Monday, December 16, 2013

INTERVIEW: Lauralee Bell of The Young and the Restless on the Making of - A Dramatic New Series About Texting and Driving

"If I Save One Life It Will All Be Worth It" - Lauralee Bell Martin
                                                                                                                                                                                                 By Suzee
                  Download an E-CardMy son just turned 17 and got his license on his birthday. Here in NJ, the anxious kids get their permits as soon after they turn 16 when their parents realize the inevitable has approached, they shortly thereafter learn how to drive, they log in the required hours with a certified instructor, and the piece de resistance is being able to schedule their lesson for first thing in the morning the day of their birthday. That day the kids don’t care how early they have to wake up to get to the DMV. Then they proudly drive to school that day. So on this date of my son’s 17th birthday, he took the car to school after his successful driving test in the wee hours of the morning. 
Riley's first day with her new car

School lets out at 2:19 and he should have been home by 2:40 the latest. Time passed and I kept looking at the time. It was 3:00. I called him on his cell and he did not answer. That made my nervous but then again I always tell my kids (my older son already drives) not to pick up a phone while they driving, even on Bluetooth. I tell them to pull over safely and answer if they think it’s important.

A few minutes later after convincing myself he was alright, he walked through the door. I ran to the door and gave him a big hug, then delivered the warning. “First thing you do is tell me where you are going and when you will be home!” He answered, “Tommy (his BFF) wanted to go cruising so we cruised around for a few minutes.”  I replied, “That is fine but next time you have to tell me”.
In another household across the country, the same scenario played out in Riley’s house in California when she got her license on birthday (where the driving age is 16). Riley got a car for her birthday, and after the celebration, she took it out for a ride. This was every teen’s dream, freedom.

Riley was having a great week. Besides getting the freedom she yearned for, she was having some good luck with a boy she liked, Robbie. It was possible that he could become her boyfriend. So as she was out enjoying her first ride alone, Robbie was on her mind. Then, Robbie was on the phone. She knew this, because, like every teenager, the cell phone was in full view as she drove. She saw who the text was from. She knew she shouldn’t answer it. Her brain was telling her it could wait, but that teenage heart and that must-reply-instantaneously belief of the teen won out and she texted back.

Then the screen went blank. And her world was never the same.

Scott Martin and Lauralee Bell Martin behind the scenes
Riley is a fictional character. Nonetheless, she was brought to life with the ingenious film making of  writer/producer/actress Lauralee Bell, best known for her continuing role of  Christina Blair on The Young and The Restless, and even though this was make-believe, the depth, dialogue and drama of this video production got the tears streaming out of my eyes as if the main character was someone I knew. And that is the point of these videos, Riley is anyone.

That is not to say that his scenario has not played out in real life. Statistics show that in 2011 at least 23% of all auto collisions (that means 1.3 million) involved cell phones (Source:, 2012 results are not available yet). It is not unusual now to read about young people driving off the road and getting killed in car accidents, and when the reports say that “no substances” have been found I think many people assume now it was probably due to cell phone use.

Lauralee Bell takes her years of acting, writing and producing (she has two short films, Just off Rodeo and Family Dinner) to a new level of storytelling in this series of videos which clearly entertains and teaches without preaching. With her dad being William J. Bell, the television producer and screenwriter whose legacy is creating Another World, The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful, turning imagination and thoughts into life in vivid color on a screen is in her blood. The short, series of  6 videos that total just under 21 minutes is well-done, dramatic, compelling and eye-opening. With this new webseries, she has become an advocate for stopping texting and driving. 

Riley (Cassidy Ann Shaffer) takes her eyes off the road to check a text.
Lauralee Bell plays the mother and Cassidy Ann Schaffer (Kimmy of  Disney’s Austin and Ally) plays the daughter, Riley. As the main character is a female, I would imagine most females – moms and daughters alike- will relate to it. I can also see teen why teenage boys may find an interest in watching the story of a beautiful young girl story unravel as well.  

I had the good fortune to be asked to interview Lauralee by Martha Byrne, who told me about this innovative new concept her good friend had.  I could hear the excitement in Lauralee’s voice as she explained to me how and why she developed this series.

“This message has to get out”, started Lauralee She continued, “I have two children and nieces and nephews. One day when I was dropping my kids off at school, I learned about how one of the students had been killed on the road going to school. It was because the cars were driving too fast. I saw the reaction of my kids, the students and the whole school. It was devastating.”

“This is beyond horrible, I thought, a child lost because of something stupid like driving too fast. From that moment on everyone who goes to that school starting driving slower, but it was too late. A tragedy like that is what is took for everyone to learn. I kept thinking about how quickly a child can die behind the wheel of a car, and I thought of how dangerous texting is. I thought, maybe I can do something to help prevent this, to prevent a tragedy before it happened. That was one of my light bulb moments.”

“I thought of how I would attack this. I didn’t want to be preachy. I didn’t want it to be a PSA either because then  kids wouldn’t  watch it. My goal was to show them what would happen in a relatable, interesting way. I also wanted to get the message across ‘You can’t do this and still be okay.’ The series does not have a happy ending. It can’t.”

“When I was on The Young and the Restless growing up, I was always the ‘good girl’. I was the character that always said “no” to doing things that teenagers want to do. I didn’t like always being that one, but my dad (who was the writer and producer) said 'just do it'. I wasn’t exactly happy about it back then, but I will tell you, every time we had a storyline with the message ‘It’s okay to say no’, we got praise, and the ratings went up.’ And a lot of that was the way it was done.”

“It took a few months for me to get it all on paper but I sat down one night and wrote the whole thing. I still wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. Then I started thinking, “I can shoot this whole thing in 3 days”.

The filming of www.MiPromise starring Lauralee Bell and Cassidy Ann Shaffer

“Then I was really determined. My birthday was coming up in December, and I told my husband ‘I don’t want a birthday present, I just want to shoot these”.

“My family life really inspired me. I grew up in Chicago. My dad was a writer for Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless and worked a lot at home. My mom had a talk show in Chicago for 18 years. I learned how to have a nice career and still keep the family together. When I was growing up, it was all about the family unit, being together and being safe. Now I am older and a parent myself. I realize the importance of passing on this value. You wouldn’t want anything to break up the unit.”

As a fellow mother, Lauralee gave me some light bulb moments. Although I have hopes that my children are listening to me every time they go drive somewhere and I tell them not to text and drive, not to stare at the GPS, not to answer the phone and to otherwise drive carefully, Lauralee reminisced, “When we were young, there were already enough distraction while driving, playing with the radio, rolling the windows up and down, talking to passenger. They have so much more to deal with than we did.”

She also said, “Kids are not going to change their behavior just because they get behind the wheel. This is their life. They know no other way so we have to show them.”

She is right. I never really thought about it this way. With each new generation comes a new way of being wired. When I was a very young child I played with the Fisher Price Rotary play phone with the smile on it and thought it was the cat’s meow. We are light years away from that now. Electronics and responding to electronics to live starts at the infant level.

She adds, “Kids spend hours of their lives sending useless texts. No one would talk like that in real life. But I will admit, adults do it too.”

Lauralee believes that children need to be presented other options and shown how to carry them out. 

In her video, she presents an option. Now this is a spoiler just in case you want to be warned, but in the series Riley winds up in a coma. While she is lying listlessly and lifelessly in a cold hospital bed, her mother talks to her about how much more vibrant and emotional life can be lived out loud and not on a digital screen. She talks to her while she is in the coma, not knowing if she is hearing or not, about how different the scenario of acknowledging each other’s feelings could be.

“Imagine yourself under a tree, sitting with him and holding hands. It’s a perfect day. He finally gets the courage to say ‘I like you’ and your heart is pounding. Then you look into his eyes and say ‘I like you too’.

Then she presents the reality to her, referring to the text that caused the accident. “You don’t even know what he looked like when he said it.”
Lauralee is so right about  living life in person, and I really do hope that all these Gen X’s and millenials are not missing out on all the face-to face magic moments in life. As a baby boomer, I remember the first time I tried to talk to a boy I liked. It took me three tries, my palms were sweaty, I know my face was red and I only got out one word. And even more important, I had to first figure out how to make all those potential meetings take place. In the hallways after a class? Hanging out after he finished baseball practice? Going to a store that was near his home so I could catch him on his walk home? Flash forward 30 years and all of this is gone. Text his cell and done.

Riley’s most telling thought comes at the end of the series,“One stupid little (and she moves her thumbs mimicking texting) and all my moments are gone.”.

Lauralee told me that she is finding that parents are telling her that the videos are a good conversation starter, and that they are using the series as a teaching tool. “That was not something I had really thought of, she confessed.” I just wanted to make something the kids would watch.”

Please watch this with your children, nieces, nephews and tell other moms and dads about this series.
There are lives to be saved, dreams to be realized.

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