people working in a cozy coffee shop

Recently, Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) International teamed up with Diamond View to create a social experiment intended to raise awareness of how prevalent PTSD is in America. In the U.S. alone, there are an estimated 24 million people living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). ART International’s goal is to not only bring awareness to this issue but to also provide their new evidence-based treatment to individuals coping with trauma. Read on to find out how this social experiment came about and the impact it has had on shedding light on the subject of PTSD.

PRE-PRO

When ART International first came to Diamond View, they were a relatively new organization looking to create awareness around the services and treatment they provide. Due to the number of organizations with similar missions, ART knew they needed a solution that was not only compelling, but that made them stand apart. They wanted something people hadn’t seen before and that truly spoke to their higher purpose.

With this in mind, our team tackled the project head-on. We researched, brainstormed, and storyboarded, trying to envision the project from a variety of angles. Because the topic of PTSD is a very sensitive one, we knew we needed to find the right concept. We wanted to hook viewers to watch and really care, but that wasn’t enough. We wanted the audience to understand what it feels like to have PTSD, if only for a moment; to really question in their mind, “What would I do in that situation if I felt this way?” At its core, we knew the concept had to portray PTSD in a way that wasn’t dismissive.

Eventually, we came up with the idea of a “social experiment” that would allow real people to experience the struggle of PTSD and which would evoke empathy on a deeply personal level. PTSD is a complicated condition, and we wanted to ensure that this came across without detracting from the lived experience. By stripping away the typical production setup and incorporating the raw reactions and interactions of real people, our social experiment was able to do just that.

Our goal was to use the notion of a social experiment to first hook viewers through the feeling of being in on a joke and then flip it into a life lesson that questioned those initial instincts. In this manner, we hoped the video would be more impactful as the audience learned more about this serious issue and gained a more personal experience of its effects.

Check out the behind-the-scenes footage to see how the Pre-Production flowed into the final production.

PRODUCTION

To start, we needed a location. Diamond View partnered with the Blind Tiger Cafe, located at 4304 N Florida Ave. in Tampa, as the featured venue for this experiment.

Before setting our social experiment in motion, we outfitted the Blind Tiger Cafe with 7 hidden cameras and 6 audio table mics. Diamond View hired 4 off-duty police officers to secure the location and to be present in case there were any issues. Our production crew set up our command station in the back to monitor everything taking place.

Our crew briefed the actors playing the seated coffee shop “customers” on their roles before running them through rehearsals. For the social experiment to work, the actors had to be accustomed to the loud sounds and remain unphased. Next, Brian, the Green Beret Army veteran playing the barista, received a crash course in coffee making and was also told when the sound effects would occur. The sounds were loud—they don’t come across as loudly on the video, but on set, it would practically make you jump out of your skin. After an hour of rehearsals, the group was ready to try the experiment on the first customer.

Throughout the filming, our creative director was hard at work mentally editing and splicing together components. Initially, we had a host of sound effects, including a plane flying overhead and glass breaking. However, after testing the plane and glass on the first two participants, we found them to be less effective than other noises and removed them from the experiment.

Ultimately, it was difficult to cut footage because we captured so many insightful moments. However, we understood the importance of pacing to ensure that the social experiment didn’t weigh on the audience by dragging on too long, but carried them with us as we first laughed together, then learned.

During the editing process, we added music to help evoke particular emotions and to set the pace for the video. The video begins with a song that’s is almost a pizzicato plucked violin or bass. You’d typically hear music like this in a comedy where a klutzy spy is scouring for clues. It creates a subconscious association to playfulness with just a touch of mystery and intrigue. Once the experiment begins, the music cuts out so we can tune in to the participants.

As the experiment heads towards the first turn, we overlaid a sentimental indie guitar to ease the audience into the feeling of revelation without creating a stark “gotcha” moment. When combined with the applause and laughter, there’s a sense of comfort and growth. When this sound is stripped away, however, we can feel the emotion coming from the participants’ answers.

Our goal was to share a deeply affecting message about mental health and the importance of awareness. We’re grateful that ART came to us with this project and thankful to all the participants who allowed themselves to be vulnerable and real.

See the case study below to learn more about how the social experiment all came together from the client perspective.

We’re honored that this video received an Emmy award. But more importantly, we’re glad that it has served its mission to highlight the reality of PTSD. Audiences were able to connect with how it feels to have PTSD for a day and why this is such an important issue that we need to address as a society.