TBT: I am an American

June 15, 2014

Another July 4th is upon us! This is our patriotic holiday to celebrate freedom and independence–the day we all became Americans, e pluribus unum.

Thirteen years ago, I directed a significant portion of the following collaborative PSA commercial. On July 4th, I always reflect on this project and the huge impact it made on me. It remains a powerful memory to this day.

September 11, 2001 was one of those days where everyone remembers exactly what they were doing when they learned about the terrorist strikes.

I was scouting Pullen Park in Raleigh, when I got a phone call from one of my employees and asked if I had heard what happened. While I was on the phone with her, the second tower was hit.

After that, it was like the world shut down. No planes took off for days. Americans were paralyzed with fear.

Creative team members David Crawford and Jeremy Postaer from GSD&M were stranded in New York City at the time. They decided to drive back to Austin, and stopped in Raleigh on the way.

They had developed what I believed was a brilliant concept for a public service commercial. The concept was to create a statement of solidarity by filming individuals from all ethnicities and walks of life, and simply stating what they all have in common with four words, “I am an American.” A handful of directors were selected from across the country, and the work began.

We knew this had to be on the air as soon as possible. The entire spot was shot and turned around in 48 hours, and that was back in the day of film.

As we spent the day filming, I was stirred by the variety of individuals who participated and what it meant to each and every one of them to be an American. I got to know so many people that day through their conviction and heartfelt delivery of four simple words.

It was an emotional time for Americans, one of anxiety, uncertainty, empathy, and hostility that was at times inappropriately targeted and lacked compassion. We seemed to forget the meaning of e pluribus unum, out of many, one. I believe this commercial helped some citizens take their blinders off and see others who are different as equals.

From the time the project was first proposed to me, I was sure I wanted to be involved. My family, like most modern Americans, did not originate here. In a time where tensions ran high and intolerances towards certain ethnicities were climbing, this commercial helped millions feel they belonged in the mix of many that makes us one united America.

I hope everyone can take some time this July 4th to think about what it means to you to be an American.

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