A World Without the YMCA Is Grim Indeed in This Cinematic Spot

Toronto chapter tells two versions of the same story

This short film from the YMCA of Greater Toronto vividly illustrates the night-and-day difference the organization can make in the communities it serves. 

Over the course of two and a half minutes, director Edward Andrews, working with production house Skin & Bones, tells the same basic story in two very different ways. First, we watch an immigrant family go about their routine with the YMCA providing services and support—such as a camp for kids. Next, the same scenario unfolds in a Y-less world. 

Each episode unfolds in a single, smooth take—and it's surely no spoiler to reveal that one version plays out far more grimly then the other. 

YMCA 'A World Without Y'

Andrews and freelance creative director Jonathan Guy developed the campaign to tout the YMCA's ability to help solve social problems and combat perceptions that the place is just a gym for those who can't swing fitness-club memberships.

"As I began my research, I realized the extent of how much actual support the Y gives to a community—it's huge," Andrews tells Muse. "But what if it were taken away? Who would this affect? I began to work through a few scripts based on the tagline 'Imagine a world without Y,' revolving around many different scenarios."

Guy helped him refine that basic concept. 

"Instead of a vignette spot, we decided to make the story more intimate and personal by focusing on one mother of a new Canadian family," Andrews says. Telling the same tale twice, but with key changes, "allows the viewer to really see how the support the YMCA provides can make a world of difference," he says. 

McCann Health took a similar tack a while back for this unnerving PSA supporting the Center for Adolescent Research & Education.

From the first stages of development, Andrews believed single-take storytelling would engage eyeballs and add impact for the Y. The team discussed filming the sequences in a conventional way and obscuring the cuts in post—thereby mimicking single takes and simplifying logistics—but that approach was ultimately deemed less visually appealing.

"We had one rehearsal day to nail the Steadicam move and blocking, and one full day to execute both scenarios," Andrews recalls. "I think we did 24 takes in each setup, and on both scenarios the last takes were chosen in the edit. Even though the story is the same but repeated in a different world, it was also decided to show the positive in the day and the negative in the evening. This worked for what was happening in the story, but also was a style choice."

Fair enough, but that surely accentuates the melodrama. Some might say the film flies a tad over the top, with the YMCA portrayed as a societal cure-all.

Guy says that if folks find the second scenario too unsettling—with rowdy teens run amok, a kid searching for his mom, and that squad car pulling up with obviously bad news—then the ad's done its job. "If people find it compelling and something they want to change or prevent, please donate to the Y—they need your support," he says.

Originally, the project targeted philanthropists in a bid to raise funds and support for new YMCA facilities around Toronto. But "once the concept was presented, the emotional impact of the piece was too great to not share," says Skin & Bones partner and executive producer Liane Thomas. "Due to the length of the spot and the nature of its cinematic style, a cinema release made the most sense." (It will also run on YouTube channels and in social media.)


Title: A World Without Y

Client: YMCA of Greater Toronto
Chief Development: Wendy McDowall
Sr. Director, Capital Campaign: Ali Kashani, CFRE
Sr. Communications Manager Karolina Hordowick

Creative Director: Jonathan Guy

Production Company: Skin and Bones Film Company Inc.
Executive Producer: Liane Thomas
Director: Edward Andrews
Director of Photography: Jordan Kennington
Steadi-Cam Operator: Russ De Jong
Line Producer: Luke Bryant
Production Designer: Rudin Causi
Stylist: Jessica Albano
Casting: Shasta Lutz, Jigsaw Casting Ltd.

Editorial: The Assembly
Editor: Warren Goodwin
Assistant Editor: Lia Han
Producer: Katie Oliver
Executive Producer: Tasha Jameson

Color and VFX: Alter Ego
Colorist: Wade Odlum
Color Assistant: Evan Spicer
VFX Artist: Joel Osis
VFX Assistant: Hali Gale
Producer: Spencer Butt
Executive Producer: Hilda Pereira

Audio House: SNDWRx
Sound design & Mix: Didier Tovel
Executive Producer: Alison Lawee

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