Following racist incidents in his hometown, kaboom's head of production, Steven Sills, lent his experience in production to help send an enduring and important message about the groundswell of support in building a beloved coastal community where hate has no port.
Over the last few months, he and his family had participated in solidarity marches, and they joined in to help convey the positive and hopeful message of love that they had seen time and time again celebrated on New England streets. It is a reminder that what unites us is always stronger than the things that divide. Call it, an act of love.
Hype's Jessie Nagel sat down with Steven to talk about how this project came to life.
Hype > Can you give us a little more background on what led up to the PSA?
Steven Sills > Just like the rest of the country, our small city of Newburyport, Massachusetts had a bit of a reality check on racial issues this summer. Two verbal attacks in public, one involving a teenager being called the N-word, painted a community that takes pride in their abolitionist, Civil War and Revolutionary War history, as indifferent to racism. Reverend Rebecca Bryan and activists at the First Religious Society Unitarian Church, proposed an anti-racism video - and together we conceptualised the idea of leading with great words against hate.
Working with a small group at the FRS UU, we brainstormed iconic quotes against hate and racism. We opted for a montage of different quotes as a diversity of voices seemed apropos in a statement for tolerance and diversity.
Hype > How you got involved in bringing this project to fruition, and for whom?
Steven > I took the collection of quotes and put it in script format. I proposed a catch line for the video inspired by the successful 'Hate Has No Home Here' campaign which we developed together into 'Hate Has No Port Here', which of course refers to the city’s name and being an actual port.
Hype > What was involved in the production - how did you find people to be included?
Steven > Invitations were sent out to local political, business and religious leaders in the community and to my surprise, we almost immediately got responses from many that they enthusiastically wanted to participate. The video quickly evolved into a community-wide effort and the Mayor became a supportive partner to our endeavour.
With the help of my wife, Melissa, we filmed 15 people over two weeks while she and I were also managing our kids’ remote schooling due to Covid-19. We chose to shoot the scenes outdoors for safety but also to spotlight the community and not just the individual participants. As a guy who spends all my time BEHIND the people who are behind the camera, being in the hot seat as DP-director was a wild and humbling experience. It was run-and-gun as the participants are busy people...so I had to work faster than I should have.
Hype > Were there any challenges in terms of producing this during Covid?
Steven > Yes, we had to film folks at a six-foot distance and outdoors in a seaside town which is very windy at times. Luckily, I have produced Covid shoots, so I implemented much the same protocols.
Hype > You’ve been to protest with your family, and they were involved in this project. Why is that important to you?
Steven > I am the father of three Black children. This year’s national awakening to the Black Lives Matter movement gave us an opportunity to wrestle with some of these issues which ultimately threaten their safety and their lives. Participating in marches and protests has been both a learning experience and a family bonding experience. In the end, I hope that they have found strength in seeing so many different people supporting them. They definitely have mentioned appreciating all the BLM signs throughout our city.
When the teenager, Peter, was verbally attacked downtown, it got personal for us...and very local. He was just a kid out with his friends offering donuts to folks around them as they had a few extra. Then one bigot turned this friendly gesture into an opportunity to spew hate. For me, the video remains a tribute to Peter, who makes a cameo at the end of the video, holding a donut.
Hype > How do you hope this will help your community to heal?
Steven > I know words are easy but I think saying these things in public, on screen, means something. I see this video as a promise. Now we need to fulfil that promise with action. Our mayor has established the Newburyport Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Alliance, a coalition that will focus on racial equity issues in the city. I am hopeful that this group will begin the overdue conversation on where we go from here.