Utah students create video, posters for campaign to promote vaccinations

Spy Hop Productions teams with Salt Lake County Health Department for “Vax to the Max” campaign.

(Spy Hop Productions) This poster is part of a public health campaign, created by students at Salt Lake City's Spy Hop Productions in partnership with the Salt Lake County Health Department, to encourage people to get vaccinated against diseases. The campaign includes a short film and an interactive video game.

This story is jointly published by nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune, in collaboration with Salt Lake Community College, to elevate diverse perspectives in local media through student journalism.

Old-timey music plays in the background as a housewife in a dress greets her clean-cut husband in a 1950s-style kitchen.

As they sit down at the kitchen table, the husband falls into a coughing fit, and a narrator pops up in the background: “What Johnny doesn’t know is that he’s contracted polio. It only takes one person infected with the polio virus to bring disease into your home.”

The film — created by students at Spy Hop Productions’ Kahlert Youth Media Arts Center — serves as an allegory for vaccinations in the time of COVID-19, while also reminding the public of diseases that nearly have been eradicated through immunizations over the decades.

“Vaccines were safe back then; they are safer now,” the video concludes. “Vaccines are the world’s biggest asset against disease.”

More than $74,000 from the CDC Foundation — a private, nonprofit organization that partners with the private sector to promote public health — funded Spy Hop students’ production of the film, posters and an interactive video game.

To share the students’ work locally, Spy Hop partnered with the Salt Lake County Health Department, which plans to share the film, posters and game via social media, community partners and at local outreach events.

“In public health communications, we see art as a tool that helps us turn information and hard data into narratives and images,” said department spokesman Gabriel Moreno. “This is significant because we can leverage arts and digital media to create a common language ... to reach and engage our audiences.”

With $2.5 million in national funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC Foundation provided grants to 30 arts organizations nationwide to build COVID-19 and influenza vaccine confidence in their communities.

“This tool is especially important to us in public health communications when trying to increase COVID vaccine confidence and uptake,” Moreno said.

Students completed the projects as part of Spy Hop’s “Vax to the Max” project. With the help of professional mentors, the students worked in different areas — film, music, audio, graphic design and game design — and were able to gain experience within their respective media spaces.

Students in charge of the PSA video, for example, filmed on location in the basement of a Sandy hotel. They had one day to shoot, which forced them to work efficiently.

“It was a really tight space,” said audio student Soraya Wainwright, who recorded sound during filming. “Having 20 people in one tiny room was super, super busy. It was crazy but really fun.”

(Cristian Martinez | Amplify Utah) Mentor José Manzo, left, and student Crew Simpson color-grade the film for Spy Hop's "Vax to the Max" project.

As the video’s script went through changes, the film students said, the idea came up to center on the 1950s and polio. The concept originally was to feature a brief flashback to the ‘50s, but they decided to expand it to draw parallels with a virus that primarily afflicted older generations.

“We had to figure things out on the fly,” said student Ceci Davis, a casting producer on the film.

Students from Spy Hop’s audio and music program also wrote the film’s score, making the project collaborative across Spy Hop’s disciplines.

“We listened to ‘50s music and then ... came up with different melodies and beats,” Wainwright said. “We recorded the guitar, drums and piano all in-studio.”

Design students illustrated the graphic poster, with William Wainwright, Soraya’s brother, coding a desktop video game from the ground up using the Unity game engine. The game, published on the game-hosting site itch.io, allows players to act as a vaccine antibody and neutralize pathogens in their way.

As of July 7, 62% of Utahns were fully vaccinated and 29% had received a booster, according to the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

“I hope [our work] can provide people with more education,” film student Abigail Tello said.

Spy Hop — at 208 W. Harvey Milk Blvd. (900 South), Salt Lake City — will showcase the film, poster and video game Saturday, July 16, at its monthly block party, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Spy Hop will also provide food and beverages, as well as free vaccinations and testing.

Cristian Martinez wrote this story as a journalism student at Salt Lake Community College. It is published as part of a new collaborative including nonprofits Amplify Utah and The Salt Lake Tribune.