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Duty to Care: How George Hackforth-Jones Shone a Light on Superheroes Who Need Saving



Senior creative George Hackforth-Jones reflects on a campaign that viscerally highlights the challenges faced by NHS staff over the course of the pandemic

Duty to Care: How George Hackforth-Jones Shone a Light on Superheroes Who Need Saving

If you fall ill, you will get help. That’s the promise which has underpinned British society and culture for generations, and that has made the NHS into one of the most beloved institutions in the country. 

Ever since Covid-19 arrived in the UK last year, the health service has been under immense strain and pressure. It’s common to hear in the news about the enormous problems faced by the NHS and it’s staff - but the story is rarely humanised. That’s an issue which the Duty of Care organisation recognises all too clearly.

The charity has been set up to provide wellbeing support via online consultation for healthcare professionals. That support will be provided through a network of therapists, personal trainers, yoga teachers, and life coaches among others. 

To promote the charity’s work, George Hackforth-Jones (better known as Senior Creative at AMV BBDO) - together with music and sound company String and Tins, VFX company The Mill and edit house TenThree and DOP Chris Clarke - created a gripping and heart-wrenching ad. The short film focuses on the everyday tragedy and sense of loss that has pervaded the lives of healthcare workers over the course of the past year. To find out more about the ad, LBB spoke with George Hackforth-Jones and String and Tins Sound Engineer Jim Stewart to find out how they pulled this together...

LBB> How did you become involved with Duty to Care ? Do you have any personal connections or family members in the NHS?

George Hackforth-Jones> One of my best friends is married to a doctor who’s previously found the mental side of the job challenging, so when the pandemic hit they knew there’d be a need for more mental health support for all the NHS workers. Along with some other concerned partners she set up the charity and since then it’s grown very quickly.  

LBB> The film feels so authentic and emotionally raw - how did you make sure you were going to capture that?

George> The idea for the film came from talking to an ICU nurse about their experiences over the last year so it is based on a real account. Both myself and the actress, Lucy, then spent a while talking to one of the charity’s therapists, who was able to talk about the patients she’d seen and their experiences. All the words you hear are various anonymous verbatims she relayed to us from her sessions.

LBB> What's really powerful about this film is the raw emotion you can hear in the VO. How did the team at S&T capture this?

George> Lucy recorded these lines herself on her phone after we’d spoken to a therapist and discussed the script. We wanted a phone recording as it felt natural to the environment of a real therapy session.  

As it happens, there were versions without any voiceover at all, and versions with way too much. Playing around with that balance, and doing it all remotely, was definitely a challenge.

LBB> So, what was the sound design brief from George and how did you approach it ?

Jim Stewart, Sound Engineer, String & Tins> George approached us with a really well thought-out soundtrack. The dialogue was in place alongside the accompanying music from Deborah Williams. His brief for us involved adding life and energy to the city surroundings we experience throughout the film - particularly bringing attention to how the nurse might take in these surroundings after a long and challenging night shift. We played with the idea of dampening the sound of the outside world upfront, as she’s lost in thought, and having that effect sharply broken with transient sounds that bring her back to reality.

Unlike most other voices we’ve treated recently, George wanted to maintain the rawness/authenticity of the read he had captured with main actress Lucy, so we opted not to re-record in the studio. Instead we used simple phone recordings - leaving in a lot of the imperfections and room hum that felt key to the performance.

LBB> When it comes to the music in the film, how did you approach creating a track for this that didn't fall into the sad piano tropes we saw in the first lockdown?

George> The music was composed by Deborah Williams who we’d worked with on a short recently. She’s got a good knack for understanding my extremely inarticulate rambling briefs and came back with three tracks very quickly, all quite different moods, (and yes - one was a sad piano trope!). We didn’t want something overtly sad or that led the audience too much, this one captured perfectly what we were after: beautiful, serene, haunting, melancholic and uplifting all at the same time which I think is an amazing bit of writing.


LBB> Did you use any other insights from the charity to help guide the creative for this film?

George> There are a number of alarming stats the charity will be releasing regarding the impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of NHS workers. But one of the things we wanted to address in the film was the idea surrounding NHS workers being superheroes. This is language that’s been around from the early days of the pandemic and while it comes from a good place, it can put unrealistic expectations on these people. And to a certain extent can make the public think they are immune to the real emotional effects this work has. We wanted to show that while the job they do is superhuman, they are at the end of the day just ordinary people, having to cope with extraordinary circumstances.

LBB> Is it a real NHS worker starring in the film or an actress?

George> It’s an actress, Lucy Scott-Smith. I would big up how brilliant I think she is but she’s my wife, so instead I’ll just say she was brilliantly directed.

LBB> How did you conduct the shoot? Obviously safety is paramount for all at the moment, but did you face any other challenges?

George> Truth be told, this wasn’t really a typical production, and we had to pull a lot of favours. Chris Clarke is not only a brilliant DOP but also has his own equipment, as does Sam Mendelsohn who did the sound so the only money we spent was on the blooming congestion charge! 

Given the emotional nature of the scene - and the aforementioned lack of budget - we wanted a small crew so the shoot was just us four and a runner (who is actually an anaesthetist and founder of the charity) doing the clapperboard. We all did covid tests the day before, and shot it very early on a Saturday morning near St Thomas’ hospital. Luckily the runner/doctor was very good at negotiating with the parking attendants…

LBB> And how did the whole music and sound process work remotely ?

George> Weirdly I feel like everyone is kinda used to working like this now, so it wasn’t really too bad. Though it would have been nice to sit with Quin the editor for a few days, mainly just for a change of scenery.

LBB> Following this ad, what media strategy are you using to encourage donations?

George> Good question. We are doing a PR push this week and have some celebrities lined up to share and push this film on their social channels. But in truth, we need whatever support we can get. So if any readers could share this film or happen to be a generous media owner for a national broadcaster, please give us a call.

LBB> Finally, what do you want people to take away from this film?

George> For the public, that these people aren’t superhuman and need our support. So we need to donate.

For NHS workers, that there’s help available and you’re not alone.


Post Production / VFX
Music / Sound
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Categories: Corporate, Social and PSAs, Charity

String and Tins, Fri, 26 Mar 2021 09:35:03 GMT