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TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
In honor of Valentine's Day, Amory tells Ben a snack-size story about a feast-size grand gesture that has left millions of people all over the world wishing they could re-do their marriage proposals.
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This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text.
Amory Sivertson: Ben, Happy Valentine’s Day!
Ben Brock Johnson: (heart thumping noise)
Amory: Are you pro Valentine's Day or are you one of those people that's like, “This is love propaganda!”
Ben: Oh, man. How deep down the weird rabbit hole do you want to get?
Amory: Hahaha. Not that deep, but I would settle for like a pithy anecdote, if you have one.
Ben: My strongest memories of Valentines are from, like, middle school.
Amory: Mmmm rough time.
Ben: And yeah, I mean, generally I did well, like I had a good middle school and high school life, not in terms of valentines, but just like, you know, it like wasn't a terrible for me.
Ben: But I will say, a thing that bothers me is that like Valentine's Day, which is, we should say, a Hallmark holiday, ends up being this kind of like weird day where you tally up your social score in a way that like, I don't know how I feel about that. I have mixed feelings about it. Also, Lucy Whitford, who I had a huge crush on in fourth grade, told me once on Valentine's Day that she knew I liked her and she didn't care.
Amory: (laughs) That is harsh! Well, Valentine's Day can also be a day of of grand gestures. So…
Ben: It's true. A lot of lovely people do lovely things for each other on Valentine's Day. And I respect that and I support it. So, I'll get "posi."
Amory: So, in the spirit of that, and in honor of Valentine's Day, I have a snack-size story about what I will call a meal-size gesture that was pulled off with the help of some Redditors.
Ben: It might even be like a feast-sized gesture.
Amory: FEAST-size gesture. But this love story starts pretty humbly, as many relationships do.
Sthuthi David: So we first met freshman year of high school, but we didn't really talk to each other in our history class because I had a lot of studying to do. But then we got to know each other well. Junior year when I was in a dance performance and Lee did the tech for it.
Lee Loechler: I just remember thinking she was very cute. And it feeling very cool that she wanted to talk to me.
Sthuthi: We kind of started having a crush on each other and started dating then.
Amory: So this is Lee Loechler and Sthuthi David. They grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, but now they live on opposite sides of the country. Lee’s a filmmaker in California, Sthuthi’s a cardiology resident in Virginia, who’s working overnight shifts currently, so that’s rough. They broke up in college, but they reunited just a few years ago. And things have been… pretty magical ever since.
Amory: When did you start thinking about proposing?
Lee: Oh man. I think we first started having conversations about taking the next step, and it was very mutual, in early 2019. Sthuthi, fact check me if I am inaccurate here.
Sthuthi: You are correct. (laughs)
Amory: And so even though Sthuthi knew that Lee was planning on proposing, she had no idea when. And Lee didn’t know either. He was talking it over with a friend of his who was also planning to propose to his girlfriend, who also happened to be a filmmaker, this friend was, and Lee had what he thought was the perfect idea for his friend.
Lee: What he should do, kind of utilizing the skill set that we had as filmmakers was, you know, green-screen composite himself into her favorite movie. And then during a climactic scene, as they were just at home watching it together, he would appear on screen as himself in this movie holding a ring.
Amory: Pretty good, right?
Ben: I mean, it's extremely nerdy, which I respect. Hat tip to the nerds. But it's also... it's kind of dangerous, right? Like I was going to say before when you said that they like their relationship, their long distance relationship has been perfect...
Amory: I said it's been magical!
Ben: Magical? Yeah. I mean, long distance relationships, you know, where you don't have to live with each other and deal with each other all the time.
Ben: Totally magical, man.
Amory: There's some longing there. Well, this genius idea that Lee thought he had, his friend was not into it.
Ben: It's a gamble.
Amory: It is a gamble. He said it didn't really feel like "them." But Lee was like, no, this idea is good. And if my friend isn't going to do it, I'm going to do it. But there was a problem. Sthuthi's favorite movie...is "Sleeping Beauty."
Sthuthi: Yeah, I'm very sophisticated, clearly. (laughs)
Ben: You know, once a Disney princess, always a Disney princess, I say.
Amory: That's right.
Lee: That is, of course, an animated film. And I didn't think it would make sense to composite live-action Lee into an animated movie. It just didn't feel like it would work.
Amory: Have you seen "Sleeping Beauty," Ben?
Ben: Heck yeah, man. With all the thorns? The like, the surrounding thorns to the castle. You know, I'm talking about?
Amory: I've never seen it. (laughs)
Ben: What? Oh my god.
Amory: But I have heard legend of the, you know, climactic scene at the end where the prince wakes up the princess with a kiss.
Ben: Yeah. Which in today's world, you know... consent. But it's fine, I guess.
Amory: Yeah. So Lee had also never seen "Sleeping Beauty" before this. So before he dismissed his grand proposal idea, he decided to watch it. And he had this revelation...
Lee: What struck me as I watched it was how static it was. The princess is sleeping. She's not moving. Even when she wakes up. It's kind of just on her face that you're seeing these changes register. And it occurred to me that there might be a way to do it after all.
Ben: He's really holding on to this idea.
Amory: Yeah, even though he's not an artist himself, he did not know how to do any animation. But he did find an artist on Instagram who draws in the sort of classic Disney style. And he hired her to Disney-ify him and Sthuthi to become the prince and princess in the scene.
Ben: See, that's just the thing you want someone to do for you anyway. Don't you want a Disney version of yourself?
Amory: I mean, I'm not a huge Disney person, but let's just keep the magic alive here.
Ben: Okay. All right, fair.
Amory: And he had this illustrator draw that new ending that he was talking about, where the prince presents the princess with a ring. And so they were working frame by frame.
Lee: And then it was a matter of just adding them in about 73 minutes into Sleeping Beauty and then rendering out a fully baked video file of the whole movie with our hacked-in section towards the end.
Amory: You know, just teaching yourself animation.
Ben: Yeah. No big deal.
Amory: Nope. So now it was just about the when and where he was going to show Sthuthi his masterpiece. And he was planning to do it at one of their apartments. But a friend of his said:
Lee: Lee, that's a terrible idea. Have you never met a woman? Do you have any idea, like what they want in a proposal? Like, nobody wants to be proposed to on their couch, in their pajamas, like they want to be in a beautiful place. They want their friends and family to be there. You have to create a moment.
Amory: So Lee got to work on creating a "moment." He knew that he and Sthuthi were actually both going to be at home in Brookline for the holidays, so he decided to turn his quiet-proposal-at-home into a full-blown screening of "Sleeping Beauty" at their local independent movie theatre. It's called the Coolidge Corner Theatre.
B: Shout-out Coolidge Corner!
A: Woot woot!
Sthuthi: He enlisted my mom in on the plan and basically doctored an email that made it seem like the Coolidge had sent an email out saying like, oh, we're airing "Sleeping Beauty." So my mom had actually forwarded me this email and said, "Hey, honey, I know it's your favorite movie. I bought the whole family tickets. I also bought one for Lee if he's available."
Ben: Mmmm, good moves.
Amory: Just if he’s available.
Amory: Yeah. Very savvy.
Ben: Good moves.
Amory: So the date was set: December 30th. Lee reached out to all of her local friends and family to make sure that they could be in the audience. But remember, he has to make this seem like a normal screening. So he had to hide her friends in the back of the theater and he realized he would need to fill the rest of the seats with randos. And where can you find a bunch of randos, Ben?
Ben: Reddit, baby!
Amory: Reddit! So Lee makes a post in the Boston subreddit.
Lee: And I think it was titled something like, "Seeking random internet strangers to fill seats in a movie theater where I will surprise propose to my girlfriend." And I expected maybe a handful of people would reach out and be interested. And it was to my shock that I got hundreds of responses from people all over the Boston area. And the response was so overwhelming that I had to edit the post and offer priority to anyone who is a parent of a Disney-age kid. And I had several people reach out and offer to bring their daughters and ask if it was okay for them to come in Disney princess outfits. And I thought that was the most magical thing ever. So I not only said it was OK, but encouraged it.
Ben: There's this thing that happens where like Disney, somehow, like every 5 year old wakes up and they immediately have some Disney character they're obsessed with. So this makes total sense.
Amory: Yeah. I never had a Disney princess costume and the only Disney princess that I was obsessed with was Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
Ben: I mean, that's a good one.
Amory: I would've been cold. Too cold for that costume. But Lee really commits he makes fake tickets. He had a seating chart so that all of the Redditors people he had never met before would know exactly where to go. He made a fake reel of trailers to play before the movie started, and he was texting with the projectionist to make sure that he and Sthuthi would enter the theater at a moment when she would be least likely to notice the family and friends hidden in the back. And he was rehearsing this all at the theater during the week leading up to the proposal. He really had this planned to a T.
Amory: Sthuthi, did you notice anything going into the theater? Did it feel like a regular movie night?
Sthuthi: So the only thing that felt a little off was that the theater was really small and I was like, I just think a lot of people would want to watch "Sleeping Beauty," so I don't understand why this theatre is so small. (laughs)
Amory: So the movie starts, and now Lee has to sit through 72 minutes of "Sleeping Beauty" until his big moment comes.
Ben: 72 minutes to question your choices.
Lee: I am a nervous wreck the entire time. I'm like fidgeting. I'm adjusting my posture in my seat. it was the most excruciating 72 minutes of my life.
Amory: But finally, minute 73...show time! And we'll find out exactly how it unfolded in a minute.
Amory: So Ben, Lee has a movie theatre full of his girlfriend Sthuthi’s friends and family — unbeknownst to her — and he's got a bunch of strangers that he found on Reddit. Some of whom brought their kids in princess costumes. He’s finally made it 72 minutes in, to the scene where the prince kisses the sleeping princess. And fortunately for us, Lee hid a camera in the one of the curtains of the movie theatre. So we all get to witness this proposal, and I think we should just watch it together.
Ben: So I watched this, by the way, when it popped off on Reddit.
[Proposal video audio — The prince is sitting at the princess' bedside, and he leans in to kiss her. When she awakens, the princess transforms into an animated version of Sthuthi, and the prince transforms into an animated version of Lee.]
Ben (narrating the video): And here they are. They're in the theater. It's like sort of like a weird angle, but it's just him and her. She has like a pretty like I smelled a fart look on her face right now.
Amory: (laughs) Yes, she does.
Ben: She's sort of like she's like, what is happening? Why is this happening? Like, she's a little confused. Like this is not her favorite movie of her past. And he's looking at her and she's looking at him and she's like, what's happening? And then she's like, oh my God. And she has this look on her face. And then her face goes from like what is happening to, like, whaaaaaaat? And the ring gets tossed on the movie screen and he, like, pretends to catch it in real life.
[More proposal video audio — Lee says, "It's not every day you get to propose to your high school sweetheart."]
Ben: Oh, my God. So nice. And then he kneels down. And the people on the movie screen, like the animated characters, are watching him.
[More proposal video audio — Sthuthi, in shock, says "Oh my god, these poor people!," referencing the rest of the audience in the theatre. Lee says, "They're all in on it." Sthuthi turns around to scan the audience.]
Ben: She recognizes the family. It's her friends and family! She's freaked out, in a good way.
[More proposal video audio — Sthuthi: I don't even know what to say. Lee: I hope you do. (Sthuthi and audience laugh) I love you with my whole heart, including all of its ventricles, atriums, valves... (to audience) ... she's a cardiologist. Sthuthi David, M.D., will you live happily ever after with me? Sthuthi: Yes! (Audience cheers and applauds)]
Ben: Lovely! Oh, and all the little fairy godmothers clap.
[More proposal video audio: audience cheers and applauds]
Ben: There's on the video screen. There's like, you know, there's like a Disney castle and fireworks. She's covering her face out of total embarrassment. Pretty great, I have to say. Pretty great.
Amory: It's like, one for the story books. And she says later in the video, “I thought there was something wrong with the movie!”
Amory: And she told me a little bit about this as well.
Sthuthi: So I was getting actually kind of annoyed at the whole thing because it's like, ugh they're ruining my movie I don’t know what happened with the colors. And then honestly, even when like animated Lee and you could see his face pop up. My first thought was, why does that guy look like Lee? Then the ring popped up and I said, oh, my God. I think someone's gonna get engaged today. I wonder who it is.
Ben: Really not picking up on it too fast.
Amory: Yeah, I'm not sure I would either, to be fair.
Ben: Yeah. Well, it's pretty meta, right?
Amory: Mmhmm. I kind of put that to her just cause I'm pretty sure my brain would break open at this point.
Sthuthi: I feel like I'm still and it's been like over a month, that this happened and I'm still trying to register, like, how amazing and I mean, Lee I've said this before, but truly perfect this proposal was and it was just proof that Lee knows me so, so well.
Ben: Well done, Lee. Well done. Good job, buddy.
Amory: So this was literally a fairy tale proposal.
Ben: Yeah, with a fairy tale ending. Not bad.
Amory: But I bet a lot of people want to do this for the person in their life. Or like think that their significant other would like something like this. But then they just don't because they think, ugh it's too much work.
Ben: Too crazy. Too risky.
Amory: Too much room for things to go wrong.
Amory: So I asked them why they think grand gestures like this are important and worth it.
Sthuthi: This is a big question. I think, you know, unfortunately the way the world is going now, it's so easy to get very negative about things and get very pessimistic and give up and kind of lose that real life magic that I genuinely think exists. So I think having these really grand gestures, it brings a little bit of like magic and happiness. And like seeing the reaction of like millions of people now have around the world, I mean, something really special and really magical can come out of it.
Ben: I like that — put a little magic into the world.
Lee: Speaking from experience now, I would say don't just let it be an idea. Really take the time and work towards making it a reality, because it has just been a life changing moment for the two of us. And then getting to, like, you know have this thing that we can talk about and all of our family and friends sort of rallying around us. It’s helped us feel so supported and so loved. And I wish that for any couple. So just do it.
Amory: And the good news, Ben, is that so far they have not gotten served by Disney.
Sthuthi: Please don’t sue us, Disney!
Ben: I mean, Disney, if you serve these guys, you're fired. That's all I'm saying.
Amory: Yeah. You created this love story.
Ben: Yeah. This is your fault. So... Um, I love it. I love this story. I loved seeing it when it popped up on Reddit. I think it's nice to see people doing this kind of thing for each other. And I dig it.
Amory: Here's to the grand gestures.
Amory: Go big or go home.
Ben: So you'd want to be Ariel? Like if somebody were going to, like, animate you into a Disney movie you'd be Ariel?
Amory: She was the only one that I developed any sort of attachment to. But she's her own woman and I'm my own woman.
Ben: I think I'd be Little John from the Robin Hood Disney movie.
Amory: Oh, that's good. That's very on point.
Ben: Yeah, that's who I would be. Or I would be the bear in Mowgli. They're basically the same person. They're, I mean, they're the same bear. They're the same bear creature.
Amory: In the same family.
Ben: That bear gets typecast. But, you know what, that's fine. He’s a good bear. All right, guys, that's it. That is our Valentine's Day snack time. And, you know, grand gestures… go for it. Get out there.
Ben: You got this. Also, keep your eyes and ears on our feed because we will have more that we're dropping in while we are on break. But we are so excited for our upcoming series and season. And, you know, stay in touch. And happy Valentine's Day.
Amory: Happy Valentine's Day.
And one more photo of the happy couple, just for fun...
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