Every few months or so, my close friend Sean Keen will email me asking for feedback on a story he's written. He's gotten heavily into Chicago's storytelling scene and the confessionals he writes are frank and hilarious. He emailed me back in November 2016 with a piece about how he quit smoking cigarettes, as a sort of ironic cautionary tale. His candid, comic prose was refreshing and I knew it could be worked into a great short film.
I've always wanted to make a comedic PSA-style short. Growing up I used to watch Disney's Goofy instructionals until the Betamax tape wore out, and I wondered if I could bring that kind of comedy to a live-action piece.
Unfortunately for me and you and planet earth, something remarkable happened in November that most of us already regret. The presidential election left me more than stunned. Seeing lifelong public servants be replaced by greedy CEOs at the top levels of government felt gross and like a lot of Americans, I wasn't sure where to channel my anger. I marched, I rallied, I called my representatives, but it wasn't enough.
A thought hit me: What if the person telling you to quit smoking is the CEO of a cigarette company?
Sean's quit smoking story was already clever and satirical, but I wanted to give it my own spin and wondered if there was something more subversive I could do with the story. In an effort to shine a light on the never ending stream of greed and corruption in the news every day, a thought hit me: What if the person telling you to quit smoking is the CEO of a cigarette company?
In Sean's initial piece, he assumes that most of his audience doesn't smoke so he dedicates the first half of his story to convincing them that they need to start smoking, then become addicted, and only THEN would they need to finally quit. These words seemed so perfect coming out of a CEO's mouth that I asked Sean if, instead of simply narrating the piece, that he play the role of the CEO of Keen Cigarettes. He agreed, and thankfully he looks great in a suit. After a few weeks of writing, rewriting and editing, we had our screenplay, presented in full below.
It's grim and gritty, but we got a lot of belly laughs out of the story, and we hope you do too. This was just the start of what became a seven month project. It's the most intensive creative work I've ever undertaken, but now that I've started showing the near final version to friends and family, I'm happy to say it was time well spent.
Keep an eye out for more stories about the making of this project in the coming weeks.