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David Zapatka, of North Kingstown is pictured with five Emmy awards that he has earned over his career as a cameraman and producer.  He recently won his sixth Emmy for producing a public service announcement about drunk driving.

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — For the second year in a row, cameraman, producer and North Kingstown resident David Zapatka found himself taking home a bit of gold (virtually) as him and his work team from Providence-based ad agency RDW Group of director Dante Bellini and cinematographer Eric Latek took home the New England Emmy for Best Public Service Announcement Single Spot for “Ghost in the Boneyard,” part of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s Ripple Effect project.

“When you start winning awards like this, it validates everything,” Zapatka said.

The PSA, which first began airing last summer and featured prominently across Rhode Island airwaves, including during the Super Bowl, features a young girl, wearing only one bright red shoe, walking slowly through a row of wrecked cars, each with a person standing by them. Suddenly, one of the wrecked cars is illuminated, and her other shoe is seen falling out of one of its doors, implying she has become another victim of a drunk driver, a ghost along with the others standing by their wrecked cars. The camera then focuses on the shoe before the words “Take the Keys. Ride Share. Drive Sober” flash across the screen, followed by the RIDOT logo.

The ad was shot last June at the Rhode Island State Police headquarters in North Scituate in an area called “The Boneyard,” where vehicles totaled in DUIs that are still part of active investigation are stored, meaning each car shown was part of a real accident.

In fact, the inspiration for the missing shoe came from one of those accidents.

Zapatka said Latek was taking pictures and videos of the different cars in the lot for the campaign when he came across one that had a single boot sitting in its back seat. 

“The next day, he went into the State Police headquarters with investigators who were looking at pictures from the actual crash and the autopsy and laying on the autopsy table was the other boot,” Zapatka said. “It was (from seeing) that haunting image that he went to (Bellini) and said ‘look, I have this idea, let’s try to work on this to bring to life the idea of the lost shoe.’” 

Filming for the ad had to take place at night to fit in with the haunting tone, with filming taking place between 7 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. and the scene was doused in water to add extra dramatic effects, something which as the producer Zapatka wanted to really get across to display the horrible ripple effect drunk driving has on the community.

“It really pulls at the heartstrings because it (shows) a nine-year-old girl walking through this haunting scene and you’re kind of a little bit confused at the beginning and then you realize ‘oh my goodness that’s her shoe in that drunk driving crash.’”

To add even more realness to the scene, the car itself was involved in a fatal DUI crash in which two young children were killed. 

This was Zapatka’s second year running with the Ripple Effect program, having produced a series of ads in 2018 that featured family and friends of victims and state troopers talking about the tolls these crashes took on them. 

For Zapatka, a 40-year veteran of television production and four time New England Emmy winner, while he doesn’t like the reason why he has to make these ads, he’s proud of the impact they’re having and that people are taking notice.

“It’s sad that we have to make these kinds of commercials, but I think they have been very effective,” Zapatka said. “We’ve heard anecdotally of people in bars that have said ‘just think about the ripple effect.’ That gives you a sense of pride that the campaign is effective and winning the Emmy just validates that.” 

For more information on the Ripple Effect, visit their website rippleeffectri.com

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