Neutrogena's First Frame Program: Q&A with Creative Content Lead Tyler Rochwerg
Jordan P. Kelley, Content Director, Brand Storytelling
Last year, audiences were introduced to "In The Sun", the Kerry Washington Produced film from Neutrogena focused on spreading skincare health awareness. For audiences, it served as a wake-up call for people of all ages and skin types to protect themselves from the sun's harmful UV rays; for the industry, it was an introduction to Neutrogena's new in-house team Neutrogena Studios, whose first foray into feature length filmmaking garnered over 300M impressions and over 8M views on YouTube alone. The film was a success, and Neutrogena learned along the way that they could reach the core of youth audiences with non-interruptive, entertaining content. In an effort to cater to the younger demo as well as bolster DE&I initiatives, Neutrogena Studios, in partnership with Passion Point Collective, launched First Frame, a program that would support young emerging and diverse filmmakers. To make their selections for the program, Neutrogena Studios partnered with Ghetto Film School and celebrity performers Chloe x Halle. The result: 22 year old writer/director Kyra Peters and 20 year old writer/director/actor Sarah Jean Williams were selected, each receiving 25K to realize the vision for their respective short films. The films, "If My Voice Rang Louder Than My Skin" and "En Avant" have earned hundreds of thousands of views and are making their way around the festival circuit, reaching Neutrogena's target audience and supporting the development of young talent along the way. Brand Storytelling caught up with Neutrogena Studios Creative Content Lead Tyler Rochwerg to learn more about the origins of the First Frame Program, Neutrogena's level of satisfaction with the project, and what comes next for First Frame:
Can you tell us more about the program in general?
The idea for First Frame came out of internal discussions around Gen Z consumers who value a brand’s authenticity and are choosing to shop brands that stand for something to improve the world. We wondered how Neutrogena Studios could convey our values through new content, while simultaneously empowering diverse Gen Z voices to tell their own stories about what matters to them.
The concept for the films was to imagine a world where skin was not a barrier to being your most authentic self. In addition to funding the films themselves, the program provided a year of training, mentorship, access to career growth opportunities, and highly valuable exposure at industry and film festival events. The program also provided a new and rich content stream for Neutrogena Studios.
When and where was the First Frame Program initially conceived?
After the release of Neutrogena Studios first film, “In The Sun,” which told the stories of families affected by skin cancer, we wanted to create powerful content by and for Gen Z consumers. At the time, we were in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests and witnessing an increase in conversation around social inequities. Neutrogena wanted to do its part to impact the cultural conversation and, along with our agency Passion Point Collective, we envisioned a program that would give opportunities to young, diverse storytellers.
The program was formally announced via a feature in People Magazine in March of 2021, and the first two films had their world premiere at a virtual screening event, held in partnership with Ghetto Film School and Women in Film in March of 2022.
At what point did Ghetto Film School get involved?
As an educational non-profit that has been preparing students for careers in creative industries for over 20 years, Ghetto Film School was the perfect partner to develop and execute the program with us. Their involvement began soon after we conceived the program, and they brought access to talented alumni who were looking for early-in-career opportunities.
What about Chloe x Halle? What did their participation look like?
We knew we wanted mentorship to be a critical piece of the program, so we engaged Grammy-nominated duo and Neutrogena brand ambassadors Chloe x Halle to work with the two directors as mentors. They assisted with selecting the filmmakers from a group of finalists and mentored the directors with feedback on the scripts and early rough cuts. Their input was invaluable, particularly with the musical elements of both films.
What can you share about the directors selected and their films?
EN AVANT highlights the internal struggle of a Black ballerina with self-acceptance as she faces racism in a white-dominated art form. It is written and directed by 20-year-old, NYU Tisch School of the Arts student Sarah Jean Williams.
IF MY VOICE RANG LOUDER THAN MY SKIN brings to life an allegorical story of a Black teenage boy who craves a life where his skin no longer affects his daily life or how others perceive him. Using 2D animation, the film follows him through the streets of the Bronx, trying to unite his community’s voice through music to rally against the divisive hate against color. It is written and directed by 22-year-old Kyra Peters, who is currently a script coordinator at Moonbug Entertainment.
Sarah Jean and Kyra are both amazing artists and we absolutely loved working with them.
What has been the plan for sharing these films with audiences?
The films were shared with audiences through a robust PR campaign, our owned Neutrogena channels, Hearst Media properties, YouTube paid media, at global film festival screenings, and shown at over 750 middle and high schools as part of an educational program we crafted around identity and diversity.
We also held internal screenings of the films for employees, and produced behind-the-scenes content for the two films. One element that I’m most proud of is the Roundtable Discussion we held with the filmmakers and Chloe x Halle. The discussion was vulnerable, personal, and moving for everyone on set. I feel the roundtable is mandatory viewing for anyone who has watched the films.
Has the First Frame program succeeded thus far in accordance with the brand’s goals?
In terms of all distribution points, paid media and PR goals, the films have exceeded expectations and have reached 1.4M views on YouTube. To date they have been accepted to 14 film festivals, including the American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival, and are reaching students through the national school screening program.
What’s next for the program?
Once this year's program has concluded, we can start to explore how we want to evolve the First Frame program for next year. We have a lot of exciting ideas, but I can’t share any of the details yet.
Learn more about Neutrogena Studios here.
About Tyler Rochwerg
Tyler Rochwerg is the creative content lead at Neutrogena Studios. Tyler aims to bring brands to life through the combination of marketing strategy, technology, and consumer insights, making data-driven decisions while keeping his finger on the pulse of the latest consumer and marketing trends to build world class brands.