For all the enthusiasm about the surging volume of health and wellness content, it often goes unstated that a large percentage of that content doesn’t achieve the desired impact. That’s not to say that the writers, filmmakers and marketers behind it aren’t striving to inform, entertain and/or move their audiences. It’s just that the content tends to play like the byproduct of committee-think.
There’s a tug at the heartstrings here, a brand message or disease-state nod there. No single emotional or contextual valence is permitted to supersede any other. As a result, the content ends up appealing to nobody, much less multiple audiences.
Which is why “A Good Man,” a short film produced by agency Full Contact and Element Productions for the Alzheimer’s Association, feels like something of a revelation. In plainspoken testimony and muted hues, the film tells the story of the Craddock family, which had to adjust to a sobering new reality when Jeff Craddock was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at age 51.
But the film does more than chronicle the before-and-after, because it frames Craddock’s diagnosis within the context of a marriage – which, to hear his wife Elissa Carreras tell it, was fraying amid Jeff’s increasing disengagement with her. As a result, what might have been a typical maudlin person-gets-sick-and-family-rallies narrative instead comes across as a simple love story.
That choice was intentional, said director Matt Luem, who has worked on short-form videos and commercial projects for everyone from NASA and the Department of Defense to Pepsi and Budweiser. “The moment Elissa received the diagnosis, she didn’t feel crestfallen. She felt this incredible sense of relief,” he explained. “All of the anxiety and fear was replaced with a clarity around what was happening. She told me how this sense of love and empathy came over her, and that’s when I realized, ‘Okay, that’s how you tell this story.’”
The Craddocks’ experience isn’t an uncommon one. Elissa noticed that Jeff had been paying less attention to her at home and seemed oddly uninvolved with their kids, yet only when a work colleague noted similar behavior did the couple seek out medical attention. What Elissa perceived as the slow decline of a relationship was ultimately revealed to be something quite different.
Elissa frames her frustration in the first bits of interview footage Luem uses. “I remember us having a conversation about how we are going to keep our marriage together. And I said, ‘You know what, Jeffrey? If you make me a cup of coffee in the morning – if you just make me a cup of coffee in the morning – I can do it all.” Here she, and the film, pause for effect as images of Jeff walking around the kitchen and gazing out the window fill the screen. “And he did it a couple of times, then he just stopped doing it. And I remember thinking, ‘What bigger message did I need? This is over. It’s a cup of coffee!’”
Clearly “A Good Man” is bolstered by the presence of willing and engaged subjects in Elissa and Jeff. Prior to conducting the on-camera interviews that instill the film with its emotional heft, Luem spoke several times with the couple, together and individually. He bonded with Jeff over their shared bond as filmmakers. “We spoke about cameras, genre, how stories are told… Jeff understood implicitly the cinematic nature of the way we were telling the story.”
During his early conversations with Elissa, Luem was struck by her openness. “She’s not just going through these difficult circumstances. She’s going through them with such nobility,” he said. What surprised him most about the project was her reaction to Jeff’s on-camera interviews: “I think it was difficult when Jeff was telling his story to me, because there were things he’d never told her before.”
As for what comes next, both for him as a filmmaker and for health organizations attempting to create compelling filmed content, Luem reemphasized a need to lead with story. “This isn’t a knock on anyone. But marketers, when they’re in charge, are not necessarily the most adept storytellers,” he explained. “One of the ways to do some good in the world is to get those stories out there.”