PRETTYBIRD director Eloise King on the emotionally honest 10th anniversary film
Ten years ago, breast cancer awareness charity CoppaFeel! launched with the aim of encouraging people under 30 to regularly check their breasts. Dedicated to promoting the early detection of cancer, the charity has spent the last decade educating young people on the signs and symptoms of the disease and normalising breast checks. In 2017, the charity launched the widely celebrated ‘Trust Your Touch’ ad - the first campaign to show a female nipple on daytime TV.
Now, for its 10th anniversary, CoppaFeel! is encouraging people to ‘Grab Life by the Boobs,’ targeting demographics statistically less likely to do so such as the BAME community, transgender community, and cisgender men. The film, created by Fold7, features real men and women - some of whom have experienced breast cancer themselves.
‘Grab Life by the Boobs’ was developed by a predominantly female production team and directed by PRETTYBIRD's Eloise King. Not only did Eloise direct the campaign, but she developed the script with Fold7's Simon Helm over the course of three weeks - helping to introduce humanity and emotional honesty to a spot originally intended to be metaphorical.
Here, LBB's Kitty Norris chats to Eloise about working with non-actors, the importance of a collaborative process, and how to flip the script on an advert about breast cancer.
LBB> What was the initial idea for the campaign? How different was it from the final film?
Eloise King> The initial idea was something a lot more abstract: studios, wildebeests and paint flying off of drums.
LBB> You also worked on developing the script with Simon Helm over the course of three weeks. How did it develop?
Eloise> Simon's script was great; it was so evocative. As soon as I read it my mind started conjuring up triumphant real-world images that could connect to an audience; pink hair on blue sheets, emerging from a body of water, and full body-contact sport. I like to operate in familiar environments and pull out the magic from the mundane. Simon really encouraged this thinking and we worked together to re-work the creative as I saw it.
LBB> You changed the initial idea of using metaphorical moments to a film much more grounded in reality - introducing humanity back into the spot. What was the process behind that?
Eloise> The process for me is always humanity first and issues second. It also helps that I am the target audience. I knew I would respond to an ad that was honest, funny and normalised breast checks - I wanted to make that ad. I look for an emotional honesty in the world I want to explore. How does a being in a community make us feel? What does the action of a rugby tackle evoke? Where do we find intimacy and safety? I am constantly trying to attach to the feeling of living - if we detach, how are you going to ask people to save their own lives?
LBB> How do you think this spot has built upon the 'Trust Your Touch' ad that debuted in 2017?
Eloise> As it was the 10th Anniversary and the charity comes from such a personal place - Kris Hallenga's own story - I felt it had to go back to this core. I had one rule from the outset, no more dismembered bodies. No one should feel ashamed about checking their breast, collarbone or armpits - let's show them checking in all their glory. The second rule was no scary macabre music - my mum is a breast cancer survivor as are many of the woman in this film. I wanted to honour that and empower people to know their bodies, we don't have to be afraid.
LBB> The film notably features demographics that are statistically less likely to check their boobs - how did that consideration shape the film in the end?
Eloise> Discrimination has been hard-wired into the media we consume. We need to be proactive in challenging who is it made by and for - I actively try to make work that counters that. I live and work as a response to my own exclusion, whether it’s advertising, film, or access to information. At the start of the process it feels natural to ask who's affected by the topic I am exploring. If their stories are missing, I include them. Leanne and Theo seem to have really struck a chord but it's so obvious the film would be incomplete without them. Leanne speaks for black women's visibility and Theo's presence confronts the truth: for trans men it might be difficult, it might make you feel dysphoric, but it's important. The point is not to tick boxes but to be responsive - who needs to know this information and how can I best represent them?
LBB> How was it shooting a campaign that featured real people - some of whom had experienced breast cancer themselves?
Eloise> I love working with non-actors. I'm able to intuitively key into tune into people’s strengths. I honestly dreamt about the diving scene (I find water such a powerful healing motif) and when I met Heidi, I knew it had to be her. Then a week later, I had to ask the producers to call and ask if she could swim! It turned out she used to be a diver and had only finished her treatment two weeks prior, it felt like more than luck.
LBB> It seems like this project was a very collaborative process. How important was it for this to be the case? Were you happy with the mix of men and women working on the project?
Eloise> Simon Helm, The Fold 7 team, and CoppaFeel! are amazing collaborators - we all wanted the same thing and I had their expertise to lean into. My crew is always intersectional; PRETTYBIRD understands the team are the process and that reflects in my work. My only stipulation was for a female-identifying DOP. Anna Patakarina and I operated a closed set when the cast were topless. I needed everyone to feel at ease - that intimacy is palpable in the final film.
LBB> What were the biggest challenges during production and how did you overcome them?
Eloise> It’s not easy to flip the script on what a breast cancer awareness advert looks like, but I think we did it.
Anyone who knows production will understand what PRETTYBIRD pulled off for me in that day is epic but the whole team was committed to creating a new narrative of openness. Hopefully it'll save lives.