Shortly after that sixth commercial started playing, the judges knew they were watching something special. In fact, when the commercial finished, the audience broke into a spontaneous round of applause.
The commercial—which would go on to take top honors in the contest’s student category—was made by College of the Desert student Daniel Meyers. Using dry-erase drawings, the commercial tells the story of Aaron, an 18-year-old who discovers he is gay as he is dealing with the death of his father. He goes on to find low-cost grief counseling and a community of friendship at the Center.
Meyers’ commercial, simply put, was amazing. (It’s the first commercial embedded below. Go ahead and stop reading, and scroll down to watch it; come back here when you’re done. Seriously. Go watch it.)
The contest was the brainchild of Shann Carr, the Center’s outgoing volunteer coordinator. (Carr—a friend of the Independent—is returning to her stand-up comedy career full-time.) She joined her “Secret Meeting Volunteers” (disclosure: I sat in on some of those early “secret meetings”) to put on the contest as a gift to the Center.
When all was said and done, the contest received six entries from students, and 16 from the general public. Around 100 community members arrived at the Desert Regional Medical Center’s Sinatra Auditorium on Monday, July 15, to serve as judges at the aforementioned screening; two days later, many of the contestants and other community members were invited to the Sinatra Auditorium for a screening and the announcement of the winners.
While Meyers ran away with the win in the student contest, the mother-and-son team of Katy and Sam Wilkerson took top honors in the general-population category. Their impressive documentary-style commercial features clips of volunteers and members discussing the various services provided at the Center. (It’s the second clip embedded below.) This isn’t the first time that the Wilkerson family has made figurative waves with video cameras: Their short film The Pride of Palm Springs, about the inclusion of the Palm Springs High School marching band in the local pride parade, recently impressed audiences at the Palm Springs International Shortfest.
The two winners received $1,000, thanks to sponsorship by Hunters, Snowden Construction, the Coachella Valley Independent (yep, that’s us), The NestEggg Group, Southern Wine and Spirits, and Ripe N’ This World.
The second-place finishers—Cindy Kendall in the general-population category, and Cheri Smith (the daughter of a Center volunteer and also a College of the Desert student) in the student category—received $250.
All of the entries can be viewed at inacenterminute.com. The Center will use the entries at public events and for fundraising. They may also be submitted to local media as public-service announcements.
Katy and Sam Wilkerson signed up for the contest after someone at the Shortfest told them about it, Katy says.
“We thought it would be fun, and kind of up our alley,” she says.
However, the Wilkersons’ winning submission almost didn’t come to fruition. Sam’s father and Katy’s husband, Steven, passed away rather suddenly during the contest period, on June 25. Despite the shock, Sam and Katy decided to press on.
“My husband would have wanted us to do this, and we decided to go on with it,” Katy says. “He was in the room with us the night we won.”
Understandably, the Wilkersons got a late start on filming: Katy says the day before the submission deadline, Sam went to the Center and did his filming after they talked to friends who were familiar with the Center. He then edited the footage—and had just enough good stuff to flesh out the documentary-style commercial.
“It all just flowed,” Katy says.
In the end, the commercial was just the latest honor for the family Wilkerson, which has been into films since Sam, now 20 years old, bought his first camera with birthday and Christmas money at the age of 10.
Sam was unable to attend the awards screening on Wednesday, July 17, because he was on a film shoot in the Los Angeles area. He’s now working as a pro in L.A. after learning film-and-editing ropes at Palm Springs High School.
And as for the commercial that left the audience cheering: A visibly shy Daniel Meyers told the audience on Wednesday that he based the character of Aaron on his own life. However, there is one big difference.
Unlike Aaron, he didn’t discover the Center until a bit later in life. He told the audience that he wishes he’d learned about it sooner.
Below: Daniel Meyers, the student-category winner, poses with LGBT Center volunteer coordinator Shann Carr; and Katy Wilkerson, the mom in the mom-son team that won in the general-population category, poses with Carr. Photos courtesy of the Center.