“Who better to promote our movie than the kids it was made for?” Dan Merrell asked. Merrell is the president and CEO of Propeller, the marketing and communications agency of record for Blue Like Jazz the Movie. The film, based on Donald Miller’s New York Times best-selling book of the same name, opens nationwide on Friday, April 13.
Anderson University alumna Loretta Cooper left AU and thrived as an award-winning network news correspondent. She now runs Clarity Communications and helps organizations excel at communicating with the media.
“I have had the opportunity to work on a number of faith-based film projects, including Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous, and October Baby,” Cooper said. “When I was contacted about Blue Like Jazz, I didn’t have the bandwidth to take on the work. Still, I was a fan of Donald Miller’s book, and I felt the film represented an important reframing of some of the significant questions that believers and non-believers alike have to wrestle with if they are to have a meaningful faith. I couldn’t quite bring myself to turn the project down.”
That’s when Cooper thought of Fifth Street Communications™. In August, she contacted AU Professor Rebecca Fuller Beeler, advisor for Fifth Street Communications™ and an AU alumna. The two put together a proposal that would connect public relations students to a national promotional effort.
It was nearly four months later when Cooper and Fuller Beeler got word that it was time for their work to begin. But that delay was only part of the story of this “little film that could.”
Fifth Street Communications™ associates working on the Blue Like Jazz project, all juniors and seniors, reached out to college and university leadership and organizations working with college-aged young adults. First, they worked to build attendance at events held during a bus tour crisscrossing the country to host screenings of the film and opportunities for people to meet the filmmakers and the book’s author. Then, as the April 13 opening date approached, they began working to secure commitments from many of the same groups to promote the film and bring groups of students to view the film when it opened.
“The challenges in this project meant that our student associates were researching, developing resources, and acting on their research in a very short period of time. In a way few other projects could have, working on Blue Like Jazz has simulated what public relations work often is: fast-paced and deadline-driven,” said Fuller Beeler. “I think the team, almost unanimously, experienced the knee-jerk reaction of being overwhelmed by the juggling required to stay on top of this project, classes, extracurricular activities, work, and everything else going on in their lives. But, I think this has also proven to them just how much they are capable of.”
The students working on this project are gaining professional experience that cannot be replicated in the classroom. Jonathon Hosea is a junior majoring in communication arts. “Promoting Blue Like Jazz has given me some really unique experience that I’m sure PR students at many other schools don’t receive,” said Hosea. “I’ve learned effective ways to research and reach out to specific audiences. I’m also hopeful this experience will help my résumé stand out when I begin applying for jobs next year.”
[Photo: Justin Welborn as the Pope and Marshall Allman as Don in Blue Like Jazz.]
“The issues raised in Donald Miller’s book (and in the film) are the kind of developmental issues that college students and young adults in our culture are increasingly forced to wrestle with on the journey to ‘own’ their faith,” Cooper said. “I hoped this would be not only a great professional experience for students but also an encouragement for them to take personal ownership of some of the deeper level thinking Miller approaches in his books.”
“My responsibility is to prepare my students for life after graduation, but my responsibility is also to help them develop as human beings,” Fuller Beeler said. “This project has stretched them academically and professionally, but I hope that it’s also stretched their minds and forced them to think about where they belong and what their faith means to them."
Back at Propeller, Merrell is one of those people who thinks highly of AU’s Fifth Street Communications™ associates. “We were looking for fresh eyes, young minds, and adventurous hearts to catch our vision and make it happen,” he said. “We could not be more thrilled then to have gone back to school with the student associates at Anderson University as we worked together on building the awareness for Blue Like Jazz the Movie. They’ve been terrific, and we look forward to the college audience responding well on opening day thanks to their efforts.”
Blue Like Jazz is meant to reflect the world as it is — not as people would like it to be. That, for Cooper, is part of the value. “Life very rarely has simplistic answers. AU is not the kind of place that hands you a script and says, ‘Here you go. Memorize and repeat after me, and you’re set for life,’” she said. AU is the kind of place that acknowledges the complexity of living in God’s beautiful creation, all the while navigating the stuff that is just plain old messed over by sin and brokenness. That is real life. My experience at Anderson was filled with people who helped me develop a tolerance for ambiguity and imperfection ... all the while reminding me that I am invited to join in the redemptive process of bringing about that coming Kingdom.”
As April 13 and opening day near, Fifth Street Communications™ is wrapping up their work on Blue Like Jazz. The impact the student associates have had and the lessons they’ve learned is just beginning.
“I’m really proud of this group of young people,” Fuller Beeler said. “On multiple occasions I’ve been told by people all over the country in the film and public relations industries how competent and professional our students are. I knew they were great, but I’m especially glad that now other people know they’re great.”
For more information about the film and opening weekend locations, visit: www.bluelikejazzthemovie.com.
— Kyle Beckman, a senior from Auburn, Ind., contributed to this story.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.