In 2016, Coates Kokes helped the Oregon Health Authority launch a marijuana youth prevention campaign. The research indicated teens wished to hear from adults who had used marijuana in the past. We conceived of a video to test in focus groups that featured a former pot smoker who questioned his marijuana use as a teenager.
I offered to take on the role of our fictional pothead. I had some acting experience and, frankly, looked the part. Since our real-life subject would be drawing on their own experiences, we needed the dialogue (delivered directly into camera) to sound truthful and improvised. It seemed only logical to speak about the regrets I had about my life and the insecurities of the person I’d become. Though they didn’t result from drug use, these reflections were real and I struggled with them much like the character in the video.
We filmed the confessional quickly and without incident. Tim, our editor, skillfully winnowed our footage down to around a minute. It had no frills, just jump cuts of my face with the green screen in our office as a backdrop.
Subsequently, I had the great pleasure of attending a couple of these youth focus groups, sitting quietly behind a one-way mirror, listening to adolescents deconstruct our work. At one point, one of them referred to me as “middle-aged” despite the fact I was only 31 at the time.
But, the confessionals resonated with the kids. They responded to the honesty and rawness of the interviews. Sure, a couple of them didn’t find my performance convincing, but all in all, the ideas and, more importantly, the emotions translated. And, to me, that’s what it’s all about. I so rarely get to see our work reaching people. But in that little room, I truly saw it making an impact.
In the end, the campaign featured six adults telling different accounts of their experiences with marijuana. These videos and the rest of the campaign unfolded so successfully, we are now working on the second phase of videos for the marijuana youth prevention campaign, which will debut soon.