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 Birmingham chapter of the American Advertising Federation held its annual ADDY Gala at Soho in Homewood. Lewis captured 11 Gold ADDYs and 22 Silver ADDYs, more than any other agency. In addition, the agency won Best of Show/Broadcast for its “Never Saw It Coming” TV campaign for Alfa Insurance. Stephen Curry was honored as Creative Director of the Year and Copywriter of the Year, while Joel Wheat was named Art Director of the Year. In addition, being one of Lewis’ youngest employees didn’t stop Holly Cook from making her mark at the show. Holly was named Designer of the Year, Illustrator of the Year and her work from Auburn University was named as Best of Show/Student. This represents an unprecedented three major honors for a fresh-out-of-school designer.


Stony Brook University Medical Center captured the Gold Award for best total campaign for an Academic Medical Center at the 2009 Aster Awards. Individual honors went to Stony Brook’s microsite and print advertising. Clients Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt Medical Center and the University of Virginia Health System were also recognized for a total of nine Aster awards. In addition, Lewis clients received ten honors in the 2009 Healthcare Marketing Awards.

The new Edelman Trust Barometer Study is out and causing quite a stir among marketing people. The buzz surrounding the report is primarily because it shows a significant one-year decline in the perceived value of “friends” as a trusted source re: brand trial and preference.

Many pundits are gleefully quoting this single datapoint as evidence that the social influence “fad” is starting to fade.

I think this is a big mistake.

For starters, words matter and the term “friends” has been severely cheapened and confused due to the social media lexicon. Real friends will forever remain a source of trust and confidence for Americans. We are greatly influenced by people we know and admire, and as media fragmentation continues, our reliance on these sources will increase.

Secondly, it is important to remember that brand “conversations,” as we define them here, have never been limited to or framed by the social influence movement. We don’t endorse a cannibalizing view of social media and we openly reject the “advertising is dead” mantra.

Instead, our position is that “we do work worth talking about,” no matter what the media. This is not a new position for our firm, nor is it an attempt to promote ourselves with a social media spin.

We are marketing communications experts who are passionate and gifted at stimulating, measuring and sustaining brand conversations — which is vital in an era of “always on, always accessible” media.

Therefore, while the term “conversations” may become a casualty of the social media debate, what should not be lost is a singular focus on helping customers better connect with and through a client’s brand.

This has always been the strength of great agencies and it will never lose its value.

See the good.

Every year, I play center field on a team with about 13 other past-their-prime athletes in an over 35 baseball league. Keep in mind, this is not softball. This is real baseball with umpires, uniforms, 90 foot base paths, sliders and stolen bases. We play about 25 nine-inning games each season, and we play them pretty well.

Many of the guys in the league played in college, making the level of play very competitive. Granted, none of us are as good as we used to be, but there is always a play or two in each game where you cant help but be impressed. And for me, it is still incredibly satisfying to run down a fly ball in the gap or turn on an inside fastball and rip it down the left-field line. Those little individual moments keep me coming back each year.

But those moments wouldn’t mean as much without the camaraderie in the dugout. I consider most of these guys friends, and I’ve played with several of them for almost 15 years now. What we all have in common is our love of baseball.

In that time, I’ve gotten to know these guys very well. Many of us come from different hometowns and backgrounds. The educational level ranges from a couple guys who didn’t go to college all the way to two guys with PhDs. One of our outfielders is a sheriff’s deputy. Our first baseman works for the city of Birmingham. One of our pitchers is a law clerk, while our catcher is a self-employed house painter. There are opposing political affiliations, alternate social viewpoints and even different tastes in music.

For the most part, I know what is important in their lives and their families. And having this insight helps me in the way I approach my job as an art director. We certainly strive for awards in advertising, but awards don’t really matter if your message doesn’t reach the people its intended to. In addition to just enjoying them as teammates, these guys practically serve as my own private focus group. Whatever project or campaign we’re working on, someone on my team usually falls within the target audience.

Now it’s not like I bring my presentation boards to the ball park and go over concepts and layouts in the parking lot before the game. And I’m not on this team as some sort of social experiment. I’m on this team because I like playing baseball and being with these guys.

Having this added level of understanding of the people we’re working to communicate with is most certainly a bonus. In the end, I believe it helps me do my job that much better.


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.


Animation brings a fresh look to Lewis’ latest broadcast efforts for longtime partner Vanderbilt Medical Center. The spots—for Vanderbilt Sleep Center and Vanderbilt Sports Medicine—were written by Kathy Oldham and Carey Moore and art directed and designed by Nessim Higson and ACD Roy Burns.

Beer and Beef Jerky: The Intern's View
Beer and Beef Jerky: The Intern's View

As we’re watching some video footage about a fancy medical procedure for a client one Thursday afternoon, one of the creative guys asks if we want anything to drink. Assuming he would be coming back with a Coke, I said no thank you. When he came back from the fridge with Yuenglings, however, I knew I was going to like it here.

I’ve been an intern at Lewis for about a week now, and I see this culture is about more than the stockpile of beer and beef jerky in the fridge. And I see advertising is about more than making cool posters. I’m not sure what I expected agency life to be like, but this definitely isn’t it. I think I imagined people being bossy and on-edge all the time, and I think I imagined every meeting and conference call being a calculated battle. This imaginary office I built in my head couldn’t be farther from the truth, at least in Lewis’s case anyway.

People wear skinny jeans, colorful scarves and hip glasses, and they make me feel cooler just by being around them. Every cubicle is decorated with cool artwork and/or pictures of adorable children. As much of an oxymoron as it may seem, the thing I’ve found most odd about the agency is how normal every interaction and meeting is. The way people communicate with one another and with clients is just so relaxed, so easy, so normal.

This simple, understandable communication style each member of the Lewis team seems to possess is the reason I have already learned so much. Just in the few days I’ve spent following people around here, I’ve realized how complex, compelling and fun the advertising industry can be.

Caroline is a summer account service intern. She graduated from the University of Alabama in May, and she will be continuing her education at the University of Missouri in the fall. Follow her @carolineemurray.

The poorest country I know
The poorest country I know

In March, I traveled with a group of our staff to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to look for potential sites to build the first Joseph School. The idea was to send a video and still photography crew to document our time there. I will attempt to describe what we saw, but most people reading this will never be able to grasp the desperate living conditions for 98 percent of Haitians.

First, a little about The Joseph School. A good friend of mine, Jim Bryson, asked our company to help spread the word about a concept he developed while working to assist after the Haitian earthquake disaster. Most Haitian children are forced to live in orphanages because their parents simply cannot afford to take care of their basic needs. For generations, the country has found itself in a self-perpetuating situation in which the majority of the country is uneducated and has no hope of finding jobs to sustain themselves. Children in orphanages are basically turned out into the streets after 5th grade and face a career of panhandling to try to find a meal for the day. In Haiti, there is no long-term hope for “bettering oneself” as we are so accustomed to here. In Haiti, the long-term dream is to simply find sustenance for the day. Period.

Jim’s concept for The Joseph School is to establish a school that can take the 5th grade children and provide them with a free education all the way through 12th grade. His concept is, for the first time, to give the children of Haiti a chance to become leaders, a chance to find a real job and a chance at a future.

All those plans and dreams sound great when you are hearing them in the lobby of an upscale Nashville hotel. They take on an entirely new meaning when you’re riding in an open truck down a main street so embroiled in chaos it is hard to imagine that it has ever been deemed a “society.” Trash is piled everywhere because there has been no trash pickup since the earthquake (a year ago, really?). Trash is piled into every possible place: streams, the sides of the roads, etc. There is no sewer service, so the same stream that provides sanitation to one person is providing the source for cleaning clothes for another, or worse still—drinking water. The entire city of Port-au-Prince smells of burning garbage since that is really the only way to get rid of any trash at all.

The streets are full of dust, dirt and garbage, and untold diseases are kicked up in the air with each passing car. Traffic could easily be the situation one might find if a major city such as Los Angeles was to endure a nuclear attack; there is no real order – the rule of the day for traffic is to stick your nose in and hope it doesn’t get taken off. But somehow they never seem to hit one another. It is truly amazing.

The United Nations has a large presence, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what they are doing. They drive around in tanks with machine guns. I suppose they are “establishing order.” What we wish they were doing is trying to rebuild this country. It looks exactly the same today as it did the day after the earthquake over a year ago. Buildings are still piles of rubble. Many still hold the victims of the earthquake inside them.

But it is against this backdrop of utter chaos, hopelessness and despair that we discovered the most wonderful thing; the resiliency of the Haitian people. In a country that most people would agree has perhaps the worst luck on the planet – the world’s worst poverty, hurricanes frequently rake the country, few if any natural resources left, mudslides in the low-lying areas of the country, and now a catastrophic earthquake and a disastrous epidemic of cholera —we find smiling, embracing, joyful people. People who put on the best clothes they own every Sunday and walk miles to worship a God that most people would assume has turned his back on them.

If these people can have faith and hope living under such extreme circumstances they are faced with, I would contend that Haiti isn’t the poorest country on Earth. They are perhaps the richest. They live purely. They live for the day – thankful that they have been given that day to live. They remain hopeful while living through adversity that those of us who have lived a life of privileged excess can’t begin to imagine. They accept their lot in life with an attitude of thankfulness. They care for one another.

We, on the other hand, would never make it in this kind of environment because we would try to blame someone – anyone – so that we can satisfy our sense of entitlement. We wouldn’t deserve this kind of treatment and because we are Americans, we don’t have to take it. Not us, no siree.

Upon returning home we were profoundly embarrassed looking at our world, because we have lived a life of excess. We’ve gotten pretty much everything we have ever wanted. We live in houses that in Haiti would shelter 100 people. We never have to worry about whether we’ll eat today. In fact, we’ll all complain that we don’t have enough. There’s always that next something we don’t have. We’ll continue feeling our sense of entitlement and we’ll continue to make our life about Us. Life for the typical American is just that way; it is comfortable, it is excessive, and that’s just the way we like it.

So which is the poor country and which is the rich one?

Well, I can tell you that we are going to do everything we possibly can to make The Joseph School a reality. We are going to try to refocus the world’s short attention span on this country that is so desperately in need of the most basic services. But at the end of the day we hope we can bring home some lessons about life – for the country we live in.

The poorest country I know.