A Film About Sex Trafficking: Hard To Make & Hard To Watch
A Film About Sex Trafficking: Hard To Make & Hard To Watch

Once the initial shock wore off from what I was hearing, the question was “Okay, just how on earth do you tell that story and do it right?”

I have to confess, when I heard Interstate 20 was one of, if not THE largest sex trafficking corridor in the United States, I was skeptical. Shocked and horrified, but mostly skeptical.

I live in Birmingham, Alabama. Not Las Vegas, or LA or New York. There’s no way this could be going on in Birmingham or even Atlanta for that matter. We are in the Deep South. No one treats another person like that in the South.

But once we began doing the research and talking to people who were actually experiencing it, the horror and realization began to set in. How on earth do you tell this story? And is there any way to make it believable?

The first hurdle our production team needed to cross was trying to get someone to go on camera and talk about it. The people involved in the business won’t say anything to you—if you can even find them. They are so good at hiding in the shadows that if you show up to film anything, you’d be spotted by any number of lookouts they have posted well before you pulled into the parking lot. Most of the customers helping fuel the industry won’t talk to you. Why would they? They have a new 16 year old just waiting for them at the next truck stop, which is sad, but true. A few brave truckers talked to us about the inside details and gave us a starting point for what we needed to capture. And we thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

Finally, that leaves the victims themselves. After a few initial interviews we quickly realized that trying to get the victims to tell their stories is a lot like asking a soldier fresh from a firefight to describe his experience. Just like soldiers in combat, these victims suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and are unable to emotionally recall their ordeal. They can talk, but they seem so disconnected from everything they are saying, it is hard to do it with meaning. We decided the best we could do was capture their stories and re-create them for the purpose of the film.

So, with cameras and chase cars in hand, we hit the road. Turns out, of all the elements in the video, the road was the easiest. The road doesn’t talk or try to hide. So our group spent weeks driving up and down the corridor between Birmingham and Atlanta to capture footage we needed. With a Red Epic, Canon 5D’s, GoPro Heroes, and a motion control rig, we were able to capture this part with relative ease. Only an occasional curious state trooper or motel owner even noticed us.

In the commercial ad business you always look forward to creating imagery to help tell your story. For the first time in my 30-year career, however, this was not the case. Every scene we captured in the film left an impression on our crew. Working in an old theater to recreate the “pimp” and “torture” sequences was as distressing to shoot as it is to watch. Some so distressing, we ended up using still photos rather than moving pictures to keep from crossing a line of taste somewhere. I don’t think “taste” and depicting sex trafficking even live in the same universe.

It took more than a year to capture and stage every scene for the film. Some of this was because of the schedule we needed in order to use key locations, and some of this was because the entire project was produced pro bono and had to be filmed after hours and on weekends. The time-lapse sequences were captured by going out just about every weekend to different locations along the interstate.

I hope the story we’ve told does justice to what we discovered. If we can prevent just one little girl from falling into this trap, we will have done our job. And if we can help give the victims back the life that was stolen from them, then every second of effort poured into the film was worth it.

Spencer Till

Stephen Curry

John Pope, Charlie Brown Sanders

Jeff Williams

Time Lapse sequences
John Pope

Charlie Brown Sanders

Flame and finishing
John Pope

Audio and sweetening
Barry Brooks

Jacob Garner, Leigh Ann Motley and Ben Fine

The Branding of Paula Deen
The Branding of Paula Deen

By now people all over the world have heard at least some part of the scandal that Paula Deen is embroiled in. Whether or not you’re pro Paula, one thing should be taken away from all of this. Her brand is now tarnished.

Paula Deen is much larger than her individual self. She’s a brand. She worked on it, cultivated it and watched it grow into the empire that she now enjoys….or did.

Branding works on feelings, perceptions, images and beliefs. There are certain expectations behind a brand experience. As we tell our clients, your brand is everything. Perception is reality. End of driveway talk, social media and a myriad of other things can make or break a brand. How people view your brand can hurt or help you. Brand trust or believability, in this case, has been damaged.

A brand is an inherent promise to consumers. There is a saying that “your word is your bond”. It’s the same for a brand.

Will Paula come back from this debacle? She probably will but it’ll be an uphill battle. The take away from this? Protect your brand, shape it, mold it and above all, guard its integrity.

The oil spill: how you can  help
The oil spill: how you can  help

Our agency was founded in 1951 in Mobile, Alabama. Although Lewis also has offices in Birmingham and Nashville, the history and culture of our company owes a good bit to the people and institutions on the Gulf Coast. We live here. We work here. We play here.

Whether concerned about where our next fried shrimp po’ boy is coming from, or worried about the economic impact to the fishing, travel, and tourism industries or the local real estate market, we’re all watching the tragic situation playing out in the Gulf of Mexico and hoping for the best.

Just as we often feel powerless watching a hurricane bear down on our beloved coast, watching news reports, Facebook posts and more to monitor the oil spill situation can make any of us feel helpless in the face of this impending disaster.

But, countless groups have been preparing and mobilizing to deal with the oil spill and can use our support to accomplish their mission of saving wildlife, preserving fragile marsh and wetlands, and cleaning up our coastline, should the spill eventually reach land.

Before you donate your time, your money and your support, you owe it to yourself to get to know any group and make sure their mission is compatible with your beliefs and your donation.

Below is a list of just a few of the many groups working on the Gulf Coast that we think you should check out if you are looking for a way to help.

Mobile Bay National Estuary Program
Roberta Swan, Director For more information call 251-431-6409 or visit mobilebaynep.com

Mobile Baykeeper
Casi Callaway, Executive Director and Baykeeper
If interested in volunteering to reduce the impacts of the oil spill to our Bay, call 1-888-433-4460 or email info@mobilebaykeeper.org with your name, address, phone number, e-mail, and available resources (boat, etc.)

The National Wildlife Foundation
Visit NWF.org for more information and to sign up for cleanup efforts
Follow @NWF on Twitter for updates
Text “Wildlife” to 20222 to donate $10

Coalition To Restore Coastal Louisiana
6160 Perkins Road, Suite#225
Baton Rouge, LA 70808
Telephone: 225.767.4181
Toll-Free: 888 LA COAST (888.522.6278)
Email: coalition@crcl.org
Register to volunteer or donate at www.crcl.org/coalitionprograms/oilspillrecovery.html


An integrated campaign themed “Never Settle” to promote the Birmingham Addy Awards was itself honored with a gold National Addy in Arlington, Virginia, June 6. The call for entries made use of candid photographs of the messy desks of top advertising creatives in the city, encouraging people not to stop at the first good idea. Elements included a giant piece of crumbled paper atop a downtown building and a microsite, keeptrashing.org.

Clarity hurtling towards you at 21,000 mph
Clarity hurtling towards you at 21,000 mph

According to some British scientists, on May 19, 2031, an asteroid about the size of Manhattan is predicted to center-punch the Earth, effectively eliminating all human life within a few months.


So, we probably don’t have to put quite as much emphasis on that global warming issue. (What is Al Gore going to do?) Not to mention those who are currently building a house don’t need to opt for the more expensive 30-year roof.

21 years left.

So does knowing the exact amount of time you have left change anything? Does your list of “somedays” take on a newfound urgency? Are you now going to quit your job and go help the less fortunate around the world?

I say if that’s what you want to do, you should pursue it with unbridled vigor. For me, knowing now I will never retire actually provides a little more clarity. How many times do you attempt to look way off in the future and you feel like you somehow won’t live the life you have at present. Well, no need to worry about that anymore I suppose.

Now we all have something in common to worry about: May 19, 2031. So let’s all just stop worrying about everything else that is suddenly not so important: the economy, our 401K’s, the death of advertising, or TV or NASCAR. We’re all going to be just fine. You know how I know? Because if you’re reading this, you are probably in the advertising (uh, sorry…the “communications/social influence”) business. Which means you’re in the greatest, most exciting and interesting career on the planet. You make a living on ideas. That is NEVER going to change. Sure those ideas will manifest themselves in new ways, but who cares? Great ideas will always be great ideas up until that fateful May Monday in the not too distant future.

So take a look at what is on your desk right now. There are a million excuses not to make it the best it can be: “I don’t have enough time,” “I’ve got too much on my plate,” “It will cut into my Facebook time,” “The AE is clueless,” “The client won’t like it,” “The creative director is stupid,” “The strategy is wrong,” “There is no budget,” “They’ll never buy it,” “I can’t make a difference,” “The category is shunned by the shows,” “My computer screen is too small,” “I am a hack,” (okay, I admit I still believe this one). The difference between good work and GREAT work is the unwillingness to give in to the voices. So just take things one at a time. Pick your projects, clients, etc. that will most help you make a difference. And have fun. Most importantly, make whatever you do GREAT. Make it memorable. Make it funny, or serious or compelling. Just make sure to get it done by Sunday night, May 18, 2031. I can promise you, this time there’s no way you’re getting an extension.

iPads and PlayBooks and Xooms, oh my! Are Tablets Game Changers?
iPads and PlayBooks and Xooms, oh my! Are Tablets Game Changers?

Apple launched the much-anticipated iPad in the spring of 2010 amid a cacophony of Mac geeks clamoring to get one, and bloggers and journalists questioning where tablets would fit between smart phones and laptops. Since then, Apple has sold over 15 million units of their tablet, and launched the iPad2, a slimmer, lighter update.

But, more importantly, other computer and electronics manufacturers have jumped into the tablet market with an array of devices that vary greatly by size, OS, functionality and price. Motorola shipped 250,000 Xooms in Q1 alone and the Samsung Galaxy, Blackberry Playbook and a host of other tablets are now flooding the market.

Here at Lewis, we’re using a variety of tablets for work and for play. But what we’re really interested in, is how are you using them? Is your laptop spending more time on the desk and less time at Starbucks? Is your smart phone now mainly for texting and actual phone calls? Or have you postponed buying a tablet in the hopes that prices will fall while features expand?

Click on the link here and take our quick survey on how you’re using various electronic devices. In a few weeks, we’ll post the results in a new blog. You can also enter your email address at the end of the survey and we’ll send you the results.

Take the Survey!

I like history, always have. Even as a kid, I preferred a good war movie to Star Wars and cartoons. The future was all lasers and space. Phooey. History just seemed more exciting. And it actually happened. It was true. It was real. Luke Skywalker couldn’t hold a candle to Magellan or Robert E. Lee.

For a time, before getting into advertising, I worked towards a PhD in history. I quit my studies midway. As it turned out, I preferred reading history to researching it. Still, many years later, I get a great thrill from reading a solidly researched, well-written historical tract. Nothing beats it, except golf.

It bothers me that people don’t know or appreciate history. I think they’re depriving themselves of an important part of being alive. They’re missing the richness of appreciating where they exist in time. They don’t get to absorb the happenings of another place and era. And sadly, I believe their ability to fully make sense of the present world is compromised. Because man is a creature of memory, custom, and ritual, and the past will always be with us. For good and bad. The future is coming; I’m here to tell you, so is the past.

Well, for my money, there’s no better supplemental training a creative can have than a grasp of history. Each day, I face the blank sheet of paper. It can be daunting. But thanks to my passion for history, I don’t look down on that empty whiteness alone. I have inspirational helpers as I search for a concept to tackle a client’s problem. You may know some of them: Napoleon, Buzz Aldrin, James K. Polk, Cortez, Thomas More, Erasmus, Hannibal, Pericles, Botticelli, Peter Abelard, Chester Nimitz, Plato, Hadrian, Otto Von Bismarck but enough name dropping.

Join, follow and friend me
Join, follow and friend me

“I just retweeted your tweet about your post on Facebook for your new blog entry and then added a link on my blog back to your original post. Thanks for the friend request.”

In today’s world the above would be commonplace as more of us have entered this world of “status updates”, “tweets” and “blog posts”. This new evolution has allowed us to keep in touch with people through quick snippets of 100+ characters. I say evolution because that is exactly what we are looking at. We are social creatures and this is nothing more then the Book Club or Tupperware Party of the past. Those D&D Thursday nights or Monday Night Football gatherings. Now we see people hosting their Book Club and Tupperware Party in virtual settings like Second Life, and Monday Night Football has turned into a Facebook/Twitter/MySpace status update each time our team scores. While DND Thursdays have turned into all-night raids during games of World of Warcraft.

There is no denying the fact that social media usage has made massive gains. These gains are not just among the normal internet user but also the on-the-clock internet user who sometimes uses these sites for more than simply personal reasons.

Several reports have now shown that there has been a steady increase in on-the-clock users for several of the online networks. The top reasons users gave for using these sites at work were professional networking, keeping up with friends, and general research. While a small percentage were logging on for more specialized reasons or to market to customers.

Not surprisingly, this rise in usage has started to raise red flags for some companies. In one poll three-quarters stated that is was unacceptable to check Facebook or other social networking sites if unrelated to work. This new stance has caused complications for some users when friending a colleague or supervisor and has blurred the boundaries between personal and business because of these sites’ usefulness at work and at home.

This doesn’t mean that these social networking sites are only good for home use and keeping in touch with friends, but for those of us who have taken the time to integrate them into our lives and our business we need to know not only how to use them but better yet – when to use them. We need to recognize the networking medium as a way to more intimately engage the end user and to help better understand their needs. Social media can help to get those conversations started or to jump-start an old conversation with your end users, allowing you to offer better support to them. It’s up to us as advertisers to figure out how to best gauge the value and the budget needed to attract those end users. Because in the end there is no real reason to have a fan base that had to be bribed by a re-tweet, re-post, or a ping back. Not to mention, Tupperware Parties just don’t seem to be in style anymore.

Partner Is Greater Than  Vendor
Partner Is Greater Than  Vendor

When I first started out in advertising, a very smart copywriter told me that you can either be a vendor or a partner to your clients. If your client sees your agency as a vendor, you can do fine work. But, if you can become a true partner with your client, those are the relationships that allow you to do your best work.

For many business people, the word “vendor” isn’t meant as a slight and I certainly don’t take it personally when the term is used. But as my friend Gary Brandon says, “Words matter,” and I’ve tried to be mindful of how I describe the companies that our agency works with to produce marketing and advertising for our clients.

Having just completed a lengthy RFP, the words “trusted partner” have been typed fairly often on my laptop. The truth is, Lewis has dozens of “trusted” and “valued” partners and very few vendors.

A couple partners I’d like to mention just helped us with a project in Haiti. Steve Moe of Wahoo Films here in Birmingham has shot dozens of spots with Lewis over the last 20 years and has long been a “go to guy” for our agency.

Proton, an edit house in New York, is a more recent partner the last five years, but has consistently delivered amazing work.

The video here is a labor of love for a pro bono client, The Joseph School. Steve traveled with our team to Haiti and shot most of the footage. Keith Olwell and James Long of Proton both gave generously of their time to make this project so successful. And, they introduced us to a very cool band from Iceland, Sigur Rós, who has graciously allowed us to use one of their songs as the soundtrack for the video.

So, whether your partner is in New York, Reykjavik, Nashville, Port-au-Prince or Birmingham, remember that you’ll always get their best work if you truly allow them to be your partner.