Emily and Nev, what was the driving impetus to setting up Hilow as a directing duo and would you say you both share a particular social voice that you like to express in your films?
We’d worked together before, and thought that we could achieve more together than we did separately. Coming from an advertising background, it seemed natural for creatives to work in pairs even though it’s much less common in directing. We both share a very similar social voice, in that we want marginalised and ignored groups to be heard, and that we can all learn a tremendous amount from people who live different lives than us.
We of course fell in love with The Hardest Word when we saw it in the 1.4 Awards as well as at the YDA in Cannes but it was The Pitch which first caught our eye, your portrayal of Tim Wright who has been homeless in London for over a decade. You seem to have the ability to draw out the humour, the positivity in people no matter what their plight is. How do you find your subjects and what is it about them that makes you want to tell their stories?
Tim is such a charismatic guy, so positive in his interactions with people that his story almost told itself. When you scratch the surface of almost anybody’s life, you are able to see them more clearly and understand the humanity that we all share. Tim is a homeless guy, but that doesn’t define him, his dreams and his character wholly. His circumstances are extreme and upsetting but he’s not a cliché. We still spend a lot of time with Tim and he always says how happy it makes him that people stop to say hello to him because they have seen his film. Knowing that we can make him feel good about himself, even just for that split second is the reason we love making films.
In fact your unusual characters are often part of a much bigger community – thinking of the Glaswegian grime artist Shogun in particular – and the stories unfold through their relationships.
How do you go about crafting your films – do they all evolve in the edit?
For our documentaries,there is a fair amount of planning in terms of locations we will go to, people we will talk to etc. Spending time with contributors before you film them is key. You are asking a lot of a person to openly divulge their life story, essentially to two strangers. This is something that we are always really grateful for – the honesty in which people speak to us and trust us to tell their stories.
During the shoot we will be always on the look out for moments that we definitely want to see in the film, perhaps a great way to open it or conclude it. Coming from an editing background, it’s hard to avoid lining up the footage in your head as you go! An editor will see our rushes for the first time and make interesting decisions that we hadn’t seen, so often we will throw out our ideas we had going into the cut, so there is a real evolution but usually not straying that far from what we’d thought.
Do you have miles of footage to view?
Honestly, if we can, we do selects as we shoot so things tend not to get out of control!
Is most of the footage one-take and unscripted?
Yes, for our documentary work it usually is. If you miss something, re-doing it for the camera never ever seems authentic. We’d notice it and more importantly the viewer would. Things are different for our commercial work and music videos.
Are you planning a move into more commercial work – thoroughly enjoyed the Alexa Chung film for instance.
That Alexa Chung work was produced by us but directed by Bunny Kinney! He’s awesome.
Yes, we are planning a move into more commercial work and getting onto Radical’s books was a huge step for us. Our rep Jodie Brooks is fantastic, she’s guiding us and she’s been so supportive.
Anymore music videos on the cards? Shura, Indecision had us fooled for quite a while.
We are shooting a couple of music videos at the end of this month, one of them will be for Shogun (the MC mentioned above) – so keep an eye out for those!
What are you currently working on?
Just finishing a promo we shot for Sky Atlantic which is coming out this month. It’s a light-hearted look at a part of British history, presented by Allan Mustafa (“MC Grindah” from People Just Do Nothing). He was so good to work with and we are really happy with it. That was directed through Vice/Virtue for Sky Atlantic.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Hilow is pronounced HIGH-LOW not HILL-LOW. That was Nev’s fault.