As our new TV advert, Right Now, goes to air, we caught up with its director, documentary filmmaker Henry Singer.
I had cancer 12 years ago, and I came out the other end after chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It’s always been in the back of my mind that I’ve never done anything to support a cancer charity as a way of giving back. So when this opportunity presented itself, it felt like making the Right Now films was a really good way to support Cancer Research UK.
Cancer Research UK wanted to emphasise the idea that cancer is happening right now and it’s a great idea for a campaign.
When you’re going through it all you think it’s a unique experience but, working on this campaign, you realise it’s happening everywhere and constantly. It’s all around us, all the time; everyone’s been touched by cancer personally.
The brief was to make a series of short films, most of them 30 seconds long, a couple of 60 second ones, and a couple that were 90 seconds long. I’m someone who makes 90 minute films – I find even 60 minute films too short!
So I went into the job really excited, but also slightly nervous, given that I have never made an ad in my life. The shortest film I’ve ever made was 14 minutes long, and that was a very long time ago.
On top of that, I’m used to making films where I get to know the people in the films really well, and I build up relationships with them.
But this was a situation where that was never going to happen.
We filmed very intimate, powerful, dramatic, painful moments with patients and their families at very short notice.
They were extraordinary to let my crew and me into their lives. It was incredibly inspiring to see how they dealt with the most terrifying situations imaginable.
You’re parachuting into a moment, and these people are undergoing the most difficult journey of their lives – and suddenly you’re a part of it for maybe 20 minutes, 40 minutes, maybe an hour at most.
At the same time, Cancer Research UK wanted some of the ads to focus on the scientists doing research to try and understand cancer and design more effective and gentler treatments.
This was an added challenge. How was I going to create an ad in which the work of scientist could stand up in any way next to a moment when a 57 year old gentleman is told he has terminal lung cancer and probably only has a few months to live?
But I wanted to focus on the scientists behind the scenes, because there has been great progress in the battle against cancer – and it’s those people in white lab coats who are largely responsible for it.
I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the treatment for it is very established and largely very successful. I’m sure that’s because there have been clinical trials in the past that looked into the treatment for Hodgkin’s, so I was absolutely on board with the idea of trying to illustrate the work of research scientists.
I just tried to find moments that were real. You try and put yourself in situations where the interactions between people – whether it’s patients and their families, patients and their clinicians, or scientists working with one another – will produce the kind of material you’re looking for. But there’s never any guarantee.
My overriding memory of this experience will be the dignity, grace and generosity of the patients. That and witnessing the incredible care, devotion and commitment of the healthcare professionals who treat them.