New Brand of Public Service Spots Cover A World of Issues

Rock celebrity and filmmaker tackle tough subjects. TELEVISION

MICHAEL STIPE and Jim McKay feel that some of the public-service announcements on television - especially the anti-drug messages - aren't reaching the people they are aimed at. ``I don't think people are that moved by them,'' said Mr. Stipe, lead singer of the group R.E.M. ```Just say no' doesn't really hack it.''

In the spirit of the rock-and-roll activists of the past few years, Stipe, an active environmentalist, has now joined with filmmaker McKay (not the sportscaster) to create public service announcements covering a much broader range of issues - from historic preservation to chemical farming to pro-choice to gun control.

Calling the project Direct Effect, they have already completed seven messages now going out to local cable operators around the United States.

``We're both pretty politically active,'' said Stipe about himself and McKay, who formed C-00 (C-Hundred) Film Corporation two years ago. ``It seemed like there were a lot of topics that weren't really being covered in the general media that we felt deserved coverage.''

One of the Direct Effect spots, produced by actor Tom Gilroy, simply shows an interracial couple and their child enjoying each other's company. It ends with the message ``...Love knows no color.''

``It doesn't come out and say, `Fight racism,''' says McKay. ``A lot of our spots don't make prescriptions for change, although certain ones will. ... But we try to plant the seed of an idea in people's minds and let them take it from there.''

After producing several short films, like McKay's ``Lighthearted Nation,'' a documentary about men in nursing homes, and alternative-music videos for groups like the Rollins Band, R.E.M., and Flat Duo Jets, Stipe and McKay put their heads together and came up with an idea: invite musicians, artists, writers, and filmmakers to create their own messages on whatever subject meant the most to them.

All the messages are made on a low budget and shot in Super-8 or 16 mm film. McKay sees them as distinctly different from other public service announcements.

``The difference is really night and day. I see these [spots] almost as short films, each one of them; they're like short political films.''

Stipe and McKay aren't afraid to tackle controversial subjects. One of these is abortion. Both men are admittedly pro-choice and feel that side of the issue has been swept under the rug.

``It's very disturbing to me that when election time comes around,'' said McKay, ``abortion is all over the place - it's allowed in the candidates' ads; it's allowed in the news. And then the election's over, and you're not allowed to talk about it anymore.''

One of the producers for Direct Effect is Kris Parker, otherwise known as KRS-ONE, the once homeless and now politically active rapper of the group Boogie Down Productions Parker.

Other producers include singer Natalie Merchant of the band 10,000 Maniacs, filmmakers Jim Herbert and Jem Cohen, and Jane Pratt, editor-in-chief of Sassy magazine.

The people involved were chosen because ``they're very creative, and they have their finger on the pulse,'' says Stipe. ``They know what's going on....''

Although there is no doubt such names will help attract young viewers, Stipe says, ``We're not just picking famous people. We're picking people that we think are capable of putting together an intelligent message and filming it.''

With Stipe and McKay on the pro-choice side of the abortion issue, what are Direct Effect's political leanings?

``We never say that we're coming from one side of the political spectrum'' in terms of the people selected to participate, says Stipe. ``But I'd say that we do lean towards the more liberal side.''

Both Stipe and McKay believe strongly in the power of the media to reach and affect people. But McKay also says, ``We need leadership that takes more responsibility.''

About environmental mistakes, for instance, McKay comments, ``People have been desensitized - no one is pointing these things out. And if the leaders aren't going to do it, then the people had better start to do it.

``There's that old saying - if people will lead, the leaders will follow. And I think we're trying to lead.''

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