Fierce Loyalty: Developing
Many of us have veterans in our lives. We celebrate them for having willingly imperiled themselves for our livelihood. Then, when they return home, we celebrate the war stories that seem so exciting from afar. But we don’t actually appreciate what it was like to experience their terrors, and even those lucky enough to come home uninjured rarely come home unscathed.
PTSD is a serious issue that affects thousands of veterans. We humans aren’t designed to witness anything as violent as war. It takes a toll. So when soldiers are reacclimatized to daily life, they are often haunted by past trauma, leading to depression, alienation from society and family, and a significant uptick in suicide.
The VA came to us to help raise awareness of this issue by creating a video that could be used as training for VA coordinators. This one was a big deal for us. It didn’t bring us out into the field, as most of our projects do, so we had to flex a different creative muscle. Using delicacy and a hybrid approach, we created a story that captured the severity of the issue without overdramatizing it.
So how did we do that?
We began by interviewing the spouse of a veteran coping with PTSD. From that dialogue, we built a script and then cast real veterans. To address such a sensitive subject, we balanced green screen with real-life interview visualization. The green screen allowed us to use cartoon to transition seamlessly from lay life to war flashbacks, as might occur to a soldier recently returned from combat. And to represent the shadow that followed him home, we rendered him as a silhouette.
Our fictional spouse remembers when she and her husband walked through the woods and guessed at the heights of the redwood trees. But after combat, on similar walks, the soldier misinterprets common events, like confusing flying birds for artillery—scary moments for both the afflicted and those that love him.
We chose to tell the story from the perspective of the spouse because most of us are bystanders—the people who love but don’t quite understand. We don’t know what it feels like to confuse birds for gunfire. But we have seen our veterans on both sides of their silhouettes, before and after their trauma, so we can spot the warning signs and help them come back before it’s too late.
Two versions of our video were used: a two-minute short and a five-minute adaptation spliced with interviews of psychologists and VA professionals. Both will help implement safety plans for vets in crisis. “We’re getting there, together,” the spouse concludes, just after the soldier joins his family in full color, freed from his silhouette. The VA is teaching professionals to help vets come back to life, and through our video, we’re making sure that we can help, too.