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Three Bruton High School students recently took the top spot in a Hampton Roads video contest for a grand prize of $3,500.
Damaris Forkey, Macy Marotta and Olivia Garcia, all sophomores, decided to enter the “No 2 Distracted Driving” video contest after their gym and health teacher, Ruth Rathbun, offered the class the option to make a video in lieu of completing a more traditional project.
Rathbun was one of many gym and health teachers at Bruton and other schools in the Hampton Roads area to encourage students to look into the contest, which is sponsored by Hall Automotive, Cox Communications, Geico and Drive Smart Virginia.
The contest began three years ago as a way to make teenagers aware of some alarming statistics regarding driving distracted, which includes eating, putting on make-up, fiddling with music and texting while driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 71 percent of teenagers say they have written and sent text messages while driving. Even more – 78 percent – report having read text messages while driving.
A study at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that a quarter of teen drivers respond to text messages every time they are behind the wheel.
Statistics like these inspired the “No 2 Distracted Driving” campaign, which challenges Hampton Roads area high school students to create a brief video showing the dangers of driving distracted.
Forkey, Marotta and Garcia worked together to come up with a concept for the video during health class, and it was during those brainstorming sessions they realized they wanted to do something a little different with their entry.
While most of their classmates made videos with a somber tone to match the serious message of the campaign, Forkey, who took the lead on writing a script, decided she wanted to make their video more comedic while still recognizing the gravity of the subject matter.
“I felt like the other videos were sad and pulling at the heartstrings,” Forkey said. “We wanted to make it comedic, and I guess the judges wanted something not so serious.”
Marotta and Garcia supported this approach because they felt like it would make their video stand out more and possibly give them a better chance of spreading their message.
“If I see a funny video online, I send it to people,” Marotta said. “ I don’t send depressing videos.”
With an unconventional approach in mind, the girls met up on a Saturday in a quiet residential area to film. Completing the project took most of the day, between tweaking the script and spontaneously adding new material.
“We improvised a lot,” Garcia said. “The finished video is really different from the original script.”
“There were also a ton of bloopers,” Forkey added, recalling how hard it was to keep a straight face in some of the scenes.
The finished product came in at just over three minutes. Two girls, Marotta and Garcia, are seen in the driver and passenger seats of a car, chatting en route to a fall festival. The driver adjusts the music, applies make-up and checks her phone, demonstrating the varied forms distracted driving can take.
“We wanted to put in things that would happen to people,” Marotta said. “Real situations. We wanted it to be relatable.”
Things take a turn when the driver goes to show the passenger a video on her phone and fails to see a woman with a dog about to cross the street in front of them.
“We included the dog because it’s more of an emotional trigger,” Forkey said.
The car strikes the woman while the driver is distracted, injuring both the passenger and the dog in the process.
After spending the afternoon filming, Forkey took the footage home and used video-editing software to add black-and-white, slow motion and dramatic music effects.
The girls turned in the finished product to their teacher for a project grade in their health class, but they still were not sure they wanted to submit it for the contest.
“I wasn’t going to post it,” Forkey said. “I had to edit it a lot more, but my mom told me I should just do it.”
In order to qualify for the contest, the video had to be cut down significantly and the copyrighted music and prominently featured brand names had to be removed. Forkey made the changes and submitted the video just ahead of the deadline, not expecting much to come of it.
The contest garnered hundreds of submissions, from which a panel of judges selected their four favorite entries for the public to vote on. The girls were shocked and excited when they found out they had made the cut, and they did their best to spread the message about the voting through social media and word of mouth.
Two other submissions from students at Bruton High School – Phil Archer and Jill Seward – also made the top four, and Bruton had the most overall submissions of any school in the contest area, due largely to promotion of the contest in the school’s health and gym classes.
On Dec. 2, Forkey received the call that she and her friends had won to contest, garnering 57 percent of the votes cast. The group would receive $3,500 to split among themselves, and an additional $3,500 would be awarded to the school.
All three students agreed their unusual approach to the subject matter contributed significantly to their success. They also attributed the win to the way they were able to combine their different strengths and perspectives by working as a group, in contrast to the many entries submitted by individual students.
“It was more fun to do it as a group, and we made a better video because of that,” Garcia said.
Despite the lighthearted tone, all three girls also recognize the message of the contest is anything but.
“Even though it’s comedic, I hope others take the message seriously,” Marotta said.
The message came at an ideal time for the girls, two of whom currently have their learner’s driving permits.
“I’m learning to drive now, and I’m always making sure I’m looking at the road,” Garcia said.
“I’m definitely more conscious of what the driver is doing [after making this video],” said Marotta, who hopes to get her learner’s permit soon. “I want to make sure they are safe.”
Click here to view the top four videos and read more about the No 2 Distracted Driving campaign.