Owain Astles first took to the streets of Bristol to film interviews with homeless people in an attempt to counter the negativity he’d come across, but he had no idea of the reaction he’d get, or what his Sleeping Rough film would grow into.
“I got stared at, heckled and abused by bystanders, however I met some of the most humble, gracious and pleasant people I’ve met in my life. It was a shocking and enjoyable experience at the same time, and I was astonished by the positive response the video got,” he says on the Pastles Productions page.
The film – five minutes long, shot and edited in a day – had such a positive response that he’s about to make another. This time it’s a dramatised account of the journey to and from sleeping rough, based on a host of interviews and meetings.
We catch up at the Exeter Phoenix just after he’s met with someone from Exeter Council to discuss his Sleeping Rough film and the issues surrounding homelessness. What inspired his first film?
“It’s been something I’ve been concerned about for years. It may be because I grew up in Exeter, where there is quite a homelessness situation. Obviously, it’s got massively, massively worse in the last few years.
“It came to a head a couple of years ago when I started hearing things from people that I knew. They said things like, ‘I don’t want to give food to a homeless person, what if they come back asking for more’, or ‘I don’t want to go near one of them, in case one of them stabs me’. And I was thinking, hang on, that’s not right.
“It’s not because they were unintelligent people at all, and it’s not because they were horrible people. It’s just because they didn’t understand the situation.
“I want to inspire change on a governmental and council level. But the main thing I want to do is just change people’s perceptions, and educate people.
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“There are so many misconceptions out there: you can’t give money to them, because they’ll spend it all on drugs; or they deserve to be there because it’s their own fault. So many misconceptions,” he says, adding that no-one is immune to the issues surrounding homelessness.
“The majority of people in this country are two pay cheques or a relationship breakdown away from homelessness. It’s that easy.”
The Sleeping Rough film will follow three main characters. Each of them gets into homelessness in a different way and gets out of it in different way.
“All the events in the film will be based on the interviews that I’ve taken,” says Owain. “And because these interviews have been recorded via audio they will also be used as narration at various points during the film, hopefully to make people more aware that these stories are true. People actually hear the voices of the rough sleepers.”
Because the rate of homelessness is rising there is an increasing negativity towards it, says Owain. His original film Sleeping Rough was shared and shown around charities. Owain’s working with charities again, but he wants the film to break though to those who may not otherwise be aware of the issues.
“I also want to reach those people who have those negative attitudes, and to challenge them,” he says. Key to that is distribution, and it’s an issue he’s already tussling with: the festival route or the social media route, and potentially sharing the film in schools and colleges?
They are due to start filming in January 2017 with a release date penned in for the summer, but there’s still plenty to do, and collaboration is key.
“I’ve scripted all the events, but not the dialogue, because I want the dialogue to be more natural, so I’m going to get the actors to improvise that. But the events are quite specific and stay true to the interviews,” says Owain.
And as for the actors, he is keen to work with people who are fully involved in the massive undertaking.
“I’ve spoken to people who are interested in getting involved and I’m also going to Manchester to an organisation that runs workshops with people who are or who have been homeless. I’m going to be getting interviews there, but also chatting to some of the actors, because they’ll have experience of it,” he says.
Owain already has a team of production collaborators who have been working with him to get the project to this point. Filming will take place in Exeter and Bristol, but it will be a tough task to keep the film down to its planned 20 minutes run-time.
“Originally it was just going to be the story of one person, but going out and doing the interviews, I realised you can’t give an accurate representation with one person because it’s so varied,” says Owain.
The film follows three different characters. One is an immigrant who’s escaping from their country, and comes to the UK, finds work but gets exploited and ends up homeless. Another is a young man who has a girlfriend with a daughter, but his relationship breaks down. He doesn’t want his girlfriend or daughter to become homeless, so he turns over his lease over to them – that’s how he becomes homeless. And the third character is a woman who is in a bad relationship and she has to escape from that, and ends up sleeping rough.
The original Sleeping Rough interviews were filmed with just Owain with his camera, a 50mm lens and a sound recorder. The next film will aim for highlighting the theme of isolation with a long lens from far away, and takes its cues from the Richard Gere film Time Out of Mind.
To help get the film made Owain’s setting up a CrowdFunder, with the central aim being to pay the actors.
“I need to make it good,” says Owain, “but get it done and get it out there so people can be aware.
“And I need to do justice to the people I’ve spoken to.”
• Go to the Sleeping Rough kickstarter page to find out how you can donate and help get this film made.