GENESIS: Bullying is usually painted in black and white as persecution of the good by the evil. Everynone directors Daniel Mercadante, Will Hoffman, and Julius Metoyer saw gray areas. Enlisted for an anti-bullying PSA that fell through, they continued with the project anyway—interested in observing everyday forces that shape the emotional state of people and communities. Working with students at a high school in the New York City area, they produced a powerful, energetic, complicated two-minute PSA on the topic, one that isn't preachy or sentimental but suggests that everyone—including the viewer, who is subtly implicated by the spot's structure—at times can be both the bully and the bullied. "We didn't have any political or social agenda," says Mercadante. "Our only goal was to raise public sensitivity, get people to question themselves, and make a film about something that is difficult to make a film about."
COPYWRITING: "The initial script was to listen," says Hoffman. In time, they came to understand the truth of bullying inside high schools: "At the core, everyone's been bullied, and everyone's been a bully." The spot opens with someone typing the word "LOSERS" into a Facebook comment bar. We then see vignettes of misfits at school and at home, mixed in with popular kids, as Steve Reich-style clapping music begins. "We wanted the viewer to make fun of kids and at the same time start to feel bad for them," Hoffman says. "The contradiction is key. If you can recognize a contradiction in yourself, well, then you start thinking. . . . We wanted viewers to honestly judge themselves for a moment." The spot moves to a quick montage of teens' faces, with insults yelled in voiceover, then to images of violence—then, as the music cuts out, to a quiet close-up of a girl crying. It ends on the Facebook bar again, as someone types: "Don't be a bully. LOSER."
ART DIRECTION: Visually, the spot is bright, despite the subject matter. "It's too easy to make a gray film about a gray topic," says Mercadante. "The world is inherently filled with color, so, visually, what you see is what you get. The darkness comes in content." The directors shot on a tripod for two weeks with all natural lighting and edited for another week.
TALENT: The directors found a school that was willing to let them wander the halls and talk to the kids. They interviewed almost everyone they shot, and tried to get as many ethnicities represented as possible. The girl at the end spontaneously began crying when asked about being bullied. "We normally interview people with just a simple microphone and a recorder, never really on camera, but we always have one standing by," says Metoyer. "Since it happened genuinely, it was justified. It stuck with us for the rest of the shoot and just felt right to place it at the end. We never had the intention of having 'a crying scene.' "
SOUND: They tried an ambient/atmospheric drone-type soundtrack, but it felt too melodramatic. Then they added an electric guitar on loose time signature, but it still felt lacking. "It needed an energy, it needed a youthfulness," Hoffman says. The idea of clapping music struck them. The resulting track, composed by Keith Kenniff, "really tied the whole thing together," says Hoffman.
MEDIA: The spot is on Vimeo and YouTube. There are no plans to partner with anyone to take it further. Says Mercadante: "The beautiful thing about the current state of filmmaking is that you can put a piece of work on the Web and it impresses upon the public as it may. It speaks for itself; it breathes its own air."
Directors: Everynone, Epoch Films
Music: Keith Kenniff, unseen-music.com
Producers: Jon Messner, Alexandra Brown, Brielle Murray