Season 2, Episode 7: Tune in to "Turn Out" - Interview with a Young Filmmaker and Advocate


You’re listening to Episode 17 of the Trafficking Dispatch, a biweekly podcast that briefs you on human trafficking issues in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Ariel Niforatos.
In this episode, we’ll hear from a young filmmaker who uses his talents to fight sex trafficking.

According Box Office Mojo, 724 films were released across North America in 2017. This statistic doesn’t account for the hundreds of films released in the rest of the world, and also doesn’t tell us how many to expect in the rest of 2018. But it does tell us that we have a lot of options when we get to the theater. With so many options, how do we choose which films to watch? Well, it depends on whether we want to be entertained, informed, or inspired. Our interviewee for this episode, Ethan Paisley, is a filmmaker who uses his art form to inspire his audience to take action against multiple social issues. At just 17 years old, Ethan already has a lengthy list of accomplishments. He’s given a TED Talk, written and produced multiple award-winning shorts and feature-length films, and was recently notified that he is a recipient of the National Red Cross’ Youth Humanitarian Hero Award. And that’s not even all of it, I just don’t have enough breath to list it all. Let’s hear more about his work and advice from Ethan directly.

Ariel: So, Ethan, to start out with, let’s hear more about your background, how you got involved in the film industry, and specifically why you decided to create Turn Out.

Ethan: Okay, so, I started acting and making films at a very young age, and around 14 I actually made a feature film about a local issue, which at the time was teen drug addiction. I was like 14, it was my first year of high school. But I was so disturbed by that and so moved by it on an emotional level, that I called together a whole group of teens and we kind of tackled this issue in a narrative feature. And that's kind of the trend we kept on. Both because it kind of tied us together, and connected us with international audiences and ways that really stunned and motivated us. We just saw great things come of doing socially conscious narratives. And when we were working on our second feature film, I was introduced to the topic of sex trafficking, because the film we were making dealt with PTSD and trauma and mental illness. And there were a couple people on that set who were connected to the issue of sex trafficking, all girls. And from there we started talking about this more and opening up, just as a community of filmmakers, and then that conversation eventually led to kind of a regional conversation. I'm in the San Francisco bay area. Through that I met, you know, probably 12-15 girls that had undergone sex trafficking, and from there composed a short film script about that subject. And then I took it to high schools around my area, actually out of spite for my own school, because I wanted to premiere the short at my high school, but they said that sex trafficking wasn't a legitimate problem and that taboo subject, that they didn't want to promote. So I said, you know, if this is the amount of attention that we choose to place on sex-related crimes, then I need to change that, and I'm going to take this to other high schools. And I did that and it literally changed my life. The reactions and the notes and the hugs I got from girls who had either been through it, had family who had been through it, or had been sexually assaulted -- wherever they laid on the spectrum, it inspired me and it invigorated me, and now I'm pushing for an end to the greatest social issue of our time in every capacity possible, so... That's kind of how I got to where I am today.

Ariel: Wow, I really appreciate you telling me that! That's a pretty incredible story actually! So now we know why you chose sex trafficking as your topic, but what caused you to pursue film when you were 14? What was it about filmmaking that stood out to you and made it a powerful advocacy tool for social justice issues?

Ethan: I think seriously, being able to sit in a movie theater or wherever you are, and watch a human being that starts normal or is established as likeable -- or just well rounded, right? -- and seeing that person step into shoes that you're not familiar with -- or step into a world that you've never heard of -- and watch them play out the decision-making process and fight with adversity to achieve the goals that they have...I think students seeing that, or adults seeing that, or people who don't know about sex trafficking, like, being in the presence of that -- it puts them in the shoes of that problem and immerses them so easily that it automatically motivates change. And I think media is -- I mean, it's everything these days. Our media's been saturated and blended by iPhones and social media and Nikon cameras, and whatever's out there these days. And, with those tools, I think there's no better way to advocate or fight for social justice because it's the easiest way to reach an audience and reach a point of awareness. And I think that's what's really changed my perspective on my first love for filmmaking and acting, and what I can really do with those to help make the world a better place. So, that's how I see it at least.

Ariel: Yeah, I think that's a really powerful statement because like you said, media reaches all types of audiences these days. So yeah, that's pretty cool! So you see yourself making more films about human trafficking, or do you like to work with advocates and then move onto other social justice issues in your films?

Ethan: Uhm, again, I kind of got started on the sex trafficking film journey that I've been on with a film about mental illness. So I definitely am passionate about exploring all avenues of underrepresented people, helping bring those stories to life. I think what specifically strikes me about sex trafficking is that it is really an amalgamation of so many different social issues that happen. I think the fact that it's the number 2 criminal industry worldwide, the fact that that is a fact within itself -- goes to show that there are so many different aspects of society that justify it and let it happen, and let that grow. So for me, working on sex trafficking projects specifically and media, to me that's super inspiring because you can also shine a light on so many other, you know, problems happening. And right now, I'm working on a new feature film about trafficking and it actually kind of takes a different spin on your typical human trafficking story. It's actually going to show the descent into the underworld by a girl who starts as a victim of trafficking but has to become a criminal in trafficking to help save herself. So we're really looking at the spectrum of evil and the insane decision-making process that is involved as a person in this world. And I think it's really going to give people a deep, relatable look into -- again, one of the greatest issues of our time. And, there's an amazing team coming together for that. I'm a writer and an executive producer, but there's a bunch of people working on it, and that's great. And it's kind of my first pass-off, I'm kind of passing off a script and helping get it built to something we'll hopefully see on Netflix in a couple years. Um, and, we're really excited about that, but...I was inspired to write that because I'd had such a good experience with my other short film that I made, and I want to globalize that effect of changing people's lives and bringing them into a situation that they're unfamiliar with, but quickly passionate and compassionate about.

Ariel: Okay, cool! So I know you mentioned before that your intended audience is the general public so that they can really become aware that this is going on. But are you hoping that maybe this will catch the attention of politicians or other people in places of power so they will do more about it?

Ethan: Absolutely! You know, I think starting a conversation with a friend or a neighbor, whoever it is, starts a conversation in the white house, or the senate, or wherever. I think it carries, and I think, again, film and media...Politicians probably watch "Breaking Bad" I don't know. So why wouldn't they watch this film and why wouldn't they be moved by it? And that's my hope, moving forward on my new project is, is absolutely that it reaches all facets of life and helps us all get to know more about ourselves and more about this issue.

Ariel: Cool! And then are you planning on giving talks at high schools again when this film comes out, just to further push it along?

Ethan: Yeah, I think that would be amazing! We're still kind of in a very early phase of pre-production. So we're kind of discussing how we want to market it, build up. But I think bringing it to high schools, college campuses, you know, city halls, wherever, would be extremely powerful and important to do. So, yes, that would be great.

Ariel: Great! It’s so great that you’re a young advocate reaching out to other young people. So, then, what advice would you give to other young people?

Ethan: I think we're really lucky right now to live in a time where this issue is actually finally being integrated in mainstream media. I think having access to that on social media or wherever, links you directly to local organizations. Like you can actually find small groups in your community and then collaborate with them. Don't be afraid to reach out and show them what you're doing. The whole idea here is for us to all join hands and all grow and all gang up against this problem so that it goes away. And, I think it takes community to do that, so seek out community would be my #1 piece of advice.

Ariel: Yeah, that's a very good piece of advice. Another thing I’m curious about is, you chose film and public speaking as your forms of advocacy. But for other young adults who have other skills and talents, how do you think they should choose the best path for them to advocate?

Ethan: That's a great question! And I think that's answered by your own path of life and where things take you. Again, I'm, I'm 17. I don't know what I'm doing right now. I'm just having fun and I'm doing what I love. But, that's the thing, is do what you love. I mean, a lot of people don't, or, having trouble finding that until college or after college or whatever, so...It's whenever I think you find that thing, then you can fight that way. But I think, you know, having passion against this and having the will to get up everyday and try to help survivors and just do whatever you can -- I think that's amazing in and of itself, and you don't need to choose a medium specifically to do that on, just as long as you -- again, seek out community. And I would say events are a great way to start. Really, get your community involved and... Yeah! That's what film does! You know, it pulls together people. Your whole goal is to have social capital in this, so, uh...You know, do that! Build that! In some way that you enjoy, if you can find that. But yeah, I mean I started, you know, as like an actor and then I decided to become a YouTuber and then I decided to be a model and then I decided to be a filmmaker. Like, it's changed but I'm really set on producing and that's all I see myself doing, and that's how I want to elevate my advocacy, so...

Ariel: That's very cool! So that was actually my last question, but if there’s anything you’d like to add...

Ethan: Yeah, you can also keep up with me on social media @ethanbpaisley on Instagram and all other social media. Um, and after that film, I really -- I really want to explore more of the world. I really would love to go to Russia or China, and show sex trafficking from a foreign perspective. I want to get involved as much as I can, be on a narrative standpoint. So I'd love to make a doc, and I'm looking at a couple pitches for that right now, so I'm just kind of immersing myself in what I love. And that's what I'm up to.

Ethan’s film, Turn Out, is still in its pre-release phase. While you wait, you can receive updates on the progress of his film by following @turnoutfilm on Instagram and Twitter. If you’re eager to expand your understanding of various forms of human trafficking before the film’s release, you can check out another film, Not My Life. Unlike Ethan’s thriller, Not My Life is a documentary. While you can buy the full-length documentary, a shorter version that was produced in collaboration with our partner, Youth Underground, is available for free on their website. We will include a link to the Youth Underground Not My Life page in our shownotes. Whether you wait it out for Turn Out’s release or watch Not My Life right after this episode, there are plenty of filmmakers using their talents to keep you informed and inspired to take action against human trafficking. How will you use your talents to do the same?

This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Ariel Niforatos. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our next episode which will be released on April 22 at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.

Ethan Paisley:
Youth Underground x Not My Life

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