Industry Blog

Storytelling for Change: Recovering Together with Google

23 Million Americans are living in recovery today – yet many people think: “Drug addiction is a choice, chosen by bad people who never recover.” CreatorUp worked with Google to produce stories that combat that false stereotype, and reframes the conversation around how we can help our friends and family struggling with addiction: “It is a disease, that we all need to care about.”

We wanted to combat the false stereotypical narrative of the “choice of addiction” by creating a video that told another story, countering the stigma associated with addiction. This was the challenge that Aura Navarro-Abreu at Google wanted to tackle with us. Our lead producer Dave O’Brien shared his feelings about our video that that he helped bring to life with three heroes with very different stories, revealing the people behind their stories.

“Telling stories is what we love to do, and when you get the opportunity to shed light on an experience so many people don’t understand…to help change the narrative around arguably the greatest epidemic of our generation …it’s a pretty rewarding experience. We’re grateful to all of the people who shared their stories with us in the process.”
How could we use a video and Google’s powerful platform to educate by raising awareness, to change sentiments towards those in addiction recovery from shame to empathy? To make people the heroes of their own story, rather than the villains? What if after watching this video, society were able to view those who are recovering from drug addiction the same way that we view those recovering from cancer: as heroes?

We assembled a talented documentary crew from our network, up for the impossible job of changing people’s minds about addiction with a camera: producer and director Dave O’Brien, associate producer Brianna McFadden, cameras Chris Lanier and Alex Tafreshi, and editor Chris Cloyd. Alex shared some of his thoughts with me about working on the project and how it affected him, and how he hoped it would be received by viewers:

“If you’ve ever known someone with an addiction, often times the hardest part is them realizing for themselves it’s a problem. As friends and family, we can do our best to hope for change and offer our guidance and support, but for long-lasting change, it has to come from them. Creating a piece that can show what overcoming addiction can mean is always a challenge, but to capture meaningful stories and small moments of success could be all it takes to give someone the hope that they too can find something bigger in themselves. As a filmmaker and a storyteller, the most important thing I can offer is a lens to the world people may never see for themselves, and through that I hope to broaden their perspectives and allow them to feel more well rounded as individuals and more united in our efforts to thrive.”

We wanted to tell the story of people who were living lives in recovery, and that addiction was a disease they overcame, not a poor choice that they made and could never escape. And these people were not bad other people – they are good people: our friends, colleagues, neighbors, and family members. Here, at Google’s initiative Recover Together you can see the incredible stories of recovery of Reno, Maura, and Foster that they so bravely shared in our series to empower us to help anyone we know struggling to recover from addiction.

This is not an easy subject for anyone who has recovered from addiction to talk about, let alone to talk about on camera. Yet everyone who told us their story was brave enough to share it with the world.

We used a structural storytelling technique to reveal their struggle overcoming addiction later on in the video, rather than right at the beginning, so audiences could get to know them as people before they perceived them as “addicts” in recovery. And hopefully this technique helped audiences to create a positive perception of those who have overcome addiction.

I went behind the scenes with the filmmaking team as they prepared to capture a performance at a small club in Los Angeles. As one of our subjects, MJ Brown aka Miss Barbie-Q, was putting on their makeup and getting ready for their show, I overheard the group of fellow singers talking about the first time they went on stage, and the fear and anxiety they felt that made them want to quit. Miss Barbie-Q laughed and chimed in “I don’t get scared anymore – there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
And when Miss BBQ took the stage – their fans sang along with them, and they were loving every moment of attention. They were brave, proud, and not ashamed. The people in this video are brave, overcoming their disease. They sing. The climb. They ride. They face themselves, and share their stories out loud so that others may see them for who they are: beautiful and amazing.

Google has done tremendous work to spread awareness about positive stories of overcoming addiction– using its powerful platform and the medium of video storytelling to change the narrative and to educate the world. Not to mention, giving viewers the opportunity not just to gain new awareness, but to do something that could make an impact. CreatorUp producer, Christina Fitzpatrick worked with Google to produce the stylistically innovative “Life of a Pill” for “Take Back Day”.

Do you have an impact story you want us to help you tell in video? Let me know in the comments and I will look forward to connecting with you about how we can help you tell your stories.

Mike Tringe
Mike Tringe
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