Tag Archives: John R. Lee

Avery Caesar Alexander Addresses A Confederacy Of Dunces

Reverend & State Rep Avery Alexander Recorded VoiceOver At Airlift Productions NOLA
Reverend & State Rep Avery Alexander Recorded VoiceOver At Airlift Productions NOLA

To be sure, John Kennedy Toole never spent time with Rev. Avery Alexander. But I sure did.  Contracted to record “the Rev” in the 90s, I not only spent time with him, but was paid to document the whole affair!

And as New Orleans, the South, and America continue to wrestle with heritage, history, prejudice & racial issues – Dixie, flags & monuments – allow the Airlift Productions archives to help shed a little light.

Statue of "The Rev", at the new UMC Medical facility
Statue of “The Rev”, at the new UMC Medical facility

For the uninitiated, Reverend Avery C. Alexander (1910~1999) was a longtime civil rights activist & La. State Representative,  as well as an ordained minister. He marched with Dr. King, was dragged from protests, and has today had N.O. Charity Hospital, part of the new University Medical Center, and our Pontchartrain Expressway re-named in his honor!

John Kennedy Toole (1937~1969) was a New Orleans author, educated at Tulane, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction – posthumously – after his death at his own hand – for his homespun novel about the misadventures of the lazy, obese and unmotivated Ignatius J. Reilly in “A Confederacy of Dunces”. 

Toole & Alexander never met.  But perhaps they should have.

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Academy Award Winning Documentary Film Maker Charles Guggenheim Making Tracks At Airlift Productions ~ on Iberville in ’93

It was the fall of 1993, the Airlift Productions Studios were on Iberville Street mid-city NOLA,  and I was contracted by the late Academy Award winning Documentary Film Maker Charles Guggenheim to record Reverend Alexander VoiceOvers for his film, originally entitled “Shadows of Hate”.

In his final Academy Award-nominated film, Mr. Guggenheim was attempting to get at the root of racism, expose it, and hopefully lead to some answers to this vexing cancer of a problem – ‘America’s original sin’ –  maybe even tear it out at the root!

*** Avery Alexander talks of David Duke, the KKK, anti-Catholic & Jew bias … and the Dignity of Man … Airlift Productions – 1993. ***

Amazingly, with the impact Reverend Alexander made with his life here in NOLA and the South, there is no record of his speech, his voice, or his unfiltered thoughts ANYWHERE!

Except here … amid the ‘Confederacy of Dunces’.

 

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Avery Caesar Alexander being restrained by the NOPD during a scuffle at the controversial Liberty Monument re-dedication ceremony in March of 1993 (courtesy Times-Picayune)

 

Guggenheim, Alexander and I recorded and worked together for hours. I set the Airlift microphones for the Rev’s voice only …. while Charles paced the room, asking question after question, drawing out painfully revealing memory after memory, story after story …

 

*** Avery Alexander talks of prejudice, mistreatment, abuse, lynchings & murder… Airlift Productions – 1993.  ***

The film, for which these tracks were originally recorded, later was re-named “A Time For Justice”, and went on to win the Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject in 1995!

 

 

Today ~ in 2018 ~ Charles Guggenheim, Reverend Avery C. Alexander and John Kennedy Toole belong to the ages.  And the pages of history books.

Can we Americans … WILL we Americans, take the painfully divisive issues they wrote of, spoke of and lived through … move on, and leave them there too?

Please?

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“Mike, thank you for 25 years of successfully teaching Algebra to children of color and students who were living in poverty. They aren’t living in poverty anymore thanks to you and the mathematical skills you gave them. They are doctors, engineers and scientists today.” ~ the late John R. Lee, Founder of the I CAN Learn Mathematics E-Learning System

 

 

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from NOLA since 1984

A ShoutOut to Sister Thecla in the Spirit World From Airlift Productions

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Sister Thecla celebrating her 75th year as a nun in the Order of the Holy Family ~ along with Micheal Ziants in 2009

Today, January 10th, 2018, would have been Sister Thecla’s 104th birthday.

Born Agnes Bonner in 1914 in Scott, LA, Sister Thecla was a nun in New Orleans’ Order of the Holy Family for 75 years!

I first met the good sister through mutual friend John Lee in the aftermath of a rather painful divorce.  We took to each other immediately.  She wore her air of peaceful equanimity and compassionate non-judgment like a crown.

Calling the house every night for 7 straight years, she consoled and comforted, listened and directed, laughed and cried … and prayed with me.

Would that we all could make the ‘other side’ so clearly visible from this one.

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Sister Thecla in 1934, as she took her vows to be a nun. I always used to tease her that we would get Halle Berry to play her in the made-for-TV movie! 🙂

Never one to proselytize, catechize or evangelize – ‘Sister Tee’ showed by her example, the way she lived her life every minute of everyday … the way to a Kingly life.

After all, True religion is not something to be ‘put on’ for an hour or two a week in a building, but rightly used is knit into the day-to-day fabric of our very lives.  Wow!  Did Thecla ever get that.

Through her 75 year run as a nun she led the posse at the Order, in the French Quarter originally, and then on Chef Menteur, through quite a litany list of soap operas … as they tended to the temporal, as well as the spiritual, needs of everyone!

That’s everyone.  From hookers, homeless and drug addicts … to abandoned children and severely abused women.  The Sisters of the Order of the Holy Family even took in Louis Armstrong at one point in his life.

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In 2004, on her 90th birthday, Sister Thecla visited the Airlift Productions Studios to record her life story

 

*** Thecla Therapy  ~  “What a Wonderful World” from Airlift ***

Sister Thecla’s unyielding faith, relentless compassion, and inner strength are captured in her voice.  Listen to just a bit of this remarkable spirit – the patron saint of Airlift Productions –  in this recording made on her 90th birthday in 2004.

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Sister Thecla hanging with the sinners – the Ziants boyz Ben & Micheal – on Thanksgiving 2004

Though she dropped her body in 2009, I won’t say ‘rest in peace’ at this point.  Because she’s still at it today … planning her work, and working her plan.  That’s what that Roman Catholic concept of ‘communion of the saints’ is really all about.

Let me just say God Speed, ‘Sister Tee’!  And thanks ever so for helping me to be a little more than just human … and for helping Airlift Productions in NOLA to be  a little something more than just a recording studio.

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Airlift’s Micheal Ziants and BFF Sister Thecla hanging around the Order of the Holy Family commissary on Father’s Day 2008

 

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“Mike, thank you for 25 years of successfully teaching Algebra to children of color and students who were living in poverty. They aren’t living in poverty anymore thanks to you and the mathematical skills you gave them. They are doctors, engineers and scientists today.” ~ the late JOHN R. LEE, founder & creator of the I CAN Learn Mathematics Educational Software

 

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Digital Magic from New Orleans… since 1984

Airlift Mike’s Katrina Confessions & Can Kickin’…Down The Road

 

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“Katrina-versary Get-Together” on Saturday August 29th, 2015 (L-R) Rich Lenz, Brian Landry, Norman Robinson, Dan Milham, Heath Allen, Airlift Proprietor Micheal Ziants 

*** “Originally published two years ago this week, with Hurricane Harvey’s harrowing Houston devastation, coupled with the untimely death of my best friend John R. Lee earlier this year (1-08-17), this Hurricane Katrina post takes on new poignancy, meaning, and relevance.” ~ Airlift Mike ***

Truth be known, the morning Mother Katrina came to town – August 29th, 2005 – I woke up at a Red Roof Inn in Jackson, Mississippi,  to which  I’d evacuated, along with my son, through the contraflow out of New Orleans the night before.

My running partners – Rich Lenz, Norman Robinson, Heath Allen & Dan Milham – all ‘stood watch’ and remained on-duty reporting the entire debacle via WDSU-TV for all to witness.

Painful.  Distressing.  Life-altering.  Even Apocalyptic!

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And this past weekend as we all got together at Brian Landry’s place just outside NOLA in Slidell… the ‘Katrina guilt’ began to set in … again.

Rich & his wife Leslie lost their entire home in the flooding. The home they had raised their kids in was completely destroyed by the breached London Avenue canal.  Norman Robinson and his wife had similar catastrophic results from the MRGO in New Orleans East.

Milham & Allen, living ‘out of Dodge’ in north shore haunts were luckier with their homes, but  still had to gut it out on-camera and tell the tale – of the horrors, struggles, death & destruction – while broadcasting  to the anxious, scattered-to-the-four-winds New Orleanians tuning-in.

katrina-here-lies-vera-88a444c77c3c4c55Meanwhile,  I CAN Learn educational software founder and my good pal John Lee, who stayed through the storm …. well, he was uptown at Jackson & Magazine street …. burying Miss Vera, left dead on the New Orleans sidewalk in the steamy August-September heat. 

As yours truly slept-in around the air-conditioned Red Roof in Jackson … and watched it all play out on TV.  The term was coined, very appropriately ~  ‘Katrina Guilt’.

So, after we’d all returned from our Katrina-cation, I patched-up the house and studio (hardly damaged, no flooding) and decided to get back to work myself.  With Rich Lenz.  And together, we created musical ‘salve for the wounds’. To wit …..

*** “I Ain’t Livin’ in the Bowl No More” ~ Rich Lenz & Company ***

Along with a cast of characters, we put together a bright, up-tempo, Garth-Brooks-ish take on Rich’s calamity on Chatham Drive. It all proved quite therapeutic, actually. For all parties concerned. We even talked Brad Edelman, former All-Pro Guard with the N.O. Saints, into playing his harmonica for us.  Too much fun!

*** “Up In The Attic” ~ Rich Lenz, recorded at Airlift Productions ***

Now, imagine – if you can – a woman climbing into her attic to escape Katrina’s floodwaters … only to die there! It was but one of many similar stories Rich had to cover for WDSU – and he came to me and Airlift Productions to just let it … all… out.  Again, therapy.

Then, we’d get together at the Airlift Productions Studios, join our talents, and put on a show for our Children’s Hospital with tunes like this one. Heath Allen and Rich would take the leads, along with Brian Landry of Children’s and Norman Robinson on the horns – the Soul Men.

All to benefit the kids down at New Orleans Children’s Hospital.

To close on yet another up-tempo & positive note, it is both interesting, and rather amazing,  to think that many folks around America – and the world – still believe that NOLA is UNDER WATER! Really.

They have no idea whatsoever as to our recovery.  So…. take a trip with me now – high above our City Park, with footage taken just weeks ago, courtesy of drone cinematography and witness true resilience….

** City Park, New Orleans ~ as seen from the sky via drone technology,             courtesy Todd Schmidt, Video Wunderkind **

Through America’s greatest tragedy, my media partners were indeed the heroes… while I was but the observer, albeit occasional confidant, chronicler and cheerleader.

Perhaps I need to visit old Lucy in the classic Charlie Brown cartoons with her ‘Psychiatric Help – 5 cents’ sign and booth.  Because the infamous ‘Katrina Guilt’ still hangs on after these ten years.  Well, look me up in another ten and I’ll let you know how I’m doing.

In the meantime, better days are on the way, America. They have to be. Keep the Faith.

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“Mike, thank you for 25 years of successfully teaching Algebra to children of color and students who were living in poverty. They aren’t living in poverty anymore thanks to you and the mathematical skills you gave them. They are doctors, engineers and scientists today.” ~ the late JOHN R. LEE, founder & creator of the I CAN Learn Mathematics Educational Software

 

 

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 Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from NOLA since 1984

I CAN Learn + Airlift Mike = STEM Careers & Big $$ 4 U.S. Math Students

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I CAN Learn Success Story Damien James enjoying a lobster dinner in Brazil, funded by his life-changing STEM degree & career

** Originally posted Oct. 15th, 2016 ~ And re-posted 1-13-17 in Honor of the Late JOHN R LEE **

I first “met” Damien James in the 9th grade at NOLA’s McDonogh #35.  HIS 9th grade; I was merely the one helping him MAKE the grade – as I taught him Algebra 1 & 2.

Inside a computer!

Damien had it pretty rough, as do way too many of New Orleans’ inner-city youth today… Mom was ‘asleep at the wheel’, brothers were dealing drugs, playgrounds were, how do we say, challenging?

But Damien found a friend – yours truly.

Inside a computer!

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As the narrator and audio producer behind all of I CAN Learn’s educational math programs since 1991, I personally helped steer Damien through the perilous gateway of Algebra and on to his chosen STEM degree – and career.

Too dramatic? Too ‘flowery’? How about a punchline?

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Damien James enjoying vacation time with his wife and daughter; “Thanks, John Lee!”

Today, Damien James has risen from the streets of NOLA to become the Information Technology Chief of a major American airline company, and I CAN Learn & I directly helped him get there.

Inside a computer!

Damien’s accomplishments are both remarkable and inspiring. As, together with this landmark, trail-blazing educational mathematics program, he was inspired and enabled to move from the ‘breadlines to the headlines’.

MichealZiantsAirliftProductionsICanLearnTweetScreenshotSTEM degrees, to the uninitiated (and sad to say there are many) – are the Science ** Technology ** Engineering ** Math ** degrees that hold the keys which unlock the doors to America’s future.

And the I CAN Learn Math program has been helping thousands of students achieve that degree – as well as that high-paying career of the future – since 1991!

Witness Damien’s personal story and testimony via YouTube here…

You know something? Of all the audio I’ve produced through all these years here in NOLA, this work with the I CAN Learn Educational System is the work of which I am most proud.  Without question.

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John R. Lee & I CAN Learn feature article in FORBES magazine, September 1997

John R. Lee and I first met in 1991 at the Airlift Productions legendary Iberville Street location. He found me in the Yellow Pages. (Remember them? Yes, ‘digital’ changed everything.)

He was looking for some help. Help in compiling, recording, and organizing thousands upon thousands upon thousands of interactive audio files to drive the engine of his brainchild.

John Lee is a stone-cold, off-the-charts runaway GENIUS.

His prescient vision of merging math textbooks with the digital realm of computers has been often copied through all these years (round up the usual suspects) – but never ever duplicated!

AbsentMindedDisneyMr. Lee is a one-of-a-kind visionary that doesn’t come along just any day… think Fred MacMurray’s lovable character Professor Ned Brainard in the Walt Disney 1961 classic “The Absent Minded Professor”.

But, gang, Flubber this ain’t!

Just ask Damien James. Or his wife. Or his daughter. Or the thousands of other aspiring Damien James wanna-bees whose lives have been forever changed by their introduction to the revolutionary I CAN Learn  Math program.

So, what does the future hold for John Lee and I CAN Learn?

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John R. Lee, Founder & President of JRL Enterprises, creators of I CAN Learn

Well, as John himself opined in his interview late last century with CNN news, “Education is a tricky place to grow a business”.

And despite political boondoggles, bureaucratic red tape, “snake oils”,  and cheap, imitation competitive knock-offs, in that same CNN interview, John told the camera, “You’re not beaten ’til you quit!”

And he hasn’t.

Today, in the fall of 2016, the saga continues, the story continues… and so does the “ah-ha!” moment in the minds of young, eager math students across America.

Oh, and Damien, if you just so happen to be reading this – can you spot me a few bucks ’til next Tuesday?

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 i-can-learn_cd “Mike is a craftsman.  You don’t often hear that word when describing digital media, but it most certainly applies to work done at AIRLIFT PRODUCTIONS. Mike’s  produced literally thousands of audio segments for me,  and they’ve all sounded perfect.  He also understands how to get things done!  I wish all of my contractors were as responsive and committed to meeting deadlines.  You’re in good hands with AIRLIFT PRODUCTIONS.” — Ethan Anderson, former Manager of Multimedia Development, JRL Enterprises, Creators of  “I CAN Learn” e-Learning Software, NOLA
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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Digital Magic from NOLA                                                               since 1984

Tah-Tah 2016! Hello-o-o 2017!

janusAs the calendar page turns, the balls drop, and the fireworks sizzle, together with the rest of America, allow me to wrap-up the old and welcome the new from New Orleans’ Airlift Productions.

To the ancient Romans, the god Janus (from whom we get the name of the month January) represented this rather two-faced sentiment.

Looking back . Yet forward. All at the same time.

Airlift Productions & I sure have had a wild and varied ride through the fall & early winter, but that’s the way we like it.

Variety, after all, is the spice of life. And in New Orleans, we certainly like our spices. 

What a roux!

From television commercial work to web-based holiday greeting cards …  from Christmas sentiment to radio imaging, through the past couple months, Airlift & I sure have stirred the pot.

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Wendi Berman drops the mic with Airlift Mike on behalf of Right Hat & Manatt

Tasked by Chicago-based ad agency Right Hat to provide the audio for an internet law firm’s Holiday Greeting Card, I called on the talents of NOLA-based actress Wendi Berman.

Together, we recorded a rather clever “Night Before Christmas” parody involving the holiday office pressures of a harried and frustrated thirty-something office manager.

Oh, boy. Oh, joy.  Happy Holi-daze, cubicle worker bees!

Meanwhile, back at Airlift Productions, the roux thickens….

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Airlift Mike working the Children’s Hospital Telethon in NOLA on WDSU-TV

Yours truly, Airlift Mike, got behind the mic, as well as drawing-up the storyboard with all the “creative”, for the gang at Mr. Sparky.

Working with video wizard Todd Schmidt and sales point guard Nathan Ales, I helped to cook-up this entree on behalf of the electricians down at our local Mr. Sparky.

Straight-ahead. No BS. “Electrifying”, you might even say, and now energizing flat screens all across metro New Orleans.

Television spots with vision, internet-based holiday cards … yet, as they say in the advertising world, “but wait, there’s more!”

Educational software pioneer – and my own personal BFF – JOHN LEE and I have been through quite the odyssey the past quarter century.

Katherine Lee records "Daddy Lessons" at Airlift Productions NOLA
Katherine Lee records “Daddy Lessons” at Airlift Productions NOLA

Together, we’ve not only created a trail-blazing approach to teaching America’s kids how ‘to cipher’ with a program that merges math text books with the computer and the internet … we’ve also seen each other through having and raising kids!

So, I get this call from John’s daughter Katherine a couple Sundays back looking for some help in putting together a very special kind of Christmas gift for her dad.

We call it “Daddy Lessons”, and it goes like this….

Katherine brought me a karaoke track from Beyonce’ Knowles, we dropped her voice into it, then added pictures from the family album at strategic points to deliver a powerfully poignant message for her daddy.

‘Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse’… let alone a dry eye to be found around the Christmas Lee house.

Great job, Kat-gal!

Variety? Ya think?

And I haven’t even gotten into more radio imaging sessions for Mike Church and his Crusade Network or recording Hip-Hop artist Staxx (Greg Baptiste) for the Real Deal Nation label & Jason Jones.

1407-nighttime-pomonacrateLooking back, 2016 sure has been quite the year around the Airlift Productions studios … with fun & exciting projects, working for and with some wildly talented & fascinating individuals.

Let’s ‘face’ it. 2016 or 2017, whether you’re looking back – or forward – the view from Airlift on Pomona is outstanding.

Happy New Year, y’all!

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blackstoneaudiologo“I had the extreme pleasure of working with Mike of Airlift Productions for a project in 2016. He was professional, courteous and most importantly, fun to work with. Mike is patient and very thorough with his recording, making sure that what you want is done before he powers down the gear for the day. 10/10, I would work with him again.” -Jared Garcia, Sr. Recording Engineer for Blackstone Audio and Downpour.com

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy & Digital Magic from New Orleans since 1984

From the Airlift Productions Studios to “12 Years a Slave”?

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The Airlift Productions Studio doubles as the Ultimate Home Theater!
So I’ve got the Airlift Studios in the ‘home theater mode’ the other night to catch another blockbuster in 5.1 surround sound. It’s my favorite way to watch a movie. No texters, no talkers, no cell phones! I get to actually hear every word. And imagine my surprise!
 
McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’ – 2014’s Academy Award winning Best Picture – is a brutally painful one to watch for sure.  But I reveled in it. For personal reasons. Very personal.
 
Astonished I was to catch not one, not two, not three, not four… but FIVE different  and wildly talented  individuals who’ve recorded, laughed and spent time with me at Airlift Productions …. IN THE MOVIE!
 
There was – for all the world to see – Quvenzhane Wallis, John “Spud” McConnell, Donald Surtain, and that dynamic mother-daughter combo of Deneen & Devyn Tyler!  Wow!
 
And they all comported themselves quite admirably.  No.  No starring roles, but in very key supporting ones.
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Quvenzhane as Margaret Northup in ’12 Years a Slave’
Playing Solomon Northup’s daughter Margaret as a child was little Quvenzhane, all dolled-up. And in the critical closing and final scene, playing Margaret as an adult and mother … was Deneen’s real-life daughter – Devyn Tyler!
 
In fact, as she cried while holding the lead character (Chiwetel Ejiofor/Solomon), Devyn had the final words in the entire movie! Double wow.  
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Deneen Tyler On-Camera teaching Mathematics for JRL Enterprises & I Can Learn

                                                                                                         

In scenes where Solomon was seen playing the violin, Chiwetel was faking it, but Donald Surtain  – who was in the Airlift Studios just two months ago now, recording with Greg DiLeo –  was on-camera and laying-down the REAL thing!
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Violin Virtuoso Donald Surtain lays down his totally awesome violin tracks at Airlift Productions January 2015

Spud was a plantation owner picking up a slave down along the Mississippi River in the French market and Deneen, as Phoebe, sure cried a lot.

 OK, so my work with this talented crew was nowhere near as dramatic.
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John “Spud” McConnell as slave owner Jonus Ray,  on-screen in ’12 Years a Slave’
 
Spud McConnell sold air conditioning installation & maintenance via radio spots for Comfort Engineered Systems, Deneen & Devyn Tyler worked on educational software tracks for John R. Lee and I Can Learn at the Airlift Studios, and little Quvenzhane , the youngest actress ever to earn a best actress Oscar nominee nod, recorded VoiceOvers with me to sell cars for Chrysler & Maserati.
 
God, but I truly admire, love and respect talent.  At the Airlift Productions microphones … and on the big silver screen.
Congratulations, Kudos & High-Fives gang!  Proud to work shoulder-to-shoulder with you … and know you I am.
 
So as Hollywood South continues to explode in NOLA (they’re starting to call Hollywood ‘New Orleans West’!), I’ll see you at the cinema.  And next time, the popcorn’s on me.

Airlift Productions Proprietor Micheal Ziants along with the youngest Best Actress Nominee in the history of the Academy Awards - Quvenzhane Wallis - at the Airlift Studios 2014
Airlift Productions Proprietor Micheal Ziants along with the youngest Best Actress Nominee in the history of the Academy Awards – Quvenzhane Wallis – at the Airlift Studios 2014
                    To Communicate is the Beginning of Understanding.
    Airlift Productions Communicates.