Sunday, April 10, 2011

Filming PSA for Post Falls Domestic Violence Hotline

kNIFVES, my movie networking and workforce development group (I'm the board secretary), just finished up a day and a half of filming a 30-second public service announcement for the Post Falls (Idaho) Police Department's domestic violence hotline. We did it as a training workshop - "PSA in a Day," we called it - and we had a mixture of cast, crew and students totaling about 45 to 50 people. It was just so great. The proposal came to us just a month ago. This means that kNIFVES - with its all-volunteer board and no executive director - went from the seed of an idea to a 30-second PSA in one month. This includes getting the writers' group to write scripts, brainstorm them, winnow them down from 13 to 8 to 3 - all incredibly great scripts, by the way, so no small feat to reduce the number down to 3 - from which the police department selected one. It also meant networking the professionals in this region willing to donate time and equipment to good cause, and project.

The ultimate script has a total of four scenes, with voiceover, showing three instances of abuse and then the final victim making the phone call to the hotline for help. It was really emotional to watch the filming, as the scenes are very intense - a teenaged girl trying to get out of a car and her boyfriend yanking her back in; an older, sophisticated woman with a black eye putting on sunglasses in the privacy of her bedroom to hide the abuse she's suffered, as she readies to go out of the house; and a young couple in the early morning where the husband nearly hits the wife with his fist because of a sink full of dirty dishes. The title of the commercial is "Break the Cycle." The kitchen scene shows, at the end of it, the couple's little girl, watching, which then prompts her mom to make the phone call for help.

It thrilled me to have so many students attending, and the variety of them, all interested in learning about the practicalities of filming, being able to participate, having the crew and the director (WJ Lazerus, kNIFVES' president) stop action to explain what they were doing and why - the thought process behind the various shots from a practical, creative, and time-sensitive prospective. I loved how the crew donated time and equipment to our process - how the police department kept feeding us meals and snacks - how everyone pitched in to make the project a success.

The actors, too, donated their time. When some were introduced, I asked how they all felt about doing these scenes, given the topic. One said that it was a topic very close to them, and how honored it felt to participate. It seemed like there was a story to tell there - a story like the three being told in the commercial. This is a topic that is prevalent but taking place so often behind closed doors. It was really gratifying to know that this workshop, and the ultimate product, not only turned out to be a great training tool for up and coming cast, crew and writers, but would actually have the potential to touch people's lives.

This topic is close to me personally, as I have worked on this it in the past. I haven't done so recently - it was more when I was younger, both in college and in law school. In college, I volunteered on the local hot line. In law school, through the clinic there at the University of Maryland, I represented an abused woman who was convicted of first degree murder for killing her abusive husband, and who never had any of that abuse admitted as evidence in her trial. Ultimately one thing led to another, and we ended up rallying the community of mostly female lawyers to do three things: make a video of these women's stories (because my client was just one of about a dozen women in similar circumstances in Maryland prison); get legislation passed in Maryland that would allow evidence of the battered spouse syndrome in assault and murder cases where the spouse on trial had been abused; and work towards clemency for these dozen or so women who were in prison in Maryland but had never been allowed to explain their circumstances during their trials. All three goals were met, and the governor gave most of the women clemency from their prison sentences. I was gone from Maryland when the women were given clemency - I had graduated from law school by that point and was in Wyoming, clerking for a judge - but I felt so proud of the work that got accomplished based on what we had started, there at the law school.

The last two days have made me think of that project - have reminded me of how far we, as a society, have come since 1990 - as this kind of information is now part of trials, no need to fight to allow for that kind of fairness - but also, how far we still have to go. I mean, here we are, doing a PSA for abuse victims out there who don't know how to ask for help. Each circumstance is individual. Most abuse occurs behind closed doors. There is much to know, and not enough public education that takes place, even now - when we know so much more.

They say that the police can tell you which houses are ones with domestic abuse - they know the homes where they will be called to referee every few weeks. But this PSA is to reach out to those people who suffer that kind of domestic abuse in silence - the ones who do not pick up the phone and make the phone call. I hope this PSA reaches them, inspires them to reach beyond where they are and "break the cycle."

1 comment:

Mary Jane Honegger said...

Great synopsis of the work it took to make our PSA and why we made it, Beth. I was amazed by the dedication of so many talented people who took time out of their lives to help create this PSA. A special thank you to you for your work on behalf of abused women in the past and your support and behind-the-scenes work for this project. If this project even inspires one woman to report her abuse, we win.