Health Commission Rolls Out First-Ever Web Series About Dating Violence
For director Noah Christofer, the public service announcements from the late 1980s and early 1990s that tried to teach kids in high school about the trials and tribulations of young adulthood just weren’t working anymore.
To do something about their lack of educational value, he teamed up with the Boston Public Health Commission and created an eight-part series focused on actual issues, based on problems real students are having, to help deliver a modern-day message about life inside the halls of the city’s educational institutes.
On February 21, the BPHC will premier its first-ever web series, aptly named “The Halls,” which puts a lens on teen dating violence and relationships through the lives of three young men in Boston, and their struggles to navigate trauma, masculinity, and their own identities.
“I’m not aware of another health department in the country that’s done anything similar, so we see this as a very innovative approach to talking with youth and youth providers about healthy relationships in a non-traditional way,” said BPHC spokesman Nick Martin, who said the agency worked with Beyond Measure Productions to make the series.
Funding for the project came in the form of two grants given to the BPHC by the Department of Justice.
It’s what the creators call “education meets entertainment,” and aims to buck the trend of out-of-touch brochures and guides that might deter Boston’s young residents from picking up information on certain taboo subjects.
“One of the important parts for us was getting the voice of the teens, so how they dress, and how they talk,” said Christofer.
To do that, he enlisted the help of actual Boston students that are part of the BPHC’s Start Strong initiative. Start Strong is a program of the Division of Violence Prevention aimed at working with young people to fight relationship abuse.
“We needed them to help sculpt that and add the color to the film. If not, who knows who this would have targeted. We really wanted it to relate to the youth that we were trying to target,” said Christofer. “The content came from the commission, but we sat down with the youth and created the stories. We wanted to target those specific areas. We just were adding the color in order to create the story.”
The creators also attended focus groups and talked to young men in high school and middle school about common problems, rather than conjuring up ideas based on media reports, or what adults think teens struggle with. Much of the content of the series was derived from the themes of those conversations.
Using the same fictional characters, and one long story line, the eight-part web series details a school wide problem over the course of a couple of days, with subplots tucked away throughout the episodes.
“There are three main stories, and then we have the characters around them that either enhance that issue, or try to allow the main character to look at themselves and how they identify with what’s going on in their life,” said Christofer. “One of our biggest challenges was lets not makes this a PSA. We wanted to get the message out there, and actually provide drama and entertainment and relate-ability with the characters. With that, if [students] can relate to a character, and see how they evolve and adapt to whatever issue it is, it will help.”
The BPHC will host a special screening and meet and greet with the stars and directors of “The Halls” at Emerson College on Friday, February 21, to a crowd of about 200 Boston teens, the series’ main target.
From there, officials will roll out two episodes per week, for four weeks, starting on February 25. New episodes will be available online at thehallsboston.com every Tuesday and Thursday. A trailer for the series is already available.
“Hopefully [the series] makes [the topics] something that’s approachable. I remember being in health education and sex education, and you could picture the typical after school special, and that’s exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do,” said Martin. “We wanted to make a series people were interested in watching, and also [form] a discussion to talk about actual problems.”
Previews of the series will be running at two local AMC movie theaters, prior to previews, to help spread the word. If the series proves to be a success, the BPHC will think about how it fits into the Boston school system’s current health curriculum, and whether or not they could be viewed during school hours for educational purposes. “We are hoping to get a national reach as well, since it’s online,” said Nicole Daley, program director for the Start Strong initiative. “Right now our initial strategy is to gain traction…we have been contacted by different schools to come air them.”
In the meantime, there are discussion guides and resources available to both educators and the core demographic, students, which can be easily accessed on the “The Halls” website.