The Making of Us.

A film created not because a brand asked us to, but because a lot of amazing people wanted to.

Chris Shadrick
Head of Strategy, Collective

We loved it so much that we wanted to share the back story of where the idea came from and how the team made it happen. So, we had a virtual chat with the creatives behind the film:

Who are you and how do you know each other?

We’re Stu Woodall and Neil Matthews, a Creative Team of 6 years that met while individually freelancing our way around London.

How do you know Collective?

Stu worked at Collective back in 2014 in a previous partnership and remembered what a tight team of good, passionate people they were. Having left it way too long, we finally got in touch again in 2017. They got us in for a couple of weeks and we ended up staying for the best part of a year.

Where did the idea for the film come from?

Like everyone else we found ourselves in lock-down, staring out at each day’s developments in disbelief, knowing that NHS workers, including some of our family and friends, were out there facing danger on the front lines to save lives. Even before this, we both already had a lot to thank the NHS for.

We wanted to do something. We know we can’t do what the NHS does, but we can write. We wondered if that could help in some way to convince people to continue to stay in.

What spurred you on to make it happen?

As well as the awful daily updates about a struggling health service and the numbers of deaths rising, we had some time between contracts. The worst thing for us as creatives is having nothing to create. So, we got to work.

Without a brand’s message to hero, we looked at what the nation needed to hear instead.

We decided we all needed an escape from the negativity and scare mongering that was being shared – a message of hope and positivity and our genuine belief that some good can come from this in the end. The announcement of at least another three weeks of lockdown only seemed to make this more pertinent.

How did you make it? Tell us about the production process.

After we wrote the script, we shared it with a few family members, including those in the NHS, and got an amazing, emotional reaction. We knew we were on to something.

The next step was to find a producer that could help us in pulling it together. We messaged a producer we worked with for a few years Ramon Ricard, who had recently set up his own production company Redux Content with his directing partner Ed Salkeld. They too loved the script. Ed talked about how he’d like to try and shoot the whole thing from isolation which aligned to our idea perfectly. Between him and Ramon, they have a great network of camera operators and DOP’s that while also on lock-down, might be available to film in their own homes. We compiled a shot ‘wish list’ and a loose brief for what we were after and Ramon and Ed went to work on it. We were all overwhelmed with the response and got over 200Gb of footage back. The best part was that the camera people were free to bring their own creative interpretation to it, which we feel made the resulting film even stronger. We also sent in our own camera phone footage and asked friends and family to do the same, all while in isolation.

Soon we had more than enough footage to get editing. The guys used their network again and found 3 amazing editors willing to help sift through the shots and begin laying out the film.

We wanted every element of the film to have been created by people that in isolation, as opposed to using stock. We wanted an original piece of music to accompany the picture, so we reached out to a good friend of Neil’s, Tony Crumpton, to ask if he could compose a track that encompasses the right mood. He jumped at the chance to be involved and quickly shared what he had come up with. He totally nailed the brief.

All we were missing was a great voice to read the thing. It was Ramon’s brainwave that landed us the opportunity to talk to Andy Serkis and see if he would do it. Our message is a genuine one, so a voice that’s as kind in character as it is sincere was the way to go. Again, we crossed our fingers, and after a nail-biting 3 days we got the email we had been waiting for. Andy loved the script and would be honoured to read it for the film. Naturally he was fantastic and actually worked with us on tightening some areas of the script during one very surreal zoom call.

Once we had all of the elements we needed, the film clicked into place. We were all very pleased with how it was looking and sounding. We tested it again on a few friends and the emotional response, that the original script had prompted was still there. It was at this point we engaged Stephen Barnes, Co-founder and ECD at Collective to see if they wanted to get on board to help get the film out there. He loved what we had done and immediately wanted to help, which was music to our ears. At amazing speed, the Collective team assembled expert digital media advice that would give the film the best shot at reaching as many people as possible. The guys worked fast and smart to get the plan in place ready for the launch.

What were the biggest challenges you faced through the process?

Surprisingly, it wasn’t getting people to work for free. Advertising can promote worthwhile and worthy messages but is not known for being ‘good’. It’s business so, understandably, almost always has an ulterior motive. It is however brimming with good people. A number of them also wishing they could do more to help.

In fact, it’s exactly that shared passion and drive to help that meant this took a lot of effort but was never painful. Before long, everyone that was contributing felt a sense of joint ownership, something that could have resulted in ‘too many cooks’ but never did. Everyone involved made it better.

The initial challenge was the very lockdown we were sharing a message about. We’re so used to collaboration living within ‘breakout spaces’, ‘meeting rooms’ and coffee shops, that numerous Zoom calls took a little getting used to. But it worked really well.

The film is quite emotional, on many levels. I think different moments seem to resonate with different people depending on their experience from the last 4 weeks. Is there one clip in particular that just set your waterworks off?

As fathers having been helped by the NHS through numerous significant challenges in the past and having family that works for them, means that the section that champions their work really gets us!

But we get just as emotional from knowing how many people contributed their time to make the film possible.

Has making this film taught you anything new about yourselves, your working process, or about creativity?

It has definitely proved to us that the old saying, “the best things in life are free” couldn’t be truer. It has been inspiring seeing the response from people wanting to give their time to make this film happen. The fact that an A-list Hollywood actor wanted to be the voice, really proves that when something this universally affecting happens, we are all just human beings.

Do you think the last 4 weeks have changed your outlook on the advertising industry you work in? In what way?

The crisis has made our industry look more fragile, but also more compassionate, collaborative and adaptable than we’ve seen it before. It has also proved that nothing kills creativity. Just look at all the incredible, fun content being made by people from the creative industries in response to tough times. Sharing these things is what’s keeping a lot of people going.

This project has made us realise that creating something for people rather than a brand is a very powerful thing. Once the film is out there, any brand that does hold the same ideals as the film can share it themselves, essentially making it universal. The lack of any logo or brand is the thing that can set this film apart from others that are using this unfortunate situation as a way to sell a product, platform or service. Perhaps it will help us and our clients find a better balance between genuine, positive brand association and overt branding.

What about how you approach your job?
We are always collaborative, but when working for brands the creative buck often stops with us. The crisis made this something different. It made it a genuine case of shared passion and therefore, ownership. This may be because by being in this situation together, we are all ‘the client’ and we all care a lot. Regardless, it’s something we’ll be exploring more of going forward.

What about your outlook on life in general? (that’s a pretty broad question – sorry!)

It’s helped us realise that using your skills to do something for nothing is as good for you as it is for the cause. It turns out it’s not as altruistic as it sounds. It’s made us feel good, and we’ll want to feel like that again.

It’s forced us to step out of our own bubble and see the bigger picture. While the human race is suffering, the earth seems to be recovering from some of the many ways we’ve damaged it. In our opinion, it’s created a once in a lifetime opportunity to take stock of how crazy things were getting. It’s given us all a chance to wake up to the things that really matter like family, friends and real human connections rather than the materialistic things we all cared too much about before. We hope that after we’re through the other side of this, the new normal is a more sympathetic, better normal that lasts.

If so, do you think any of these changes will stick with you in the future?

The idea of being better people and doing more for the community is something we will both continue to do. It is something that has been lost in recent years and it feels good to be giving something back.

How will you describe these times to your grandchildren? (Imagine!)

It’s just too hard to sum up. What we’ll definitely say is how this was a war (of sorts) that showed how critical the NHS is to our nation, and that we must nurture and protect it in years to come. Also, that in times of crisis (minus the initial toilet roll scandal) people will pull together on a global level and fight for what matters most, each other.

Imagine lockdown and social distancing is over. What are the first three things that you’ll do?

1.Hug family. A lot.

2.Go to the pub for a quiz without IT issues.

3.Get a decent haircut.

We agree. See you in the pub. After some big hug-offs.

‘The Making of Us’ stopped us in our tracks when we first watched it. It is a beautiful example of collaborative creativity, and such a powerful sentiment when thinking about our post-Covid world. This really could be the making of us. We agree.