Taken from a recent interview Thom did with Little Black Book (see the original here):
Director Thom Wood on the challenges of improving a project that’s been seen by hundred and thousands of school kids
Six years ago, Thom Wood, his team at production company 3angrymen, and illustrator Hattie Newman completed a film for the NSPCC’s Childline service. It’s since been viewed by hundreds and thousands of kids and the European Parliament - something that’s always filled Thom and the team with immense pride but also a niggling feeling of shame. They couldn’t see past the “rough parts” and were itching to have another pop at the project and lend it the skills they’d honed in the six years since they made the original. Eventually NSPCC granted them exactly that opportunity.
LBB’s Laura Swinton spoke with Thom about the new film and the challenges that came with refining and revisiting a previous creative project...
LBB> What was your reaction when you were asked to revisit the first film?
TW> When the film team at NSPCC told me we were going to get a chance to revisit the film, I was well up for it - I’d actually asked them a couple of times if it was something they might do. It had been one of our earliest projects and it was still getting shown to thousands of kids so I’d been hoping we’d get an opportunity to have another go at it, make it better.
My one worry was that Hattie, the illustrator who’d collaborated with me on the original project, would be too busy, or just not up for doing it again. Hattie’s awesome. I loved working through the original film with her and I knew she already understood all of the thinking behind the concept, so I think it would have been a much bigger, considerably different challenge had she not been up for it. Thankfully, she was just as keen to have another pop at it.
LBB> Was there any change in the brief compared with the original? What was the client looking for in this revamped new film?
TW> There wasn’t a massive shift in the brief, it was mostly a case of bringing it up to date and making it feel up to the standard that a young modern audience have now come to expect.
Because the film was about how young people get in touch with Childline, we had to think about how that’s changed over the last few years, how much more ubiquitous chatting online is for example.
The other major consideration was the rebranding of Childline, which we knew would launch alongside this - so we just had to make sure the colour palette would work with that, that we had the new homepage design etc.
For our part, we wanted to clean everything up, to make the colours bolder, more defined and to make all of the props feel more connected to each other aesthetically.
LBB> As a creative person, how do you know when to stop noodling about with a project?
TW> I think that when you’re getting paid to make something, you just keep testing and refining ideas for as long as you can afford to. I guess because I’m running a company I’m pretty good at keeping my producer hat on and knowing when I just need to click save and get to the next stage in the process. At a certain point you’ve got a studio booked, or a freelancer’s time is going to run out, or the client’s expecting delivery.
It definitely helps when you’re working in collaboration with someone you can trust, who’ll let you know if you’ve nailed it or if your idea’s just a bit shit. Hattie and I would sit for hours going round in circles, pitching ideas at each other, prototyping props, until we both thought we’d got it right.
LBB> I know a lot of creative people are often self-critical perfectionists and are privately never 100% satisfied with old work (e.g. if only I had done it this way, I wish I’d thought of x sooner). Is this something you experience? And if so, was there something nice about being able to go back and revisit old work?
TW> We used to be terrible critics of our own work. Pretty much as soon as we finished anything we’d start picking at it, to the point that people would be saying nice things and we’d start slagging it off! Over time, I think we’ve got better at staying positive about the work, especially in the way we talk about it.
With this project, to be honest, it had been us pestering the client to let us remake it. The original film had been watched by hundreds of thousands of kids and we were just never 100% happy with how it ended up looking.
Everyone was really complimentary about the original but all we could see were the rough bits, the cracks we’d had to paper over because of budget or time or whatever. Whenever it got shown, in front of the European Parliament a couple of years ago for example, it was a strange mix of pride and shame - we’ve come a long way as filmmakers in the six years since we first made it.
LBB> Comparing yourself and your work all those years ago, when you did the first film to now, how has your approach and style evolved?
TW> Compared with six years ago, I think we’re much better at making the right film for the right budget/timescale. I think in the early days we’d get an idea in our heads, get excited about it, propose it to the client and then wonder how on earth we could make it for pretty limited budgets - it meant there were some nice ideas but some less than great executions.
First time around, I remember it was just myself, Hattie, Guy (co-director at 3angrymen) and a work-experience person making this film into the early hours of the morning - desperately making new props because we’d seriously underestimated how many takes we were going to shoot. This time around we shot in a proper studio, with nice lighting, plenty of time and a lot more spare props - I think we're much better now at knowing which corners we can get away with cutting.
LBB> What was the most exciting element of the new film?
TW> My favourite part of the new film is just the overall colour palette - it’s so much brighter, bolder and more considered as a whole. And it’s dead exciting knowing that like the previous version, thousands and thousands of kids will see the work over the next couple of years and hopefully they’ll feel that bit more comfortable about contacting Childline should they need to.