Sam Branson on tapping into YouTube to tackle the war on drugs.

This film and its controversial subject is the exact reason I set up my business. The whole driving force behind it is educating the wider public about an issue that affects everyone, whether they realise it or not. It’s real aim is to start a global conversation that has not yet taken place. The beauty of this film launching and being available via YouTube is that it is available to the world at the touch of a button. It means everyone can have a say.

We’ve had an overwhelming level of support so far but a variety of opinions is what is important about this subject. It will take different strategies in different territories to solve. It’s an issue that, once you get into the subject matter, is a no brainer. The war on drugs has failed. Something needs to change.

It’s not been without its challenges; the sensitivity of the film being one of them. When you’re dealing with such a topic you have to make sure you don’t leave any room for error. If there are errors in the facts you present, then you open the window for cynics to come in and take down your argument. So we made sure to double, then triple check, everything.

There were times when there was concern for our personal safety. There was a day when we were filming in Brownsville, New York, and as soon as the sun went down we were warned by a local woman to get out as soon as possible, because the area had a tendency to take on a sinister tone after dark.

While filming in the Columbian mountains, the crew thought they were going to get kidnapped. It’s no secret that Latin America can be dangerous, but ironically, the war on drugs is one of the key reasons it is that way.

Best brains in the business

We had access to some of the best brains in this area. We worked with people who were very passionate about getting their point of view across, so they were willing to give their time to make it as credible as it could be. This was an opportunity for them to have a vehicle to get their message to the wider public.

We knew that Morgan Freeman had been outspoken on drugs policy, which is why we wanted him to be a part of it. We sent him the film with a note saying how much we thought he could add value. Not expecting a response, two days later we received a one line answer: “At last, voices of reason. Count me in.” He believes in the message so much that he even did it pro-bono.

We had a short space of time to paint a global picture of current drugs policy and its failings. We have had to take into account every aspect of the drugs trade, from the cartels to the effect the war on drugs has on individuals and bringing to life the human narrative.

An extortionate amount of high profile and intellectual people have supported this campaign – you can see for yourself on Twitter, at #BreakTheTaboo. Putting social media at the heart of it puts the conversation firmly in the public’s hands.

Most documentaries, with the exception of big hitters like An Inconvenient Truth, hardly reach a decent sized audience. The good ones will reach a few hundred thousand viewers in their lifetime. To create the films that I believe will have the power to change the world, we must find new and innovative ways to reach many more than this. Our YouTube channel has had more than 350,000 views in a week and the film itself has yet to go live. (NB - Since its release on Friday [Dec 7], Breaking the Taboo has had over 266,000 views)

We are hoping to reach millions of people who can then be driven to the campaign website and sign the petition – we want to create an army of advocates. They will only spread the word if they believe the message. They can make it fly or they can squash it – it’s up to them. That excites me! I feel safe in the belief that this is a topic that people care about and it will spread.

We do, however, need to clear up the point about legalisation. This is the constant term that naysayers use to discredit any debate around this subject. The world ‘legalise’ is thrust into the mouth of anyone that has an alternate opinion. Nowhere in the film do we say that this is the solution. We say it’s important to explore all potential alternatives to end this senseless war and that each country needs to make a decision based on their situation. I have no more time for people who want to belittle this issue.

This won’t be the last film you’ll see Sundog make that tackles something so sensitive and thought provoking. Taking big subjects and telling them in an accessible way is what we do. I constantly think that this world runs inefficiently and we have learnt to accept the atrocities that we see almost on a daily basis. Well I don’t. We are working towards creating a world where we don’t follow senseless paths and believe the medium of film is one of the most powerful tools we have in the modern era to create positive change.

Sam Branson, chairman and founder, Sundog Pictures

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