“Amarillo by Morning.” That’s probably the most recognizable line about this big-little city on the plains of West Texas. Frankly, to many people across the country, that’s all they know about the place. Amarillo is just a stop on the way to “someplace better.”
But if you live here. If you’ve taken the time to see what this city has to offer, experience the community and opportunity and fruits of its toil, then you know that Amarillo is so much more than a stat on a news cast or a line in a song by Mr. Strait. There’s what others think of Amarillo and then there’s what we know about home. That was the genesis for the creative on this project.
In late August, local business leader Alex Fairly approached us with an idea. He wanted a piece that inspired those abroad and here at home to see Amarillo for what it really is. Not some dot on the map, not just this place with some cows and some oil and crops and a couple hundred thousand people; but rather the lynchpin of the American Midwest.
“I Am Amarillo” was born out of the desire to showcase the grit, tenacity, and character of our home on the High Plains.
So we got to work, and it had to happen quickly. If you care to know the details, get ready for quite the read as we line it all out below.
Given the charge from Alex to quite literally “Inspire Amarillo,” the idea presented itself in various ways in the beginning. “Amarillo is More” was one, “We’re More” was another. Both of these concepts floated around, both born out of this initial thought that Amarillo needed to request recognition for who it was. But those early ideas died quickly.
I’ve lived in the Texas Panhandle for the better part of my entire life, we’re humble folk. We’re taught not to brag. Just do your work, do it well, and to move right along. But I’ve also worked in Advertising long enough to know that if you don’t tell your story, someone else sure will.
Amarillo has had enough outside people try to tell our story. It’s time Amarillo spoke for itself.
And there it was. Amarillo needed to set the record straight. Amarillo needed to speak for itself, and speak directly to the audience. So we created a project where Amarillo did just that.
We partnered with local poet Seth Wieck to craft the words. The direction was pretty straightforward. “It needs to kick like a mule. It needs to be gritty and poetic. This copy needs to come from a place of great pride and self-recognition. As if Amarillo is finally voicing what it knows about itself.
What came from that call was a poem packed with passion and metaphors. Lines like “Lights burn from the wind that I breathe” and “On your commute to work you drink my gasoline” both nodding toward our energy industries. “When the breakfast bell rings and your belly growls, your plate is not empty.” A reference to our abundant agricultural markets. “When the sun rose, I saw America’s waves of grain filling my cathedrals of bounty.” – I mean, come on. It’s beautiful.
With the words locked in, we wanted to make sure we had a voice that matched the passion. Bringing in long time collaborator, Rob Ricotta, was essential for this project. An award winning vocal artist, Rob was able to give us the same grit and “what for” that underlined the words in our script. There’s a growl there, an authoritative tone that brought the words to life. His cadence and rhythm, almost as if we’re marching to the beat of our own drum, brought a unique sound to the words written with Seth that felt distinctly Amarillo in this project.
Having the tone of the piece verbally sorted out, we moved on toward what we visually wanted to accomplish. We focused on what visual elements we felt represented the words of the script the best. The metaphorical nature of the copy lent itself to strong visual representation.
We wanted to showcase the vastness of West Texas. Amarillo’s wide open nature and “bigness” was important to communicate visually. This piece had to move quickly to allude to progress and this march toward an even greater future. We made a point to wink at even some of the more common things we face as Amarilloans like the wind or the dust. All of it is intentional so as to give the viewer a true sense of who/what Amarillo is. As you watch the piece, you’ll notice a lot of wide-angles, quick moves, fast paced edits. All of it tells a story. Amarillo is showcasing some of the best parts of itself. This isn’t a love letter, it’s a “bull in a ballet.”
And then came the pre-production. This project was shot across 21 different locations containing approximately 36 different set ups, all shot in five days during one hot week in early September. To be able to make that happen, it’s imperative to have a killer key production team. You cannot pull off production at any scale at a high level if you don’t have the right leaders in place to help move the project forward. The amount of attention to detail, casting, location scouting, light plotting, direction, etc. that all took place before the lens cap ever came off was pivotal to the success of this project.
This was pre-produced in a week, which in and of itself is a testament to the community of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. The cooperation from so many different locations and production partners like Boys Ranch, Owens Corning, The Globe News Center, BSA Hospital, Red River Steakhouse, Reiter Trucking, Hodgetown and so many more connections was the only way this could have been accomplished in such a short timeframe.
Having all the pre-production in the can and a strong plan in place, we set off to (finally) shoot this monster. This job took us on a tour across Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle that felt in the best way as if it were never ending. Concert halls and factory floors, open highways and country roads, inside of glass jars (we’re not kidding) and right next to the only skyscrapers West Texas knows. We shot on a helicopter runway and in a rodeo arena. We hit home runs (almost) in Hodgetown, and tiptoed around a sleeping baby as we set up a scene in his parents’ living room. We went everywhere the project led us.
The production ended on a Friday evening with a cowboy named Sticky riding three bulls to the whistle back to back to back. Just an hour before we’d put some fake blood on his face and had him wipe it off six times. A ballerina twirled under a spotlight while we used high powered leaf blowers to create a dust storm around her. We had three 18ks on cranes overlooking the arena, a medical team on standby (provided by the fine folks at Boys Ranch), and an army of a crew that had spent most of the day before setting the place up. It was a movie set. That’s what it felt like.
It was Amarillo.
Post production came with a quickness and with as much intention as the words, the shots, or the voice over. There were several versions of the piece that eventually met the cutting room floor. Cut this, tweak that, make the VO louder here, bring the music down there. All of it to get it to a point to where it is now.
The music that drove the piece needed to be intense, fast moving, but reprise at the end so as to close it out and give the viewer a sense of quiet pride after a whirlwind of energy and motion. The sound design and color processes also required a tremendous amount of detail and focus. Manufacturing and blending the noises to give another layer of depth and life to the production, pulling out the perfect color to make Amarillo feel cinematic and beautiful. No stone was left unturned in making this piece worthy of its tribute to our home town.
And to the Lemieux Company team, that’s what it is. Because of Alex Fairly’s vision to create something truly inspiring about Amarillo, we were able to make a piece that I feel we’ll hang our hats on for a long time.
After we’d shot everything, after all the dust had settled, after the piece had been finalized and was ready to show, I couldn’t help but think about all the work that went into it. All the cool footage we grabbed. Sticky, the 18 wheeler and motorcycle, my sons and daughters, the half eaten steak and glass of tea, or ol’ Johnny Gaines, that forever super stud from Clarendon, Texas who hit dinger after dinger in a Sod Poodle uniform. It was all phenomenal. The most ambitious work of LC’s existence. But what I think distinctly stands out. The one shot that represents Amarillo – to me – more than anything, is that ballerina on the rodeo ground.
Amarillo is beauty where so many would have told you it couldn’t exist. It’s Emily Wallace spinning on that piece of plywood at the fairground. It’s a 19 year old kid with dreams of being a bull rider, it’s a young family and single momma. It’s the cook at your favorite restaurant. It’s the heroes working in the hospitals and in public service. It’s those that haul cattle and refine oil. It’s a cellist and those that get up and go to work every single day. Amarillo is home. And the folks here are damn proud of it.
Do you want to tell a story, or build content that separates yourself from your competition? Give us a holler! We’d be happy to work with you.