CHANCE MEETING IN AN AIRPORT TERMINAL GIVES RISE TO AN INSPIRING DOCUMENTARY SHORT THAT IS RAISING AWARENESS AND MONEY FOR DOWN SYNDROME
By Jonathan Widran
In the Summer of 2009, veteran Orlando based entertainment attorney Nick Nanton, co-author of the bestselling book Celebrity Branding You, was jetting around the country, conducting seminars and immersed in his business of developing the celebrity branding potential of high caliber business people.
Meanwhile, Jacob Titus, a four year old boy from the small rural community of Floyds Knobs, Indiana—just outside of Louisville—was playing T-ball in a place where, as his mother Patricia says, “life lessons are learned at church, home and on the baseball field.” Jacob’s “turn” at bat and on the field was a thrill for him, but more importantly, an event that transformed the hearts of everyone in his town.
Considering that hundreds of thousands of kids across the country join T-ball teams every year, this could almost be a simple and unremarkable story. Except for one thing—as Patricia later wrote: “My youngest son loves to bat, loves to run, loves to play catcher. Jacob also happens to have Down Syndrome.” Her article about Jacob’s experience—and the way the town came to embrace his triumph—would soon stop the busy, constantly on-the-go Nanton in his tracks, touch his heart and those of numerous high profile business people, and inspire him to executive produce the extraordinary documentary short film based on Patricia’s story, “Jacob’s Turn.”
Nanton is currently working with his extended network of marketing experts to create awareness of “Jacob’s Turn,” through a method of marketing that is usually applied to commercial ventures, but for the first time will be used to launch a charitable campaign—one which he will help benefit children not only with Down Syndrome but a wide variety of special needs. The goal of everyone with an emotional and financial investment in the film is to raise people’s awareness and generate charitable donations that will help these kids receive the assistance they need to lead the best lives they can. At its heart, however, “Jacob’s Turn” is designed to inspire—to let special needs children and their parents know that the unique challenges they face need not limit the potential to achieve dreams, even small ones that start out on a baseball field in a place like Floyds Knobs.
The “story” behind “Jacob’s Story” is a wonder in itself—and proves that sometimes, a chance meeting between total strangers can give rise to extraordinary opportunities, as if Providence itself is shining a light on the open door. Nanton’s whirlwind travel schedule finds him in many airport terminals, sometimes making conversations with random people while waiting to board. In April of 2009, he was on a layover at Midway Airport in Chicago when he noticed that the person next to him, Jim Titus, had a lovely photo on his laptop screen of a beaming Jacob in his baseball uniform. Nanton offered a compliment and Titus replied, “He’s an amazing blessing to us,” adding that his son had Down Syndrome.
The conversation continued with Nanton telling Titus, who works for UPS, about his unique career as “The Celebrity Lawyer” who promotes, markets and creates Celebrity Experts across such diversified fields as entertainment, health and fitness, law, medicine, personal development, finance, and real estate. Prior to becoming an attorney, he spent more than a decade immersed in the entertainment industry. As an award-winning songwriter and television producer, he has worked on projects and negotiated deals from large-scale events to reality television shows.
Titus told Nanton about his family’s involvement in the Down Syndrome Support Association of Southern Indiana, and asked if he might have any “celebrity items” to contribute to the silent auction that accompanies the organization’s annual Buddy Walk. A few email exchanges later, Nanton sent Titus autographed CDs by country stars Rascal Flatts and Bucky Covington. Four months later, Titus emailed Patricia’s poignant “Jacob’s Turn” story to Nanton. The beautifully penned article by a loving mother about her son touched the lawyer deeply. Among the soul-stirring turns of phrase were: “Jacob’s experience was a wonderful display of acceptance and patience and love. Love of baseball and love of a child.”
Jacob’s team, The Royals, made it to the championship game but came up a little short. Before they were given trophies for their second place finish, the officials asked Jim, Patricia and Jacob to come onto the field, where Jacob was given an autographed ball from the Louisville Bats by his coaches; they called it a “good attitude and hard work” award. Patricia stood there with her husband, held her son and cried.
As a parent, she wrote, “you put your children out there. You pray that people will be kind to them. You want them to accept them and you want them to belong. You sometimes dare to hope that someone might even notice what a great kid you have and appreciate him for who he is. It was a beautiful season. Jacob and his family were given a time we will always remember. It wasn’t a time that was centered around doctor visits or therapies or special teachers. It was time for Jacob to just be a kid, like everyone else, swinging for the fence.”
In sending his email, Jim Titus had no agenda beyond sharing his family’s personal story with a new friend. The overwhelming response Nanton received in turn from his partner J.W. Dicks and his father, Geoff, put his never-sleeping entrepreneurial mind in motion. He quickly wondered how, drawing upon his vast network of marketing experts, he could help the story go viral to help promote a charitable cause.
“I told the basic story to Bill Harrison, one of my favorite marketing gurus, over lunch at an event we were both attending,” he says, “and we immediately brainstormed about how we could leverage our marketing friends to support the making of a film version of Jacob’s story that could potentially reach millions of people. We came up with the idea of getting people to support the project, then thought about the ways our network of colleagues might participate in and apply their skills to a special project for charity. I wondered how we could maximize exposure for Jacob’s story and thereby create widespread awareness of special needs children everywhere. It was at that moment that it hit me: What if we employed the same process used to launch a product in the online world, a process in which many marketers band together, leveraging their own unique customer and client lists—often to the tune of hundreds of thousands and even millions of people—to support a charitable cause instead of the typical launch of a product? This way, we could ensure that the message gets widespread distribution and gains viral status over a period of time.”
While in Los Angeles in January for The Grammy Awards, Nanton presented the story to 18 of his clients who were also in town for the Grammys—all of whom were moved and many of which were happy to donate money to help fund the project under the auspices of a new non-profit organization Nanton created called Marketers For Good ™. Over the next few days, Nanton had the financial commitment he needed to begin the project. Among those contributing to the project were Nanton’s partners, JW Dicks and Lindsay Dicks, along with Mike Koenigs, Preston Ely, Baeth Davis, Mark Richter, Bill Gough, Richard Seppala, Dr. Scott Schumann, Darrin Mish and Jared Bonshire.
Nanton flew in and met with the Tituses—including Jacob’s older brother and sister, Matthew and Lauren–again to prep the family for what was coming: a several day “invasion” of Floyds Knobs, in early May 2010 with his small crew, including writer/director Amardeep Kaleka, second cameraman Scott Reus and sound tech Matthew Ulm. They met (where else?) at the ballpark because Lauren had a softball game on the date of their arrival. At Lauren’s game the crew got some footage of the park and the surroundings to set the scene and get everyone used to the cameras and crew. But they were initially apprehensive about how Jacob would receive them and how he would respond to all the attention. Jacob’s parents were excited about the filming but equally apprehensive about how this would affect their son and the community.
Fortunately, everything worked out for the best. “We all hoped for the best, but none of us really knew how open Jacob would be with us around,” Nanton says, “but when we first encountered Jacob, he just called out ‘Hi guys’ like it was no big deal. We were so relieved. That night we had dinner with the family and stayed nearby at the Starlight Country Cabin in nearby Starlight, Indiana. Our challenge was how best to tell the story, wanting the film to be cinematic but not to override Patricia’s wonderful work. We were constantly writing and rewriting. We got up early the next morning and did interviews with parents, coaches and different people from the community most of that day at the ball field and different locations throughout the town. We also shot footage at the Titus home and at the game that night, with Jacob playing and doing his thing. The next day, it was more footage and interviews until the last second when we had to leave to catch our flights. It was all done in less than 48 hours from the time we hit the ground.
“Looking back,” says Nanton, “the most rewarding part of the few days we spent in Floyds Knobs was when I walked into the ballpark after doing the interviews, everyone knew me like I had been there for years, as if I was part of the community. I felt like I had made a bunch of great new friends and important lasting relationships. I was reminded that no matter how small the “dot on the map,” there are great people everywhere, and life in America is not all about just the major metropolitan areas that we all think of. The saddest thing to realize is that, considering our typical day to day lives, most of us won’t get the opportunity to meet as many great people as we should.”
The director, Kaleka, spearheaded the task of editing the hours of footage and working through 12 different versions of “Jacob’s Turn,” including an original 20 minute version. Considering Nanton’s goals of an online launch, he felt it was best to edit things down to a version that would tell the story in as little time as possible—which led to the seven minute film that is now in the hands of top video product and marketing experts, including Mike Koenigs of “Traffic Geyser” and “MainStreet Marketing” fame, and “Big Jason” Henderson, one of the top product launch specialists in the country. The campaign to share “Jacob’s Turn” with the world will begin with an email campaign to literally millions of people, and a push through YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media portals of teaser clips which will ultimately lead to the unveiling of the whole seven minute film.
“Our hope is to help as many kids with special needs as possible,” Nanton says. “I’m optimistic because it was pure serendipity which led me to Jacob’s world in the first place and I feel that we’re all walking through a series of amazing doors that continue to open. Whether this film reaches the millions of people we hope it will reach and raises awareness and money on the scope we intend remains to be seen. It could be a huge success, or simply be known as a great story that touches the hearts of viewers, making them reflect for a moment. For now, we’re simply thrilled that the story turned out so well. It’s exciting to be able to make a difference and to share Jacob’s wonderful story.”