16th February 2018

Leo's Story - The craft behind the film

It’s hugely gratifying to have your work recognised with an industry award so picking up our Gold Craft award in the disease awareness category at the recent Pharmaceutical Marketing Awards was a great occasion for us, our client Tessa Lush at Aimmune, and Watchable Films, the creative video producers. It was especially pleasing to win a Craft award because right from the beginning we were all convinced that it was the creative ingredients and the execution of the film that would lend it the resonance it needed. 

We were lucky to have a number of external advisors on this project: representatives from eight EU food allergy patient societies, and a clinical psychologist.  We harnessed their insight to ensure the film reflected real emotional issues caused by peanut allergy.

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The film’s director was Watchable co-founder Theo Delaney who is no stranger to an awards ceremony stage. We asked him to talk about the craft that went into the film from the initial strategic thoughts right through to the finishing touches in postproduction.

‘Nut allergies can be dangerous to the point of life-threatening. Sufferers have to be constantly vigilant to avoid contact. In childhood, when social interaction is in development and inclusion in groups is a big determinant of day-to-day happiness, this is particularly problematic. But it is one of those conditions that is still widely misunderstood and, in some communities, even unrecognised.

When we first sat down with Tessa and Anton to discuss making a film about peanut allergy, we were considering a hard-hitting idea that involved a seizure in a restaurant and a doomed attempt at saving a life in a hospital intensive care ward. But using the insights from people who live with this condition, we concluded that rather than highlight the relatively rare instances of death, we needed to capture their everyday reality. 

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Filming a child in familiar situations and imparting the information with a voiceover can be very dull. Any number of psychological research studies tell us that to really engage audiences you need to tell stories.

In a recent Guardian article Jennifer Aaker, a marketing professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, explained: “Research shows our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories. A story is a journey that moves the viewer, and when the viewer goes on that journey they feel different and the result is persuasion and sometimes action.”

We wanted to create something with resonance and memorability. We needed a narrative arc and we needed drama. Watchable partner Greg Delaney has written numerous scripts for all kinds of brands and organisations. He came up with a deceptively simple day-in-a-life idea that gave us the blueprint for our mission. The idea was to show seemingly benign situations through the prism of a young boy’s anxiety.

In our film we sense that something is playing on young Leo’s mind but we don’t know what it is. Shot like a modern thriller; the film opens in the comfortable surroundings of Leo’s family kitchen.  As soon as he leaves the house the natural feel is replaced with slow-motion dissonance and the natural sound is replaced by a discordant music track.

We wanted to underline the cinematic feel and go for a rich premium look so, at the suggestion of Director of Photography Ben Butler, we shot on premium anamorphic lenses which allow for a wide screen finish and lens flares that add an unsettling, ethereal overtone.

Just as important as the look was the sound. TV is littered with tear-jerking charity ads with plinky-plonky piano tracks. But we wanted to lead the audience down a less obvious path so we commissioned a bespoke score. The composer, who has a day job in a successful contemporary band, was sympathetic to the cause and its creative requirements. He cracked the brief first time, combining minor chords and jarring melody with unnerving sound effects.

But all of this would have been in vain without the most important component of all - the lead actor. We engaged the casting doyenne Camilla Arthur who saw scores of candidates before narrowing them down to a dozen for me to see in a recall session. They were all good actors and there was one in particular that I felt confident could deliver the kind of subtle, thoughtful performance I was looking for.

But my director’s instincts told me he might not be sympathetic enough simply because he had the look of a mature twelve year old. I was sure we could engage the audience’s emotion better with a younger-looking boy. Camilla said there were two or three other candidates that hadn’t been able to attend the session so we arranged to see them at a later date in our office. We were glad we did because when Matti Kolirin walked in I knew we’d found our Leo. He had the right vulnerable demeanour and sad expressive eyes but was at the same time supremely confident and intelligent which meant he could give me the authenticity and elicit the compassion we needed.

All the effort and attention to detail that goes into the crafting of the script, the casting, the filming and the music came together in the cutting room where many hours were spent trying different ideas and honing and polishing every aspect of the exposition, the pace and rhythm of the piece with editor Emanuele Crivellari’

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The film has been really well received. Parents have talked about how welcome it is to find something that illustrates the problems their children deal with every day.

Different versions are being used by patient societies across Europe to raise awareness of this issue. We all feel certain that a straightforward factual piece would never have achieved the same reach and impact.

Theo’s final thoughts: ‘The award is testament to the courage and determination of everyone involved not to take the easy route but to try and create something remarkable’.

Click here to see Leo's Story