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The ship that launched nostalgic documentary

Philadelphia Business Journal - March 10, 2006 by Diana Huynh,
Special to the Business Journal

In 1999, Tim Phillips was in Philadelphia shooting a training video. Driving on Columbus Boulevard, he had a sudden encounter that he described as "the classic Hollywood experience."

There it was: nearly 1,000 feet long and 175 feet tall, docked in the Delaware River.

"I knew instantly what it was," said Phillips. "And it occurred to me -- I did not know what happened to it."

Awestruck, Phillips decided to stray from his usual projects as co-owner of Washington, DC-based Rock Creek Productions, Inc., a producer of industrial commercial and training videos, and explore the historical documentary genre.

Son of a former CIA agent, Phillips traveled on the ship when he was 6 years old in the 1960s.

"I thought the ship was the coolest thing ever," said Phillips. "Once I saw it, all these memories began to bubble up."

Production began last January with a budget of $685,500. The five-person team, including co-owner Steve Agnew, have so far begun research and conducted over 70 phone and 12 camera interviews.

"This is an untold story," said Phillips. The ship "came at the very end of the trans-Atlantic era. Since then, it somehow sailed out of the nation's consciousness."

Titled "The Big U," a nickname for the ship, the documentary will explore its history, its famous passengers, its engineering advancements and its creator, William Francis Gibbs.

"He was an amazing person," said Phillips. "And like the ship, he has been completely forgotten."

Phillips plans to wrap-up the project within the next year. The team is currently talking to the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, VA., where the ship was built, to join as partner and Phillips said PBS has expressed interest in airing the documentary.

"People who go shopping on Columbus Boulevard look at the ship and wonder, 'What's that piece of junk?' I want them to know that it was as big as the Statue of Liberty. I want them to know what an American icon it was," said Phillips.

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal. Click here to view article on Philadelphia Business Journal website.

SS United States Documentary Film - The Big U - The Story of the SS United States