Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards
Your Shot: Channelling Trainspotting for a Children's Charity Ad
London, UK
Director Sam Huntley on how the film's famous 'Choose Life' opening scene informed this film for Action for Children
Childhood should be a time of joy. A time of discovery and learning, free from the anxieties and responsibilities that adult life naturally brings. But according to UK charity Action for Children, kids are struggling with childhood. The charity has identified that social pressure is more intense than it's ever been and more children are seen as being at risk of harm. Every 15 minutes in the UK sees another child moved into care for their own safety. 

In a push to put a stop to that and encourage the government to initiate a tangible plan of action to fight the issue, Arthur London has launched a striking campaign entitled #CHOOSECHILDHOOD. Given the tagline's similarity to Trainspotting's famous 'Choose Life' mantra, the campaign's launch spot - which was directed by Sam Huntley - is a nod to the opening scene of the movie. LBB's Addison Capper chatted with the director Sam to find out more. 

LBB> The film is clearly influenced by the opening scene of Trainspotting. What inspired this approach? 

Sam> I can’t speak for the agency in terms of specifics, but I believe they liked the visual device of a kid running which was inspired by the Trainspotting sequence, and obviously the ‘Choose Life’ motif worked really well with their #CHOOSECHILDHOOD campaign idea. For me as a director though the Trainspotting reference was great because it gave me an instant steer on the kind of energy and tempo they were after, which I wanted to continue throughout the film. 

LBB> What kind of research was involved for this job? Was there anything you discovered that was particularly shocking? 

Sam> I’ve done a few jobs for different charities over the years and I always find myself being shocked by some of the statistics and information I’m presented with, and this job was no different. Speaking to people at the charity and hearing some of the stories that they come across on a regular basis is really quite heart breaking. The fact that for instance, a child is moved into care for their own safety every 15 minutes in the UK is truly shocking.

LBB> What kind of conversations were you having with the kids regarding the subject matter at hand? And what kind of challenges did this subject bring for you as the director? 

Sam> It can be tricky working with kids around a difficult subject matter, especially when it’s very young children (and we were casting from five-or-six-year-olds and upwards). The process really begins at the casting sessions. Everything has to be explained to them in a very clear and simple way so that they don’t get upset, but also are able to walk into a room full of strangers and actually put themselves in that dark place for the audition. Unfortunately a lot of them just can’t do it, or if they can it’s still not to the extent that you become convinced that they could replicate it on a shoot and deal with all the extra pressures that that brings with it.

So for me that’s probably the most challenging aspect - finding the right kid. Once you’ve found them, you have to be totally confident that when it comes to the shoot they’ll be able to deliver what you need. To be honest, there’s always an element of doubt somewhere in my mind because you just never know, but in this instance, when we found Sam, our main boy, I felt pretty reassured. He was just really confident, took direction really well and was great at just not overdoing it (which I often find is the biggest issue when working with kids). If they can do the small, nuanced things then you know you’re onto a winner. Most kids can do big and over the top, but you need to know that you can bring them down when you need to, especially if you’re after subtlety which I generally am.

LBB> Aesthetically, what were your main aims and inspirations? 

Sam> Making it feel authentic was my main aim; being right in there with the kid, feeling that fear and urgency. I wanted to capture the darkness and oppression of the home environment, which slowly opens up as he gets further away from danger. I had a lot of discussions with my DOP Adrian Peckitt about this. We wanted to make the repetition of him running a real feature, but you have to keep it interesting otherwise there’s a danger that it could just become a running montage.

So we planned it pretty meticulously in terms of locations, angles and actions so you feel like you’re on a journey with him rather than just watching someone run. For instance we tried to vary it in terms of which shots were handheld or steadicam, which lenses to use when we’re in close or far away, to try and maintain that tension throughout. 

Then obviously you build on all of those elements in the edit. Toby [Conway-Hughes], my editor at Marshall Street, did a great job of building the pace through the first part of the film, and finding the balance when the other kids join him. I wanted the sound to be really impactful too, and to also help punctuate his journey, and Jack [Hallett] and Phil [Bolland] at Factory helped to heighten that fear and tension with their design. With a film like this, the music can either make or break it and the temptation can be to throw too much at it and give it a big, uplifting score but I wanted something that was quite dark and minimalistic and Jon Clarke nailed that for me at the first attempt. 

LBB> How was it for you personally to work on a job like this? 

Sam> It was great, really rewarding. As I said before, I’ve done a few charity jobs over the years and apart from the obvious that you feel like you’re working to help create something that will hopefully have a positive impact, the other benefit I usually find is that creatively they can be really rewarding too. In this instance, for example, although there was a skeleton script and the Trainspotting reference, both the agency and client were really happy for me to take it in whatever direction I felt was right in terms of the tone… casting, shooting style, edit, music, etc. So having that trust and collaborative approach always makes the whole process a much more fulfilling experience.

Also, when I first started having meetings about the job, I’d just had my first child a few months before so it definitely all felt particularly relevant.

LBB> What were the main challenges and how did you overcome them? 

Sam> I think the main challenges were probably fairly obvious and the usual issues that go hand in hand with working with kids. You’re limited on the clock in terms of time you can have them on set, the amount of breaks they have to have, the length of those breaks, etc., so that can really eat into your shooting time and plays havoc with your schedule! And in general everything just takes longer. 

Luckily our boy Sam was absolutely amazing and just nailed it every time, but when you start having multiple kids in scenes there’s more to think about - safety, performance, fatigue… and as a consequence things tend to naturally slow down a bit, and because I wanted the edit to be really fast and capture a journey it meant that we had a lot of set-ups to get through, in a lot of different locations, so that creates pressure in itself. 

We also had some fairly unpredictable weather which caused a few issues, but as with anything you just have to roll with it and be adaptable in your approach. Working with good people always helps, and luckily for example I’ve worked with the DOP Adrian before so we had a good understanding of what we were trying to achieve and managed to keep the momentum going.
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