Presented by American Greetings, a powerful new documentary series follows five people creating and fulfilling their personal “ThankList” honoring those who shaped them as a person. Created via Mullen, the project was directed by two-time Oscar® winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple of Nonfiction Unlimited and edited by Sloane Klevin and Marco Perez of bicoastal Union. The series is comprised of the “Official Trailer,” “Ron’s ThankList,” “Chuan’s ThankList,” “Waliek’s ThankList,” “Cholene’s ThankList,” and “Lexi’s ThankList”.

The process began with the director interviewing numerous subjects, each of whom compiled a list of five people to thank. From these interviews, a collection of 3-to-4-minute edits were assembled to identify the most powerful subjects. Only then were the five full stories filmed and edited. For this unique and ambitious project, Kopple recommended Klevin, editor of such award-winning feature documentaries as “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God,” “Freakonomics” and “Taxi to the Dark Side,” which won the Academy Award® in that category. Klevin in turn suggested her Union colleague Marco Perez be brought on to partner with her on ThankList. Best known for soaring and dramatic campaigns (United Airlines, Haagen-Dazs), as well as short films and features (“The Audition,” “X/Y”), Perez recently cut the documentary feature “Uncertain,” set to screen at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival this month. Co-directed by Anna Sandilands and Ewan McNicol, the film explores the once outlaw town of Uncertain, Texas, whose inhabitants are haunted by their pasts and constantly battling their demons.

“It’s very rare to get such a massive amount of interviews, and decide on the story and then shoot the rest,” said Klevin, who cut the official ThankList series trailer, as well as “Ron’s ThankList” and “Waliek’s ThankList”. “In many cases, the story arcs remained fairly true to the first test edit.”

A notable exception is “Cholene’s ThankList,” one of three films from the series cut by Perez (the others are “Chuan’s ThankList” and “Lexi’s ThankList”), and the Top Spot of the Week in this week's SHOOT.  In the piece, Air Force MD Cholene singles out Keer, a young man who, along with his mother, was taken as a slave in his native South Sudan. Once he was blinded by his slavemaster, he was no longer deemed useful for work and was allowed to escape. Having lost his mother, he was alone in the world until Cholene’s partner, Ellen, brought Keer to the U.S. for corrective surgeries that eventually helped him regain some of his sight. Cholene explains that the hope, joy and resilience of this young man has taught her the real meaning of courage. “In the test edit, it was Keer being thankful,” Perez recalled, “but we discovered this other point of view in the edit. Everyone agreed Cholene’s expression of gratitude offered a unique perspective.”

For all involved, the series offered a chance to have an impact beyond the emotion of the individual stories. Waliek, for example, thanks a teacher named Johnny Walker, who was there for him as he grew up in a tough neighborhood where the temptation to get mixed up with drugs is palpable. Waliek found in Mr. Walker a role model that changed his life. In the video, he shares his story with other young people, directing them to make their own ThankLists. Mr. Walker himself appears, inspiring the youngsters to reach for the stars. “This is my sweet spot, real people, longer stories, with a strong message,” said Klevin, recalling a recent cab ride on the way to the Union office, during which the driver expressed the effect the series had on him.

Likewise, “Lexi’s ThankList” has become an example of paying it forward. When an eating disorder preyed on the teen’s vulnerability, attacking her confidence and self-worth, her mom encouraged her “talk about the parts of you that are dark, because that’s what leads to the parts of you that shine light on other people and on positivity.” Lexi wrote about it, and her article is now being seen by scores of young women. “In each case, we really looked for the best story inside of each character and built it from there,” Perez said.

“The client and agency demonstrated tremendous faith in Barbara, and in our depth of experience,” said Klevin of the dynamic among American Greetings, Mullen, Nonfiction and Union. “We work in the advertising world, where our message is usually scripted and contained within 30 or 60 seconds,” said Mullen CD Jon Ruby. “It was fun, and at times a little bit frightening, to create documentary style films with no script and no time restraints. In a situation like that, you need to find people you can work with and who you can trust.”

About Union
Union Editorial has offices in Santa Monica, CA, New York City, Austin TX, and London, where it maintains an alliance with Marshall Street Editors. Union is presided over by Partner/Managing Director Michael Raimondi and Partner/Executive Producer Caryn Maclean. The Union roster is comprised of Partner/Editors Jim Haygood, Einar, Jay Friedkin, Sloane Klevin, Marco Perez, and editors Nico Alba, Jinx Godfrey, Nicholas Wayman-Harris, Rachael Waxler, Daniel Luna, Jason Lucas, Paul Plew, Ben Longland, Laura Milstein, Eric Argiro, Mike Colao, as well as select projects with Tim Thornton Allen, Patric Ryan, Ryan Boucher, Jono Griffith/Circus, and Alex Hagon.