by Kristin Brighton on August 16, 2013

Picture the scene: I’m sitting in a darkened bar after a long day of video filming, enjoying an end-of-day chardonnay. My cohorts are telling stories, sipping drinks, gossiping and spilling dirt on one another. There’s lots of laughter; so much, in fact, that I don’t want to go home, even though my husband has texted me twice for my ETA.

The bar is the pub at Meadowlark Hills, a Manhattan retirement community. And if it surprises you that our crew would spend an evening relaxing with mostly 70- and 80-year-olds at a retirement community, then you haven’t been to the Meadowlark campus. Meadowlark Hills is a memorable place, and that was a memorable night, for it marked the end to the most professionally gratifying day of my career.

After all, it isn’t every day you get to make nonagenarians feel like movie stars.

Our mission was to create four videos and two television commercials as part of a new campaign to promote the retirement community. I had previously interviewed each of our 40 subjects, and used their answers to write our scripts. This arrangement ensured that we had video clips to support all of the points we wanted to make, but still allowed the comments to feel authentic.

My challenge, then, was to feed their own words back to our subjects and get them to say basically the same things they said before, while keeping them looking natural on camera.

We started that particular day bright and early, with a different interview subject in our makeshift studio about every 15 minutes. Each resident and staff member had arrived ahead of time and been made over by our hair and make-up consultant. Everyone had arrived wearing bright colors — per our instructions — from our established color palette. Many of the women had taken the time to get their hair set and their nails done ahead of time. They all looked fabulous, and if a few of them were a bit nervous, they were pretty excited, too.

When it was each person’s turn, we positioned him or her just right on the set, gave them one final round of touch-ups for hair and make-up, and then took still photos. I gave each person instructions and carefully overviewed what I was going to ask, and what they had told me previously.

I’m sure I frustrated many of our stars by making them respond to the same question over and over again until they got it just right, with the right inflection and the right expression. But the end result was worth it.

In the afternoon, my favorite four residents, each with a form of dementia, were brought down to the studio. I don’t think any of them remembered me from our conversation the week before, but that didn’t matter. Each lit up — glowed from within — as we powdered their noses, sat them in front of the lights, and told them what we were going to do together. I made sure to draw out the question-and-answer process so their time on camera wouldn’t end too quickly — I wanted each resident to feel important and respected. Like movie stars.

In the 20+ years I’ve worked in communications, I’ve met a lot of people, learned about a diverse range of industries, won some big projects, and promoted a lot of products and causes. But this day will stand out as just a little more special than the rest. Those smiles, hugs, and even a few songs, will be forever etched in my memory.

Thank you to the crew from digitalBRAND Communications for bringing our crazy ideas to the screen. And thank you to Meadowlark Hills and all your residents and staff members for the privilege of filming you.

We hope you enjoy the final product.