Free-lance graphics designer and video producer Courtland Llauger's latest project is a television commercial, but he isn't trying to sell anything.
"I want to frighten the audience," said the Laguna Beach resident of the 30-second public service spot that is part of an anti-cocaine campaign.
In the commercial, a young man's face is shown in profile as his disembodied voice speaks: "Hey, it wasn't going to hurt me," it begins. "A few lines, a little crack, some base. Everything in moderation."
But then the young man recites the costs of his addiction: loss of a job, a broken marriage, financial ruin. As the actor turns, a sinister, skull-like visage is suddenly revealed, and a deep-voiced narrator intones: "Cocaine kills. It strips life down to the bone. Get help."
Llauger, interviewed in his Laguna Beach apartment, said that a preview audience was visibly shaken by the message and the accompanying image. "Their reaction was exactly what I was looking for," he said. "It's really a heavy commercial."
A native of New York who became an ad agency photographer at age 17, Llauger came to California two years ago as a production designer on a feature film and decided to settle in Laguna Beach. Among other free-lance assignments, Llauger works as producer and creative director for motivational speaker Jim Rohn.
He hopes someday to be a feature film producer, and he admitted that the exposure from a national public service campaign on TV could boost his career ambitions. But he insisted that is not why he became involved in the project: "My purpose is to bring up the issue, to raise awareness of the problem," he said.
A friend and former business associate, Connecticut film maker Leigh Simons, came up with the idea for the campaign.
Speaking by phone from his home in Stamford, Simons said that he wanted to take advantage of his local resources (Stamford is in Fairfield County, where a number of major corporations are based) and create a multimedia anti-drug campaign that could be adapted for use by any drug treatment facility. He chose Liberation Programs Inc., a Stamford drug treatment program, as a prototype.
Llauger once ran an advertising agency in Stamford and was visiting that city when Simons approached him with his idea for the campaign. "When I explained what I wanted to do, he immediately became available to me," Simons said.
The project intrigued him, Llauger said, because his older brother had problems several years ago with drug addiction. While Llauger admitted that he has not studied the drug problem formally, he said he was "a student of the obvious."
Llauger became executive producer for what is called the "Cocaine Kills" commercial, and Simons wrote and produced the spot. Llauger brought in Bob Cato, a former vice president with CBS-Columbia Records, to direct the commercial and design the campaign poster. With financial support from several corporations, the commercial was filmed in Connecticut last October. "All the talent was donated," Llauger said.
The spot is already running on several stations in Connecticut, and Simons said he hopes to have it air in New York after the first of the year.
Llauger is negotiating to have it air on the West Coast. (An accompanying radio message has already run on some local stations, including Saddleback College's KSBR-FM in Mission Viejo.) The TV and radio spots are structured so that the name and phone number of a drug clinic or anti-drug organization can be inserted at the end.
Llauger said that he believes the public service message is effective because it attacks what he called the " 'not me' syndrome"--a user's belief that he is in control of his drug habit. While drugs have been in the news a great deal lately, Llauger sees a lack of awareness of the real dangers of drug abuse.
He plans to expand his anti-drug campaigning with a commercial video, which he is writing and hopes to film in late January or early February. In the meantime, he continues to seek national exposure for the "Cocaine Kills" campaign.
"If I show this commercial to 100 people and help even one of them," Llauger said, "then I'm doing my job."
The "Cocaine Kills" package, including video, radio spot and poster, is available free of charge to nonprofit community groups and radio and television stations. For information, call (714) 494-0328.