Since graduating with a BFA from the ArtCenter in 2007, award winning producer/director, Roman Wyden has been creatively involved in such projects as the Eleanor Roosevelt Award winning documentary “Ageless Wisdom” as well as the short films “Asparagus and Max” and the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival winner “Deface.” In the below Alumni Spotlight, Roman shares his journey as a LA filmmaker and his recent PSA work with the United States Dept. of Veteran Affairs.
Why the United States?
Growing up in Switzerland, I always felt that there was more to life than just to pick a career, work hard and raise a family. Now, 23 years after being away from my hometown in the Swiss alps, I find myself having done just that: I picked a career, I work hard and I am raising a family. But there’s one huge difference between doing that here in the U.S. versus doing that back in Switzerland; Attitude. I found America to have more people with a ‘yes you can’ attitude than Europe. I am of course generalizing or stereotyping here if you will. But besides being a catchy slogan our current president has been using, ‘yes you can’ or ‘yes we can’ really reflects the general attitude of the United States in my opinion. Yes, sometimes it’s a bit naive and not founded in reality… but most of the time it’s refreshing, inspiring and it even sparks creative collaborations between artists that end up creating great art.
After spending some time at the campus for my wife’s grad show, I decided to apply to ArtCenter in 2004 to get my BFA in Directing. I got accepted and since I had already been ‘brainwashed’ to believe that I could do anything I wanted, I was up for the ride. And for me that ride was making films! Short, long, commercial… I liked them all. After graduating in 2007, I had the crazy idea to start my own production company and to knock on clients’ doors so I could get commercial work to start establishing myself. And I did just that, especially using the powerful network I had created during my time at ArtCenter. One of my instructors had put me in touch with another alumni who was doing a large scale video project and off we went and collaborated on it together. And that was just the beginning. Another ArtCenter alumni and friend connected us to a creative director at a major automaker, another connected us to the Department of Veteran Affairs, yet another has recently connected us with a Palo Alto start up and the list goes on and on.
When I first heard about Designmatters while studying at ArtCenter, I loved the concept of combining Art & Social Impact. So, naturally I wanted to be involved in Designmatters projects and classes. My first experience was going to New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina. I was following ArtCenter product design alumni Wakako Takagi (Product Design ’06) and Chris Favela (Product Design ’07) to document their Lower Ninth project. To see that devastation with my own eyes had such an impact on me and to talk to local residents about where their lives where at after the Hurricane was very intense. I felt like I needed to use media to make a difference in the world. At least in the near future.
Why Make a Difference?
About 6 years ago I was linked up with the Department of Veteran Affairs through a dear friend and ArtCenter Alumni. Since then, we have produced about a dozen broadcast PSAs for VA, all focusing on trying to reduce suicide amongst the Veteran population. Every time we embark on a new project, we research the issue, we interview Veterans and we end up sitting through all day casting session listening to dozens and dozens of heartbreaking stories told by Veterans who’ve moved to Hollywood and have now become actors. It is heartbreaking to hear their stories of war and their struggles to reintegrate back into society. We are always faced with the question: What could actually stop [Veteran] suicide? I can only come up with two hypothetical answers after years of research: 1) Stop all wars OR 2) Find out how to erase parts of our [dark] memories.
As you can see, both of these solutions aren’t really tangible at this point in our lives. So, off we go creating PSAs that hopefully make Veterans and their families and friends aware of the Suicide Hotline (VCL – Veterans Crisis Line) and the help that’s available to them. Are we really making a difference? According to the VA, our PSAs have been within Nielsen’ top five percent of PSA’s airing during it’s run time. We’ve had roughly 650k airings of the VCL PSA’s which has resulted in over 62 million dollars of paid media equivalent and 4 over billion impressions. So, these spots are out there, they’re being seen and we have a happy client. And since we started working with VCL, the center’s call volume has gone from roughly 300-400/day to over 1000/ day. I assume that we’re making a difference, although it doesn’t always feel that way. What else could we be doing for our Veterans? For the people who put their lives on the line for our freedom? Don’t get me wrong, I am not pro war. But I am pro treating Veterans with the respect and support they deserve. Later this month – September is suicide prevention month – we are releasing an in-house spec I wrote and directed, aimed at the Veteran community to let them know that we get what they’re going through. That respect is better than pitty. That listening is better than preaching. That the war never ends. Never. Even when they’re back home.
Midlife Crisis. For sure. I am now 45 and plan to live to 90. So, naturally I am in the middle of my life. But I am not buying a red convertible anytime soon. Yet I am questioning what my life is about and what I’ll be doing with the second part of my life. One thing I know for sure is that I wanna give back. Wherever I can. Whenever I can . At work, to my family, to ArtCenter students and to people and artists everywhere.
I think Art has a responsibility to society. To the world. Not just to exist for pure self-expression, but to inspire beyond art. To inspire Humanity to take a closer look at old ways of doing things, old systems, old paradigms and old ways of communicating. It’s time for a change and I am glad to be a self-proclaimed part of it. Peace!
To learn more about Roman and his work, please visit www.roster.la