Jimmy Stewart narrates this moving tourism ad for Fort Worth, the ‘Unexpected City’

Director Trey Nelson explains the process of layering newly shot footage over an archival voiceover

Published On
Mar 15, 2023
A young boy peering through the bars at a rodeo

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Here’s an interesting bit of filmmaking—a new tourism spot for Fort Worth, Texas, combining new video footage with audio from the ’70s of legendary actor Jimmy Stewart offering his musings about the place.

Stewart, who died in 1997, had developed an attachment to Fort Worth. He recorded the original audio for a 15-minute promotional film, reportedly donating his fee to the local zoo. In the parts used for Visit Fort Worth’s new 60-second spot, he takes a bird’s-eye view of the city’s charms.

“I guess every town has a flavor all its own, but this one seems to have more than most,” he says, “this town perched on the edge of the prairie, where it can never lose sight of its past and and you can see the future forever.”


Trey Nelson of Smartypants directed the film. He told Ad Age that he was raised in Dallas in the ’80s, but never spent much time in Fort Worth growing up.

“So, when I visited the city in the early stages of [the campaign’s] development, the experience was rooted in seeing everything for the first time,” he said. “I was struck by the seemingly impossible worlds that made Fort Worth unexpected—cowboys and culture.” 

After those initial visits, Nelson sat down with Jessica Christopherson, Visit Fort Worth’s VP of marketing and film commissioner, and Tom Martens, its AVP of creative and branding, who emphasized that the campaign had to be cinematic. They also pointed him to the short documentary “The Unexpected City” that Stewart narrated.

“Jimmy narrates the documentary in way that felt both personal and hopeful,” said Nelson. “He painted a picture that was cinematic to my ear.”

Nelson and his partners at Smartypants then wrote the script, building characters around a core belief that “a place and an experience can change you.” He and cinematographer Boyd Hobbs “emphasized visual thresholds everywhere—from the opening shot of the photographer walking through Kimball to the closing shots of the boy peering through rodeo fencing,” Nelson said. “The intent and affect were to bring the viewer closer to seat of our characters’ experiences.”

As they edited the piece together, despite the power of the VO, they ended up cutting it back a bit, creating space “to let the visuals tell the story, while Jimmy filled in the emotions—a sense of exploration, hope and transcendence.” 

Nelson, who comes from long-form storytelling—writing and directing feature films and documentaries—said the spot “continues to surprise and move me in ways that I thought was only possible in cinema.”

A couple walking down a Fort Worth road in a Visit Fort Worth print ad


Mar 15, 2023
Client :
Visit Fort Worth
Agency :
Smartypants Pictures
Director :
Trey Nelson

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