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Stash Capar on Avoiding Hypersensitivity to Capture the Daily Struggle of Living with MS


The Circle Productions director talks to LBB’s Ben Conway on the ineffectiveness of walking on eggshells when creating a film about the condition he lives with, multiple sclerosis, and his recent spot for the charity

Stash Capar on Avoiding Hypersensitivity to Capture the Daily Struggle of Living with MS is a charity for people with multiple sclerosis, founded by people with multiple sclerosis. To promote the charity’s ‘Buddy Network’ - a tool that connects the newly diagnosed with someone already living with the condition to provide support - the organisation collaborated with Circle Productions director Stash Capar to produce an authentic and emotional spot. Stash, a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a competent spear-fisher and an accomplished polyglot, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2011 and has been living with the disability for over a decade. 

The director previously worked with in 2019, on an autobiographical film titled ‘My Sclerosis’ that has found tremendous popularity and support amongst the MS community. After the turbulence of 2020, Stash and finally seized the opportunity to collaborate again late last year. “Our objective was to make something to promote the Buddy Network,” he says. “It’s a great programme that really does work and has impressive data to prove it. For this second collaboration, ‘Left Behind’, we knew the film would need to be more ‘addy’ in structure and length, but still emotionally authentic in how it portrays multiple sclerosis.  Everything grew from within those parameters.”

Deciding to partner with the charity again was an easy decision for him, as the team has a very human approach to their partnerships and content. He says, “It doesn’t feel like I’m dealing with a cold, clinical institution, but rather people who genuinely care about how this disease affects individuals.” The director also admires the “bittersweet tone” that is captured in the content they produce, which he commends for showing “the struggle” and venturing into self-deprecation, as well as hope. “There’s something cathartic about being able to make light of what you’re going through and to work through the day with a smile, even if it was tough. That was the tone that was set early on in the process and it followed us through all stages of production. It was wonderful.” 

Stash eagerly got involved with the project before even a treatment or script existed. Taking on board the challenges of a modest budget and a 30-second duration limit, he used his creative skills and personal experiences to “compress the daily struggle of living with MS” into a half minute spot that celebrates the Buddy Network’s success. While he does believe that he brings a certain insight into “MS, disability and resilience-themed scripts”, Stash says his goal remains the same - to capture authentic stories in a relatable and memorable way. “I wanted people with MS (from all walks of life) to see it and think ‘yep, I know that feeling’ and I wanted people with a limited understanding of MS to see it and gain some interest in the topic. On top of that, I never wanted to lose sight of the macro-objective, which is to increase awareness of the Buddy Network. Ultimately it’s about serving the thing that we’re all rallied around. It’s not about me. I’m the conductor, not the train.” 

Equally, Stash was very conscious of avoiding clichés and unhelpful attitudes that have been prevalent in other MS-related content. “There’s a lot out there that either presents the disease like a bleak horror film or a completely emotionless ‘we don’t want to offend anyone’-type tone, which in my opinion is even worse,” he says. He reveals that some of his previous charity work began with “saccharine” scripts that resulted in a “saccharine and fake culture” throughout production, with people’s over-sensitivity detracting from the project at hand.

“Maybe it’s because I’m not a very sensitive person, but that sort of hypersensitivity always bothered me. It’s never productive. It stops people from giving the project their best. I always try to avoid this pitfall and create an environment that is light-hearted so that everyone can do great work and be themselves.” Stash continues, “If I create an environment where people are walking on eggshells all day because they’re afraid of offending me or the talent, they will not give me their best and the film will suffer. Ultimately - why are we all here?  We’re all here to create a great film that can serve those suffering from MS. If someone does or says something tasteless in the process, I’m going to choose to assume it was out of error or ignorance or maybe it was an unusual personality trait.”   

Evidently, Stash likes to keep the show moving, but one thing he refuses to accept is complacency, “On my set, you can be insensitive, you can be eccentric, you can even be an asshole (within reason). But if you slack off, we will not work together again.”

A significant challenge posed in this project - and in MS-related projects generally - is the visual representation of the condition’s symptoms. The experience for people with MS is often invisible to outsiders until the condition has developed significantly, so Stash decided to contrast the subjective (visually blurred) point of view from an MS sufferer’s perspective with the observational perspective of the camera, representing an outsider. “This emphasises the idea of a disease that is terrible for the afflicted, but largely invisible to those outside looking in,” he says. “The blurred vision was done in-camera and I discovered it entirely by accident on another unrelated shoot. I was looking for ways to capture a mind-altering substance-infused perspective of the world and the DP on this other project suggested sticking a loose half-diopter in front of the lens. We didn’t end up using the technique on that project but it was perfect for those subjective POV moments on ‘Left Behind’.”

The tension builds expertly throughout the spot with kettle boiling sounds, laboured breathing noises and fast-paced cuts - which Stash attributes to School editor Genevieve Latour. The director initially wanted “a much slower burn”, in line with his previous work, but was convinced by Genevieve’s first - and much faster - cut. “I couldn’t say no. The way the tension was building leading to the final moment of hope was perfect. I let go of my slow-burn idea immediately. If you see it and it works, why fight it?” To further add to the spot’s intensity and authenticity, Stash discussed the disease’s symptoms with the main actor Yasmin Neale - a rising musician known as ‘Beauty in the Riot’ and the daughter of ‘Jacksoul’,  the late Canadian soul musician. 

“Yasmin doesn’t have MS and didn’t know anyone (apart from myself) who does. Instead of trying to explain the complexities of the disease to her I simply gave her the most vivid descriptions I could of the symptoms, as if her character were experiencing it right at that moment. I tried not to over-intellectualise and give her something playable. She listened intently, asked me some questions, showed up on set and nailed it. I couldn’t ask for more.”

Stash describes the single-day shoot as “everything filmmaking is supposed to be” - collaborative, exhausting and something that leaves you with a smile. The experience reinvigorated the director’s love for his craft after the difficult pandemic-effected times in 2020 and 2021, “I’ve been on well-funded sets where everyone is miserable, but here we were, with a tiny budget and too much to shoot, but everyone was happy in their work and left with not only a better understanding of MS, but with pride at what we had accomplished.” This group collaboration and pride is Stash’s favourite aspect of filmmaking - it’s always about the creative conversations he has with his crew. On this project, whether it be the director of photography Evan Ciniello, the aforementioned editor Genevieve Latour or composer Bernardo Castro, Stash enjoyed discussing “macro-directions” with his team and being pleasantly surprised when they returned with something better than he envisioned.

He says, “I love being unable to unsee it and feel my ego fighting a bit, before letting go and exploring the newly paved side road. Ultimately I want to work with people who make my craft better. I want collaborators who will make me grow.  Not workers who will just do what I say.”

Photo: The director, Stash Capar

Being able to trust his collaborators and lead a team without micromanaging them is a vital part of overcoming common difficulties that arise during production, such as a lack of time and resources. To solve these challenges on this project - and generally in his career - Stash advocates for effective teamwork, decisive leadership and creative solutions as an optimal strategy. “Shoot what you need.  Make a brave cinematic decision and stick to it instead of trying to cover everything - you don’t have time.”

Always thankful for support and interest in his work, Stash concludes, “To anyone looking for emotionally authentic MS or disability-related storytelling, whether you’re an ad agency, non-profit or pharmaceutical company - give me a call.”

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Circle Productions, Tue, 12 Apr 2022 15:48:00 GMT