Behind the Idea: Showing can-do spirit for Leonard Cheshire

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Health and welfare charity Leonard Cheshire’s film Actually, I Can aims to inspire people to get involved with its volunteering activities through a powerful story about a disabled man called Charlie.

Created by 3angrymen Productions, it challenges viewers’ perceptions of what a disabled person can do in terms of their own capabilities, but also in life, and fights back against a society that frequently says ‘no’.

Below, Sophie Christophersen, the film’s producer, explains what went into the project and why its message is important for us all.

What was the brief?

Leonard Cheshire came to us with the desire to produce a short film based on the hashtag #ActuallyICan, in the hope of inspiring people to get involved in their volunteering activities. The aim of the film was to challenge people’s perception of what a disabled person can achieve in life.

How did the initial conversations go?

The brainstorming phase was very interesting, but all of us felt strongly that the film should feature disabled people but shouldn’t be about disability - we wanted to focus on the what volunteering means, especially to individuals.

The audience knows that volunteering is good for society, so we made a point of focussing our ideas around personally-driven narratives. That’s what eventually led us to Charlie’s story.

Tell us about the concept and why it was the right choice?

One of the major things that stood out to us when considering the volunteering opportunity with Leonard Cheshire, was quite how holistic the approach is: one disabled person could benefit so much from different volunteer contributions.

There’s a connective tissue between people throughout the organisation, so we wanted to tell a story that leant on this joined-up, multi-faceted approach. The concept is made up of one huge “I can” moment for a disabled person, but we show this moment as a result of various significant “I can” moments from many volunteers along the way - every single “I can” makes a difference in a person’s life.

What was the production process like?

The production process involved three shoot days and was an amalgamation of a stripped-back crew, three actors and real Leonard Cheshire volunteers. One of the most significant parts of pre-production was the casting process, where it was incredibly important for us to cast as authentically as possible - we wanted to make sure Charlie was played by a real wheelchair user.

All of the extras you see in every scene are also either Leonard Cheshire employees or programme-users, so the film shows a range of abilities / disabilities throughout. 

The biggest challenge was making sure the entire shoot was accessible - it soon became apparent that London is built fairly upwards, i.e pretty much every house we wanted to film in had stairs, or not enough room for a standard wheelchair to navigate the space. This was overcome by recce-ing every single location we planned, triple-checking every minute detail that could potentially present an obstacle on the shoot days.

Why is the main message of the campaign important?

The film accompanies Leonard Cheshire’s existing #ActuallyICan campaign which encourages people of any ability to live, learn and work as freely as they choose. It’s a resounding encouragement for people to second-guess themselves in the face of adversity. We wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a film about disability, but actually about individuals who benefit from adopting a ‘can do’ attitude with Leonard Cheshire.

Why will the film resonate with consumers?

The film hopefully resonates with people because Charlie is a a very ordinary, relatable guy - fresh out of university, struggling to find a job, and dealing with that gruelling, recognisable feeling of inadequacy or a lack of motivation in a life that frequently tells him ‘no’. Charlie could be any of the viewers, whether they’re in a wheelchair or not.

The big ‘I can’ moment isn’t when Charlie gets or job, or when he finally decides to join a basketball team - it’s the moment that he realises he actually can deliver that keynote presentation for his colleague, because of all the other “I can” moments that led him there.

What’s the most interesting thing about the work?

The Actually I Can campaign is significant because it’s not exclusively aimed at disability - it actually points at anyone with any ability, and encourages anyone to get involved in the programmes or volunteer. 

How long did it take to make?

We kicked off pre-production in the second week of July and finished the film at the end of September.

What do you hope it achieves for the charity?

Hopefully people believe in Charlie’s story and find themselves encourages to get involved with Leonard Cheshire on a programme or volunteer basis, but it would also be nice to think that viewers leave the film with a sense of determination and can-do attitude.

Aside from being on set with the crew, cast and client and seeing all of the hard work come together, the best part about seeing the film go live is having other people watch it and respond to it.




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