Around the time of Thanksgiving 2013, BBDO Worldwide Chief Creative Officer David Lubars lost his mother to complications from Alzheimer's. Four years later, he's translated that pain into a powerful passion project for Cure Alzheimer's Fund, an organization dedicated to supporting research to find a cure for the disease.
"Mother and Daughter" is a new social film from his agency that captures the tremendous burden of a little girl who spends her days caring for her young mom stricken with the disease. She feeds her, soothes her when she has nightmares and makes sure she doesn't leave the house in her pajamas when it's freezing cold. All throughout, the girl maintains a brave face, but becoming the caretaker clearly takes its toll--and it's easy to tear up watching her take on a load that should never be heaped on a child.
The film hits a climax when the mother escapes into the street and her daughter saves her, just as she's about to be struck by an oncoming car. That's when the spot reveals the true story. At once, the girl becomes a grown woman, and her mother is now elderly. "You wouldn't put a daughter through this when she's young," the copy reads. "Let's make sure it doesn't happen when she's older."
"When you write a story, you'll start writing a story, you'll learn something else and that will take you on another path," Lubars says. "In advertising, that's good, but in terms of government funding, that's bad. The government will tend to say, 'Stay on the path you're on,' but Cure works with panels of top scientists and they evaluate all the good paths to try.
Lubars had already been a donor to Cure, but the organization was inspired by the work his agency had done for Sandy Hook Promise and approached him for a different form of help.
"There are organizations like the Alzheimer's Association with chapters all across the country who are doing great work with awareness and care," says Barbara Chambers, Cure's senior engagement officer, marketing and communications. "We are 10% of their size, so getting the word out about what we do is a challenge. 100% of our donations go to the research." As for approach, "with the Alzheimer's industry, if we have one, we tend to talk about disease, pathology and statistics, and sometimes we talk about emotion, but this just takes it to a whole new level."
About two-thirds of those who suffer Alzheimer's are women, "and the insight is the burden is really on the daughter," Lubars says. "Research shows the last thing parents want to do is be a burden on their children."
To execute the story, the team turned to O Positive's David Shane, who's best known for his work in comedic performance, but who recently has expanded to more dramatic work as in The Atlantic's short film "Typecast" starring Michael K. Williams.
Detail was key to getting the story just right. "We all wanted to make this as visceral as possible,to put viewers into the girl's shoes," he says. "And all of our stylistic choices were really made to parachute you into this story. This is why we went with a handheld camera, which gets less and less steady as we move through the story."
Casting was of utmost importance. "Obviously, the biggest trick to me was finding an amazing kid that could command the screen," he says. The girl was Echo Campbell, "such a new person but so freaking wise and talented. And [the mother] Amy Davidson's performance is so smart and affecting without ever getting saccharine."
The work also benefited from the experience that touched nearly everyone on the set, from Lubars, to Shan,e to the crew. "Dementia has touched my family and honestly, there were very few people working on this who didn't know someone with this disease, which shows you what a fucking scourge it is," Shane says. "Crew members were often in tears while we were shooting. It was pretty intense."