by Lauren Festa
ADC Member Tyler Seecof is a New York-based ‘creative’ “(who isn’t?)” specializing in video. Working by day as a Marketing Associate for acting school One On One NYC, Tyler simultaneously works on both personal and freelance side projects. “Honestly” he says, “I’m just a human doing the best I can and trying to make it easier (and sometimes even possible) for others to do the same.” This idea rings true in Tyler’s project #AtWhatCost: a digital campaign aimed to raise awareness about violence against the transgender community. “Most LGBTQIA+ PSAs are event captures or ‘talking heads’, aimed towards our community members” says Tyler. “#AtWhatCost turns the tables. Through a cinematic and narrative approach, we target the cis community and urge them to not only take responsibilities for their actions and words, but to become an ally.” We believe it’s not only our responsibility to champion great work from our ADC Members, but also to bring awareness to important social issues when and where we can. We love and support art that is not afraid to speak up so we spoke with Tyler about it, his idols, tech and what he’s working on next.
Tell us how you came up with the idea for #AtWhatCost?
I was working in Commercial Production at Hungry Man when I really started to take a interest in the agency side of the industry. I began writing spec work to build my portfolio, but I eventually felt stuck. I stumbled upon a commercial for The Trevor Project, which is a suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQIA+ youth. I’ve always been a fan of them, especially being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. I decided if I’m going to write spec work, I should do it for something I care about. I did some research and noticed they have a very minimal amount of narrative videos. Most of their videos are celebrity endorsements and event capture, which I found odd, considering the fact that The Trevor Project started as an Oscar-Winning Narrative film in 1994. So I began writing a narrative spec series for broadcast as an attempt to bring the brand back to its roots. I began to love the project so much that I wanted it to soar off of paper, but I also wanted to really own it. Unfortunately, since I don’t work for The Trevor Project, I decided to remove their brand and develop it into a social campaign to raise awareness, thus why the title is a hashtag. Eventually that idea snowballed into #AtWhatCost.
Why did you feel video was the best medium to get the message out?
It was never a question for me. Video is my main squeeze! I was working in Video Production at the time and my wildly talented co-worker, Marissa Massa, agreed to produce it. Video on social media lately has been so wildly successful. It’s perfect because it keeps a viewer’s eye longer than a photo, you have the content quality of broadcast (if you have the budget, of course) and you still cater the quick paced attention span of the average viewer.
It’s interesting in your description (on your site) you say: “Most LGBTQIA+ PSAs are event captures or “talking heads,” aimed towards our community members. #AtWhatCost turns the tables.” How and why did you feel it was important to take another approach?
Thanks for asking about this! I touched upon this earlier when discussing the source of inspiration from The Trevor Project. So many community organizations tend to do this. I believe reaching out to the community is extraordinary. It tackles internal issues such as transphobia, femmephobia, internalized homophobia, etc. By holding up this mirror, we’re forced to evaluate how we treat not only others, but ourselves. However, we need more than that. We need allies. I fear that if we continue to solely address our own community, we’ll create an echo chamber. I’m not advocating that we halt messages to the community or that genre of video, but I am saying we should continue to reach out to others as well.
I’m flashing back to the “That’s So 16 Year Old Boy with a Cheesy Mustache” commercial with Wanda Sykes that tackled the phrase “That’s So Gay.” I remember the power it had. It addressed a young non-community member and informed him of the impact his actions had. It wasn’t meant to attack, but rather to call out. It forced this non-community member into a situation where he experiences a similar experience as gay people when we hear that phrase. We saw first hand this character, again a non-LGBTQIA+ community member, gain empathy and understanding. It’s not that cis individuals are ill-intentioned, rather some (not all) may simply just not be aware. I’d have to say that it was a successful campaign because I recall it initiating conversation in my community and since then, I’ve heard the phrase “That’s So Gay” much less. That’s the goal here. Not to attack, but to highlight the facts and call for action.
I like this work for many reasons. of course I wish the reality of these stats you have supered throughout were not stats at all, however I think it’s smart to have woven them in and have them disappear from scene to scene. I think that was a visually impactful to say 1) these are the numbers and 2) unless they are right in front of us, many people don’t think about it—which is irresponsible as human beings. did you intend on that or am i just interpreting?
You hit the nail on the head! First off, shout out to my pal Greg Falconi on the title design. He’s the one who brought that all together!
All along, we knew we wanted to make a PSA. Whether it’s a narrative or talking head, PSAs serve the same purpose–to inform. Other PSAs have this luxury to be campy (like the “That’s So Gay” ads) because what’s at stake isn’t as high. Transgender people, especially trans women of color, are at the highest risk of violence in this country. A transgender person is killed, whether by suicide or homicide, about once every 29 hours in this country. And, the facts go on unfortunately…Many people simply don’t understand being transgender, and truthfully unless you are transgender, you won’t ever fully understand. Unfortunately, we have a huge issue in this country that if you don’t understand something, you try to exile it so you can remain in your safety bubble. This translates to people fighting against the visibility of an entire community because if they’re out of sight, they’re out of mind. But they exist. You can try to police which bathrooms a person uses, but that doesn’t mean the person has gone away. That doesn’t mean the person isn’t going to fight for his/her/their civil rights for protection and equality. The idea behind making these facts a huge part of this story’s visual is that you can’t ignore them. You can’t watch this video and tell me that you’re unaware of the harassment or suicide rates. You can’t push them away and crawl into your safety bubble. And that is NECESSARY! I want the facts to drive the video just as it does this community.
Something I’d love to note: Although this video outlines some of the tragic statistics, it also shatters them. The character at the end doesn’t actually commit suicide. She is stronger than her attacker. The community is strong. They need help still, but it’s important to note this community’s strength and bravery.
I especially love how you get the viewer to be active towards the end by asking: “At what cost are we willing to excuse Transphobia?” What sparked the idea for the hashtag?
Thanks for all these compliments! I was so stuck on what the title and tagline of this project should be at first. When I originally wrote it, it was targeted towards the LGBTQIA+ community about suicide prevention and the tagline was “Suicide is never worth it, but you are.” When I was working on my video treatment, I got to the slide that focused on what I wanted from the viewer. At this point, I had changed the target viewer to be the cis community and knew that I wanted him/her to be kind, respectful, and open. But that wasn’t enough. The stakes are too high. I looked back and my original tagline and it became clear that I didn’t sugar coat anything then, nor should I now. I decided the best approach is to just straight up ask the viewer this question as if we’re engaged in this conversation together in person. I am asking the cis community at what cost they are (we are) able look the other way? Brush these issues under the rug? Excuse violence? From there I just tailored it to this cause. #AtWhatCost will you excuse transphobia?
Who is your lovely main character and how did you choose to cast?
She is lovely, isn’t she? And she’s daring and exciting both as a performer and human. Her name is Shagaysia Diamond, aka Shea Diamond. She’s actually getting quite a following! I showed a friend of a friend #AtWhatCost and she recognized Shagaysia from her amazing music video I Am Her.
Anyway, I digressed. We used social media (Facebook in particular) mostly as our platform to blast the casting call. She submitted and immediately, I knew she was our girl.
Why was the subway station the best place to shoot?
This is where you see my crazy. I come from an acting background and I just put myself in this character. I did the full prep work and I lived in this world with this circumstance. As my character: If I live in New York and I just want to get as far away as I could from that attack, or even if I just want to go home, where is the first place I go? The subway. Then, when I get to the subway and I’m in this shattered mindset, questioning my worth, I remember how easy it could be to end it all at a subway platform. I’m not the first person, so I know I’d be successful. The idea just snowballs into this dark storm of negative thoughts. It all just felt fitting.
What camera did you use to shoot?
We shot on a Cannon 5D Mark ii.
Do you see a continuation or a longer form version of this campaign? Was it meant to live as a stand alone piece?
I really hope I can expand this campaign soon! It’s important. The wheels are turning in the background. Eventually, I’d love to partner up with an organization and flesh out the full video series and social media campaign. We’re working on a website right now, which will ideally include true-life stories and interviews, photography, and other mediums. The idea is to share the facts, but also put faces to the cause. I also have a few ideas for how to make some interactive experiences. This all will take some time though.
Are there any references, people or campaigns besides yours that you can think of that vouch for the rights of the transgender community and are making headway?
Absolutely! Secret’s #StressTest Series features a transgender woman’s struggle in the bathroom and highlights her strength when she decides to openly step out of the stall into the bathroom full of cis women.
Hari Nef is an icon of mine!! Her role in Season Two of Transparent put her on the map for me. Her advocacy for transgender people, the overall LGBTQIA+ community, and women in Hollywood is incredible. I’ve seen her a few times–at a reading once (with you actually!) and at the Vogue Fashion Fund. Each time, she just exuded this unapologetic confidence. The world needs her.
[And] Laverne Cox! She needs no explanation. She’s perfect.
A great documentary on HBO called The Trans List came out the same time #AtWhatCost did. Projects like that are vital.
How do you hope to use film and art in general can help to spread messages of social importance and truly impact social change?
Video is a medium that will never die (hopefully). It’s a unique medium that can tell intricate stories and entertain, but can be wildly informative. It’s a medium that’s easily shared. It’s a medium that’s overall appreciated. I hope to continue using its accessibility as a platform to promote causes, whether it’s through a PSA or a film.
What are you working on next?
That’s a great question! I will continue working on this project of course, but I’m thinking of hopping back over to writing my web series titled ‘Lennial. Nothing is set in stone quite yet. I’m mostly enjoying my new job and the downtime for a mo’.