Ever feel like you can’t tell someone something important? Like telling a friend you wish you were closer? Or a family member a deep secret? Or your boyfriend you love him?
Then perhaps you should meet Bianca Giaever. The Brooklyn-based director’s latest project, Videos 4U, launches just before Valentine’s Day, and chronicles Chicago-based Maia Leppo’s attempt to tell her boyfriend of eight years “I love you.” Leppo is only seen on camera wearing a mask (because she’s shy), but narrates most of the video, explaining why neither she, nor her boyfriend, have ever uttered the L word.
The video series feels more like a radio documentary with images layered on, and is a new collaboration between Giaever, This American Life, and production company m ss ng p eces. Videos 4U finds people who are “having trouble saying something,” and Giaever swoops in to help them get their message across in a video.
Giaever says the idea came as a result of some “serious” conversations (for job interviews or with her boyfriend) that she would rehearse beforehand. “[But] I would get there and completely forget everything. I thought ‘Man, I’m a radio producer, I should just record myself saying the things I need to say, and then I could edit them perfectly and play that instead.’”
That inspired her to help other folks having difficulty voicing a thought to break that communication barrier.
Around the same time, Ari Kuschnir, founder and executive producer at m ss ng p eces approached Giaever about collaborating, having seen her short film The Scared is Scared, which she had directed while in college. “As a production company owner, it’s the kind of thing that gets you excited in terms of seeing a unique voice,” he says. Giaever’s style (she produces a radio documentary, then recreates some of the scenes with actors and uses typography to visualize the words) felt fresh and different.
He adds the production company had done original content in the past alongside Cool Hunting and TED, and after some brand content success, has been looking to get back into the original content space. When Giaever presented Videos 4U, Kuschnir says he got really excited.
A few days later, Giaever ran into TAL host Ira Glass, with whom she’d previously worked, at a dance performance (literally, during intermission), and gave him the elevator pitch. Glass says he too had seen The Scared is Scared and wanted to work with Giaever. “At one point, we tried to hire her as our intern,” he says. “She had no interest in that at all.”
Glass and co. had been looking at getting more into video, but he admits its staff and budget just doesn’t line up with creating a full-on video department. Videos 4U was an inexpensive way to get into the space, with a director they admired.
Despite being created for an audience of one (that is, the person who submits his/her communication challenge), Giaever says most of the topics people submitted when she first put the call out were very relatable and familiar, so the content should resonate with a larger audience.
Kuschnir says this is purely a passion project, and there are currently no plans in place to monetize it. “This is the kind of thing where you do it first, and figure out the money later,” he says.
Giaever won’t commit to a next video, keeping mum on which topics of conversation she’ll help people with next, though she says there are a number in the works. The videos will live on This American Life’s YouTube page, with the links embedded onto the other partners’ websites, and will rely heavily on their respective followings, PR, and social sharing to get the word out.
And now that Leppo’s boyfriend has seen the video, the big question is: what does he say back? “One thing that was really unexpected was we realized we could film the boyfriend watching the video and that could lead to a second [piece of content, which also goes live today],” says Glass. “It’s incredible, vulnerable, and deeply human.”
Spoiler alert: he says “I love you” too.