A pair of actors welcomed 11 kids from Pierson and Southampton high schools into their movie-set home on Sunday for a party complete with empty beer cans and red plastic cups as props — all for a good cause.
The organization SAFE in Sag Harbor had hired a professional film and television director to shoot and edit a public service announcement to educate families about Suffolk County’s “social host” law. That law prohibits adults — defined as anyone age 18 or over — from allowing minors to drink alcohol or take illicit drugs at their residences, and outline consequences for those who break the law.
“What we hope to gain out of this is an increased awareness amongst the adults in the public that this law exists and the consequences of breaking the law,” said Danielle Laibowitz, program coordinator of SAFE in Sag Harbor. “The need we found for this is that when you survey students and children of the Sag Harbor area — and nationwide, quite honestly — one of the reasons for underage drinking is the easy accessibility of alcohol, and one place they get the alcohol is at home with parents’ permission and without parents’ permission.”
According to the text of the law, “allowing consumption by minors at private residences” is a misdemeanor for which the penalty is a $500 fine for a first offense and a $1,000 fine, one year in jail or both for second and subsequent offenses. Exceptions include situations where a minor’s parent or legal guardian is present “and has expressly permitted such consumption,” or for religious or medical reasons. The full text of the law may be found online at ecode360.com/14943987.
The public service announcement, or PSA, was a project long in the works by SAFE in Sag Harbor, which recently received word that it could use some of its federal funding for this purpose. A survey released last November suggested Pierson High School students in some grades were using alcohol and drugs at rates higher than national averages.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among America’s youth, and drinking by young people poses enormous health and safety risks.” The institute reports alcohol use and abuse by teens leads to many injuries and deaths among youth, increases the likelihood of physical and sexual assault and interferes with brain development. Additionally, those who start drinking before the age of 15 are “four times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.”
SAFE in Sag Harbor hired Jonathan Brandeis, a veteran director, producer and television showrunner who lives in New York City and Shelter Island, to film and edit the PSA. Eileen Moskowitz, a SAFE volunteer and local resident who formerly worked as a producer and writer with Walt Disney’s educational division, served as producer and scriptwriter for the PSA. Marian Cassata, who was one of the founders of the Sag Harbor Coalition, an organization of which SAFE in Sag Harbor is an offshoot, and who continues to serve on the board, volunteered her North Haven home as the set for the project.
Ms. Moskowitz said she got involved with SAFE after learning about a violation of the social host law a few years ago during her daughter’s senior year at Pierson.
“I got a call the morning of her graduation from another classmate’s parent, who let me know there was a party in the village after prom, the previous week, and not only were the parents aware of the drinking, they were selling Solo cups filled with alcohol for $5 each,” Ms. Moskowitz said. “This incensed me. I could not believe it. My daughter was not drinking or involved with drugs, but I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is dangerous to our community’s youth.”
She said it’s her goal to not just get the PSA aired on websites, public access channels and News 12, but also on the lobby TV monitors at local movie theaters.
“I think they owe it to the youth of the whole East End to allow us to show it on their monitors,” Ms. Moskowitz said.
Gaylin Davey, a Pierson 10th grader who has worked with SAFE in Sag Harbor on other occasions, volunteered to be in the film.
“I thought that doing a PSA would be a fun way to get the word out that parents ought to be following the rules and making sure kids are safe,” she said. “The main reason all these parties are happening is that parents just don’t know.”
Students arrived at Ms. Cassata’s house on Sunday afternoon to find a green screen had been set up across one window; it’s technology used in movies and in television production. Mr. Brandeis explained it would be used to digitally insert footage of police lights pulling up to “bust” the “party.”
He said working on the PSA has been fulfilling.
“A lot of the work I do is gratifying one way or another, but some of it is just gigs, and this is satisfying,” he said.
Mr. Brandeis compared SAFE in Sag Harbor’s PSA to a documentary he made for the local nonprofit organization Paddlers for Humanity that premiered this summer.
“People think of the Hamptons and don’t imagine anyone’s in need at all, but the truth is there’s quite a bit of substance abuse by kids and to some extent it’s because of the community being a famous place where people kid of disregard the locals,” he said. “It’s a really vibrant, busy community that has all sorts of people struggling, like most places.”