by Joshua C Pies, Writer & Producer
The viral video I Fought For You (2010) was a sensation in terms of view counts and use cases. 11 years after we released that short film we still get calls of gratitude and inquiries for uses. We’re always humbled because we did this film out of pure gratitude for the men and women who served our great nation and continue to risk their lives for our safety and security. But who is we? And what really happened? And what’s next? Read along and you’ll see… it’s a fun story.
I was in my boxers, and it happened…
I will never forget the moment I got a call from Andrew Manzano, my longtime creative partner and owner of The Sound Tank, as he walked into the Star Theater in Dansville, NY. He was there with his son Brandon to see How To Train Your Dragon. The Star Theater, I now know, is a restored vaudville era theater and now 1-screen movie theater in a small rural town called Dansville just off of Route 390 in New York State. It’s a charming and wonderful location that instantly inspired Andrew. He called me from the location just before the movie started and said, “Josh, I’m in this place we have to film in. I’m texting photos… when you see them, write something for it. Make it patriotic… I definitely thinking patriotic. I gotta go… movie’s starting”. Well, the photos took a bit to come in. By the time I saw them I was standing in my boxers sneaking some ice cream in my kitchen before bed. Bare footed on the cold tile floor, I stood marveling at the photos. Oh my, was he right!?!? The location was outstanding. For whatever reason, let’s attribute it to serendipity and Wegman’s French Vanilla, I instantly knew what to write.
I grabbed a grocery list pad and scribbled out the bones of “I Fought For You” and then texted it to him. What I got back was, “We’re doing this!”. Yes, indeed we were. I felt it, too.
This exchange was sometime in 2009 or early 2010, and by March of 2010 we were filming. Now, back then we did everything reasonably guerilla. We were both light on gear and big on ideas. We were one-man bands who banded together with others to make magic.
A broadly defined team
I Fought For You fell together because Andrew had vision, I had an idea for a script, and a bunch of other talented people were willing to jump in. On-screen in the film you see numerous people and we can verify that each speaking role by an adult is a verified veteran of the United States Armed Services. These people were friends and new friends who were willing to help based on a belief that this script had the potential to inspire people. While name dropping each actor would be unwieldy and tiresome to our readers, I’ll choose one to stand for them all.
Notably among the vets was Tom Hope. Tom, the oldest and the first to stand in the film, was 91 years young at the time. His son Vince brought him thanks to some great networking that went on as we tried to source help to make this film happen. Tom’s story inspires me to this day. He was a filmmaker in the Army. His most notable film story is the fact that he discovered that while filming paratroopers landing he could overcrank his film to be able to capture their landing in slow motion and diagnose their frequent leg breaks. His discovery led to a massive reduction in extreme injuries which resulted in countless lives saved. His other stories are worthy of a novel but we’ll keep it short here and say – we will forever be in awe of Tom Hope. We will also forever be grateful to him and each veteran and civilian actor who was willing to part with their Saturday, drive an hour or more to a rural small town and give making a patriotic statement a chance.
The crew on our day of filming consisted of my sister-in-law Stacy Homola, Heather Manzano (Andrew’s Wife), Andrew, my old friend and childhood neighbor Josh Brisbane, and me. It was all hands on deck. There were no career film pros helping us – no grips, gaffers, audio technicians – it was friends, family, and good-natured new friends. This was a true “passion project”.
One critically important new friend to our story we wish was on set to start – he’s brilliant – but we asked for his help after we filmed. Dave Bode of Bode Media is one of those people who makes a person ask, “how does one person store all that talent in one human body?”. Dave plays nine instruments proficiently, he’s a trained vocalist, he teaches After Effects (Adobe even flies him out to teach for them), and he’s just a nice guy. So, we asked him to compose the music for I Fought For You. If you get the feels from our film, much of that is due to Dave’s music.
The timeline for I Fought For You was about 6 weeks of pre-production. I had a full time job and this was a side project so I had to produce on lunch breaks and in the evening. We filmed over the course of 5 hours – it was all we could afford given our constraints. The theater gave us non-income-producing time on a Saturday AM. That was perfect because we could only pay people in Pizza. Andrew and I were paying for the theater, props, some rentals of gear, and all of our own time out of our own pockets. At that time in my life even $50 was a stretch to invest in a project so while limited it felt as though it was a very big risk. It was a good, broadly defined team who gave us a real shot at pulling off the creation of a quality short film.
What do you do with a short film anyhow?
Back in the early 2010’s one of the ways we made money was by creating short films on spec to sell on a site called SermonSpice.com. This site sold short film rights to churches one video at a time. Andrew introduced me to the opportunity and eventually we collaborated on a number of videos. He had already produced and was selling rights to more than 50 films on the site. This was to be my 2nd attempt. Our first collaboration was called Christmas Miracle. A charming short film about a family who has lost their key income and a neighbor who steps in to help in secret. The film sold in the holiday season and some of the proceeds from this film paid for my part of I Fought For You.
How money is made on SermonSpice is farily straight forward. They sell film use rights that give a church the ability to publically display films from the site at a low, one time cost. I Fought For You fit for the American Faith Market pretty well so we decided to recoup our cash out of pocket by selling on SermonSpice.com. Knowing that Christmas Miracle did alright was a boost of confidence that we might be onto something. What was about to happen as a result of this decision was nothing short of amazing.
Why did it go viral?
We released I Fought For You in advance of Memorial Day 2010 and, to clear our cash out of pocket costs of $360 dollars AND our labor costs of 3 weeks of work, we needed to clear at least $12,000 in gross sales. We were prepared for anything, even a loss, because the message was something we believed in. We cleared our benchmark in May 2010. That was huge personal validation. Then… something happened.
Unbeknownst to us, a guy named Joe who was the media director for a church in California had purchased I Fought For You for public display. What happened next we believe was both accidental and a gift from God. Joe broke the licensing agreement and uploaded our film to YouTube. Now, that sounds awful but his intention was to do three things and each of them were awesome (we know this because we tracked him down and called him). His ideas were:
- Honor the reqeusts of the church members who wanted to see the film again,
- Link to our sales page on SermonSpice.com to help us get recognition, and,
- Email the YouTube link to his mailing list.
Points one and two seem obvious but point three is important to focus on for a moment. His mailing list was NOT his church’s email list. In his spare time he ran a veteran’s affairs non-profit. His email list had 11,500 donors from the previous year. He emailed 11,500 people who were predisposed to veteran’s content and shared our video. This is precisely where exponential growth occured.
Within three days of his mass email blast his own video upload gained multiples of millions of views. His backlink to our SermonSpice.com landing page was so successful that it crashed SermonSpice not once but three times! With that traffic our sales for Independance Day 2010 were outstanding. The view counts were as well.
With nearly 11 years passed since we released I Fought For You we know that the following happened:
- SermonSpice.com had nearly 2M views (and 3 server crashes from traffic they’d never expected!)
- Joe’s YouTube Upload was deleted just shy o f 27M views
- Other sites where we loaded it amassed another 2m views
- The US DOD bought it and verbally confirmed playing it on nearly every military base, ship and other installation at least one time for events in 2010 and 2011.
- We uploaded to YouTube and now have about 8M views
- Glenn Beck asked us to show it at Right Nation 2010 in Chicago (we did – he’s really tall by the way). They used it at multiple Right Nation events so we are told.
- It has appeared in numerous Film Festivals and Celebrations of Veterans across the USA.
It wasn’t all good… we had our haters.
If you’re reading closely, you are likely wondering why Joe pulled our video down. We asked him to leave it up but we had a complication that bothered him greatly. This complication we’re used to – it’s the internet after all – but he was not. That complication was TROLLS!!
His upload had nearly 99% thumbs up compared to negative ratings. Comments were overwhelmingly positive as well. What was not positive was his reaction to the limited negative. And, in fairness to Joe, with 100,000+ comments that leaves room for nearly 1000 nasty comments to be less than 1% negatives. It bothered him enough that he wanted out and ultimately we had no control. I offered to buy his YouTube channel from him. He declined and deleted within the hour of my offer. Oh well… life is still wonderful.
Now, the complaints were various and many were just troll based stupidity BUT a few we had to take seriously. Those complaints included:
- Our “active duty” soldier charactes saluted wrong.
- We had no diversity.
On both counts, these were true – both with explanations that we feel cover the idea that we were not deliberate in our failings – yet, we acknowledge that if we were to do this film again we would find a way to do better. In fact, it was enough of a problem that Andrew suggested we film a video together to address some of the issues. That video, embedded here, has Andrew, Dave and me on camera telling the behind the scenes story.
In short, both our “diversity” and our “active duty” characters had a mishap that I still don’t think I fully understand. We had six people who were reservists that had permission to wear their uniforms on camera for our film. They were booked to arrive. They were excited. Even so, the morning before the shoot they called from their Weekend Warrior training with an apology. They had all double booked and were committed to their civic duty the same weekend we were filming. They’d all gotten the date wrong? That was the excuse. I think something larger happened that they were not able to talk about. Either way, they weren’t going to show. So… I ran and borrowed uniforms from a local church theater company on the way to the shoot knowing I was going to ask our crew to step in and fake it. They did.
Interestingly, our Weekend Warriors also were a mix of Black and Hispanic men. Their spouses and kids were supposed to come with them, and the spouses were a mix of Black, Hispanic and white heritage as well. Our crowd in the final film is approximately 1/2 the size we’d expected. Now, I think the mystical feel of the nearly empty theater was helpful in the final cut BUT, we lost all of our efforts towards diversity in a moment’s notice. And, sadly, some people were hurt by not seeing someone like themselves in the film which makes us all sad with them. It was NOT intentional – we very much intended it to be different.
A funny story about theft
There is a chance you saw I Fought For You on an authorized upload, there are a few of them. There are not many though. If you spend enough time on YouTube and look for a popular video you will likely find that it has been pirated. Our work is often “ripped” as the term goes. We don’t sweat it too much – most rips gain very few views. There was a day when I had discovered more than 50 rips of our video and that started to get concerning so we investigated. At least half were churches who didn’t understand their licencing rights. I personally called them all to chat and they were amazing to chat with and become friends with. The videos came down and we even got to share ideas with each other. It took me weeks but it was a fun exercise.
We did find one church-related upload that, well… broke the mold.
Imagine finding that a church media guy was loading purchased SermonSpice videos from the church to his own YouTube channel and claiming that he had produced the videos. He linked each to his own website. Even more, he went so far as to write a blog about how he had written the I Fought For You short film and had even shot it himself in Tampa Florida! My shock was overtaken quickly by the joy I take in being an imp. I simply had to call and congratulate him on a job well done.
That was one epic phone call. He told me all about his filming – the camera used, the crew, the fact that each person was a veteran! I then asked him where he got the idea for the script and explained that when I had written it I was in my boxers… I asked if he was in his boxers, too. Silence. I expected him to hang up but then he said, “Oh, no, you’re THE Josh Pies? Would you be willing to mentor me?”.
I explained that I don’t mentor thieves but I would hold off from calling his church to explain the theft which I had ample screenshots to prove had happened. I explained that Christians need to live like Christians and I would like to encourage him to think about how that applies to stolen valor. I also mentioned that I’d rather not have to pay my attorney to help him learn a lesson about Christianity. I left the call laughing, and I monitored his YouTube for the next few months to see if he was sorry. I think he was – he did say as much.
My Gratitude for I Fought For You
I for one am grateful for so much… In fact, the only way to make this section even mildly readable is to bullet list this in no particular order:
- I’m grateful for Andrew Manzano. He’s brilliant, collaborative, and super fun to work with. Without him this NEVER would have happened.
- I’m grateful for the poeple who believed in all of us. Andrew and I asked people that we knew and some we didn’t yet know to try to help us do a thing… they trusted us. The believed in us. They understood the message and saw it was worth a try. Without them this NEVER would have happened.
- I’m grateful to the Star Theater. The owner took a chance on remodeling a small, magical place in a small town where it was a big risk. He had vision and we treasure entrepreneurs. Without the Star Theater this NEVER would have happened.
- I’m grateful for Dave Bode. His genius with the music made I Fought For You into a true Short Film and not just a video.
- I’m grateful that SermonSpice.com had great leadership who worked with us as we crashed their servers. Without SermonSpice this NEVER would have happened.
- I’m SUPER GRATEFUL to Joe. I leave his last name off because I don’t think he had fun with this but we see how his part in this was the hand of God. Without Joe this NEVER would have happened.
- I’m grateful to the people who left negative comments about saluting and about race concerns. That was a sharpening moment for me. It forced all of us to think into how we can produce better and be more mindful. It pushed me to ask more questions of vets and ask for more help to gain the accuracy that only a seasoned vet can bring.
- I’m even grateful to “theft guy”. That situation was a test of my patience and my ego. While I had some fun with him it allowed me to challenge a fellow Christian to do better and notice that his reception of my rebuke was actually pretty classy and I should learn from his example in this. Yes, he taught me something even as he was the culprit.
- I’m Grateful for You. Your interest in our film is likely a view, a share, a boosted feeling of patriotism, a personal moment of gratitude for our country, and more.
And, finally, what can you do?
Our film has been seen all over but there is still demand. If you found this blog and were hoping to use the film, contact us and we can talk. We don’t horde it, we want it to do it’s job of inspiring people. We’re very approachable. Also, if you have a similarly patriotic message you need to share, such as a film like we did for Honor Flight then we should talk.
We support this film being in festivals and celebrations everywhere. If you buy the film from SermonSpice.com (LINK HERE) you can have a public display license, too. Frankly, it is cheap and easy to buy from them and since they are effectively our distributor. Hence, they are usually the right way to gain rights to play this film in a live event setting.
Lastly, if you’re inspired and you happen to be a budding filmmaker or already a pro, remember that a big idea and some hard work can do some pretty outstanding things. Try. Go for it. We did.
About the Author:
Josh Pies is a video advertising & branding expert. He’s spent most of his life work-shopping ways to get attention – be it sales for his first business which he started at age 4, customers for his property services company at age 23, or laughs and viewership on his first National TV Show at age 26 where he was producer and head writer. He believes in getting attention and loves the power of modern content creation for what it can do for businesses and personal brands.
Josh is the executive producer of C47 Film Associates. C47 Films has produced one feature film which is available on Amazon Prime, three TV Series, eight documentaries, and TV and web ads for brands as various as Kodak, The John Maxwell Team, and the US Department of Labor. Josh Speaks at events on the topics of video branding, how to stand out as a professional, and the power of purpose. Josh lives in Orlando Florida where he, his wife Shannon and their three amazing kids play on the beach or in magical castles as often as possible.