Friday, October 09, 2009

Mister Rogers, Susan Linn & Me


As I say in "Mister Rogers & Me" voice over, "We learned pretty quickly that there are no coincidences in Mister Rogers' neighborhood."

A few weeks ago, Slamdance co-founder Paul Rachman gave Chris and I some great feedback on our film, not the least of which being that it needed more facts about the effect of media on children.

In my research, I discovered many valuable facts and figures at the Campaign For A Commercial Free Childhood website. CCFC is a national, non-profit organization devoted to limiting the impact of commercial culture on children. So I emailed CCF's co-founder, Dr. Susan Linn.

Shortly thereafter, Save Mister Rogers' Neighborhood founder, Brian Linder, told me, "Dude, she wrote the book the impact of media on television!" Sure enough, Dr. Linn's "Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood" is full of alarming data, like that American advertisers spent $17B marketing to children last year up from $100M in 1983.

A few weeks later, when I asked Brian if he had any suggestions as to what I might ask Dr. Linn, he said, "Well, obviously ask about Audrey Duck's guest appearances on The Neighborhood." Um, obviously.

Ends up that Dr. Linn is a ventriloquist who, along with her puppet, Audrey Duck, appeared on "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" numerous times, then went on to get her PhD in psychology and co-found CCFC. And so, in seeking fact to inform our very personal, emotionally-grounded film with hard facts, we found the perfect person: an expert who knew and worked with Mister Rogers, and carries his legacy with her every day!

Chris and I spent a few hours with Dr. Linn at her office in the Judge Baker Children's Center in Brookline Thursday. Not surprisingly, Dr. Linn is a thoughtful, warm, remarkably intelligent and hugely-engaged person. We talked about how she became involved with The Neighborhood, her time in there, what she learned from Mister Rogers, the gravity of the situation, and the stakes of inaction.

We'd initially planned to place Dr. Linn's expertise interstitially throughout the film. But it was apparent to Chris and me as we post-mortemed the shoot that her deep connection to Mister Rogers and passionate, informed engagement with the issue warrant a full, stand-alone segment.

I haven't transcribed the interview yet (we only got home eighteen hours ago, eight of which I was sleeping, and eight of which I've been working), but my favorite part -- and what is sure to make the final edit for the film -- is her simple explanation that with the proliferation of screens and targeting of children, we are raising a generation of children overweight, overly-sexualized, and overly-violent consumers incapable of relishing the silence required to create art, music or poetry.

And then what?

2 comments:

mlp said...

Through a series of clicks on YouTube, I came across your "Mister Rogers & Me" trailer.

It looks fantastic and I wish you luck with the film.

Fred Rogers was an icon of American television and American childhood. I am extremely envious that you got to actually meet him. He was an incredible man.

Again, good luck!

greg said...

Ben,
This is not a coincidence. The fact probably is that Fred Rogers' (deathless) prayers are still being answered: he loved children so much and wanted to see them protected & cared for. Dr. Linn will be his "voice". Thanks (again), Ben, for your work on this film!