Imagine Your Life Covered in Oil

The story behind NWF's new oil spill PSA

07-16-2010 // Aislinn Maestas

In the months that have passed since the oil spill disaster began, National Wildlife Federation supporters (big and small) have stepped up in unique and inspiring ways to help wildlife hurt by the spill. Nearly every day we receive news of people volunteering their time and money to help support National Wildlife Federation's immediate response and longer term on-the-ground work to safeguard wildlife affected by this tragedy.

One of the most striking examples of public support came to us via YouTube. Without any prompting on our end, Writer/Producer/Director Brian Singer created this PSA for National Wildlife Federation. After the video, Singer shares the story behind the PSA.

Q: What inspired you to create a PSA about the oil spill disaster?

A: I have been keeping an eye on the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico since the explosion happened back in April. I grew up in the state of Florida, and spent a lot of time on the Gulf Coast beaches. Over time, it became clear that the longer it was taking to stop the leak, the more devastating it would be to the amazing beaches and the wildlife that live in and around the Gulf. Being a former TV news editor and photographer, I was keeping up to date through stories being done by former colleagues covering the story on the Florida Panhandle. Seeing the sludge-covered beaches was enough to make anyone sick, but it wasn't until I was browsing through some Associated Press photos taken by Charlie Riedel that I knew I had to help out in some way. There was one particular shot of a bird so smothered in oil, it is hardly recognizable. That was the picture that triggered the idea for the PSA.

Q: How did you come up with the Crude Awakening concept?

A: That same night that I saw the AP photos, the idea came as I was trying to get sleep. I'm not sure if I was completely asleep or not when I thought of it, but I got up and wrote the idea down. The concept was to show a human put in the same position that the wildlife are in, responding the same way with confusion and helplessness. The name Crude Awakening actually came after the PSA was finished. I found out later that it wasn't the most original title, but it certainly fits well with the victim waking up to find her perfect world progressively being destroyed by crude oil.

Q: How long did it take you to produce the video, start to finish?

A: The next morning I started the process, putting out a casting notice to find the right victim. Five days later I held the casting session and found Sara Collins who brought the subtleties, simplicity and vulnerability needed to pull it off. Three days later we shot the scenes at the house. The following day I edited the PSA, secured the rights to use the AP photos and then put it up on YouTube to see what kind of response we would get before we presented it to NWF. So it was about nine days from concept to completion, but the best part was yet to come as it started to get a lot of attention. I had planned to leave it up for a week to get friends and colleagues to respond, but it quickly spread and found it's way onto a few eco-blogs. The senior editor of happens to be a Facebook friend of our victim Sara Collins. He wrote a blog about the spot and that is how NWF found out about it. They quickly tracked me down with the great news that they wanted to use it to spread awareness and to raise funds to help the animals.

Q: What message do you hope to convey to people who see the PSA?

A: The animals have no idea what's happening to them. One day everything is normal, the next they can't swim, fly, eat or even breathe. They lie there helpless and are doomed unless someone or something comes to their rescue. I felt that if a human being was shown having their comforts and conveniences taken away by the sludge, but responding similar to the way the animals are, people would understand a little more of what the wildlife are going through and the magnitude of the affects of the spill.

Q: What advice would you give to other artists/creative types who want to do something to help during this crisis?

A: I would just say share your ideas and works with as many people as possible. The idea sitting in your head isn't going to help anyone or anything. The internet is such a valuable tool and it often helps get important messages out. Not every idea or artistic project is going to catch on, but there will be someone out there that will see it. And if you can reach one more person and help them understand what's really happening, you've made a major contribution.

Q: Why did you choose to do a PSA for NWF?

A: It was pretty clear to me after reading several stories on the internet and seeing how involved NWF is dealing with the crisis that I would make it an NWF PSA. What I wasn't sure about was whether they would want to show something that was as graphic as it is. But this clearly is not a situation that should be sugar-coated. These animals are dying everyday. They can't move and they can't eat. Even if they could eat, their food and water are poisoned. There are so many people that don't understand, making statements on the internet like "oh, nature heals itself," and "the environment is resilient." This was not a naturally occurring disaster and the affects are not natural. We need to do what we can to help the animals and restore the environment. I feel that NWF endorsing this PSA really shows that there is a desperate need for people to understand the intensity of the crisis and how the animals and environment need their help.

PSA Still Shot
Q: Who helped you pull this off?

A: I secured a small crew of friends and collaborators who loved the idea and wanted to help. Scott Kradolfer assistant-directed and kept me on time so that we could get it all done in one afternoon. He also does the voiceover for the spot. Brian Lipscombe was in charge of effects and artistic design and had the great job of progressively covering Sara with more and more sticky sludge. Amy Soule provided location support and also kept everyone fed and comfortable. An old friend and colleague, Glenn Shimada donated some extra gear to help me get some of the shots I needed. And that's it for the production side. As far as getting it noticed, there are too many people to list. Hundreds of Facebook friends and YouTube viewers spread it around so that it has now been seen by tens of thousands.

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