Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

Your Shot: Where’s Mum?

London, UK
Nice Shirt’s Liz Murphy on the hardest thing she’s ever had to do as a director

Many of us couldn't even imagine losing a parent as a child. It's completely incomprehensible, so when this astonishing short landed in our inboxes and we learned that a child's parent dies every 30 minutes in Britain, we were pretty shocked. 'Bear', is a poignant piece for the charity Grief Encounter from Green Cave People. There’s no dialogue or music and Nice Shirt Films director Liz Murphy has coaxed a mature and self-posessed performance from the young actor. And the coinciding documentary that Murphy shot (which you can see at the bottom of this page) with bereaved families is as, if not more, heart-breaking than the spot. LBB's Addison Capper spoke with the director about the emotions around filming a campaign like this and why the young boy caught her attention during casting. 

LBB> What kind of script did the agency initially approach you with and what were your thoughts when you first saw it?

LM> The guys at Green Cave People had made a short mood film with some stills and titles to explain their idea - even at that early and very rough stage it was really moving, especially as I wasn’t aware such charities even existed. I remember my first reaction being 'who could possibly say no to this!?'. We then brainstormed some scene ideas together to create more of a kind of script with specific scenes.

LBB> Why did the script appeal to you? 

LM> Even from the very early mood film the idea of 'where’s mum?' was really strong and really emotive. I also loved that we quietly observe this boy going about his day, before the question really hits you hard at the end of the film.

LBB> Does shooting a campaign like this, especially with the documentary involved, change the way you plan and research at all? 

LM> Because we also created a short documentary about Grief Encounter that involved interviewing bereaved families - I actually got the chance to meet and talk to a lot of bereaved kids a few weeks before the Bear shoot. It definitely helped me to see the project from a different perspective.

LBB> The lack of music in the spot was really effective. It makes you really focus on the boy and adds to its emotional force. Why did you choose to omit the music and what do you think that decision brings to the final ad? 

LM> Originally the plan was to have a powerful emotional music track - but we found in the very early stage of the edit that it was overpowering and really gave the game away in the first second that you were watching a 'sad charity ad'. As I knew it was going to play in cinemas I wanted to make it feel like a short film rather than an ad. We kept asking to ourselves in the edit, “does this feel like a movie?”. By going with the natural sound you really get sucked into Charlie’s world and I think it also adds to the sense of loneliness and isolation that he’s experiencing.

LBB> It's such a tough topic to portray, but the young boy in the film is wonderful - how did you coax the performance out of him? What kind of conversations did you have with him? 

LM> Charlie is an absolute legend. I fell in love with him at one of the first castings when he created a highly elaborate journey to another planet; it had a breathable atmosphere but with acid soil and he had to fend off the aliens with a special lightsaber while his bear used special floating and invisibility powers to provide a complex backup response. All I’d asked him to do was pretend the chair was a ship!

It was his sense of imagination and ability to create worlds completely on his own and spend time playing independently that we knew would be perfect for the film. 

As Charlie isn’t a bereaved kid it was important to me that he wasn’t trying to pretend to be one or to act like one. I just wanted him to be a natural kid, genuinely playing around the house. There were a few sneaky things we did just before rolling to make things a little bit difficult for him to do - like filling the milk bottle to the very top so that he struggled with it, which was great because he just battled through it problem solving in his own way.

LBB> The documentary is as, if not more, powerful than the actual ad - can you tell us a bit about your experiences shooting that? How did shooting people with 'real' stories differ to shooting the ad?

LM> Shooting the documentary is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a director. As I was interviewing the families and kids it was really tough to have people cry at you and breakdown as they spoke about losing their partners, dads, mums etc. I learned so much about just how important Grief Encounter is to these kids and families. The work they do is extraordinary and humbling. 

LBB> What kind of emotions did shooting this campaign evoke for you personally? 

LM> During the documentary shoot I was a bit of a mess! It was hard to know what to do with all the stories and breakdowns after I’d heard them all - obviously I’m not a trained counsellor so I think it weighed me down a bit until we finally had the edit locked off and could get it out into the world. 

I also had a great sense of gratitude that I’ve been lucky enough not to have experienced significant grief in my life. I'm also thankful that a charity like Grief Encounter exists to help kids and families through one of the most difficult things that they will ever experience.

LBB> What were the toughest aspects and how did you overcome them? 

LM> I guess just the emotion of it all and the deep sense of wanting to do the very best you can for the charity so they can get the awareness and funding that they need to keep going forward. Everyone who worked on the project was passionate about the charity. Surprisingly a lot of the crew and post production people along the way had direct experience with losing a parent when they were young - so both of the shoots were great and had a real sense of working together for a great cause.

Agency / Creative
Post Production / VFX