I’m no hero: on set with Idris Elba

Three countries, six international football stars, a world-class actor and one broken back; it took a whole lot of ingenuity to get Africa United’s Ebola campaign off the ground. Associate creative directors Matt Roach and David Lawrie show us how it’s done…

‘I’m no hero’ is simple, effective messaging – how did you decide on the final creative idea? 

The main way we judge ideas is by considering whether people would actually talk about it. What would the headline be? What would someone write in a tweet?

This brief was to get people viewing health workers as heroes, using famous footballers to deliver the message. But it needed something unexpected – as the players are seen as heroes themselves, we thought having them deny their own hero status and admit that what they do is just a game would be practically sacrilege to football fans, and so bound to get talked about.

And how do you ensure you filter out all the crap while you’re brainstorming?

This was a rare instance where there was no crap to filter! ‘I’m no hero’ came out of our very first conversation with Tim Duffy (M&C Saatchi Chairman). Matt wrote the script that very evening on a train to Devon.

What has the initial response to the campaign been like?

Overwhelming. Within days it had been covered by over 300 news outlets and organisations including CNN, Reuters, BBC News, the UN, TIME, CNBC Africa, and social channels too. But forget Twitter, forget Facebook, forget pats on the back from peers; watching this response from health workers in Sierra Leone was a humbling experience. It was the first time we’ve really seen the impact our work can have.

You filmed in loads of cities and two different continents – that must have been a challenge. How do you ensure continuity in execution when filming is so fragmented? 

It was a logistical clusterfuck. We had five separate shoots and we could only attend two, as could the director, Tim Saccenti. We filmed Idris in Paris and two players in London. The others were shot in Manchester with none of the original crew, and we filmed health workers in Sierra Leone. Players ended up lit differently, the technical film quality in Africa wasn’t great, the crew in Paris spoke very little English, and to top it off, Dave fractured his spine on holiday. The grade was done by Jason Wallis at Electric Theatre Collective, who did a great job of making it look consistent.

Any undiscovered acting talent among the squad?

Footballers should definitely stick to their day job! For a lot of the guys, English isn’t their first language, so enunciation was tricky. Having Yaya Touré get annoyed at us for correcting his pronunciation was certainly a first. He read the script in French too and joked, ‘maybe I can learn how to speak French from my friends over here…’

As for Idris, watching a Hollywood A-lister deliver our script was surreal. You hear your own words read back to you in a way that makes you forget that you wrote them.

Any artistic differences with Idris on set?

Thankfully, no! As Idris was both ‘the talent’ and the client, it was an odd situation. Luckily he’s an amazing actor, so it made our jobs very easy.

Are there any major differences working on pro-bono projects like this, compared to paid client business?

The main difference was the lack of process. We bagged our first creative director roles, taking full responsibility for the project. We had to be ready at a moment’s notice to travel to shoots and post, making a lot decisions on the fly. It became instinctual, with a lot of luck thrown in.

It would be wrong to compare the feeling of making an ad for a product to the feeling of making a PSA to fight a deadly disease. Both are enjoyable but the latter is obviously far more rewarding.

How, in your opinion, will this campaign most help aid workers fighting the Ebola outbreak? 

We’ve already seen that ‘We’ve Got Your Back’ is a motivation for health workers. Only time will tell if the educational team talk video will have the impact we hoped. Education is crucial as half the reason Ebola spreads so quickly is that people don’t understand the nature of the disease.

For an inside look at life in Sierra Leone at the moment, follow filmmaker @Duff_Michael on Twitter. His short documentary, Your First Mistake Will Be Your Last’, shows what it’s like inside an Ebola isolation ward. 

Use Twitter hashtag #WeveGotYourBack to follow the campaign. Follow Matt & Dave @akacreatives