Let’s be honest for a moment, and acknowledge that at one point or another, we’ve failed to take teenagers seriously. Problems that seem minor after achieving distance based on time, perspective, and life experience matter a lot to teenagers attempting to establish an identity in a changing and challenging world. HelpEthan.com, a video series created by Drew Brown & Wendy Ball reminds us that we were teens too, and let current teens know that they are not alone. The series consists of 12 short films designed to raise awareness about common issues facing teens and generate positive conversations between teens and their parents about those problems. In other words, HelpEthan.com is “movies with a message.” The series centers on a high school student named Ethan with a crush as he and his friends tackle stress and anxiety, LGBTQ+ issues, bullying, and more.

Through their film production, marketing and distribution company, Virtual Chameleon, Brown and Ball began developing HelpEthan.com last February. Working together on their two dreams, to make quality movies and help people better themselves and their lives, especially by improving relationships and communication, Brown and Ball have combined their visions to improve society via high quality, impactful content. All 12 episodes of the series were filmed between August and July of 2016. Since then, six of the 12 episodes of HelpEthan.com can be found on the website, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube channel of the same name. Using marketing genius, Brown & Ball have ensured that is impossible not to find HelpEthan.com in all its iterations online and on social media.

What makes the duo especially proud is the uniqueness of their project. Brown and Ball have yet to find anything similar to it online. That is, a short movies series directed at teens and their parents featuring educational content balancing serious and fun. The balance of serious and fun is incredibly important to the overall concept of the HelpEthan.com series. The issues covered in the films are everyday issues. It’s about young adults dealing with problems and situations that are not unique to them, but to which they are uniquely vulnerable. Because of the tumultuous period of life in which teens exist, of physical, emotional, and life changes, they are extremely susceptible to pressure. The site provides teen with much needed support and validation as they navigate life’s challenges.

Brown and Ball’s goal for teens and parents to be watching this series together also contributed to the conceptualization of the show.

“What did you think of the video?” Ball asked me.

Looking anywhere else I stuttered out an “Um...” trying to think of a way to say I enjoyed them, but that they were hokey. Luckily, Ball saved me by saying exactly what I was thinking, “They’re a little hokey aren’t they?”

There are moments where you might think “Teenagers don’t talk like that,” or “That would in no universe happen.” But that’s the point. Brown & Ball are catering the series to two very different audiences, attempting to bridge a communication gap between teens and their parents. For a younger audience the videos may read as something you’d watch in a health class, but there’s still a message to be received. And that shows in the numbers and positive feedback Brown & Ball have received since the first six episodes were released last fall.

Even with only half of the web series available for consumption, HelpEthan.com episodes have been viewed over 300,000 times. The site has over 3,000 followers across all of its social media platforms. More than 500 people subscribe to their YouTube channel. Each 4-10 minute episode is designed to be consumed the way teens and young adults consume video content in 2017. The quick, poignant messages, delivered for short attention spans have been incredibly successful.

The success of the movies isn’t just in the numbers. Brown and Ball have received amazing feedback from teens and parents around the country. Individuals have contacted the team to share their stories, saying that the videos made them aware of issues afflicting teens in America, validated their experiences, helped them talk about these problems, and walk away from those conversations with improved relationships.

One woman reached out to them to say thank you for making the site, continuing on to say that the videos helped her family heal and communicate better following the unsuccessful suicide attempt of their son. Teens have also reached out to the duo asking for advice about how to navigate parents going through divorce, mental health issues, sexual identity, and more. Because many of the teenagers reaching out to Brown and Ball are minors, they always refer the teens to their high school guidance counselor and encourage them to go to FIT Young Minds, a forum and blog for teens and young adults to share their experiences, become better communicators, and build healthy relationships. Ball is the President of FIT Young Minds. She is a certified life coach and has a background in psychology.  

Even though the films were created to help teens across the country, Brown and Ball are committed to supporting the Champaign-Urbana community and surrounding areas. Everyone involved in the production of HelpEthan.com is from the Champaign-Urbana area. Everything from the cast, to the production and editing staff, and the music is local. It has created jobs, promoted area businesses like Aroma Café that are featured in various episodes, and supported local actors and artists. By acting locally, they're are able to reach people nationally in a really special way. Within our community there is so much to be shared and celebrated, it can even save the world.

HelpEthan.com clearly provides a powerful and uniquely helpful service to teens and their parents while showcase and support our local community. But now, they need your help. Post-production is still in progress for the remaining six episodes of the series which Brown and Ball plan on releasing later this spring. The duo are seeking sponsors and donations to raise the funds to be able to finish out the series. The cost for producing one episode alone is $15,000.  The site is now registered as a 501(c)(3) Community Film Project, meaning that any contributions to the film are tax deductible. If you would like to donate to HelpEthan.com you can visit the website of the same name. Or, if you or your business would like to sponsor an episode, Brown and Ball can be reached at contactus@helpethan.com.  

After the series is completed, Brown and Ball hope to create a similar video series focused on college students. The new series will allow the duo more flexibility to explore on darker and more serious topics. In addition, Brown and Ball hope to use the new series to address the lack of diversity than can be seen in the series. They're aware of the discrepancy within the movies, but are actively seeking to expand their cast and production crew. If you would be interested in working with the team or any advice to give on how to make their content more inclusive, Brown & Ball can be reached at contactus@helpethan.com or on social media. Always looking to add to their talent, they encourage local artists, actors, and filmmakers to reach out to them if interested in participating. 

Photos courtsey of Drew Brown & Wendy Ball.