Will Warner, a national certified counselor and American Counseling Association member, has transformed himself into the Black Ghost — a live action superhero dedicated to keeping the peace in the Big Easy and inspiring children of all ages. Warner writes, directs, produces and stars in the family-friendly series, The Black Ghost, which airs weekly on public access television in New Orleans. The program centers on the character of Jake Stone, a psychology professor who finds an ancient medallion that gives him superhuman powers and the ability to stop crime.
During the day, Warner is a mild-mannered field supervisor at a rehabilitation agency, but in his spare time, he dons a black mask and cape at I.C.E. Studios, where on a shoestring budget, he and his production team make TV magic. His co-stars and colleagues, many of whom are also mental health professionals, work to capture the attention and imagination of inner city and underprivileged youth.
“We want to inspire something positive within them,” Warner says. “Kids today don’t have any positive social archetypes in their lives. The role of a superhero was always supposed to be inspiring to children and adults alike, to reach for something greater than themselves, to be something greater. (But) that has gone away in the past few decades.”
Warner is a huge fan of television action protagonists of yesteryear, including the Green Hornet, the Shadow and the Lone Ranger, whom he met at a publicity appearance as a child. He says meeting his hero in person had a profound and positive impact on him, and Warner hopes to recreate that experience for his young viewers.
“The genre of movies and shows I grew up watching had little as far as special effects, and they left a lot up to the imagination. Kids today have everything imagined for them,” Warner says. “We want to reinvigorate their imagination and help them understand that there are better ways of resolving conflicts besides fighting and shooting. In our show, the Black Ghost never throws a punch or kick. He resolves all the situations in a very nonviolent fashion, but yet it’s still entertaining.”
From one uniform to another
Warner’s idea for his alter ego superhero was born seven years ago while on active duty in the Navy. Serving as a public affairs officer, he had a flair for writing and decided to start his own comic book. Together with a few of his shipmates, he filmed a short movie focused on one of his characters. The film ignited his desire both to recapture the vintage culture of classic cliffhangers and to show kids the true virtues of heroism.
But it was only after attending graduate school at Our Lady of Holy Cross College to become a counselor that Warner locked on to the true potential of his project. He realized he could meld his creative filmmaking talents with his counseling skills to resurrect his favorite TV genre, while simultaneously fostering self-esteem and teaching positive coping skills to children.
The aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina only served to give Warner extra incentive to bring his project to life. “After Katrina, the kids in New Orleans have very little to entertain themselves. This was an opportunity for me to give back,” he says.
Lights, camera, action!
So far, Warner has filmed three episodes of his TV series. The response from both children and parents has been positive. He particularly enjoys speaking with the children at public appearances and at the studio.
“For those children who have watched the show, they love it and are eager for more and to find out what happens next,” he says. “They are amazed that they have their own superhero here in New Orleans. They ask questions and I engage them in conversation, and we are able to discuss alternative solutions to negative behaviors.”
He adds that parents are often amazed by his ability to capture kids’ attention and entertain them on such a small production budget using nonprofessional equipment. “I hear a lot of parents say that the kids can’t entertain themselves because they lost all of their toys or video games (in Hurricane Katrina). I explain to them and the kids that sometimes you just have to make do with what you have,” he says. “You don’t need high-tech and high-end materials in order to make something work for you.”
With that attitude, Warner is encouraging his viewers to do more than simply watch his Black Ghost character from the comfort of their couches. He’s getting his target audience involved with the production of the show and motivating children to read and nurture their creative sides. For the past two months, he has invited seven boys and seven girls, ages 12-17, to participate in a summer workshop in which they learn filmmaking skills, scriptwriting and costuming. They will eventually use these skills to produce their very own episode of the show.
Additionally, Warner has incorporated a “secret code” activity and questions about each episode. Viewers must figure out the code and write a 100-word essay about their answer for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to a local bookstore.
“As a counselor, we want to be able to give clients information to help them improve the quality of their lives. Sometimes we have to come up with innovative ways to do that,” Warner explains. “Working with children is obviously a lot different than working with adults. You have to be very creative to be able to get the message across to kids without being preachy. If I can give the same information in an episode that I would in, say, a group session or psychoeducational session and the kids ‘get it’ — they are entertained by it and are able to recall it later on when questioned about it — then my job is done. I’m probably the most unorthodox aspiring LPC out there because I like to be creative. Creativity really has taken a back seat in our profession, but sometimes you have to go outside the realm of what we classify as normal.”
Warner hopes that with the assistance of state grant money and the recruitment of sponsors, he will be able to establish a year-round production company and youth activity center. “That would be a big move away from what kids have available to them today, which in post-Katrina New Orleans isn’t much.”
The Black Ghost website and blog can be found at www.icestudios.bravehost.com/.