New film exploring mental health from BAFTA-award-winning director and graduate

New film exploring mental health from BAFTA-award-winning director and graduate

Published: 16/06/2020

Isolation has been the reality for many. Long before lockdown. That’s the message behind a new film by BAFTA-award winning director and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduate Michael J Ferns.

The Reality is a poignant short film, that premieres today, about isolation and shot in isolation, that has been gifted to charities, public bodies and individuals to help raise awareness of mental health. It can be downloaded on Vimeo.



“We all now know what isolation feels like. Some more than others,” said Michael.

“What people have been going through now, however briefly, really has been the reality for so many people, long before lockdown.”

Michael, who graduated from the BA Digital Film and Television degree programme in 2012 (now BA Filmmaking), directs commercials and content for some of the world’s biggest brands, including Nespresso, Dalmore, Johnnie Walker, Cow & Gate and Virgin.

He arrived home to London, from a project in Cape Town, two days before lockdown began.

“I was speaking to my friend, the producer Lucy Ball and owner of Greenroom Films in Edinburgh, about how it would be nice to use this time to do something that was worthwhile and could be used for a potentially valuable purpose.

“It’s fair to say for the majority of us, production ground to a complete halt, and the fast lane we’re used to working in became dead still. Whilst this was a time to reflect and take stock, we quickly became abundantly aware that we missed doing what we love, telling stories. Stories that we hope in some small way can have a positive impact on the world.”


A scene from The Reality, a new short film by RCS graduate Michael J FernsThe Reality was made to raise awareness of a cause close to their hearts. Also, to illustrate that even when the odds are stacked, when creatives come together, beautiful things can be created.

“Lucy and I spoke to a number of friends who suffer from depression, as well as my boyfriend. It has been a particularly troubling time for people in that scenario, not least because there isn’t even the encouragement to meet people. There’s also something sad to reflect on, that their lives, in many ways, haven’t changed that much.”

The Reality was shot over three days in Derby with cinematographer Alistair Little, who Michael regularly works with.

“It was a small but well-formed production and post production team using limited resources,” said Michael.

“It was shot remotely, entirely in natural light, in this little cottage that Alistair and his girlfriend happen to be staying in. The actor, Jake Gardiner-Smith, is his girlfriend’s brother.

“Lockdown has totally changed the landscape of what we can normally make. Filmmaking, especially in commercials, which is what I do, have at least 40 people on set at all times. They’re big team productions.

“What’s important in shooting things under these parameters, and creating any piece of content, is that you want it to be proportionally ambitious but not overshot. What makes something good quality is understanding that and pushing the boundaries but working within them.”

Michael made his first film at the age of 12 and won a Scottish BAFTA at 16 for the historical fantasy Kirk about the life of Reverend Robert Kirk, a minister and scholar of the late 1600s.

Since moving to London in 2014, he has also worked in TV broadcast, co-creating and directing the Official Chart Show and directing drama mini-series The Dumping Ground – Sasha’s Story for the BBC both of which were BAFTA nominated.

With The Reality, Michael and the team hope it will be shared and used by those who need it.

“None of us are positioning ourselves as mental health experts and we know it’s never going to be fully representative of everyone. Films like this should never seek to be answers, merely to be a conversation starter.”

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelJFerns and on Instagram @mjfdirector

Join the conversation on social media at #TheReality

The RCS Counselling team is available on the phone or online to support you please contact Dr Jane Balmforth, RCS Counsellor, on

You can also find details of the Counselling team on the student portal and information about Big White Wall, emotional support available 24/7, on (log in with your student email.)














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