I was watching TV home alone when I received an email saying, “Congratulations! You have won the Above the Influence: Made by Me Contest!” and so on. I must have reread that line about five times before I realized what had happened. I won? Me? How? Is this real life? Thoughts ran through my head a million miles a minute. I specifically remember jumping up and down excitedly and my dog, Cooper, freaking out because he didn’t know what was wrong with me.

Once I calmed down enough, I called my Mom then Gianna, my friend who had entered the contest with me, to tell them the fantastic news.

Once the director was chosen, we could get things started. A behind the scenes crew and a team from ATI came to my high school mid-September to film me and a few of my friends there talking about everything that had happened. I was wicked nervous that day. The minutes that passed felt like hours, but once we began and I saw how down to earth everyone was, I got over it.

From about 12PM-7:30PM that day we filmed stuff and talked about where we’d go from there. They told us the commercial was going to be animation and our idea would probably change a bit, but that happens with every project. At first, I didn’t know if I liked the idea of it being animation because it might come off as childish. I thought that I wouldn’t be involved as much as I wanted to since we weren’t going to film on an actual set. After seeing some of Tomi’s work, I realized that animation could in fact be sophisticated and appeal to all types of audiences. That day we did a video chat and met Tomi for the first time. He seemed like such a cool guy. His laid back personality only made me more comfortable with working with him and everyone else.

Between the time they came to RHS and the day I flew to New York, we did a few video chats with Tomi and the folks from ATI. Our commercial was making progress! A rough idea, storyboard and script were finished, but would be further edited once I got to New York. The whole idea of being pressured to do things you may not be totally comfortable with or doing something to fit in, but keeping it relatable was our main focus for this spot (“commercial”… one of the terms I learned).
The morning of October 26th, my mom and I were on a plane off to the Big Apple. We stopped by the ATI office in Manhattan then took a subway to Brooklyn to meet up with everyone from the production company at their office… which by the way was the coolest office I’ve ever been to. Anyways. Everyone from the day at my school was there plus other people. For the next two days, we filmed everything we had to do which included talking about the script, animatics, voice overs, music and more. From having a mic strapped to me, to redoing shots over and over, long hours, and having to mentally always be “on” and aware, and seeing my idea evolve into something so polished, those two days were such tiring… yet amazing days. I was being more involved with the whole process than I originally thought.

[youtube http://youtu.be/-4EjPLTEOIM]

November 17 was national ATI day. Just about everyone that I had been working on the commercial with was in Washington D.C. for the premiere. I had to go talk on stage for a little bit to answer questions, so the entire time I was preparing myself. Speaking in front of crowds was never something I’ve been comfortable with, but I knew I had to do it, and I’m happy I did. I enjoyed speaking about something so common, such as peer pressure, to teenagers. It’s important to get the word out that being unique is something to embrace, not hide from. You’re not always going to agree with things other people are doing, and if those people don’t respect that, then they’re simply not worth your time. And you’re going to make mistakes! It happens. The key thing is to learn from them, and better yourself.

The entire experience was enlightening, especially seeing other teens from across the country standing up to peer pressure. And if you’re feeling alone, this is proof that you have an entire community there to support you.
So thank you, Above the Influence! You’ve been awesome to work and share ideas with. I’d do it all over again. Undoubtedly.