The scene opens on a family at dinner. Each member is lost in his or her own world – listening to music, reading a magazine or staring off into space. In a corner of the room sits a laptop open to the image of a man typing away on his own computer. Glancing up at the camera, the man says, “If you don’t talk to your children, I will.”
The 30-second public service announcement, created by a team of Cal State Northridge faculty, students and alumni, is a stark reminder of the importance of parents taking advantage of every opportunity to talk to their children.
Commissioned by the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN), the ad is scheduled to air this month on television stations across the state of California and talks are in the works for national television distribution. ICAN includes the offices of the United States Attorney and the FBI as well as the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.
“This is probably one of the most effective pieces of media that reminds families and children of the dangers of the Internet. In particular, it serves as a reminder of their responsibility to talk to their children about what’s going on in their lives and the dangers they should be watching out for,” said cinema and television arts professor Nate Thomas, who heads the CSUN team that produced the spot. “Everyone who worked on this project, from our students and staff to our alumni, felt this was an important message that needed to get out there, and they were more than willing to do what they could to help.”
ICAN’s Cyber Crime Prevention Task Force was preparing to search for a company to make the public service announcement when its budget for the project was slashed. Looking for an agency that would take on the project pro bono, someone recommended that members of the task force contact Thomas. He and his friend, actor Tim Russ, own a production company that specializes in public service announcements.
Thomas quickly agreed to take on the task, sensing an opportunity to put the skills of several of his senior students to work on a professional project that could get national exposure. He had about three weeks to make the ad, and no budget. So, Thomas tapped into Northridge’s deep well of alumni now working in the entertainment industry for help.
Alumnus Dale Launer, writer and producer of such films as “My Cousin Vinny,” “Blind Date,” “Ruthless People” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” loaned the project state-of-the-art Red Camera equipment. Alum Scott Dropkin, a steadicam operator and owner, loaned Stedicam equipment and his services pro bono. Cinematographer Richard Ollis, a member of CSUN’s cinema and television arts faculty, volunteered his time as well.
“We didn’t have a lot of time, and no money, but that didn’t matter,” Thomas said. “Everyone was excited and willing to help when they realized the spot was about cyber crimes. Plus, everyone thought it’d be cool to work with the FBI.”
The completed public service announcement has drawn praise from the ICAN Cyber Crime Prevention Task force and earned special recognition from FBI Director Robert Mueller for members of the CSUN team that worked on it, including students Lhennards Acuna, Alex Agabon, Suzaine Aguirre, Billy Dickson Jr., Elicia Moreno, Alicia Verela, Alysia Wang and music student Maggie Bigelow as well as staff and faculty members Thomas, Ollis, Michael Bryant, Michael Hoggan, George Johnson, Joe Schwartz and William Wilson.
“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate everything professor Nate Thomas did to make the ‘Family Dinner’ public service announcement happen, especially on such short notice and on a strictly volunteer basis,” said assistant United States Attorney Lisa E. Feldman. “His CSUN team has created an important—and memorable—public service message that will undoubtedly have a significant impact in the community.
“We are proud of the public service announcement and it is our hope that it will air nationwide,” Feldman said. “We hope to work with professor Thomas again on future projects promoting the safety of children.”
Tracy Webb, managing attorney and director of child abuse policy for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, also applauded the CSUN team’s work on the ad.
“Cyber crime and child abuse continue to be an epidemic throughout Los Angeles, with the potential for electronic crimes against children growing every day,” she said. “The potential to protect another child from further abuse through this PSA produced by professor Thomas and his CSUN team cannot be underestimated. The patience and professionalism shown by the CSUN team is a testament to the caliber of the faculty and students at Cal State Northridge.”
Thomas is proud of the public service announcement he and his CSUN team created.
“People need to realize that just because there’s a lack of money does not mean something can’t be done,” he said. “In this instance, a lack of money presented an opportunity for our students to work with law enforcement professionals on a project with a message that needs to get out there, and a project that they can be proud of.”