Just over two weeks ago, Kamala Harris became the first female, first black, and first Asian-American vice president of the USA. To mark the milestone moment, gender equality youth initiative Girl Up joined forces with Refinery29, Ogilvy UK, and Great Guns director Giovanni Messner for ‘Today We Rise’. The film, which captures the groundbreaking moment through the eyes of girls across the United States, illustrates the nationwide impact that the 49th vice president will have on future generations.
Filmed and produced by a volunteer network of photographers and cinematographers, completing the final film was no easy feat. From working across multiple cities to editing immediately after the Inauguration ceremony, those involved overcame logistical challenges in the face of one of the most important moments in US history.
To find out more about how the film came together, we spoke to director and editor Giovanni Messner, and Ogilvy UK creatives Alvaro Rivera and Luca Corteggiano…
Q > What was the starting point for this campaign, and how did you develop the initial idea?
Alvaro Rivera > The Thursday before Inauguration, Luca and I were on a Zoom call discussing other work and I commented on this very heartfelt Instagram post I had read from a friend of mine back in New York. She’s a mother of two young girls and she described a conversation she had with her three-year-old about the significance of the moment. That’s when we had the idea of seeing this moment through the eyes of the girls across America.
Q > Giovanni, when did you first become involved in the project? What were your initial thoughts?
Giovanni Messner > I've worked with Ogilvy on brand work in the past. This one took a lot of trust, plus they know I have a daughter who would be watching the ceremony so they reached out. At first it may have just been to see if I would film my daughter as part of a montage, but as soon as I heard the idea I said: "Yes! But can I do it all?"
Q > This must have been such an important - and logistically demanding - project. What was it like collaborating with all those involved to deliver the final product?
Giovanni > With so little time, it really was a logistical challenge. But in some ways that simplified it. I spent a couple days fully on the phone/video-chat looking at friends' homes, making a plan, and working out as much as I could ahead of time with Ogilvy like music and copy treatment. In the edit it was constant video calls and texts to keep bouncing ideas around in realtime.
Alvaro > It was a thrilling week. I thought that the tight schedule would deter some people from getting involved, but it wasn’t the case. The response to the idea was overwhelming and all involved jumped at the opportunity to collaborate.
Q > What was it like organising the volunteer network of photographers and cinematographers across over 30 households? How did you select those featured on the film?
Giovanni > With the incredible time crunch and the need for authenticity and openness, it was more an activation of my personal network than my professional one (and sometimes the two overlap). My own wife and daughter are included, as are my sisters and nieces, and many other girls in the film are my daughter’s friends. We complimented that by tapping the GirlUp network to get teens from all over the country to self-tape. We held a video call to describe what we needed, then worked that footage into the end of the film. The end result is something very personal to me, but also - I hope - reflects what so many women and girls across the country were experiencing that day.
Q > Giovanni, you also edited the spot. Did these dual roles complement each other during the production?
Giovanni > It was out of necessity. I edit my own spots when I can, and I love to both direct and edit on a job, but here I didn’t see any other way it could have happened on our timeline - especially with Covid. Plus with me, the client, and the agency all in different cities, it just made sense for me to see it through in the edit.
Q > You had to edit the piece immediately after the inauguration ceremony, with the spot going live within hours of the event. What was it like working with these demands?
Giovanni > Truly it was fun. When I'm making something I care about it on a rushed timeline it feels less like stress and more like excitement. Plus it was a special day all around. Getting to share in that with my family and friends made it even more special.
Luca Corteggiano > The trickiest part after the shoot was definitely editing everything on the go. Gio did a first pass and then basically we went back and forth sharing screens and talking on the phone. Really intense. But we have to say Gio was great at making that work.
Q > There’s such a powerful sense of excitement and anticipation in the spot. How were you able to capture this mood, especially across so many different households?
Giovanni > It was always about faces for me. We made a conscious choice to vary the types of rooms and devices the families watched it on, but ultimately it was all about seeing the light behind the eyes of the girls and their mothers: thinking about what this historic moment means both in the present and for the future. I can see that when I look at the footage.
Q > How did it feel to capture such an important moment in the history of the US?
Giovanni > As a son, a husband, a father and a US citizen, it felt amazing. I'm very grateful to Ogilvy and GirlUp for giving me the chance to help make something so meaningful.
Alvaro > After the events of the previous week in the Capitol, seeing a woman from a Black and South Asian descent being sworn in as Vice President in a ceremony that left so much behind, transcended borders. We were fortunate to have captured part of that sentiment and help raise the profile of Girl Up and the incredible work they are doing in the US and around the world.
Q > What has the response been like since the film launched?
Luca > The response has been overwhelming, so many people were really moved by it and shared their praises online. We’re still counting shares and views and impressions. But probably the most surprising thing is that there was basically no backlash. Even in such a divided time, no one had anything to say against it. It really reassures us that we had achieved what we set out to do.