The inspiration behind Nelly: the Elephant in the Room came when one half of this creative partnership was forced to face her toughest challenge to date. Having been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of 3, Emma has spent her entire life projecting an image of someone sunny, healthy and always okay, becoming something of an expert in the art of concealment.
Following almost a decade of failure to respond to any treatment, by her mid-thirties, Emma had become dangerously malnourished, weighing in at less than the average 10 year old girl.
She was told that her only option for survival, was to have a naso-gastric feeding tube. All of a sudden, her IBD would be on display for everyone to see. There was no escaping the fact that the world would know she was ill.
For Emma, as for the 300,000 fellow UK IBD sufferers, giving up was not an option. When the tube went in, to all intents and purposes, nothing had changed. Emma was every bit as chronically ill as she had been for most of her life. The difference was, that she could no longer hide it.
In a bid to regain a modicum of control over her situation, Emma began a blog titled SunflowersSecretsSyringes&Me . Fearful at first, the support generated by her regular posts left Emma astounded.
The things she had always kept hidden from the world appeared to hold interest for so many people. Amazed by how far-reaching this interest was, with readers relating Emma's experiences to their own struggles with a variety of issues, Emma realised that her illness could finally be put to good use, helping to raise awareness, generate support and let people know they are not alone.
Over coffee with Jonny around 9 months ago, conversation turned to the possibility of translating this newfound courage and candour to the screen, making an even bigger impact and taking a small step in the mammoth task of de-stigmatising disability.
Interest in Emma's blog has brought about the realisation that there is a story to tell simply in the way she chooses to approach life with chronic illness.
After months of research and development, our narrative has become clearer. Incorporating many people's stories with all manner of connections to Inflammatory Bowel Disease, the coffee-cup concept now has a life of its own.
Enter: Nelly, the Elephant in the Room.
Nelly is the reason we are here today. In short, we are raising money to make a brand new documentary. Our film will present an honest look at the ugly truth behind living with IBD, and will hold this hidden disability up for scrutiny. Through conversations with numerous sufferers, we will paint a picture of exactly what it is like to live under the shadow of Crohn’s or Colitis.
Despite someone in the UK being diagnosed every 30 minutes, there is still nothing in the public domain that brings together a collection of stories as diverse as ours promises to be. The only short films out there focus on a single sufferer. Most of these are found on the Crohn's and Colitis UK website, and you have to search to find them. Chronic illness is not something you can learn about from textbook cases. Why? Because no two patients will experience it in the same way. That's why Nelly will break new ground.
Honest conversations with both newly diagnosed and long-time sufferers of all ages, family and friends of patients, medical professionals, dedicated researchers, nutritional specialists, holistic therapists, IBD ambassadors, fertility experts, fundraisers and those lucky enough to have achieved periods of remission, will enable us to present a range of perspectives on what it means to live with IBD.
Viewers will be given a rare and precious insight into the impact of being diagnosed with such a debilitating disease, exploring the differences between acceptance and ownership of chronic illness. Through Jonny's frank approach to questioning, we will delve into the consequences of the disease for those closest to the sufferers, understanding that you don’t have to be a patient to be affected. We will also put to bed the misconception that IBD is simply about trips to the toilet, examining some of the more complex physical and psychological implications of the illness.
Above all, Nelly the friendly elephant will give people permission to come forward, and start talking about their own experiences with this condition, or in fact any condition.
It’s time to face up to the elephant in your room; to come out of hiding without fear of being defined by illness.
Who are we?
This is possibly the perfect moment to tell you more about who we are.
You have already learnt a little about Emma Gordon, but it isn’t her IBD which defines her. Emma began her love affair with the Arts at the tender age of 3 (a short while before her diagnosis was made) and she has remained besotted. After reading Drama at The University of Manchester, where she specialised in Applied Theatre, Emma went on to complete a PGCE in Secondary Education, before registering self-employed so she could take on a number of different creative challenges. After 6 years’ juggling teaching, workshops with marginalised groups, enrichment for youth at risk and a number of prison projects, Emma crossed the pond to Los Angeles to spend a year on a Professional Actors’ Intensive.
Upon her return to Yorkshire a decade ago, Emma established her own business, Inspire by EG. with a Community Interest branch, Next Generation Arts. Since then, Emma has had a number of Acting jobs in regional and touring Theatres, alongside mainstream teaching, LAMDA tuition and examining, Arts Award training, Playwriting, Community Filmmaking and more of the Applied and Community Theatre for which she has so much passion.
Emma is excited to finally have the opportunity to put a lifetime of pain to good use in Nelly: the Elephant in the Room, and she can’t think of anyone she’d like to embark on the journey with more, than the second half of our creative team - Jonny Dixon.
Jonny has been acting professionally since childhood. Over the last decade, he has facilitated workshops and classes for tens of thousands of students, laying solid foundations for their studies in theatre and film.
After working as a freelance filmmaker for number of years, Jonny now runs a production company called IsaacFilms. This company specialises in films for various purposes, from bespoke showreels, corporate promotional videos to original shorts, TV pilots and feature films. Jonny is hands-on at every stage of the process, from pre-production, planning, writing, casting and shooting, all the way to a project's final days in the editing suite. He is very keen to bring his expertise and passion (both of which he has in abundance) to the project.
Over the last three years Emma and Jonny have worked together on a series of successful projects. Their joint creative initiatives have ranged from working with disengaged and underprivileged youngsters to privately educated high school students and young professionals, using the Arts as a form of exploration and creative expression.
Isaac Inspired is a collaboration between two accomplished creative companies, Inspire by EG. and Isaac Films. It celebrates the meeting of a shared vision and ambition.
What is our plan?
The initial aim for this project, is to create a beautiful film, which lifts the veil on one of the world’s big taboos. After premiering the film in our home-town of Leeds, we will be committed to packing Nelly up, and touring the Film Festival Circuit. The wider we can spread the messages within the film, the more completely we will fulfil our goals.
Alongside the festival circuit, we believe there is a great deal of educational and outreach potential with this venture. With around 25 years’ collective experience within training, facilitating and teaching in a range of settings, we are well-versed in writing support packs and original learning resources, as well as delivering hands-on, experiential sessions.
Nelly: the Elephant in the Room will be an invaluable tool for generating and raising awareness within medical communities, places of work, education establishments and community centres.
Our vision would be, to take Nelly into these settings, pairing screenings with informational and inspirational talks, workshops and discussion groups. The aim each time, would be to create an ethos of openness where IBD and its myriad offshoot physical and mental health issues are concerned, offering strategies, alternative approaches and potential support networks for all those affected.
There is an even longer-term goal that Nelly could, one day, become an accessible figure through which illnesses of any kind can be explored and dialogues opened up. With this comes the opportunity to create and publish a series of up-to-date informational resources for health centres, charities and hospitals. This material, much like the film itself, would be rooted in personal experience, from a range of vastly differing perspectives, rather than NHS data, making it a more valuable commodity for the average user.
Supporting a charity along the way
Emma has been a member of Crohn's and Colitis UK (formerly NACC) for around half her life. As a child, she struggled with the notion of belonging to a group that was defined by disease. She didn't like the idea of meeting others where the only common trait they shared, was illness.
When she went away to university, however, with her first surgery already scheduled, Emma began to appreciate the positive impact of sharing. She was so used to her IBD being a dirty secret. When she went in to explain to her personal tutor that she might have one or two extra needs in the months that followed, she was amazed that he didn't ask: 'What's Crohn's Disease?' Instead, he said: 'Oh, my youngest has just been diagnosed with Colitis. Maybe you'll be able to give me some advice. Oh, and the head of Drama has Crohn's. So does one of our visiting lecturers.'
Emma was dumb-founded. All of a sudden, the idea of belonging to a group where no explanation was required was actually quite appealing.
Crohn's and Colitis UK continues to carry out ground-breaking research, raise vital funds and connect hundreds of thousands of IBD sufferers all around the world. And that's just a tiny glimpse at the work they do.
Isaac Inspired promises that any profits made from Nelly's success, will be allocated to Crohn's and Colitis UK, helping to ensure they can keep doing the wonderful work they do.
Nelly has huge potential. The question is, will you help us ensure that potential is fulfilled?