see me

Just finished two little spots for a Scottish mental health ‘anti-stigma’ campaign called see me. It’s 5 years since I made the first see me commercial and a lot has changed in that time. The campaign has been tracked in widescale public research, and there’s been a definite shift in knowledge, attitudes and behaviour around the issue of mental health.

The brief this time was to move the campaign on to a more positive footing. (The previous work – while trying to avoid finger-wagging – tended to focus on ‘stigma’ and the consequences of negative actions.) The aim was to show ‘the calm after the storm’ – most people do recover from mental illness and the understanding and support of friends and family can make a difference.

The difficulty, naturally, is that good news is not necessarily so dramatic. Equally, we didn’t want to be seen to gloss over issues that can be distressing, persistent and sometimes intractible.

So, we set out to make the spots as natural as we could while accentuating the positive. We also wanted to challenge the visual stereotype of people with mental illness looking ‘a bit odd’, unkempt or downtrodden.

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In preparation for the shoot, I filmed a bunch of interviews with people who had first hand experience of mental health problems – either their own problems or as a supporter. The results surprised me. The stories, sometimes told with the benefit of distance, were often delivered almost casually, as simple matter of fact or with self-deprecating humour – even when the events were overwhelming, hurtful, or just downright terrifying.

We devised the scripts by taking strands from different people’s lives to create ‘true’ but anonymous stories. Initially, we’d talked about using ‘real people’ but – as always – I felt it was best to ‘get actors to pretend they are real people’. 🙂

In rehearsal, I felt it was easier for the women to be more open, do the confessional ‘friends’ stuff and seem natural. Men’s relationships tend to be more disguised as banter – mutual respect hidden by humour and gentle insults. For the guys, I was worried that it could veer towards ‘ham’ – or be so underplayed as to come across as “water off a duck’s back” .  So I  felt the guys needed more help to ‘internalise’ the enormity of what could happen and its emotional impact – even if that background didn’t really appear upfront on screen. So we devised a ‘back story’ from their different perspectives – woven from the true stories we’d been told. You can read Vince’s story and Johnny’s story and get a sense of what (I hope it comes across as if) they are not talking about.