Jim Britt Hopes Fictional Drama Will Encourage Teens

WASHINGTON— Screenwriter and youth minister Jim Britt hopes his upcoming film and book, “To Save a Life,” will encourage teenagers to reach out to peers who may be battling depression, suicidal thoughts or other problems.

Social workers help teenagers battle the issues Britt addresses in his film, which premieres in theaters on Jan. 22. SocialWorkersSpeak.org talked with Britt about why he thinks teens should see the drama, why he decided to write the script, and what he thinks about the role of social workers in helping young people.

SocialWorkersSpeak.org is a Web site designed to get social workers talking about and influencing how they are depicted on television, in film and in the news.

Here’s the interview:

Q: Jim, tell us a little about yourself?

A: I was a film major at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif. The summer before my senior year of college I was invited to work with high school students at a church. That summer I worked 80 hours a week and loved every minute of it. I kept my film major my senior year but knew that I wanted to now work in full time youth ministry pouring my life into teenagers. About three years ago I was approached about the idea of writing this script and it has been so cool to see my education finally come in handy. So many of the stories in the film are based on real life students that I’ve worked with and the struggles they have faced.

Q: What prompted you to write the book “To Save a Life”? In your work as a youth minister are you seeing a noticeable number of teens dealing with issues you included in the book?

A: First of all, the book came after the movie. What prompted me to write the script was hardly being able to go a day without talking to at least one student who is going through some sort of hurt in their life. The story really came out of the desire to bring hope to hurting students and also to empower students to be the messengers of that hope to others on their school campus. I really wanted to convey the powerful message that simply by reaching out to the hurting and lonely at your school, you have the power to save lives. Just about every issue dealt with in the script/book I’ve seen countless times with students I mentor and work with.

Q: Most movies for teens are action films, comedies or horror films. They are usually sexually titillating as well. How do you think teens will react to “To Save a Life”? Will it be too serious?

A: You’re right, there are not many teen dramas. I think that’s the reason teens have responded so positively to this film already. It doesn’t make light of their pain but instead deals with it authentically. I think we terribly underestimate teenagers but this film truly believes that they are a generation that can change the world and empowers them to do so every day. We never really set out to just make a film (it’s way too hard), we set out to tell a story well and start a movement and I believe the success of this film will not just be box office receipts but in the numbers of saved lives and hurting and lonely students being reached out to.

Q: What do you think about the quality of programming offered to teens? is offering more serious fare such as “Teen Mom” and “True Life.” What do you think about such programs?

A: Maybe I’m not a good youth worker in this regard but my wife and I gave up television almost four years ago and it’s one of the best decisions we ever made. I do jump on .com every once in a while to try to stay current and it usually depresses me. I’m not sure about those two shows but most of the programming is geared towards instant gratification for teenagers. Teens are searching for more meaning in their life and to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Programming that promotes “it’s all about me” sets the bar too low for teens that truly are capable of so much more.

Q: You come from a faith-based background. Does the movie push faith as the only solution for issues facing young people?

A: One of the things that so many people have appreciated about our film is that it doesn’t try to “push” anything. “To Save a Life” is really a story about a student who goes on a journey to live a life of more than just success and popularity but of true significance.

Q: Social workers help young people handle many issues your movie addresses. I also know several social workers who run programs to help teens build their esteem and transition into successful adults. How do you feel about the role of social workers in young people’s lives, especially social workers in schools?

A: I think instead of having award shows for actors and actresses we should have them for people that work with teens. From my experience with local social workers, they are some of the hardest working, most caring and incredibly passionate people I’ve ever met. As a youth worker I see the social workers in our area as partners who I get to team up with to help… the next generation. Just last week I sat in a meeting with two social workers as they helped a struggling student in my youth group get his act together so he doesn’t get held back a whole school year. I was so impressed and hope this film is incredibly inspiring to them and reminds them how truly important their jobs are. We all need to work together to bring hope.

Q: What would be a successful showing for you?

A: A successful showing for us would be that every teen that needs to see this film has the opportunity to do so. We are hoping that thousands of lives will be saved, the number of students that self injure will be lowered nationwide and hundreds of thousands from across the country would start going to school empowered with the truth that one act of kindness to an unsuspecting classmate could literally save a life.

Q: What other projects are you working on? Any more films about teenagers?

A: Oh yeah. I can’t say much about the next one except that our next film is going to empower teens to find a home for every street orphan in Africa. I’m so excited about it that it’s hard to sleep at night.

To learn more about how social workers help teenagers overcome life challenges visit the National Association of Social Workers’ “Help Starts Here” Youth Development Web page: helpstartshere.org.

Updated 01-14-2010

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