Former Young Lions duo mastermind new World Mental Health Day video

Friday 09 Oct 2020
Marvin Sordell and William Miller with England manager Gareth Southgate during filming

When ONEIGHTY Productions were commissioned to produce a film that demonstrate England’s support for the Heads Up campaign, two of their founders would be walking a very familiar path.

The video, which has been released to mark World Mental Health Day, features cameos from a number of Three Lions internationals including Mason Mount, Harry Winks, Tyrone Mings and Declan Rice.

But it was a couple of the faces behind the camera that have played the key roles. ONEIGHTY is the brainchild of former England youth internationals Marvin Sordell and Will Miller who, along with Maxwell Harris-Tharp, launched the company after meeting while playing together at Burton Albion. Another former Brewers teammate, Harry Campbell, also makes up part of their team.

Sordell represented England at under-21 and under-20 levels as well as being part of the Great Britain squad at the 2012 Olympic Games while Miller, who came through Tottenham Hotspur’s youth set-up, played for the under-18s.

Sordell is congratulated after scoring for England U21s in 2011

It was fitting, then, that they would be the ones behind a feature that puts the viewer in the shoes of a first-time England international as they experience what Sordell and Miller both call the “whirlwind” of a trip to St. George’s Park and the build-up to their debut at Wembley Stadium.

“The memories that I have of playing for England are amazing – it was a dream come true to be able to play for England at any level,” says Sordell, who retired from playing in 2019.

“To be able to take those experiences and add them to what we've created was great because it is difficult at times – you're in an environment that's completely new and you're around a lot of different people that you're meeting in a very short space of time.

“A lot's going on – you go from being picked up to going into camp and straight into training, really. You meet a few people and everything happens so quickly that you get to the game and are potentially making your debut, all within the space of three or four days.

“There can be so much going on at the same time maybe in your personal life as well that you don't really have time to take a step back and say 'let's have a proper conversation'. 

“Having had that experience myself, and Will having had it as well, enabled us to be able to look at what happens and understand how much of a whirlwind effect that is. I think we managed to capture that quite well and tell that story.”

The video is shot entirely from the unidentified protagonist’s point of view, with 24-year-old Miller the man behind the camera.

Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount watch on while Miller wears a head-mounted camera

“It was a real great challenge doing things like playing football with the head-cam on and trying to make that work while not being able to see anything!” he admits.

“And it was a challenge trying to capture that journey of going into the national team and the training camp all the way through to the game while trying to get the mental health message across, but it was real fun going to St. George's and shooting at Wembley.

“The message that we were going for was that, especially nowadays with social media, life just moves so fast sometimes. We can all get so caught up in our work and our relationships that sometimes we just need to take a second to check in with ourselves and also the people that are close to us to really make sure how they're really doing.

“I think we tried to create something that was fast-paced, exciting and enjoyable to watch but also to create that whirlwind effect where it's almost overwhelming. It's a great thing to be able to show that through the eyes of an England international.”

The film culminates as Winks – one of five players to feature in the film, along with England manager Gareth Southgate and former captain Tony Adams – stops Miller’s character at pitchside for a quiet chat ahead of the game, landing the message that it’s important to find time to properly check in with your friends.

That was something of a sliding doors moment for Miller, who regularly played alongside Winks in midfield for Tottenham’s development teams as well as sharing the field with the Young Lions in the Under-18s’ 2-1 win over Germany in 2014. The pair have known each other since they were 14 and remain friends, despite their careers heading in different directions.

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While Winks was breaking into the senior England squad in 2017, Miller was departing White Hart Lane for Burton. Two years later, following a knee injury that ruled him out for the best part of a season, he had retired and was pursuing a new career in the creative industry.

“I was out for a long time,” says the Londoner, “and, as footballers, that means we can't do what we love so I turned my attention, while I was out for those eleven months or so, to more creative things and I found a real passion for this stuff.

“When I went back to football and I got back in it was great, but at the end of the year my contract ran out. I said that if the options come up that were going to make me happy then I was going to pursue them but, if they don't, there's this other thing that I really want to experiment with.

“Luckily, at the same time, Marv was feeling the same kind of way and so was Harry [Campbell], so we've all kind of gone on this journey and been able to support each other.”

Miller made three appearances for England at under-18 level

Sordell spoke openly about his struggles with mental health at the launch of the Heads Up campaign last summer. He wrote a poem, Denis Prose (an anagram of ‘depression’), which was turned into a film in one of ONEIGHTY’s first projects.

The 29 year-old explains: “The idea of ONEIGHTY was born was when we sat on a plane on the way back from a team trip somewhere in Spain, I think. We just started talking about bits and bobs and Will said 'listen to this' and it was a song that he'd written and sang.

“I said that it was really amazing and then I guess that then gave me the courage to say 'have a look at this' and it was a couple of poems that I'd written. He turned to me and said 'this one in particular we could do something really cool with' and that if it had visuals they would really elevate it and make the message so much stronger. I just thought 'I can't do that, I'm not a filmmaker!'

“That was about three years ago now. Lo and behold we went and met our co-founder, Max, and went out and shot Denis Prose in a couple of days.”

Left to right: Harris-Thorp, Campbell, Miller & Sordell during filming in the Wembley Stadium dressing room

The production time for ONEIGHTY’s collaboration with England was a little longer – filming began in March with the feature due to be released at that month’s planned friendly against Italy, which was being held in support of the Heads Up campaign.

That match was cancelled as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19, meaning the video has taken seven months longer to see the light of day than planned.

But Sordell says that the film’s message carries extra meaning during the pandemic, which NHS leaders have claimed to have led to a rise in people reporting mental health difficulties.

“It just so happens that this is such an important time for it to be a message,” affirms the former Watford man. “With the situation the world is in right now, we're very much in an absolute whirlwind and – as the video shows – experiences in life can be a whirlwind, whether it's an England call-up or whatever might be happening in your life.

“It's about taking a moment to step out of that to focus on your relationships and the people around you. Whether they're your closed loved ones, friends or colleagues, everybody needs somebody to talk to and have a proper conversation with. I think the key message is take a moment to check in on those people that are close to you.

“I'm proud of the piece of work that we've been able to make and the fact that it's such an important message at this time.”

By Jim Lucas