Making a Reel Difference

This is a life & death situation. Everybody knows drinking underage is both illegal and irresponsible – at least they should know that.

Students at Louisville-area middle and high schools are making certain their peers hear the alarm.

They’ve submitted 149 videos in this year’s Reel Action Video Contest. The winner will get airplay as a commercial on MTV, and many other channels.

8.5x11_poster[1]The 30-second commercials are designed to discourage underage drinking.

Now in its sixth year, the contest is coordinated by Seven Counties Services and the Louisville Metro Police Department. Funding comes from a grant from the Louisville Metro Alliance for Youth, as well as donations from the public.

The contest is open to students who are 12-17 years old, in Jefferson, Oldham, Bullitt, Shelby, Spencer, Henry and Trimble counties.

All entries for this year have been submitted, and the videos will go online Feb. 21-26 at, where members of the public can vote. The video with the most votes will receive the “Viewers’ Choice” award. Last year’s entries received a total of 36,100 votes, with 10,190 of them going to the winner.

A panel of judges will select winners in seven other categories, and the winners will be invited to an awards ceremony March 8 at Baxter Avenue Filmworks.

Organizers are seeking donations of money, gift cards or other items to distribute as door prizes at the ceremony.

The big night

“The ceremony is set up kind of like the Oscars,” said Craig Phillips, a prevention specialist with Seven Counties Services.

The students who get an invitation to the ceremony are allowed to bring only one guest, because the theater will be packed.

At the ceremony, their videos will be shown on the movie screen. And they’ll find out whether they won third, second or first place.

Second place winners will receive a $50 gift card, and first place winners a $100 gift card. Every winner will get a trophy.

“Most of them come dressed up,” Phillips said. “It’s a big deal for them.”

In addition to the “Viewer’s Choice,” the judged categories are: “Policy and Advocacy,” “Art Design,” “Script,” “Sound,” “Most Original,” “Editing” and “Cinematography.”

The overall winner will get a $250 gift card for “Best Picture.”

A job well done

The ceremony has been growing into a bigger event each year. This year, students submitted more than twice the number of videos they turned in last year.

“Some of the videos that these kids are doing are pretty professional,” Phillips said. “It’s just like, unreal, the creativity these kids have.”

Metro Police Sgt. Ruby Ellis agrees.

“These kids are just extremely intelligent,” she said. “What they can do at the high school and middle school age blows my mind.”

“It definitely gives them a big pat on the back when they can sit in that theater,” she said. “They get to reap the benefits of all their hard work, on the big screen.”

Exciting rewards

One reason for the contest’s growth is that some teachers have started making it an assignment. Another reason is the quality and abundance of door prizes at the awards ceremony. The prizes are a big incentive for students to try to make a winning video.

“It gets them excited, gets them involved,” Phillips said.

It also lets them know they’re appreciated for the work they’ve invested in a video that could save lives.

This year’s door prizes will include an iPad and passes to area movie theaters and bowling alleys.

To beef up its door prize assortment, Seven Counties will be accepting donations until March 1. “The more people that can go away with a door prize, the better,” Phillips said.

But for most students, preventing underage drinking is what motivates them most to participate.

“These kids really take pride in what they’re doing, and they really are trying to make a difference,” Phillips said.

Preventing dangerous decisions

To promote the contest, Ellison has been visiting schools throughout the area to address the students. “We want to let the kids know that drinking underage has very, very negative effects,” she said. “We want to get that seed planted early, so they continue to make the right decisions as they get older.”

While the foolishness of driving drunk might seem obvious to most adults, Ellison said some teens haven’t yet come to grips with reality.

“I think kids really do have the illusion in their mind that they are invincible – nothing can stop them, they can do anything,” she said.

Educating kids is a major component of Ellison’s job as a member of LMPD’s Traffic Unit. “We are all about education, enforcement and engineering,” she said. “We want the roadways to be safe for everybody.”

Ellison encourages everyone to do their part to warn people about the serious consequences of drunk driving. “Educate, if you can,” she said.

“If you see a kid who you think is underage, and they’re out drinking, out in the roadway, anything like that, call the police. Let us come check it out. Better to be safe than sorry.”

Results down the road

Ellison said the ultimate measure of the contest’s success will lie in the hard data – the number of fatal or injury accidents involving underage drinkers, and the number of citations police issue for underage drinking.

“When those go down, that is success,” she said. “We could do videos all day long, we could have 300 videos submitted, and if our numbers are still the same, or they go up, then the job wasn’t done.”

An uncertain future

Putting on the contest takes quite a chunk of change. “There is quite a bit of time involved,” Phillips said. Among Seven Counties’ costs are website development and facility rental for the ceremony.

But the grant from the Alliance for Youth will run out after next year’s contest. Seven Counties Services is searching for another grant to continue the contest in 2017 and beyond. VT

For more information, visit, call Phillips at 502.439.9325 or email him at Donations may be brought to Seven Counties Services, 101 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd. Please mark the donation for Reel Action and leave your contact information so Seven Counties can send you a receipt for your tax-deductible donation.