A Lee Dog Story aims to find stories of homeless men, women and children in the U.S. to interview, and then film over the course of a 12 month period for a TV series.
Join us as we learn why everyone doesn’t have a home, and how we can help them find their way home.
-Zach Waters, Founder
We are excited to announce that Christopher O’Conner, Memphis native and founder of Prodigi Arts is helping produce this TV series. Chris and his team of professionals, including Emmy Award winning cinematographer Joel Evans have created projects for Disney, Memphis Grizzlies, FedEx, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital just to name a few, and are now working on several major TV productions in L.A.
Zach Waters has always had a strong urge to film a Docuseries about homeless men, women and children and their stories of living life on the streets. In 2005 Zach attended Memphis College of Art for film and animation where he received his first course in film production. Zach hit the streets of Memphis, TN interviewing the homeless community and quickly became intrigued by the stories he found. Among the stories Zach found, Lee Brown’s was absolutely the most powerful. In the first few weeks of filming theses stories, Zach found countless amounts of people that needed help and soon realized he would need a lot more resources to put his project into effect. In 2008, although no longer a part of the company, Zach helped start a film production company in Memphis that is now currently thriving in Los Angeles. This was really the beginning of his business and professional film education. Today, he lives in Colorado and helps run an online cake school with his girlfriend Avalon Yarnes, where he does all of the video production and editing. www.avaloncakesschool.com. July 2018 Lee Brown passed away in Memphis, TN at the age of 47. Zach founded A Lee Dog Story the same month, and by August 2018 A Lee Dog Story became a 501(c)(3) organization. Zach is an extremely creative, energetic person with a strong desire to help people through the power of film and story.
Lee Brown was the epitome of the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, and the embodiment of a really big Grizzly teddy bear. He was huge, 300 pounds on a good day, with big, burrowing eyebrows, a rusty beard and lips the size of two average human thumbs. From far away, and a lot of times close up, he looked intimidating, like he could grab you and crush you with one squeeze. But Lee was not just larger than life in body but also in heart. He had a heart that could reach across Memphis any day, even though he mostly kept to the streets of Midtown.
When I first met Lee I was 16. It was 19 years ago when I walked up to him and asked him if he wanted some food I had just purchased from Midtown Market on Cooper. I was on the way home to our house near Snowden. It was a cold day and Lee was sitting next to Catholic High School on a bench by the tree. The same tree and bench where everyone in Midtown would see him for what felt like a decade.
Now, Lee being the giant teddy bear he was accepted this bag of food offering, but as he looked inside, I felt like he was potentially holding back his disgust of what I had offered, or maybe he just wasn’t a very talkative person. I remember there being donuts — powdered sugar of course — orange cupcakes, chips and some form of candy, Reese’s, Butterfinger or Baby Ruth. I mean, I was hooking him up! I felt bad for the guy, even if it was his choice to live on the streets, because like I said it was cold, so cold that Lee’s nose had snot, and not a small amount like, ‘Hey you have a monkey in the window’ kind of snot hanging out of your nose, but more of a Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber stream of snot frozen down the side of your face kind of snot situation going on.
He looked down into the bag, wrinkled his bushy eyebrows and enthusiastically said: “hugggh.” As soon as I started thinking he didn’t like the choices I’d given him, he saw a pack of smokes, probably buried beneath all the sugar, quickly reached in and pulled them out. With his eyebrows now curled upwards in a “that’s odd’’ manor, he more enthusiastically said, in a giant-like deepened voice: “Thanks for the smokes, kid.”
I had just purchased two packs from Midtown Market on Cooper and apparently handed one of the packs over to Lee. I was trying to be nice, but not that nice! I mean that pack was worth ten times the weight of gold to the average 16-year-old. It was a buy-one-get-one-free special. I had just gotten my first ride, an old Toyota Celica. I’d forgotten that one of the packs was in the car, and one was still in the bag, the one I had just handed over to Lee. Now, I don’t know if you have ever seen “The Sandlot” movie before, but that’s the kind of mistake I felt I had just made, like this ball is absolutely not retrievable, and in my case the pack of cigarettes he was just noticing in the bag was nowhere near retrievable.
So, I did what any 16-year-old who had just driven to the opposite end of Midtown to illegally purchase cigarettes would do, and asked him for the cigarettes back, but nicely of course. “Uh, so, haahha, umm, actually, funny thing, I actually didn’t mean to give you those cigarettes, super sorry, I was just rushing and didn’t realize they were in there.” He looked crushed. Then he quickly smiled, and almost laughing, said, “It’s OK kid. I figured it was a mistake. Nobody gives you a full pack of smokes.”
That’s the day I met a gentle giant, teddy bear actually, who could but never would squash you like a grape. That’s also when I realized what an ass I was being and told him just to keep them, and that I hoped it made his night better. I ended up sitting there with Lee talking for at least an hour, and the entire time neither of us smoked a single cigarette. We just talked, well mostly Lee talked and I listened. And, if you know me that can be a rare occurrence.
I was curious about why Lee was on the street and thought that maybe he would appreciate someone to talk to more than a bag of sugar. Oh, did he. He talked and talked, and I talked and talked, while quickly realizing he was absolutely a rich, deep, positive, kind soul who didn’t seem like he could or would hurt even a cockroach, and in Memphis we all have hurt our share of cockroaches. “Lee Dog” had such clarity when he talked, like a wise soul who had been on the earth for ages he would help you sort through life’s problems, as if he had none himself. He cared more for the average stranger than himself. He would have given me the only blanket he had that cold night, if he thought I needed it. From that moment on we became friends, never knowing that one day he would appear in not one, not two, but all three of my college Indie short films. From the moment I met him, I knew he was talented. He had a voice that could bring God to tears, and the spirit of ten Buddhist monks.
It seemed as if he knew he had made some mistakes, with his current situation living on the streets, but that he was in no way trying to change anything. He said he would get a job, but that he couldn’t. At that time I had no clue whether that was true or not, but later Lee absolutely proved he was willing to work to make a living. A lot of Lee’s transformation from the streets to working again and having his own apartment in Midtown was thanks to people like Joe Birch of Channel 5, and Neil of Neil’s Bar and Grill, both of whom Lee talked about all the time like they were his personal saviors. These influential people from Memphis truly became a part of his life. They took Lee in and helped him live in a much better way. Without people like them, Lee would have been just another lost homeless soul on Memphis’ streets, and he most likely would have passed away years ago of illness or freezing to death during an ice storm. Instead Lee lived the last 20 years of his life with community, integrity, respect and peace, at least when and where he could find it. Oh, and really good food (mostly form Neil’s, Topps and the Bar-B-Q Shop). He was caring, thoughtful, generous, kind, smart, resourceful, brave, strong and REEEEEAAAALLLLYY funny!
Lee loved to throw intimidating looks at you during a game of pool to try and distract you during your shot, or if you ever came close to beating him, which I only did a few times. He was Neil’s shark. It was at Neil’s where I got to know Lee the best. He would help Neil out with odd jobs, but mostly just did security around the premises for a bite to eat. Neil was never worried about him coming inside, even on Lee’s worst smelling days, and eventually he was inside all the time. He would sit right at the end of the bar and eat a hot plate, or go shoot pool with one of the unlucky passersby. I was mostly a walking bartender in those days, so I shot the shot with him all day, everyday for practically six years.
While working at Neil’s I was also attending Memphis College of Art for film and animation. Lee was fascinated with this, especially the film aspect, and he would tell me his ideas for movies all the time. He would constantly remind me of how well he could sing, how deep his voice could go, and of course how creepy his face could look. “If you ever need an extra in one of your movies, I’m your man,” he’d say. I started thinking of plots that could include him or even allow him to be one of the star characters. Eventually, I got a few ideas together and approached him one day while he was sitting in the front of Neil’s by the grill. He loved all of them.
The first idea was a story called ‘The Apple’ in which a confused teen — me — tours through the city in a lucid dream. This allowed Lee a few scenes to be the curious character sitting on the curb by Circle K, on the ground behind Catholic, on Auburndale and in the small park Williamson on Poplar, underneath a giant tree. He had a very photographic nature and his acting was so natural. He could trigger these deep expressions like no other, and bring the largest presence ever to the screen without saying a thing. By this time he was known around Midtown as Lee Dog to most and he was becoming not just a friend of mine, but a brother.
We filmed “The Apple”, a 2 ½ minute short, and then quickly decided on the next one. I wanted to tell Memphis’ story, and from a resident’s perspective. But, I wanted his story more than anyone’s, because he had such a rich voice, great sense of humor, witty personality and deep thoughts, extremely intellectual sense of place and time, and great stories to tell. So, I had decided to start filming my first documentary, which I never completed in fear of how long it might take, as well as the resources needed to help those I encountered that did need help. Instead, I ended up only making a trailer for the concept. In the recordings I have, Lee is absolutely the most cinematic and charismatic person around. He had such an enormous amount of energy around him that he could engage any audience with ease. I loved filming that short, and loved the end result and really wish I’d had the time to finish it, but instead we filmed our B-horror movie.
Lee, as a giant, can be intimidating. But I’ll give you an idea of how much our group of friends trusted Lee. I gave him a real 12-inch butcher knife, and a “I Know What You Did Last Summer” fisherman’s coat. All 12 of the crew members/cast went down into a basement with him to shoot “Adam’s Basement”. The entire process was so much fun. We will never forget it. Might not have impressed Stephen King, but it sure did impress us. We were all having the time of our lives, and I was having the time of my life making my first real short film, all because of Lee Dog. He was so much fun to have on set. He would come up with ideas, crack jokes, and every once in a while try to freak someone out. Ha, funny because no matter how hard he tried no one even flinched. They all knew of the kind giant’s heart and that he would never harm a soul. He just loved friends, conversation, food, music/karaoke, sleep and pool. Well, he of course loved a lot more than that but it was definitely his favorite combo, and never in any particular order.
When I left Memphis to finish film school in Denver, he was one of the people I never wanted to leave. I knew Lee had health problems, and I knew I might not ever have the pleasure of seeing him again if I moved to Colorado. We kept in touch for a while, but eventually, as with most long-distance friendships, it faded. But, my love for Lee never disappeared or grew any less. We would talk occasionally on the phone and it was just always so good to know he was still OK, and thriving alongside people like Joe and Neil. When we talked he would let me know how he let someone else watch our movie and would tell me about his security job, his apartment and singing for the church. He told me that he recorded a song and couldn’t wait for me to hear it. Well, I finally did (thanks to Joe Birch for posting it). The man sings like an angel, an extremely deep-voiced angel.
The past couple of years have been flying by so fast for me I didn’t even realize he was on Facebook. I just kept going and going with my girlfriend and our new business start-up, and didn’t make a trip to Memphis for over two years. Last December I made it back home and the universe brought us together one last time. I was in Memphis for the holidays. Not only did I run into him, but it was at the good old Bar-B-Q Shop. It was my last night in town and I was just about to leave the shop. I was literally at the door when I decided I had to buy some of their sauce and dry rub to take back to Colorado.
I turned around and saw him walking toward the door. I ran toward him and he looked kind of confused, but then immediately snapped out of his food coma and realized it was me. “Zach!!! Zach!!” he said, “Zach, I can’t believe it!” We grabbed ahold of each other so tight. He had thinned out a lot in his last couple of years so I could actually get my arms around him. We talked for a couple of minutes, then I introduced him to my girlfriend, and he of course talked to my mom and dad for a minute. Like I said, he was a big fan of my dad’s writing for The Commercial Appeal. He gave me his telephone number and told me about his new apartment in Binghamton and how I had to see it. I told him I was literally leaving the next day to fly back to Colorado, but that I would call him the next day to come see his place and hang out for a while, and then we said our goodbyes. It was the best goodbye you could ever hope to give a friend, all smiles, hugs and love.
The next morning I woke up and couldn’t find the tiny sheet of paper he had written his number on anywhere. I literally spent an hour or more that day looking for it and while driving around Midtown taking care of a few things before leaving for the airport, kept an eye out for Lee Dog. I hated the fact that I didn’t have enough time, and I had to get to the airport soon and that I probably wouldn’t be back for another year, and I would have to try and track him down all over again. I lost my phone on a hiking trail a few years back in Colorado and never got my contact list back again — his being one of the most important ones I lost. That night at the Bar-B-Q Shop I told him I never thought I would see him again and that I was so happy I did, and that nothing made me happier than knowing he was OK. He said the same.
Lee didn’t have the longest life ever — hell 47 is a long damn time, but still too early to leave this world. Too early to take such a friendly soul away from Memphis and way too early for me to realize at 34 that I will never see Lee Dog again. The gentle giant who warmed Midtown’s heart and won over its people. He has helped spark a light in my life once again that was not there. I miss Lee, have missed him for a while, and now will miss him until I leave. The people we love most in this life will never be forgotten, and Lee is absolutely one of them.
Well Lee, you have infinitely affected us all and for the absolute better, my friend.
This is your story, Lee, and with it you will never be forgotten. Much love, Big Lee Dog, and I’ll spot the quarters for a game of pool when I get there.
$60,000 to produce the first season.
50% of Donations will go to the construction of tiny homes for the 3 homeless individuals filmed for the TV series.
25% of Donations will be managed for the 3 homeless individuals filmed for the TV series, to help attain personal identification, healthcare, medication, public transportation card and the first year of property taxes for the tiny homes.
25% of Donations will go to the production costs of the TV series.
This is a nonprofit company, and all donations are tax deductible. 501(c)3 posted below
EIN : 83 – 1297137
- ($30,000) will be used to fund housing in the form of (3) 150 square foot tiny homes in a small lot with one shared bath house.
- ($15,000) of the funds will be managed for the 3 homeless individuals filmed for the TV series, to help attain personal identification, healthcare, medication, public transportation card and the first year of property taxes for the tiny homes. This will greatly help with their initial transitions working a new job and getting off the streets. Other items needed, such as food, clothing, & household items will be donated through the community and our Sponsors! With the help of other Memphians we will help find these 3 individuals a steady paying job, and most importantly a community of friends that will help change their lives forever.
- $15,000 Total will cover the costs of production 2019 – 2021. These funds will be used to contract Prodigi Arts to produce six 21 minute episodes over the course of a year. (This price comes with a MAJOR Discount, thanks to Chris O’conner of Prodigi Arts. Chris and his team of professionals are filming this series at cost, and receiving no profit from this production.
1. Filming Days / Editing – 33 Full Days (6 hours of footage a day) / Approx 198 hours of total video to Edit.
Flights: Producer : 1 person, Chris O’Conner : Round Trip L.A. – MEM $300 (9 total round trip flights)
2. Flights (Dec 2019, Jan 2020, Feb 2020, Apr 2020, Jun 2020, Aug 2020, Oct 2020, Dec 2020, Jan 2021)
9 x $300 = $2700
3. Permits needed for filming.
4. Short term location rentals for interviews.
a.) B Roll, Location Shots, Initial Homeless Interviews – (6 Total Days of Filming) Dec 2019
b.) Lee Brown Interviews – [Friends and Family of Lee’s] – (6 Total Days of Filming) Jan 2019
c.) 3 Homeless individuals chosen – 3 Full Days of Filming in each of the following 9 months (Dec 2019, Jan 2020, Feb 2020, Apr 2020, Jun 2020, Aug 2020, Oct 2020, Dec 2020, Jan 2021) (27 Total Days of Filming)
5. Post Production: 198 Total hours of video to edit, with 138 finished total minutes for first full 6 episode season.
6. Hard Drives / Media Storage