American University

Challenge Accepted

You Ask

We are looking for a production partner that can help us create a brand campaign that will engage and excite prospective and current students alike along with faculty, staff and alum.

We Answer

“Once an Eagle, Always an Eagle.” AlterEgo has three AU alums on the team so we were excited to get back on campus and help our fellow eagles soar. We know that AU is a community of changemakers, a future forward institution, and we were inspired by the passionate rallying cry in their new, “Challenge Accepted” mantra.

There is no issue too complex, no challenge too great. From social justice to sustainability--- we step up, we show up, and we say, ‘challenge accepted.’

And at a time of such sweeping change, we felt it was an amazing opportunity to be a part of inspiring a new generation of students. Young people who would choose or have chosen AU do so because they want to GET STUFF DONE. And after spending time discovering the clearly identified goals held by the AU Marketing team and senior leadership, we couldn’t help but be energized in bringing their vision to life. Everyone on the AU team was infinitely passionate and committed to making this impactful, confident, inspiring and authentic.

Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at American University, Matt Bennett, gave us our challenge. He said, “I want viewers to think, ‘A university did this?’ Challenge Accepted, sir.

Their team’s enthusiasm was infectious and we harnessed it up and unleashed it on our creative team back home and got to work. Studying their pillars and desired tone, we came up with a few different directions but one rose to the top and became the clear winner. It was the riskiest and most challenging of the three and we were excited and impressed they also saw its potential. True to their ask, we believed it to be the one that would garner the most attention for being the least expected. It was bold.

Image of text used for director's treatment summary

In total, the final :60 Brand video comprises 266 photos. The puzzle was assembled by considering how to best focus on American University as a whole and not just its most notable parts. Starting with visual symmetry and match action cuts, we carefully crafted an accurately timed animatic, on average cutting every four frames. And in doing so, we spent multiple days on campus and around Washington, DC to research, scout and shoot yielding 14,148 photos in total.

The American University sign in a court yard with small trees under it
Looking out at the Washington Monument through the columns of the Lincoln Memorial
Woman reviewing something on her phone
Man working on a piece of cardboard on a long wooden table

We also partnered with AU staff photographer, Jeff Watts, to secure the additional imagery for a couple of the events like commencement and past notable speakers that we did not have access to cover. He was kind enough to study our references and volunteered to grab the filming of the School of Communication’s District Wire News and the dance troupe featured. We could not have done this without his help so thank you again, Jeff.

We licensed a few shots of protests due to restrictions on large gatherings due to Covid-19 and featured the rooftop mural, She Who Watches, from our good friend and DC art director, muralist and designer, Cita Sadeli (known as MISS CHELOVE) to speak to the rich local art scene present in DC.

The custom music composition was also born of a local collaboration with Ian McLeod and his talented team at Cleod9 Music. We are grateful for the hard work and dedication that yielded such an emotional track as it was a crucial piece to this soundscape. It needed to be energetic and urgent but not too urgent or tense. It needed percussion but also a strong melody. It was a complicated ask and Ian was always there to meet us with an amazing solve.

Woman wearing American University volleyball uniform, holding a volleyball, and posing for picture
Woman wearing American University sweater outside posing for picture
Man in suit being photographed in room with stained glass windows
Women in lab coats working while being photographed

Our Sr. motion designer, Jason Leta, brought the brand package to life with full screen text cards complimenting a script packed with relevant bites from President Barack Obama, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Senator Sarah McBride, news anchor and author, María Elena Salinas, President John F. Kennedy, Stacey Abrams, and featured First Lady, Laura Bush, and AU’s fifteenth and first female president, Sylvia Burwell.

Authenticity was important to this team and they worked very hard choosing just the right mix of faculty and staff members along with a range of students (undergraduate, graduate, and law students) and athletes. The campus, an important character in any student’s college experience, was represented by the famous AU entrance sign, McKinley, Kogod School of Business, the beautiful new School of International Service, Bender Arena, the Quad, Washington College of Law, the Woods-Brown Amphitheater, Reeves Field, and the Hall of Science.

McKinley Building

Around DC, we captured two different metro stations, the Tenley-Friendship library, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington monument, the US Capitol, the Supreme Court, Capitol Hill, and Embassy Row on Massachusetts Ave. It was a fun few days (and nights) being a tourist in our own city, seeing familiar places with fresh eyes. However, we wish we were there for better times as it was sad having to peer through barbed wire fences and navigate heavily armed soldiers. Reminiscent of a scene from The Handmaid’s Tale, it was cold and unfamiliar and we were happy to hear of its non-permanence.

Metro tunnel
Stationary train in metro tunnel
Moving train in metro tunnel; train appears as a blur
Soldiers outside Capitol Building behind fence and caution tape
Looking down a ring of barbed wire
Looking up at the Capitol Building through fencing, barbed wire, and caution tape
Man looking up at the Capitol Building
Looking down street towards Capitol Building

Throughout the duration of this project, we all lived through the attack on our US Capital and the swearing in of a new President. And as of April 2021, 40% of the US adult population has received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed a wide-ranging bill that targets Black voters with uncanny accuracy and the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin began.

This project couldn’t have come at a more important time. Embracing the CHALLENGE ACCEPTED mantra will be necessary for this next generation of leaders. It feels necessary for us all. Spending time on a college campus with young people who want to put in the work... whether it be in policy, government, biology, law, management, or accounting... to challenge the status quo and change the world, was infectious. It was the perfect ending to a challenging year and a half for all of us. Watching the campus in full bloom, brimming with possibility and hope, we were reminded that after every winter ...there IS spring. American University trusted us with their brand and they took a chance. This is what they had to say:

“Each version has gotten better still … Kudos to you and your team!!!!”

“The final brand video looks great. It has come together very well. Exciting. THANK YOU!”

“Love it!!!!!!”

“Awesome!! Go Eagles!”

“Great work!”


For our friends at American, our alums here at AlterEgo, and for this new community of changemakers … GO AU!

Man holding microphone

Fun Fact

This project reunited former Discovery Channel alums, AlterEgo’s Heather Roymans and Assistant VP of Marketing for American University, Julie Zito. It was a great pleasure to be able to work with such a strong strategic and creative leader in Julie and we’ll never forget *sneaking* into the pipe organ room only to discover that she can play a mean harpsichord.

American Eagle statue - Once an eagle, always an eagle