Director Michael Rohrbaugh made quite an impact earlier this year with his PSA "Is This the New School Uniform?" made in conjuction with Moms Demand Action. The video features a normal suburban mom getting her son ready for school and, before sending him out the door, strapping him into a bulletproof vest with a target on the front:
With the powerful video still making the rounds and over 90,000 YouTube views and counting, Rohrbaugh, currently in Kenya doing volunteer work, has launched a new Indiegogo campaign to finance his next PSA, which will call attention to the draconian laws and punishments for LGBT folks in Russia in advance of the Olympics in Sochi.
I speak with Rohrbaugh below.
You made quite an impact with "New School Uniform." How did the success of that campaign influence what you were going to do next?
With "New School Uniform," my team was honored to be a part of our nation's urgent debate around gun reform. Once that project wrapped, we immediately started brainstorming what important issue we wanted to tackle next. With the Olympics coming up, protesting Russia's "gay propaganda" law, and LGBT oppression worldwide, seemed like the obvious next choice. The Sochi Games provides us an amazing opportunity to put global gay rights on the map. All we need do is seize the moment.
Tell me a bit about the creative look of this campaign.
With this campaign, we are opting for a powerful, hyperstylized "feel" that includes poppy sound design, a high-contrast palette, and various motion effects. The idea is to create a piece that, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, might initially be mistaken for a Nike commercial or an actual promotion for the Olympics. The fact is, many nations that participate in both the Summer and Winter Games do so while continuing to wage war against their LGBT citizens. By adopting the familiar aesthetic of a major sports brand like Nike, we hope to subtly pose the question: Has LGBT violence and discrimination, even in an Olympic context, simply become business as usual?
How much of an impact do you want this to make? Do you want to actually determine people's actions or just make them think?
Our primary goal is simple: to create a powerful, professionally produced viral PSA protesting Russia's ban on "gay propaganda," and LGBT oppression worldwide. Through this piece, we hope to help raise awareness for the struggles faced by many of those LGBT citizens living in 76 nations around the world where being gay is considered a crime, in some cases punishable by death. With awareness follows action. As I said, it starts with a video, or what I like to call a "culture jam." Where it goes from there is up to all of us.
You're in Kenya right now. What is it you're doing there?
I'm here in Kenya wrapping up my work with Y-Fi Africa, an amazing organization that seeks to inspire the next generation of African filmmakers. Y-Fi brought me here in late November to lead a filmmaking workshop with 14 Kenyan high school students. As you might guess, the experience has been incredible. However, it's a bit unnerving to launch a fundraising campaign for FGP while residing in a country where simply being gay is a crime punishable by 14 to 20 years in prison. While in Kenya I've had to go back into the closet, which is something I haven't had to do for years, and something I do not enjoy. That said, I hope this small reminder of life underground helps motivate me even more to speak out for my brothers and sisters facing violence and discrimination abroad.
What can we expect next?
Next up, I hope to tackle an electro-dance pop video with a strong social justice bent. It's a concept I've been playing with for a while that explores America's love/hate relationship with the automobile. Again, this is a topic I find very pressing. On the one hand, the automobile is an object we rely upon, covet, and even fetishize, yet it is an object that, via carbon emissions and global warming, also greatly contributes to our own demise. Many have likened the world's dependence on cheap gas to a deadly addiction, and that's the theme I hope to explore.