Tobacco addiction is notoriously difficult to kick. Just how difficult, and the impact quitting has on individual lives, is the subject of Project Quit, a newly-launched public-service initiative developed by RIESTER for the Arizona Smokers’ Helpline.
RIESTER asked Los Angeles production company Original and director Geoffrey Madeja to follow four people who have taken a vow to quit tobacco. Through a mix of slice-of-life scenes and interviews, the four tobacco users, along with their friends and loved ones, talk about the difficulty of quitting, how they got started with tobacco, the effects it has had on their relationships, and how quitting is complicated by other factors including health problems, employment and money issues. What emerges are complex stories of struggle, determination and hope.
RIESTER Senior Content Producer Robert Farthing says the agency was looking for a new way to show the broader impact of tobacco and the multiple challenges faced by people trying to quit. “There were a lot of campaigns about quitting, but none showed what it’s like to quit on a day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment basis,” he said. “Although we hoped that the participants would succeed, we were determined to show the true outcomes, whatever they happened to be. We wanted to tell the real stories.”
Original and Madeja have a lot of experience in telling real stories. Madeja has directed multiple one- and two-hour specials for The History Channel, as well as numerous reality-based television commercials, including an earlier campaign for RIESTER and Arizona Smokers’ Helpline. For this project, Madeja says, he felt a special responsibility to tell the stories faithfully and honestly. “We were let into the lives of real people,” he explained. “They opened the door to everything that they did, all the time, for 30 days.”
Prior to the shoot, Madeja conducted lengthy interviews with the subjects and their family members to familiarize himself with their backgrounds and personalities. He then established a routine for the 30 days of production that included regular trips to the subjects’ homes in order to record them as they went about their daily lives. Additionally, Madeja conducted weekly interviews with the subjects via Skype, and provided each participant with a digital camera which they used to record daily journals. All of these elements were used to complete the final vision of the project.
That structure was important to developing cohesive narratives. “It gave us pieces to build stories,” Madeja explained. “The next time we returned with the crew we had relevant things to film. That made it very powerful. We weren’t ‘creating’ stories; we were tapping into what was going on and bringing the reality of those stories to life.”
The realism of stories makes them impactful to viewers. “These stories can make it easier for people who are trying to quit, because they can see other people who’ve been through it,” Madeja said. “They may have less trepidation toward starting the process.”
Original teamed with Copper Post, a Phoenix-based post facility for editorial and finishing. Owner and editor Rob Beadle and his team combed through hours of source material originating from a variety of camera formats to construct a series of webisodes and commercials that could both stand on their own and tell a combined story. “Rob and his crew did an outstanding job of storytelling, helping to capture the vision of Geoffrey and the RIESTER team,” Original executive producer Joe Piccirillo observed. “The pieces are artfully crafted, but feel raw, fluid and real.”
The key to the success of the campaign, according to RIESTER’s Robert Farthing was the rapport that developed between Madeja and his subjects. “Geoffrey is just awesome with people,” Farthing said. ‘When you are exploring people’s vulnerabilities, trust is key, and he was so good at developing trust.”