Will Koz started making videos on YouTube for fun in 2006, the same year he graduate from Laurel High School.
Koz posts everything from pranks to skits to shorts and movies. In early 2018, he was asked by a friend to help shoot and recreate an incident that should have been showed as a good deed, but a neighbor’s viral cell phone video made it seem otherwise.
Fast forward two years and Koz gets a message late on June 18 to look at President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. The video he’d made just got one of the president’s valuable retweets, reshared to his 82 million followers with the touch of a thumb.
Back on a snowy winter night in 2018, an Uber driver’s car got stuck in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Hearing some commotion outside, nightclub owner Paul Martinez put on his jacket, boots and Make America Great Again red baseball hat to lend a helping hand outside. The driver who was stuck, a black man, let on the gas while Martinez pushed from behind. Working together, the car got unstuck from the snow and ice-covered road as Martinez ran behind, yelling encouragement to keep going. A neighbor caught the scene on cell phone video.
However, the neighbor only captured the ending — Martinez, in a red MAGA hat, yelling at a black man to keep going, appearing like he was chasing him out of the neighborhood.
The driver, fortunate for Martinez, was able to reach out and clear up what really happened the next day. Martinez also got in contact with Koz, a friend he’d known from his club and from doing marketing work together, and asked if he’d like to recreate the event.
“Paul came to me and asked if I wanted to kind of recreate the video of him and show how things can be misconstrued in the media,” Koz said.
So they did.
Koz, a 2010 Slippery Rock graduate with a degree in sports management, portrayed Martinez in the video. Everything they did in the two-minute video was reenacted, right down to putting on boots without socks. It was filmed in the same spot, as well.
The video was then posted to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, where it sat for about two years.
“We kind of put it out there and tried to get him (Trump) to see it,” Koz said. “I don’t know if he did see it originally or kind of held on to it or if it has been brought to light with all the protests.”
Trump, since winning election in 2016, has used his Twitter account to speak directly to constituents, chide opponents and rebuke media reports. The White House has insisted his tweets serve as official presidential statements.
Meanwhile, Trump has regularly had his tweets called into question — either from being factually inaccurate, demeaning in nature or fanning the flames of hateful words and imagery, like on Sunday when he retweeted-then-deleted a video showing supporters in The Villages, Florida, where one person is heard shouting “White power.”
Alas, on 10:08 p.m. on June 18 — minutes after a previous video Trump tweeted was slapped with a “manipulated media” editor’s note from Twitter — he tweeted out Koz’s video. It’s been seen more than 12 million times to date.
“It was late that night. It was probably not too long after,” Koz said of when he found out his video had found its way from Pittsburgh to the president’s iPhone. “Somebody messaged me and said, ‘Oh my God, did you see Trump’s Twitter?’ I had an idea, but I didn’t know because the video had been out for a year and a half, almost two years. As soon as I went there, my face was front and center.”
The next day, the video made the rounds on local and cable news.
“It was surreal,” Koz said. “The next morning, I’m sure everybody jumped on and caught up to everything on the timeline.”
When Trump tweeted out the video, he didn’t add any of his own comments, but also didn’t give credit to Koz.
“When it happened, I just thought to myself I’m not surprised because of all the stuff going on in 2020,” Koz said. “Why not at this point? I was kind of upset we didn’t get any recognition and people didn’t know where the video came from, but, it’s the president. I’m sure it wasn’t spiteful or on purpose.”
He continued, “When we originally did it, it was kind of just a reenactment video to try and get that message across. It kind of went political and now it’s being endorsed by the president as a campaign ad, which is absolutely bizarre to me.”
He said Martinez sent him a message immediately and started celebrating. Koz characterizes Martinez as a strong supporter of all his rights and a true patriot. Martinez faced criticism earlier this spring when he and his wife, Leah, protested the shutdown of small businesses as part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic reopening plan to mitigate COVID-19. Koz noted Martinez has used his Cavo nightclub in the Strip District to host benefits and is LGBTQ-friendly.
“Paul and Leah are the least judgmental people I’ve met,” Koz said. “They have the most diverse crowd in attendance and staff. It’s to the point where if you support one candidate, you support all these list of things, which isn’t always the case as well.”
Koz said he wouldn’t consider himself a Trump supporter, but supports whoever is in office. He said he’s been in downtown Pittsburgh documenting some of the protests and marches against police brutality. Movements like that, he says, shows the power of the people, a power politicians try to use to divide instead of unite.
As for reaction, he said he’s received some comments, both good and bad.
“I’m getting hate mail and congratulations,” he said. “It’s more about the message and less that he turned it into a political ad.”
And to think, something he defined as a “passion project” put Koz’s face squarely in the middle of the timeline of Twitter’s most-famous user for a night.
“We just got together and teamed up and made the video,” Koz said. “He wanted to get the message that everything on the news or in the media or on the internet isn’t always the case. What you see isn’t always what you get.”