Student film focuses on texting during driving

Olivia Wainhouse and Olivia Wainhouse

In the plot of a new film, two high school students spend their time flirting through text-messaging until a “surprising, shocking accident” changes everything.

The film, called “Message Received,” is a work-in-progress of Communication senior Karolyn Szot. When Szot was a sophomore at Northwestern, she discovered a friend from her hometown had died in a “distracted driving” accident involving texting while driving. Two of her immediate friends were also in minor car accidents as a result of distracted driving; these incidents inspired her to create a film.

Szot found that newspaper articles published after the incident did not elaborate on the reasons behind the accident and others similar to it.

“When reading about their deaths I saw that the article never mentioned anything about the cause of death – that was texting and driving,” she said. “More and more as I started researching this, I thought, ‘Why aren’t people spreading the word how dangerous this is?'”

Cognitive psychology Prof. Karl Rosengren said texting while driving decreases the driver’s ability to react to a surprising event because of divided attention. The driver ends up focusing more on texting than driving.

“There is research that suggests that texting while driving leads to a higher level of impaired driving than when you’re drunk, which is pretty scary,” Rosengren said. He also cited research by University of Utah psychologist David Strayer that drivers distracted by texting could travel the length of a football field without paying attention to the road. “There are a number of states around the country that are outlawing texting while you drive.”

In early August, Illinois became the 17th state to outlaw texting while driving as an addition to its cell phone legislation. A Chicago city ordinance passed last year made clear that texting and Internet browsing while driving is illegal. Drivers can be fined $75 if caught texting behind the wheel, and up to $200 if the activity results in an accident, the Daily reported last October.

Raising awareness about texting while driving is also important for Josie Chai, a Communication senior and producer of “Message Received.”

“It’s something that people don’t really think about,” Chai said. “People think that being in contact with each other all the time is more important than safety for yourself, your friends and other people on the road.”

Szot wrote the script for the film during her sophomore year and pitched the idea to an organization for funding, but didn’t receive support until she presented it as her senior directing project. This summer, she raised more than $3,000 from donation letters for the $4,500-budget film.

Szot said she hopes to raise the rest of the money through on-campus fundraisers, adding that she and her crew will be selling Livestrong bracelets that say “msg rcvd: don’t txt n drive” for $2 each. Also, the Undertones a cappella group will be featured in her film, singing an original piece composed by Music sophomore Patrick O’Malley, called “Everyone Can Find Someone.”

And they are using a piece of special filming equipment, called the “red,” a more expensive and technical camera. The filming will take place at a local high school in the Evanston or Chicago area, Szot said. The first round of casting and auditions will be held Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. in Norris University Center.

“Message Received” will be premiering on campus Winter or Spring Quarter. Szot said she anticipates the film will be done by February or March, and she hopes to send it in to film festivals to spread the message on a national level.

“I’m hoping afterwards that this will have such a great impact on not only the main audience – high school students – but people will realize that they should just keep their two eyes on the road while driving,” Szot said.