Monday, October 27, 2008

Montana Meth Project - "Parents"



"Parents"
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Source: Montana Meth Project

Montana Meth Project is the best anti-drug campaign in the United States. If you spend time in Montana, you cannot escape the graphic depictions of methamphetamine use on young people.

Was that idea so hard to come up with? Showing kids the effects of drugs is a much more visual and effective way to keep them clean than the accusatory "Sticking Leeches on Myself" anti-drug ad that wasted everybody's time a couple of years ago. You can't tell teenagers to find the fault in themselves because they are shallow, short-sighted, and immature. The leech ad accuses their friends of being bad people. The end result is that the kids try to put the blame for drug use on anyone but themselves.

Montana Meth Project dispenses with all of that and associates an incredibly vivid, negative image with drug use. That's it. That's all you need to do. I guess I lied in my comment on the previous post. This is about building a negative brand around drugs and getting kids to feel sick about using them.

"Parents" is a 30-second spot that shows a teenager running around his house. The lights go on and we look through the window. A woman, extremely upset, plops down on the couch. The man is making it clear that he is finished with something. The teen calmly narrates the scene. These are obviously his parents, and he gets along with them pretty well. Or so he says.

At this point, we're halfway through the ad and we feel sorry for the teen, who is shouting his deepest apologies and pounding at the door.

And then he turns and we see his face. Anger. Hatred. Disgust. He is a complete terror. His voice changes. It gets deeper and more aggressive. He starts kicking the door like a child. Soon, he's hissing, "Let me in! I'm gonna kill you!"

Animate. "Meth. Not even once."

"Parents" is a phenomenal example of how well these quick pivots and twists work in short films. No frills. No complicated setups. Just setting up a simple situation and then pulling the rug out from under you. In five seconds, we go from feeling sorry about whatever this kid has done to absolute shock at his change in tone. The message: Meth addiction will cut you off from your family and will turn you unhinged.

In the absence of the traditional three-act structure - I think I've included those words in two or three papers already this semester - the exceptionally quick twist becomes not only an acceptable storytelling device, but an easy one to pull off. Once you have a premise - any premise - in mind, it doesn't take long to come up with some way to upset the balance. For a 30-second commercial? Maybe an hour of fine-tuning at most. It's a shortcut, but there's nothing wrong with using this shortcut, whether it makes the film funnier, more surprising, more shocking, or just saves you a ton of money.

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