Creating "The Open Letter"
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When Donald Trump announced his attacks against immigrants and “Dreamers” in 2017, we (my friends at AdThing, Caroline Moreton, Sage Bennett, and I felt powerless. We felt powerless about everything that had been happening since we cast our vote in the 2016 election and saw that our voice didn’t matter to old America — the America in power, and one that has sorely lost its way about what this country stands for.
With friends at the university who were “Dreamers,” we couldn’t continue to sit idly by harmful rhetoric spread rampant. We mobilized and worked with a diverse set of individuals in our home state to spread the true message Americans want to send to immigrants.
Remind the world of America’s true policy towards immigrants. Bring a positive social-political message into the world at a tense time without bashing on others. Spread hope, love, and support.
Partner with a local organization (The Refugee and Immigrant Center of Utah) to ensure we do this story justice and have someone who can benefit from our deliverable.
Our three-minute film was shared locally (through University newsletters) and nationally (through Huff Post and organic social media sharing). Most importantly, we created a website in which people could fill out a form to pledge to support immigrants and the American Dream with love. At the time I left AdThing, we had over 450 pledges and were still growing.
- Three Students in Utah Respond to Refugee Ban with Beauty, Humanity, and Action (Huffington Post)
- Open Letter to the World (Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute)
Behind the Scenes
Utah has a rich history of immigrants and our student agency, AdThing, had recently started working with the Utah Refugee and Immigrant Center to create awareness of their work among the Utah public. The brief was very open ended and we ended up delivering a variety of materials from marketing strategy, to branding and media. The most important deliverable ended up being a film we developed as a side project.
The idea came late one night in January 2017, sitting in the AdThing office, watching the news, while waiting for another project to export. Caroline and I got to talking about how we felt that our voices had ceased to matter in the traditional democratic system, and that made it to feel like truth could never overpower policy (even when it should.) We decided to use the tools we did have at our disposal — filmmaking and marketing — to create a campaign that spreads the message that America is a land of immigrants and that idea is foundational to the democratic experiment. But being sick of all the trump-bashing in the world, we just wanted to focus on the positive message, the people, the history, and the emotion.
Caroline stayed late again the next few nights so we could do our research and put a script together. We thought the easiest way to speed through production would be to time the entire edit from pre-production, so we were constantly testing the script with the track we’d already licensed with all the archival media we were pulling.
Sage Bennett, one of the University’s most talented filmmakers, was with us the next day to start talking production. We had to pitch this to our superiors at AdThing to ask if the university would fund our politically-charged film that, at the time, was not for anyone in particular. Luckily, they saw the importance, and gave us the green light.
Within days of the original concept, we were recruiting people to shoot with and scouting for locations. I can’t emphasize enough how breakneck the pace of this production was. We were motivated to get this story out and fight back as soon as possible.
No matter how excited you might be going into a project, production is grueling. And it always feels like the production strays farther and farther from your vision and you have less control over it the longer it goes on and the more mistakes that happen. That’s okay, it’s part of the creative process. My team and I at Adobe have been talking recently about how the film process closely mimics what is known in the design industry as “the double-diamond process.” According to this newly discovered production log from The Open Letter, I’d had the same realization back then. I love post-production. I always have, as much as I like to think I only dream of being on set and being a “real filmmaker.” Post-production is always where I felt like I had superpowers and could re-craft the vision that had strayed so far off the path into what I had originally envisioned. And it’s where I most felt like I had what it took to be a “pro” filmmaker. (Plot twist: I was already a filmmaker the moment I even attempted to use media to tell a story — and so is everyone else.)
The film went through several iterations, with different members of AdThing staff and management dropping in to leave their feedback. We kept post-production time short, it was important to get the film out there. And since we’d decided to give the film to the Utah Immigrant & Refugee Center, we wanted them to have something quick enough to being sharing in response to Donald Trump’s attacks against immigrants.
The final touch was applying AdThing’s marketing expertise to ensure the film was seen. Aside from standard things like promoting the film through social media advertising, we created www.theopenletter.org to allow people to share the film, and pledge their support to refugees and immigrants in the US. We also created several hundred promotional cards to strategically leave around the Utah valley (and, when some of us left for Spring Break, around the world).