giant Reed.

High School Students Graduate to the Academy

One of the Invasive Hunter Academy tables before the start of Hot Science – Cool Talks at UT Austin

The audience was older than my other academy presentations. There were many students from eighth graders to high school and college students. That was neat!

I enjoy bringing the original academy activities to kids all ages, but now I especially enjoy talking to the older students and teaching them about invasive species. (In these pictures, I still have my hand in a cast from when it got broken during a taekwondo sparring match. :-()

Commander Ben motions to how high (and higher!) the Giant Reed invasive plant can grow
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

They found my posters very helpful, because a lot of students were there with their science classes, and they had notebooks that they were writing in for extra credit. I talked with them about the problems with the Giant Reed, and they took copious notes. I hope they all got great grades! 🙂

Invasive Hunter graduate shows off her “I’m an Invasive Hunter” sticker and Wildflower Center brochure
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

They really liked my “I’m an invasive hunter'” stickers and went to my website on their phones to watch my videos too. They put the stickers on their shirts and books, and one of the high school freshman put it on his forehead. (Not recommended.)

Battles with Invasive Species Videos

Commander Ben before the start of the Hot Science – Cool Talks prelecture fun with the Native Plant Avengers video playing in the background

Mr. Hensgen is just the best! I want to thank him for inviting me to be part of the prelecture fun and the interview with Dr. Famiglietti. He gave me the best table because it was near the entrance to the auditorium, and he gave me a projector to play my Battles with Invasive Species videos on the wall during the event.

During the event, I played two videos:

One Freshman high school girl came back another time for two reasons: she was interested to learn more about invasive species and she had also left her iPod. 🙂

It was also great to talk again with Dr. Jay Banner, Director of the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute. I saw him being filmed for the Longhorn Network during the event. Thanks, Dr. Banner, for mentioning me during your prelecture slides!

Last Call at the Oasis

Dr. Jay Famiglietti’s Last Call at the Oasis presentation at Hot Science – Cool Talks

I also had a great time chatting with Dr. Famiglietti before his talk. I wished him good luck, but he didn’t need it because he did a great job!

I found one of the reserved chairs in the auditorium. (Thanks Mr. Hensgen!) and I noticed that they were much, much more comfortable than the regular chairs. (They were the same as the other chairs, but since they were reserved, they were extra comfy!)

Dr. Famiglietti talked about the making of his video, Last Call at the Oasis. It was released on DVD on November 8th, so be sure to check it out!

At the end of his talk, he showed a funny video with Jack Black about their drinkable, treated sewage water, porcelain springs.

Learn More about Invasive Species

Ms. Jessica Strickland and Commander Ben mapping invasive species at SXSWEco

My thanks to Ms. Jessica Strickland for all her help teaching me more about invasive species on the Texas Invasives website and at SXSW Eco. (I learned about the EPA considering to use the Giant Reed as biofuel from the Texas Invasives iWire newsletter. If you don’t already receive this monthly email newsletter, be sure to subscribe to iWire today.) I also learned about the Rio Grande River’s problem with the Giant Reed from presentations during the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

I also want to thank Ms. Alice Nance, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Education Manager. She gave me a lot of goodies to pass out during the prelecture fun. I had Wildflower Center brochures with discount coupons and Plant Hero badges and certificates. (Kids had a lot of fun with Plant Heroes too when I brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center this summer.)

Next Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation

Commander Ben and Dr. Jay Famiglietti at Hot Science - Cool Talks

Commander Ben and Dr. Jay Famiglietti wrap up Hot Science – Cool Talks on a humorous note

Thank you again Dr. Banner, Mr. Hensgen, and Dr. Famiglietti for everything! 🙂 If you missed the event, watch my video interview series with Dr. Famiglietti and check out the webcast replay of Dr Famiglietti’s presentation. (It was ESI’s 80th Hot Science – Cool Talks event!)

I had a fantastic time, and I can’t wait until the next Hot Science – Cool Talks event on November 30, “The War on Cancer: 41 Years after Nixon’s Declaration“, with Dr. Mark Clanton.

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Android, Arundo donax, Bastard Cabbage, Battles with Invasive Species, Big Bend National Park, Biofuel, Center for Invasive Species Research, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Environmental, Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Science Institute, EPA, ESI, Extra credit, Geoff Hensgen, Giant Reed, High school, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, iPhone, iWire Texas Invasives Newsletter, Jay Banner, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Last Call at the Oasis, Lights. Camera. Help., Monoculture, Ms. Alice Nance, Native ecosystem, Native Plant Avengers, Nature Nights, Plant Heroes, Porcelain springs, QR codes, Rio Grande River, Science class, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, Texas, Texas Invasives, U.S. Botanic Garden, University of Texas, UT Austin, water, water conservation, water hydrology, water supply, Wildflower Center

My First Day at SXSW Eco with Foodies and Filmmakers

Commander Ben at SXSW Eco 2012

After checking in at SXSW Eco at the fantastic UT Austin AT&T Conference Center, I headed over to Rm. 103 to attend a talk titled Fighting Food Insecurity with Urban Agriculture in Austin…and guess who I got to meet? Ms. Addie Broyles, a food writer for the Austin American-Statesman!

Food in Austin

Ms. Addie Broyles and Commander Ben at SXSW Eco

It was neat to get to meet her because I have heard my Mom (the foodie in the family 🙂 ) talk a lot about her. Even though my blog isn’t about food, Ms. Broyles said she was looking forward to checking it out because she too has a budding filmmaker at home…her five year old son! 🙂

Clean energy

Ms. Griffin Gardner and Commander Ben at SXSW Eco

Next I walked over to Rm 204 to attend the Filmmakers Clean Energy Confab. I took my seat in the second row and that’s when someone in the front row turned around and said, “I know you, you’re famous!” It was Ms. Griffin Gardner, UT Austin Media Coordinator, who remembered taking a picture of me at the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) Hot Science – Cool Talks event. I’m not sure if I’m really famous, but Ms. Gardner made my day!

Making great films for good

Mr. Steve Vogelpohl and Commander Ben at SXSW Eco

Next, as I headed out to lunch, I ran into Mr. Stephen Vogelpohl who recognized me from the Lights. Camera. Help. Focus on Good Film Festival. Mr. Vogelpohl is with Social Good TV. We talked about future projects we’re both working on, and he encouraged me to continue making great films for good.

Green army on the march

Today is the big day! As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I’ll join Ms. Jessica Strickland, Invasive Species Program Manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Dr. Damon Waitt, Director Native Plant Information Network; and an elite team from the Wildflower Center and the Green Army to map invasive species as part of the conference events.

Let’s find the Giant Reed (Arundo donax), Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta), and all the invasive plants that may be along Waller Creek in Austin, Texas!

I hope to see you there!

Your friend,

P.S. Tomorrow’s the last day to vote! Please vote for my SXSWedu presentation, “What Invasive Species Taught Me About Dyslexia”. I’ll talk about my great experiences with the Wildflower Center and Learning Ally too. Thanks!


Filed under Addie Broyles, AT&T Conference Center, Austin, Austin American Statesman, Clean energy, Clean energy, Damon Waitt, Elephant Ear, Environmental, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, Focus on Good, Giant Reed, Green Army, Griffin Gardner, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Lights Camera Help Annual Nonprofit Film Festival, Lights. Camera. Help., PanelPicker, Social Good TV, Steve Vogelpohl, SXSW, SXSW Eco, SXSWedu, University of Texas, Urban Agriculture, UT Austin, Waller Creek, What Invasive Species Taught Me About Dyslexia, Wildflower Center

“Lights. Camera. Help.” That’s a Wrap!

Commander Ben heading into the “Lights. Camera. Help.” Awards Party.

Yesterday, was the final day for the 4th Annual “Lights. Camera. Help.” Focus on Good Film Festival. And all I can say is WOW! What an experience.

The afternoon started at the Scottish Rite Theater with an address by the festival’s keynote speaker Turk Pipkin, founder of The Nobelity Project. This project focuses on two things:

  1. Doing good thought the world…including our own backyard right here in central Texas, and
  2. Creating documentary films focusing on these acts of good works.

I really enjoyed his talk.

Commander Ben and Turk Pipkin
at the 4th Annual “Lights. Camera. Help.” Focus on Good Film Festival.

Let There Be Sight

One of the Nobelity Project’s films was “Let Their Be Sight”, a joint project with The SEVA Foundation – Compassion in Action, that provides eye care, including eye surgeries, to people living in rural areas of Nepal. Many of the program’s participants were blind and their sight was restored through cataract surgery.  It was amazing to see a Nepali woman, who had to be carried through the mountains to see the eye doctor. After the cataract operation, she was able to see and walk home!

Nepalese children
Photo credit: The Nobelity Project

1000 Books for Hope

Another cause highlighted by the Nobelity Project was 1000 Books for Hope which provides donated books to children in Kenya. This project asks people to donate just one book…their favorite book. So why one book? Well, when they asked folks to simply donate “books”, they received a lot of junk that no one wanted. One example was How to Build a Swimming Pool! Not a much needed topic in Kenya where the luxury of being able to ever build a swimming pool is highly unlikely!

But once the project focused on asking people to donate just one favorite book, lots of wonderful books came pouring in.  What was particularly nice about this project is that all the donated books contain an inscription from the donor to the kids. Mr. Pipkin said that this is the first thing the kids rush to read.

1000 Books for Hope
Photo credit: The Nobelity Project

Replanting Fire Burned Bastrop State Park

And what about our own backyard? Well, the Nobelity Project has partnered with none other than one of my favorite organizations, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, to replant the pine trees in Bastrop State Park that were destroyed in last year’s Texas wildfires. And these aren’t just any ordinary pine trees, these are a species only found in the Bastrop area. Luckily, even though almost all of the trees were destroyed in the fire, there were seeds stored in a seed bank that they are using for replanting.

Bastrop Replant the Park Project
Photo credit: The Nobelity Project.

The Last Day of Films

After the keynote address, we all headed over to the Spirit of Texas Theater at the Bob Bullock State History Museum to watch a number of great uplifting films, including Stay: Migration and poverty in rural Mexico. This was an amazing film benefiting Bread for the World.

Stay: Migration and Poverty in Rural Mexico
Photo credit: Bread for the World

The Awards Party

After the films were over, we all headed back to the Scottish Rite Theater for an Awards Party…my first cocktail party! But oh man…that ginger brew…soda, that is, was strong! 😉 LOL! Mind you, I was the only middle-schooler at the party but luckily there was plenty of soda! And some great food too. I especially enjoyed the sushi from How Do You Roll.

Commander Ben at “Lights. Camera. Help.” Awards Party Buffet Line

Watch out for the Ginger Brew!

Festival Winners

At the party I had the chance to talk with a lot of great film makers who shared some wonderful advice with me about film making and acting. Once everyone had plenty to eat, we all settled into the theater where the winners of the Film Festival were announced.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2012 “Lights. Camera. Help.” Film Festival:

Thanks to all the great festival sponsors, including the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and blackbaud. (Their logos were on the cool “photo wall” that we used as a background for photos!)

Best Ever Film Festival and Many Thanks

Overall, the “Lights. Camera. Help.” Focus on Good Film Festival was the best film festival I’ve ever been too…and so far, the only one I’ve ever been too…for now! 😉  But I’m so looking forward to the 2013 5th Annual “Lights. Camera. Help.” Focus on Good Film Festival!   As a matter of fact, I’m already planning my next film.

Once again, I want to extend many thanks to all the great people at “Lights. Camera. Help.” including Rich Vasquez, President and Chairman of the Board, David. J. Neff, CEO, and Aaron Bramley, COO, as well as all the volunteers who helped to make the festival such a great experience for all!

Commander Ben and Rich Vazquez, Co-founder and current Board President
of “Lights. Camera. Help.”

Commander Ben and David J. Neff, Creator, Co-Founder and CEO of “Lights. Camera. Help.”

Commander Ben and Aaron Bramley, Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer
of “Lights. Camera. Help.”

And a huge EXTRA THANK YOU to Mr. Bramley for mentioning me during his “Lights. Camera. Help.” interview on KVUE news!

Native Plant Avengers

I’m so happy that my video, “Native Plant Avengers”, was selected to be shown at the film festival to entertain and help raise awareness about invasive species and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

If you didn’t get a chance to see it at the festival, here’s the video:

For more information, here are additional posts and pages about the film festival and Native Plant Avengers:

And even more (!) posts about Native Plant Avengers:

Thanks Texas Bluebonnet, Bitterweed, Indian Paintbrush…and yes, even Bastard Cabbage…for helping me make this great video to entertain kids of all ages about Texas Wildflowers and invasive species!

Your friend,

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Filed under 1000 Books for Hope, Aaron Bramley, Bastrop State Park, Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, David J. Neff, Ford warriors in pink, Ginger brew, How Do You Roll, KOOP 97.1 FM, KVUE, Let There Be Sight, Lights Camera Help Annual Nonprofit Film Festival, Lights. Camera. Help., Native Plant Avengers, Nepal, Nobelity Project, Rich Vazquez, Scottish Rite Theater, Spirit of Texas Theater, Stay: Migration and poverty in rural Mexico, Texas Wildflowers, The SEVA Foundation, Turk Pipkin, Who cares about Kelsey?

4th Annual “Lights. Camera. Help.” Goes Live!

Commander Ben on stage at the Spirit of Texas Theater during the Q&A after the premiere of his video Native Plant Avengers at the “Lights. Camera. Help.” Focus on Good Film Festival.

All I can say is…WOW! WOW! WOW! 😮

Yesterday was amazing for me as I attended my first ever film festival…“Lights. Camera. Help.”…and saw my video, Native Plant Avengers, premiere on the big screen at the Spirit of Texas Theater at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.  And when my video was finished, the audience clapped!  I was so happy.

Commander Ben and Aaron Bramley at “Lights. Camera. Help.” Focus on Good Film Festival.

It was such a fantastic night where I had the opportunity to meet so many great people who made me feel very welcome and gave me lots of encouragement to continue to pursue my film making.  I especially want to thank all the wonderful folks from “Lights. Camera. Help.” including Aaron Bramley, Chief Operations Officer, David J. Neff, CEO, and Rich Vazquez, President and Chairman of the Board.

Commander Ben and David Neff at “Lights. Camera. Help.” Focus on Good Film Festival.

After the films were viewed by the audience, Aaron Bramley asked the film makers to come up on to the stage for a question and answer session.   It was such an exciting experience to have people from the audience asking me about my film!

I also had the opportunity to see Brandy Amstel again…the woman I first met when we were interviewed together by Robert Sims on his radio show, Lights, Camera, Austin, on KOOP, 97.1 FM.  (You can listen to the interview here.)  Brandy’s film, In Her Shoes, was so moving about a woman named, Betty, who had everything, then lost it and became homeless.  But there is a happy ending.  Betty, through the help of some amazing organizations including Mobil Loaves & Fishes, Dress for Success, and Goodwill, among others, allowed her to get back on her feet…and she even went on to coordinate the “In Her Shoes” shoe drive to collect and provide shoes for homeless women.

And I don’t want to forget…To kick-off the evening there was lots of great food and beverages served before the film screening.  I was a bit nervous and drank a lot of Ginger Ale and Sprite!  Then enjoyed all sorts of tasty hors d’oeuvres and delicious desserts!

In case you missed the first night of the film festival, it’s not too late to join in the fun.  It continues tonight and Friday night.  You can learn more and buy tickets here.

Your friend,


Filed under Aaron Bramley, Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, Brandy Amstel, David J. Neff, In Her Shoes, KOOP 97.1 FM, Lights Camera Help Annual Nonprofit Film Festival, Lights. Camera. Help., Native Plant Avengers