DENHAM SPRINGS -- Lights, camera, action.
Livingston Parish Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) heard that famous three-word phrase repeated often during a two-day shoot for an upcoming nationally-televised public service announcement.
But unlike other videos the organization has made in the past, this one will have a professional touch.
An Emmy Award-winning director and a New York City-based film crew spent two days in Denham Springs filming the Livingston Parish SADD chapter’s upcoming PSA, part of its prize for winning a national contest.
In March, the National SADD Foundation and The National Road Safety Foundation (NRSF) announced the local SADD chapter as the winner of the nationwide contest, “#DrivingSkills101 – Dangers in the Dark.”
As member Grace Stevens stated in the proposal video, Livingston Parish SADD’s PSA “focuses on the fact that although we are not superheroes, we all have a duty to be heroic on the road.”
The PSA will explain four main tips for safe driving in the dark, which include using lights while driving at night, looking out for cyclists and pedestrians, getting the appropriate amount of sleep (eight hours for teens), and buckling up “in every seat in every car, every time.”
“You don’t need superpowers to be a super driver!” proudly proclaims the superhero that will be featured in the PSA.
For winning the national contest, Livingston Parish SADD was awarded $2,500 and the chance to bring their vision for the minute-long PSA to life with the help of an award-winning film crew. And not just any crew — one that specializes in PSAs and programs geared toward educating children and teens, the target audience for the upcoming television spot.
The PSA will debut at the SADD National Conference in Washington, D.C., in late June. It will also be featured on the syndicated show “Teen Kids News,” a weekly 30-minute news program for children that airs on more than 150 television stations nationwide and is distributed to 9 million students in 10,000 schools.
“The National Road Safety Foundation seeks to engage young people in communicating important safe driving messages to their peers and to the community at large, which is why we sponsor the SADD Driving Skills 101 Contest,” said Public Relations Director David Reich.
“The SADD Chapter at Denham Springs High School came up with a great concept about driving at night, and we can't wait to see their idea come to fruition and air on TV screens nationwide.”
To help SADD students carry out their vision for the commercial, the NRSF sent top-notch professionals who know a thing or two about making programs geared toward adolescents.
Alan Weiss, an Emmy-winning director who helped launch “Teen Kids News,” and two crew members spent Wednesday and Thursday working with SADD students, filming mostly on a quiet neighborhood street in Denham Springs.
Weiss’ production company, Alan Weiss Productions, has won 14 Emmys, including awards for Outstanding PSA, Outstanding Education: Feature/Segment, Outstanding Special, Outstanding Informational Programming, and Outstanding New Spot.
Also assisting the SADD students were David Lauterbach, the senior editor for “Teen Kids News,” and Rick Lavon, the cameraman and editor.
Their job — to make the SADD members’ heroic idea a reality.
“The initial script was a little too elaborate, so we helped them make it a little more television friendly,” Lauterbach said. “Our contribution is not only to shoot it, but to make it pop and give it the television quality that the students might not be able to.”
Lauterbach and Lavon said the production company has filmed more than 50 PSAs in the past, thought this was the first one to take place primarily at night, with filming not starting until 8:30 pm. each day.
Another first for the crew members: This was the first PSA in which they’ll rely heavily on the artwork of a student, this one recent Denham Springs High graduate Elise Drennan, who designed the masked superhero that will star in the PSA.
Because the PSA will alternate between comic strips and live action footage to show the differences between superheroes versus normal people driving at night, Drennan was asked to come up with the look of the tights-wearing, cape-flapping crusader.
Though this presented a new challenge for the artistic Drennan, who plans to attend the Savannah College and Art and Design in Georgia to study animation, she jumped at the chance to create the masked superhero that will be shown on televisions nationwide.
Drennan based the character on the NRSF’s official colors, outfitting him in different shades of blue while also adding references to the streets, such as the white lane markers on his boots and a tire-shaped belt buckle.
“I draw people and cartoon-style stuff, but nothing to this degree,” Drennan said. “So knowing this will be shown across the country is pretty surreal.”
More than a dozen current and former SADD students took part in the project, with some serving as narrators, some as extras, and some for a behind-the-scenes look into the making of a PSA that will also air on “Teen Kids News.”
For PSAs directed at children and teens, the filmmakers said it’s important to have actual children and teens delivering the message.
“These are meant for teens to be talking to other teens,” Lavon said. “When you have adults talking to teens, sometimes the message gets tuned out. But when it’s teens talking to other teens, sometimes they get the message more.
“It doesn’t always help to hit them over the head with a message. Sometimes a lighter touch works just as well.”
For one former SADD member, the experience was especially gratifying.
Stevens, a recent Denham Springs High graduate, was the one who came up with the idea to feature a superhero in the PSA, drawing inspiration from the cast of Avengers she saw hanging on a wall in the Livingston Parish SADD office.
“I can’t even put into words how humbling it is,” Stevens said. “We’re so small, but together we can make this really impactful difference.”
“This has been my last year with SADD, so I really wanted to make it something to remember,” she continued. “This is a way to go out with a bang.”