A 25th Anniversary Cover of 'Runaway Train' Uses Geo-Tech to Hunt for Missing Teens

Jamie N Commons, Skylar Grey and Gallant update Soul Asylum's classic music video

Every day, thousands of kids across America vanish. Some get abducted, others run away. Many wind up hungry, exploited and abused. Living on the street, they take drugs or turn to crime. Some fall prey to sex traffickers. 

In 1993, the video for Soul Asylum's power ballad "Runaway Train" famously served as a vehicle to help such unfortunates find their way back home. Directed by Tony Kaye, it featured the names and faces of 36 young people who'd gone missing. MTV and other outlets put the clip into heavy rotation, and 21 of the kids were recovered. Over time, their pictures were replaced in the video by new images of still-missing teens. 

Sadly, some things haven't changed since then. Youngsters still vanish at staggering rates, with more than 400,000 reports of missing kids in this country every year. One facet of everyday life that has improved since 1993, however, is technology—particularly in the realm of geolocation. Such advances drive an updated version of "Runaway Train" from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and agency M/H VCCP. 

A cover version by Jamie N Commons, Skylar Grey and Gallant dropped today, along with a new video directed by RSA Films' Jake Scott (an Emmy winner for Nike's "Move.") The record was produced by Jayson Dezuzio and Alex da Kid of KIDinaKORNER. 

Thanks to geolocation, the new film serves as a sophisticated search tool. It automatically updates itself with profiles of missing kids from the NCMEC database based on your viewing location. So, New Yorkers see children from New York, etc. This increases the odds of finding the kids, as most missing youngsters remain in the state where they disappeared.

"We know that it only takes one person to find a missing child," says NCMEC CEO John Clark. By sharing the video using #MissingKids and #RunAwayTrain25, "everyone has the ability to make a difference in their communities," he says. Its release comes ahead of National Missing Children's Day on May 25. 

The remake—less plaintive and gritty than the Soul Asylum original, but powerful in its own way—lives online at RunawayTrain25.com. Visitors to the site can report missing kids and share custom videos for friends and loved ones they're hoping to find. Digital billboards and transit screens support the effort, using geo-targeted feeds to display images of local children whose whereabouts are unknown. 

Tom Megginson, creative director of Acart Communications and an expert on social-issues marketing, believes "the dynamic element is a good idea," and applauds the new video's broad strokes. "The inclusion of an obviously trans youth addressed an important aspect in the issue of homelessness," he says. "A trustee in my school board is a trans woman, who spent time living on the streets. There are many reasons why youth feel the need to run." 

John Matejczyk, creative chief at M/H VCCP, calls the approach an internet-age version of NCMEC's campaign that puts photos and information about missing boys and girls on milk cartons. 

"It was always current and always local," he says. "We conceived of 'Runaway Train 25' as a way to bring art and technology together to accomplish the same thing in video form for finding missing kids."

Here's a case study about the project:

Muse spoke with Matejczyk about how the project came together:

Muse: Who came up with the idea of revisiting Runaway Train?

John Matejczyk: Two creatives who are old enough to remember the original—Adam Ledbury and Guy Lemberg. M/H VCCP had enjoyed great success with Slavery Footprint, a website that calculated the number of slaves who worked for you based on the products and services you use every day. That campaign was one of the reasons the creatives joined the agency, as they wanted to create something as impactful. Sitting in a cafe near North Beach in San Francisco, Soul Asylum's "Runaway Train" came on the playlist. They both reminisced about the song, and the video shot by Tony Kaye. Their minds turned to the fact it featured images of real missing children. 

A quick search revealed that the song was approaching its 25th anniversary, and over the years had helped to recover 21 of the 36 children featured. They asked themselves, how many children could a new version using the technology and social reach available to us today find? 

This was our opportunity to create something truly meaningful. It took three years, an army of talented, generous partners, and a client who never stopped believing in us to bring this to life. When this project began, we could never have imagined the true scale of the issue, and the harrowing experiences that children and families go through on a daily basis. To be able to create something that will have a positive impact on the work the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children does is incredibly humbling. 

How did you pick the artists? 

We worked with the record label KIDinaKORNER to create the track and identify the artists. The brief was simple: This shouldn't feel like a charity record. We had a huge hit from the '90s, but we needed to make something that sounded contemporary. In Jamie N Commons, Skylar Grey and Gallant, we have three very different voices that work together harmoniously to create something fresh, a record that is ownable to a generation that doesn't know the original.

And the director?

When Jake Scott wanted to shoot it, we knew we were in good hands. As well as being a fantastic director with a great music video pedigree, he'd worked with the issue before, with the Depaul Trust in the U.K., and most recently in his feature film American Woman. This experience was essential in helping us create something that was authentic to the problems facing these children.

With the geo-tech today, are you hopeful the new campaign will have even more impact than the original? 

We're very hopeful. Our social conscience is overflowing with messages of more charities to support, more donations to make, more causes to follow. Charity, tragically, is in danger of becoming white noise. But issues in my state, in my town, in my community and in my family, will always be important to me. This, along with the fact that 61 percent of missing children are found in the state they went missing from, makes the geo-tech especially important. We are now able to get more children in front of more people in more relevant places, hopefully bringing more children to safety. 

How will you measure the campaign's success? 

If we only bring one child home, that's a success. Some of the things these kids are going through are unspeakable. But the reality is that we believe many, many missing children will be brought home because of this project. Not only that, but the authentic way missing children are depicted in the video will hopefully show children who are struggling with sexuality, homelessness and abuse that they are not alone.

CREDITS

Client: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
President and CEO: John Clark
Chief Operating Officer: Michelle DeLaune 
Vice President, Strategic Advancement & Partnerships: Gavin Portnoy 
Senior Communications Program Manager: Rebecca Kovar
Director, Digital & Broadcast Media: Angeline Hartmann
Director, Creative & Engagement: Stacy Garrett 
Media Relations Manager & Producer: Christine Barndt 
Senior Digital Media Program Manager: Michael Hill 
Technical Project Director: Andre Howard 
Director, Case Management Services: Patricia Willingham

Agency: M/H VCCP 
Chief Creative Officer: John Matejczyk
Executive Creative Director: Paul Stechschulte
Associate Creative Director: Adam Ledbury
Associate Creative Director: Kelsey Wilkins
Associate Creative Director: Guy Lemberg
Art Director: Colleen Horne
Copywriter: Amanda Burger
Head of Production, Associate Partner: Tanya LeSieur
Producer: Molly Hayes
Associate Producer: Ben Evangelista
Senior Editor: Whitney James
Director of Business Affairs: Cara Orlowski
Chief Strategy Officer: Matt Hofherr
Chief Strategy Officer: Brenden Robertson
Director of Analytics: Arthi Veeraragavan
Director of Marketing: Alexis Lovett
Group Account Director: Marisa Buss
Account Manager: Prianka Sundaram
Account Supervisor: Kat McLeod
Director of Project Management: Holly Nicolson

Production Company: RSA Films/Black Dog Films
Director: Jake Scott
Executive Producer: David Mitchell
Executive Producer: Tracie Norfleet
Executive Producer: Julia Ochsenreiter
Producer: Christian Nurse
Director of Photography: Chris Soos
Production Company/Website Development: 
Media Monks: MediaMonks

Editorial Company: 
Bread & Butter Edit
Amanda Perry
Andrea MacArthur 

Color Correction: Company 3
Senior Colorist: Stefan Sonnenfeld
Senior Producer: Gabriel Wakeman
Executive Producer: Ashley McKim

Online/Finishing: Method
Senior Executive Producer: Alaina Zanotti
Executive Producer: Ananda Reavis
Senior Producer: Julia Paskert
Flame Artist: Ian Holland
Flame Artist: Aaron Neitz
Flame Artist: Andrew Dill
Graphic Artist: Ryan Wehner

Audio - Mixing: Subtractive Inc. 
Executive Producer: Kyle Schember
Re-Recording Mixer / Sound Designer: J Clark

Lime Studios
Executive Producer: Susie Boyajan
Engineer: Jeff Malen

Talent/Management/Label

YMU Group: 
Executive Manager: Joel Marks 
Artist Management: Danny Celis
Singer/Band: Dave Pirner and Soul Asylum 

No Friction 
Executive Producer/Music Supervisor: Michael Frick 

KIDinaKORNER 
A&R, Head of Sync & Licensing: Zach Sinick
Music Producer, Mixer: Jayson DeZuzio
Singer: Jamie N Commons 
Engineer: Randy Belculfine

Runway Girls
Additional Music Production: MADS

Interscope
Head of Marketing: Matt LaMotte
Marketing: Rob Gross

Crush Music
Head of A&R: Evan Taubenfeld
A&R: Spencer Smith
Singer: Skylar Grey 

Warner Brothers/Maverick 
Artist: Gallant 
A&R: Dan Werman
Manager: Gordan Dillard

PR: Powell Communications: 
President: Sloane Humphrey
Head of Ideas and Innovation: Sara Woster
Account Director: Beryl Crofton Atkins
Account Manager: Titus Wouda Kuipers

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.

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