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ANGEL HARPER - Interview with BlueDogBiz

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The Road of Fate and Miracles in
“Keeping the Faith With Morrie,” a 30-Minute Documentary

Bludogbiz recently spoke with Angel Harper, the executive producer of, “Keeping the Faith With Morrie,” about her award-winning 30-minute documentary.  The film salutes the pioneering life of the first African-American syndicated cartoonist, Morrie Turner. 

Heaven Sent Productions debuted the documentary at the 2001 Parable (In His Presence) Christian Film Festival.  On June 11, 2001, Ashley Rogers (Writer/Director) won for Best Director - Documentary at the awards ceremony held at the Director’s Guild America in Los Angeles, California.  Then in February 2002, at the Hollywood Black Film Festival, in Los Angeles, Angel Harper received an award for Best Documentary.

As Bludogbiz got to know Ms. Harper more, they learned that she is a born-again Christian and believes in “helping others.”  So it was no coincidence that we meet at Theatre West in North Hollywood, California, where the actor was volunteering for the day.

BDbiz:  In your film, we learn that young Morrie Turner lived through the Great Depression, and served our country during World War II, where he also drew cartoons for military newspapers.  He later did the same as a police clerk.  How did you learn about Morrie Turner?

Angel:  Quite, by accident.  I think it was 1991, when I first met Morrie.  I was doing animation voice-over work and learned about Morrie’s Wee Pals cartoon strip.  I hadn’t heard of the cartoon before.  Wee Pals, I learned, was the first, multi-ethnic, syndicated cartoon strip in America.  Morrie created Wee Pals back in the ‘60’s. Its theme was tolerance and in it there were kids of all races, gender, and physical disabilities who formed the “Rainbow Club.” Then in the ‘70’s, Michael Eisner, who was then at ABC, put the comic strip in an animated network television series called “Kid Power.”  I called Morrie after someone gave me his telephone number.  I wanted to know more about him, and I also had selfish reasons.

BDbiz:  What did Morrie have to say?

Angel: I told him who I was and him how much I had admired his work.  We spoke about his cartoons and what he was doing.  Then somehow, he turned the table on me and got me to talk about myself.  I admitted a lot of things to him, which I usually don’t do.  But that’s Morrie--he somehow gets you feeling so comfortable that you open up to him.  We spoke for quite sometime.  At the end, Morrie said, “You just keep the faith.”  And that statement stuck in my mind over the years.

BDbiz:  So about tens years went by before you made the documentary.  What were you doing between then? 

Angel:  I had moved to Los Angeles. I had hopes like all actors:  to have my own TV series, then to do feature films, and then to produce, which was my major in college.  l graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Radio and Television Production. But even while keeping busy appearing in soap-operas, sit-coms, television dramas, films, and doing voice-over work, I had Morrie in the back of my mind.  I had stayed in touch with him over the years.  Several projects that I had tried to put together involving Morrie fell through for one reason or another.  Throughout the years, after I first had met Morrie Turner (by telephone only), I always thought I would like to do something involving Morrie.                     

BDbiz:  So let’s fast forward to the year 2000.  What happened next?

Angel:  “God works in mysterious ways.”   Looking back, “I believe I was destined to do this.” I had volunteered to help with the Parable Christian Film Festival in 2000.  That year I helped other people at my church realize their dreams of making their films.  That experience made me believe that I too could make a film. At the time, I was working on starring in a feature film.  I had also been actively involved in Women in Animation’s Voice-Over Committee.  At first, I thought of my Morrie project as an animated TV pilot, which I could involve  the Voice-Over Committee, and then enter in the Parable Christian Film Festival.

BDbiz:  How did it evolve from an animated short into a documentary?      

Angel:  I was working on both the feature film and Morrie’s animation project.  Then someone asked me if I had read the film festival’s application.  The reason was that you couldn’t do animation for the festival.  I then looked at the application and saw that they accepted documentaries.  So I decided to do a documentary on Morrie Turner and put the comic strip in it.  The documentary was to promote Morrie Turner.

BDbiz:  How long did it take you make the documentary?  And how much did it cost?

Angel:  The making of the documentary just proved to me how God works.  By now, the feature film deal had fizzled.  But the minute I decided to do the documentary—it just took off!  A series of miracles occurred--they truly did since we had virtually “no- budget.”  Everyone who worked on this film volunteered to do it.  With that kind of commitment, and with a story like Morrie’s, you can’t help but succeed.  First, Ashley Rogers signed on as writer/director. Her boyfriend, Mark Milkin, a professional cameraman then signed on as the Director of Photography.  They secured the Sound Engineer, Michael Young.  Sherry King from the WIA Voice-Over committee added her talents and became the Associate Producer, and coordinated the interviews.  Sherry got Sally Banter to agree to be our Editor.  We now had a great professional team.  That’s totally God!  And with such talent and commitment, we took nine months from development to entering the documentary in the 2001 Parable Christian Film Festival.  Now that I’m learning more about documentaries, I realize how fast we made our film.  I now know that some people take years to make theirs because they do it in their spare time and mostly with their own money.

BDbiz:  That’s pretty remarkable--to get the documentary made in nine months.  But did you run into any technical difficulties along the way?

Angel:  We had our share of difficulties, but also miracles.  The making of this documentary was an act of faith for each and every one of the team members.  The height of such miracles was going to San Francisco for a four-day shoot.  We had no money for airline tickets, hotels, or a rental car. Ashley, the director, called me two weeks before our scheduled date and asked me whether we were still going?  That night I could not sleep.  I had already called several airlines to ask for a corporate donation.  They all said they would need at least six weeks to process such a request.  I then remembered that a Cornell alumni, whom I had meet at a recent, alumni event, was a pilot.  So at three or four o’clock in the morning, I got up and started looking for his business card.  Guess, what?  It took just five minutes to find it.  The next day, I called him and politely asked him, a person whom I knew only as an alumnus, for a donation from his airline.  He not only remembered me, but also said he would ask and call me back.  I didn’t expect him to call back.  He did, but said the airline needed six to eight weeks to process my request.  He then said he would ask his pilot-friends at sister airlines.  Again, I thought he was just being polite and thanked him.  But you know he called back the next day.  Again, he said the other airlines said the same thing.  I thanked him and was about to hang up.  He said, but wait.  He then said he’d pay for it.  He asked if we would mind going on Southwest Airlines?  I said, it’s no problem.  The next day, he emailed me the e-tickets.  I then told the director.  She was so inspired that she later called Budget Rent-A-Car to ask them to donate a rental car.  To her surprise, they said, yes.  We then arranged to stay with friends so we were now set for our San Francisco trip.  

BDbiz:  You announced at the Hollywood Black Film Festival that you secured fiscal financing to extend the documentary to an hour.  What will your goal be in extending it?

Angel:  First of all, fiscal sponsorship means that we now qualify as a nonprofit Section 503(c) organization [under the Internal Revenue Code].  I’m hoping to raise $100,000 for the budget.  But with our nonprofit status, we can now give volunteers a charitable write-off, which they can use as a tax deduction.  As far as my goal, it is to make the 60-minute version not only about Morrie Turner’s life, but also about how the history of comic strips and how Morrie integrated the cartoon strips with people of color.  So it will also be about the industry before Morrie and after Morrie. 

BDbiz:  What are your plans for the documentary?

Angel:  I’m hoping to distribute it to schools and libraries to educate kids about Morrie Turner’s groundbreaking life, place in the history of comic strips, and lifetime commitment to teaching “tolerance,” and “humanity.”


Morrie Turner’s work on the Kid Power network series not only gained him a wider audience, but also helped him earn the prestigious “Sparky Award,” named for his friend and mentor, Charles “Sparky” Schultz, the creator of the world renown “Peanuts” comic strip.  It is one of many awards he has received over the years.  To read more about Morrie Turner, you can begin at the most popular website listed for him on the Google search engine, by clicking HERE, or on his name in the article!

Angel Harper, in addition to being an actor and an award-winning voice-over performer, is also comedian, a winner of America’s Funniest People, and has appeared on BET’s Comic View and Show Me the Funny. Ms. Harper’s talents also extend to the printed word. She has written a book, Master the Art of Cold Reading, published by Heaven Sent Publishing available at Barnes & Noble or Samuel French Bookshop.  She is also the entertainment health-reporter for where she writes about the latest health tips for actors and where she will be a movie critic for the column, “Eyes on the Movies.”  To read more about Angel Harper’s documentary click HERE.

Bludogbiz wishes Ms. Harper all the best and will be there to see her 60-minute documentary, which will remain appropriately entitled, “Keeping the Faith With Morrie.”