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Springfield graduate's video makes national top 10

By admin Published: July 18, 2011

A young man texts a message on his cell phone while driving.

Suddenly a red-caped crusader wearing a white T-shirt and shorts dives into the driver's side window, wrestles the phone out of his hands and tumbles over the female passenger headfirst out of her window.

At the end of the one-minute driver safety video, the superhero proclaims: ''Fellow drivers, don't be dumb. When you drive, you need your thumbs!''

Amber Cullen's one-minute video The Phone Bandit is among the top 10 public service announcements in a nationwide contest sponsored by Bridgestone Americas. She could win a $10,000 college scholarship and have her video aired nationwide. The 19-year-old filmmaker already has won a set of four Bridgestone or Firestone tires for reaching the top 10.

Cullen, who graduated from Springfield High School in 2010, was at Lock 3 in downtown Akron Saturday night urging people to cast their votes online at http://www.safetyscholars.com. Voting closes on July 29 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time.

Cullen is studying film production at Bowling Green University, where she conceived of the idea for her video last month.

At first, she thought about a drunk-driving message.

''I had this idea of, like, just hitting a beer bottle out of someone's hand,'' Cullen said. ''I really wanted to call my generation dumb. And I know that's weird.''

Then she replaced the beer bottle with a cell phone.

''I honestly think it was because I didn't think I'd be able to obtain a beer bottle,'' she said.

She imagined a superhero who would dive into cars and say the only words of the short movie ­ a gentle reprimand urging her generation to not be dumb and use their thumbs for driving.

But when she returned home to Ohio in early June, she had to burn through a lot of contracts in her phone to find enough friends to cast the movie. It was especially difficult finding the right superhero.

''A lot of people were unavailable,'' Cullen said. ''So my brother came up to me and he was like, 'why don't you just pick me?' I looked at him and I was like, oh my goodness, you'd be perfect. I never thought he'd do it.''

Brad Cullen, who just turned 18 and will be a senior at Springfield High School this fall, did his own stunts, including diving into a car to snatch the offending cell phone.

''I didn't think he'd actually do it, but he did, at least five times,'' Amber Cullen said. ''Sometimes he would jump in and hit the car horn.''

She shot the video at her house and on a quiet stretch of Canfield Road, halting to allow cars to pass. The scenes took about four hours to film with a hand-held Sony HD camera. Then she used two different computer editing programs to create the movie.

''Editing takes forever, but I love it because it's so perfectionistic,'' she said. ''I don't know if that's a word, but I'm a perfectionist.''

Her brother was as surprised as anyone that her video made the top 10.

''He didn't expect it to get into the top 10, so when it did he was kind of freaked out,'' Amber Cullen said. ''His friends are razzing him about it a little bit.''

Other videos in the top 10 make a more dramatic appeal.

One features the smooth ''Mr. Experienced'' who brags that he doesn't need to wear a seat belt, check his mirrors or slow down. He's reading a text when a truck horn sounds and he's thrown around in a slow motion collision sequence.

Another video tugs the heartstrings when a young lady assures her mother that she's not too tired to drive home. Lullaby music plays in the background while statistics about accidents from drowsy driving appear on the screen. She decides to stay the night when the camera reveals her own infant strapped into her car seat.

Another entry shows a series of hand-drawn sketches narrated by a young man whose best friend Jake has died because he was texting instead of paying attention to the road.

Cullen's video isn't the only one with a sense of humor, however.

Another video shows a reckless young man who eats raw chicken and takes a bath while eating toast from a plugged in toaster perched on the rim of the tub. But when he gets behind the wheel, he snaps on his seat belt, grins at the camera and says: ''You didn't think I was that stupid, did you?''

Only one vote per email address is allowed, so Cullen is hoping to boost her numbers.

''We're not the biggest community, so we know that we're going to have to get the word out there,'' she said.

John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or jhiggins@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.

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