Case Study: Safe & Sober

Written by Merry Fidler

Not to compare myself to God, but at first my proposal for this video was without form, and void; not because the client didn’t have a good enough prompt, but because I felt fresh out of ideas. Missouri Safe and Sober (a non-profit that teaches underage people the importance of sobriety) needed a motivational end piece for this school year’s video program. It’s hard to be motivating when you’re feeling a full-stop creative block. There’s not a formula or incantation for coming up with ideas. Inspiration can’t always be painstakingly carved out of the stone of your logic, or else lovingly sculpted from the soft clay of your heart. Sometimes, all you can do is wait for inspiration to surface from the murk of your subconscious and make sure you scoop it out when it does. The Fleeting Thought piece is a prime example of such a surfacing. 

I apologize for being bleak, but here at DJ, many of us are going through the acute growing pains of existential dread. Several of us have known each other for a while and have watched each other grow up. We’re starting to sound like sentimental sailors, “AYE, I remember the first time I met yee, back in the student union.”  I am only 31, but I’m old enough to feel the onset of anxiety about aging; not about wrinkles, or bodily aches, but about my hyper-sensitivity to how fast time goes by. That’s growing up to me, I suppose: realizing things change and time runs out. As much as I hate to be the person who uses the word “zeitgeist,” amongst the DJ team, this notion was definitely thick in the zeitgeist (DAMMIT, Merry). 

So, as I sat at my desk, blinking, drooling, brain-dead, the image of an old man sitting on his porch, writing a letter to his grandchild popped into my mind. What would you tell your younger self, or your grandchild? This Gandalf feeling of “Three hundred lives of men I have walked this earth and now I have no time,” was running so rampant around here that the answer to that question seemed pretty obvious: When you’re young, moments seem completely disposable, which can leave you always wanting to move on to the next thing. But youth affords you this: you can enjoy something so much more purely because you’re not thinking about how it’s going to end. Take it from me, that ability is so precious. 

Now that was some inspiration I could roll with.

This grandfather character wouldn’t be shown, so his voice needed to be rich and emotive. I wanted to create a juxtaposition to that sort of time-ripened narration with bright and other-worldly visuals of teens in order to create a dream-like state. I found an inspiration photo (the center photo in the mood board) that hit the right notes of nostalgia and modernity, and I got to work building the settings and visuals from there.

I knew that finding the right voice over artist was going to be the biggest challenge, and if we didn’t get that right then we’d have a different video altogether. We’d never needed this type of voice over, and it seemed right to cast someone who was more of a voice actor. We turned to voices.com and posted the job. We received 58 auditions, which is a record, but many couldn’t shake the commercial quality from their delivery. I recall lamenting that many of them sounded like they were auditioning for a Ken Burns documentary about Baseball. But one voice rang through. His name was Dave Pettitt and he was absolutely perfect. I think we listened to his short sample 8,000 times. Nick cried. 

Next came the music. Before I had anything picked out, I kept listening to Dave’s sample VO with Hammock’s song “Cliffside.” This song is both atmospheric and melodic. A simple melody would push us forward in the video, but something sweeping or overly emotional would feel too contrived. CEO Ben ended up taking two separate tracks I’d found (and just happened to be in the same key and tempo – whew), one with nice atmospheric pads, one with a simple melody, and blended them together to create a dreamscape that’s perfect for some good ol’ introspection.

Production experienced a little delay with the pandemic, but once we were released from our foxholes we got right back to it. Our Production Manager Ally was able to wrangle a fantastic group of diverse teens who were chocked full of eagerness to film with us. Upon watching the final, three of their Moms cried (we’re up to four criers now, if you’re counting). And I’d be remiss in not mentioning Enterprise Park Lanes, Steak ‘n Shake on St. Louis and National, and the Springfield Park Board who were most generous in working with and allowing us to film in their locations (especially post COVID). 

Finally, editing flew together. Megan added some wonderful color burns, further adding to the dreamy feel. And we got to work with a fantastic new colorist who added the texture and pizazz the final product needed. The client didn’t have a single revision for us. I still can’t believe that this video went from such a frustratingly blank canvas to a production where every piece of the puzzle put itself right into place.

I love that this project gave us the chance to not talk down to young people, as the videos I remember from my high school days did. Instead of telling them to basically “grow up, be mature, don’t drink,” we are telling them, “enjoy not being an adult, don’t throw that time away.” We’re aiming to respect their age in that way. What we ended up with is something I’m incredibly proud of. Fleeting Thought is through and through my heart, and everyone else who touched it added a piece of theirs too. 

Stay young out there,

-MF

P.S. Crier count so far is 7.

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