Last year, 6500 people slept rough in London. This short film features Tim Wright, who has been living homeless in Highbury for the past 10 years. Behind the camera is Hilow Films, a small production company which consists of Emily McDonald, 27, and her directing partner, Nev Brook, 35 ½. Twin catches up with Emily to learn more about the company and their reasons for doing this film.
Tell me about your background and how Hilow films came about.
I left school when I was 16 and moved to London a couple of months later with one GCSE. I worked in various restaurants until I was introduced to an amazing man by my aunty, who told me he thought I might be good working in media. I got a job as a runner in a production company and spent the next year or so working insanely hard, until I got a job as a PA to the editors at an ad agency called Wieden + Kennedy. They asked me there if I wanted to learn to produce or edit and I said I’d love to learn how to edit, so they trained me up. This was where I met my directing partner Nev. He was a lot better behaved at school than I was, and even managed to make it through uni with a degree in film studies. After leaving W+K, we worked on a few projects together, but this year decided to step it up and formed Hilow Films. We are essentially a tiny production company and direct, film and edit for various clients.
It’s called Hilow because Nev is really tall – 6’7 – and I’m pretty small at 5’3, so he is the hi and I am the low.. We look really weird next to each other!
The Pitch is an incredibly touching film – where did the concept come from?
I had wanted to shoot a film about being homeless for a long time. I used to live very close to Highbury corner and walked past Tim nearly every day. He’s very charismatic, always smiling and joking with everyone, and I therefore found him very approachable. We got chatting and I asked if he would mind us following him around for the day and luckily he loved the idea. Nev and I both felt he would make a compelling character in a documentary about being homeless, without being relentlessly depressing, which most documentaries on the subject generally are.
Do you know anything about what’s happened to Tim since the film? Do you think it has changed anything for him?
We go and see Tim on a weekly basis to see what he has been up to and how he is doing. He is still struggling with some substance abuse issues, but has managed to finally get a place in a hostel, which is great news especially as the weather is getting so much colder. We invited Tim to the screening and it was great to see him there. We hope this film is a tiny part of the very long process of Tim restarting his life and moving away from homelessness.
Did working on the film change your attitude towards the homeless?
It definitely did. It’s easy to become a little callous in London, everyone is constantly on the move and it’s very easy to overlook a lot of things on a daily basis. Delving into his life, talking to Tim and realising that being homeless doesn’t rob you of normal emotions, desires and dreams felt revelatory to both of us, as shameful as that is to admit.
Are you hoping that the film will affect how society views the homeless?
We wanted to show that being homeless is not easy, but is also not devoid of moments of humanity and even humour. Tim uses comedy to help him sell on his pitch, but it also keeps him attached to society in a very profound way.
Could you tell me a little bit about the film-making process? Was it all done in just one day?
We always thought that ‘a day in the life’ type film would be the right way for us to go with it. As it was, a day’s filming that really helped with the way we structured it. It took us a couple of weeks to edit, there were so many amazing moments captured throughout the day that it became quite hard knowing what to keep and what not to. It was a real plus working together on it so that if one of us was being indecisive, the other one could be a little more ruthless! Other than that, Tim was incredibly open with us. The most important part in the whole project was definitely building a relationship with him. Without that fundamental part, he wouldn’t have communicated so well with us and been so relaxed on camera.
Was this sort of film similar to anything you had done before?
We had shot profile/mini-docs about people before, but this was the most ambitious one we’d done.
What projects are you working on at the moment, what should we be looking out for?
We’re about to direct a music video for Shura, which we are really looking forward to. Other than that we have a couple more documentary ideas we are beginning to work on, so hopefully early next year we will have some more films for you to watch.