Behind the scenes on the British Arrows nominated film with Ardmore, Great Guns and Jungle Studios
A result of Network Rail’s budding partnership with mental health charity ‘Chasing the Stigma’, “There’s Always Hope” shined a light on the positive impact of brief but profound everyday encounters. Having tasked creative agency Ardmore with the job of tackling the unfortunate association Britain’s railways have with suicide, sound studio Jungle and production company Great Guns were brought on board to thoughtfully orchestrate this important message.
The ensuing film was a touching testimonial that placed value on the importance of fleeting but meaningful acts of kindness often shared between strangers in unassuming train stations around the UK. Most recently, the touching campaign has been shortlisted for a British Arrows award in the Transport & Tourism category.
To explore the creative approach, production, direction and sound design of this poignant project, LBB’s April Summers spoke with Paul Bowen from creative agency Ardmore, director Duncan Christie of Great Guns and sound designer Sean Mahoney from Jungle Studios to learn how these creatives joined forces to promote the importance of small, everyday acts of kindness.
LBB> How did the initial idea for this campaign come about? What was the original brief from Network Rail?
Paul Bowen, executive creative director, Ardmore> We learnt there were 253 railway fatalities caused by suicide in 2020/21, predominantly among 30 to 50 year old white British males. We were tasked with detracting from the railway’s false association as a place to take one’s life and, instead, positioning it as a positive place. We became determined to change people’s perspectives.
LBB> The film touches on multiple storylines and shows different characters at a train station. How was each story crafted? Were any of them inspired by true events?
Duncan Christie, director, Great Guns> During our research we spent time at train stations observing people and everyday goings-on, which was quite inspiring. Our goal was to celebrate the everyday: the simple moments that hopefully everyone has seen and can relate to; helping someone down the stairs with a buggy, for example. We wanted to show how small acts of kindness go a long way.
LBB> Campaigns like this help to eradicate stigma surrounding mental health, particularly among young adults. In terms of mental health awareness, was there anything you felt compelled to highlight in this film?
Paul> ‘Hope’ was the overarching theme and remained our North Star throughout. However, as we learned from interviews with psychologists during the research process, it’s not as easy as simply telling people with mental health issues that there is hope. You have to prove it, and recognition and effort must be displayed from those around them. Through this film we tried to illustrate that mental health is all around us, but so is hope, and if we can encourage people to connect the two, we can make a difference.
Duncan> The issue of mental health can feel so huge that it becomes really overwhelming and therefore people feel quite powerless to address it. We simply set out to make a hopeful, uplifting film to highlight how small, everyday acts of kindness and moments of connection can have a positive impact. We wanted to empower and encourage everyone to reach out.
LBB> According to research conducted by Chasing the Stigma and Network Rail, 48% of Brits believe their mental health was affected by the pandemic. How did you ensure the tone of this film was suitably empathetic and resonated with audiences?
Paul> The subject of mental health has only stopped being a taboo topic recently, having been something secretive that was spoken about in hushed tones behind closed doors. For this project, Jake Mills, the founder of Chasing the Stigma got involved. He told me something very enlightening to me early on, “I want people to not think of someone with mental health as someone who is unwell.” Since the pandemic, mental health has certainly become more openly discussed, and recognised as not just a condition of the ‘unwell’. We ensured the film empathised and resonated by reflecting this reality back at our audience.
LBB> Due to COVID, all the characters on screen are wearing face coverings, so emotions are conveyed through eye contact. What impact did this have on the direction on set? Do you think it impacts the tone of the film in any way?
Paul> The film was shot in February 2021 so masks were a necessity and watching it back, I’m always struck by the power of the delivery from all of them. Coupled with the pace, sound design and intimate camera work they remain very touching performances that beautifully portray the emotion of the story.
Duncan> It was a big decision, to go with masks, but looking back we definitely made the right choice. This film needed that fly-on-the-wall authenticity and at the time you would only get that with masks. We found that it is possible to convey a lot of emotion through the eyes, and body language becomes even more important too. We included a few simple lines of dialogue which became crucial to the storytelling.
LBB> Sean, you worked on the sound design for this project, what were the technical or creative challenges you faced during this project?
Sean Mahoney, sound designer, Jungle Studios> The biggest challenge was making sure all the dialogue came through amongst the busyness of the noisy train station. Not being able to see peoples mouths moving because of masks made it even more important to ensure the sound was crisp and clear.
LBB> The message behind this film is emotive and full of hope; how did you convey that through the sound design?
Sean> The music played a massively emotive role in the film. Composer Zebedee Budworth did a great job on the composition which carries the film really well. I was tasked with striking the right balance between the music and other elements, in order to make sure the emotional message really came across. The brief was to convey the hectic, busy atmosphere you get at a train station, with the usual sounds of people rushing around to catch their train. To contrast this, we made sure the sound design really highlighted those intimate moments, conversations and acts of kindness seen in the film.
LBB> This is a highly emotive campaign, how was that sentiment handled on set?
Duncan> Everyone involved was aware we were treading a fine line with this film and it was so important the emotion came through, but it had to feel grounded and never overwrought. This was a constant balancing act throughout the shoot, particularly in regards to the performance of our central character, whose journey we follow as he travels through the train station. We were fortunate enough to have an amazing cast who understood the nuance of what we were trying to do.
LBB> What are you most proud of from working on this project?
Duncan> It’s been a tough time for many people, so if this film can promote Chasing The Stigma’s Hub of Hope App, that is a hugely positive outcome I can be proud of. From a production point of view, we were filming during peak 2021 lockdown, and faced track and trace challenges. We were able to overcome these obstacles and everyone involved - Network Rail, Ardmore and Great Guns - became trusted collaborators. I was very proud to have been a part of that team.
Paul > Partnering with Chasing the Stigma and consulting with them all the way through the project to ensure our objectives remained aligned, made a huge difference. I believe this affinity made for a more positive and proactive communication that I’m very proud of.
Sean > I am proud to have played a small part in such a brilliant project. The last couple of years have been really tough for everyone, especially those already struggling with mental health, and I unfortunately lost someone to suicide so this was an extra special job for me. It's projects like these, that really make a difference, which make my job worthwhile.
LBB> The film was shortlisted for a British Arrows award. What elements do you think led to its success?
Duncan> I must give a big shout out to all our crew but in particular our wonderful composer Zebedee Budworth. It was a difficult brief and he was able to balance the emotion with the hopefulness perfectly. I think his score is a big factor that contributes to the success of this film. It really brought everything together in the perfect way.
Paul> Coupled with the pace, sound design and intimate camera work, the performances of the actors behind masks are very touching and beautifully portray the emotion of the story. The film was shot in February 2021 so masks were a necessity but, watching it back, I’m always struck by the power of the delivery from all of the actors. This film encourages people to take a moment and look around them; you could make a difference to someone’s life with as little as a smile. As long as people care there is (as the campaign says) always hope.
Sean> This film has a really important message that I think has resonated with a lot of people. I think you can't help but be moved when watching it. Everyone in the team really has done an excellent job putting it together so I’m really not surprised it has been shortlisted.