The Making of Montefiore's Magical Holiday Short From Oscar-Winner Tom Hooper

The fantastical film showcases life-changing eye-tracking tech

Oscar-winning filmmaker Tom Hooper (The King's Speech, The Danish Girl) takes viewers on a heartwarming cinematic adventure that could only happen in New York City with "There's Magic in All of Us."

Produced by Smuggler for agency Alto and the Montefiore Einstein hospital system, the short film centers on a boy named Solo. He's living with a neurological condition and uses eye-tracking technology to create art and express himself. 

We witness a magical dream in which Solo becomes a pilot. He soars above the Big Apple at Christmastime in a dachshund-shaped hot air balloon, rescuing his younger brother from a snowball fight.

Here, Hooper and Hannes Ciatti, chief creative officer and founder of Alto, talk about the making of "There's Magic in All of Us."

MUSE: Tell us about the boys who play the two brothers in the film. 

Hannes Ciatti: It was crucial to cast a child who genuinely uses eye-gaze technology to communicate with the world. When we found the extraordinary Solo, who lives locally in Queens, for this very New York story, we couldn't believe it. Solo was remarkable for the way in which he transcends his condition [cerebral palsy]. His mom is absolutely tireless in her support of him and creates such a happy atmosphere. The story [in the film] is inspired by his relationship with his brother. But due to many factors, including the brother's age, we cast another great child to portray him.

Tom Hooper: Ayon, the actor who plays his younger brother, came out of a more traditional casting process, but one that embraces kids who hadn't acted before. I was amazed that Ayon was so gifted in front of the camera.

Tom, how did you work with the boys to coax joy, laughter and awe out of them?

Hooper: Perhaps our best decision at script stage turned out to be the introduction of the character of Solo's younger brother. Solo lit up when he was acting with Ayon, who got Solo to share that amazing smile. Our story was about the power of brotherly companionship, and the bond that grew between Solo and Ayon was testament to that power. When Solo starts his journey through the city before finding his brother, the first AD and I tried a variety of ways to get Solo to share his joyful reactions—one even involved me up a ladder dancing to Cardi B on my iPhone. Ayon was a lot more successful, I hasten to add.

I live in and love NYC and enjoyed seeing the kids floating around landmarks and stopping by the gas station I know well on the East River.

Hooper: I am a great lover of NYC, too. I first came when I was 10 in the 1980s and still vividly remember Manhattan before all the changes. Hannes and I talked from the beginning about featuring an older New York, one that has a nostalgia to it, a magic to it. That's why it was important that we shot in Central Park, where the verticality of the buildings through the winter foliage is so specific to Manhattan and helps create an almost retro sci-fi feel to the dachshund's landing at night. And at 6th Ave., the scale and majesty is unbeatable.

I enjoyed featuring favorite buildings like the Alwyn at 58th and 7th, where the dachshund and poodle meet. And I like using Manhattan's water-bound topography, which is why I chose that gas station on 23rd at the river. When you are flying above Manhattan, you can be back out over the water in seconds. Gay Street in the West Village, where Solo lives in the film, was suggested by my brilliant production designer Ethan Tobman. It's where he first lived in NYC, and has an unusual intimate scale. It's so perfect. It feels like a backlot set.

Were you conscious of striking a balance between presenting a useful demonstration of the eye-tracking technology and the dream sequence?

Ciatti: Absolutely. The story behind the film started with the power of this technology, so we wanted to help ensure that people were able to see it in action. About 4 million people in the U.S. face challenges with their ability to speak, and only an estimated 2 percent have access to necessary communication aids. This campaign strives to raise that number and shine a light on amazing kids like Solo and what's possible. At Montefiore Einstein, neurologists pioneered the use of eye-tracking technology to transform communication with these patients. The fine line we walked was ensuring that viewers understand that Solo is creating art with his eyes, which then influences his dream and helps him ultimately become closer to his brother and be his superhero.

How did you work with composer Alexandre Desplat [who collaborated with Hooper on The King's Speech and has won Oscars for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Shape of Water] to create the film's score?

Hooper: I waited until I had shot and cut the film before I sent it to Alexandre. He's always so busy—I knew the only way to persuade him was if the film did the talking. Luckily, he thought it was beautiful. The main thing I asked him was to create a moving score that caught the anguish of Solo not being close to his brother, but also captured how Solo is lit up by his creative journey. 

Then there's this huge contrast as we come into the dream sequence... and a return to reality with an emotional ending revealing how the brothers are brought closer through Solo's art and a magical gift from his dream world.

Alexandre did a genius score that caught the fragile hope of art with the flute theme at the beginning, accompanied by the lonely cello during the brothers' failure to connect. Then there's the incredible energy of the dream sequence, with its nostalgic New York/Leonard Bernstein allusions and epic melodies that elevate the kids' hide-and-seek. And we return to the moving flute for the brothers' reunion at the end. 


Chief Marketing Officer: Loreen Babcock, SVP

Alto New York
Chief Creative Officer, Founder: Hannes Ciatti
Managing Partner, Entertainment + Production: Matt Bonin
Managing Partner: Ed Rogers
Head of Strategy, Partner: Tara Fray
Executive Creative Director, Partner: Dan Kroeger
Executive Creative Director, Partner: Pierre Janneau
Creative Director: Antony Goldstein
Creative Director: Chris Groom
Executive Producer, Film: Ben Berkon
Executive Producer, Film: Mark Johnston
Group Brand Director: Megan Bowen
Senior Brand Director: Tom Gibson
Art Director: Filipe Nogueira

Director: Tom Hooper
Executive Producers: Patrick Milling-Smith/Brian Carmody
Managing Director/Executive Producer: Sue Yeon Ahn
Head of Production: Alex Hughes 
Producer: Mary Livingston
Production Supervisor: Jonathan Mayo
Commercial Coordinators: Troy Cribbin/Jennifer Beliard
1st AD: Peter Jackson
Director of Photography: Steven Annis
Production Designer: Ethan Tobman
Casting Director: Katherine Foronjy of Vitamin Enriched
Costume Designer: Lee Ann Jarvis

Composer: Alexandre Desplat

Final Cut
Editor: Jim Helton
Assistant Editor: Alyce Muhammad
Executive Producer: Sarah Roebuck
Senior Producer: Wade Weliever

The Mill
Creative Director: Matt Fuller
Managing Director, Executive Producer: Angela Lupo
Senior Producer: Ed Rilli

Company 3
Colorist: Sofie Friis Borup
Producer: Shannen Troup

Barking Owl
Executive Producer: Ashley Benton
Sound Design: Gus Koven
Mix Engineer: Matt Keith

TruForm Media Group

Advertise With Us

Featured Clio Award Winner



The best in creativity delivered to your inbox every morning.