Always strive for better work. Never stop learning. Have fun a clear plan for a new project or just an idea on a napkin? Sky, land, and sea disappear together out of the world…
Through the film Home Away, Hannah Yohannes brings to screen the story of a young black woman who gets pregnant and turns to a youth shelter where she faces challenges dealing with the other girls and the shelter system. Despite the difficulties of living in a shelter, she learns to make new friends and create a new family.
Hannah Yohannes was inspired by multiple factors to begin her film career — her dad’s passion for film, her love for visual storytelling influenced by Disney movies like The Lion King and the chance to inspire her own children. Through her content, she hopes to educate and empower her children to be creative, use their imagination to share their stories and to see themselves reflected on screen.
One of the biggest challenges she faces as a woman of color in the industry is proving that she is worthy of film opportunities. She said, “I found what helped me in the long run was believing in myself, my faith and my vision.” She learned to reframe her perspective of rejection and see it as a chance to do something better or an opportunity for self-growth. Yohannes felt inspired to create the film “Home Away” to bring awareness to single parenthood and the challenges faced in the shelter system. She explained, “I was inspired because I felt that if I can showcase what I went through as a single parent, then someone who is in either similar or different circumstances wouldn’t feel alone and that there is hope in this thing called life.”
Yohannes’s film features people of color as the lead characters, which is something rarely seen in Hollywood. Yohannes believes it is important to showcase diversity and representation in film because film has the power to change people’s beliefs and ideas of how they view themselves and the world around them. She stated, “For me, I think it is important to highlight diversity and to create a space of inclusion and empowerment that it is possible to be our best selves in front and behind the scenes.”
Yohannes’s advice to aspiring young women is, “Be fearless with your dreams. Your story, ideas, your unique perspective all together are important and do not require validation from others. Keep an amazing tribe of people who sincerely support you and will give you constructive feedback that will shred your pride and ego but never destroy your heart.”
The Ex started as a thought experiment in 2008 with Elvis Deane’s improv troupe at the time. Could he shoot a feature film in the middle of Toronto’s annual two week summer fair, The Canadian National Exhibition (also known as “The Ex”)? The opening scene was always intended to show a couple on a seemingly interminable Ferris wheel ride, and there was just no way that Elvis and his team could pull that off. At the time, his camera weighed 15 pounds. It wasn’t discreet, it wasn’t practical.
Elvis set the idea aside and moved on to other things. Finally by 2016, technology caught up with the idea. Now a 4K stabilized camera could fit in a pocket. His entire production equipment could fit into a small camera bag, with tiny audio recorders stuffed into each actor’s pockets and a microphone taped to their chests. He resurrected the idea of The Ex and that kernel of the story he and the improv troupe had thought up eight years earlier; a couple falling apart in such a happy place.
They had a long two day casting session, and saw so many talented actors, but improv was the key ingredient. Though Elvis had written a script, he threw the dialogue away and worked with the cast over the course of a week before shooting to find what was important to each scene. Certain scenes that didn’t quite feel right on the page got so much more depth when the combined brains and hearts of the actors fleshed the scene out with their own ideas.
They had a cast of five and a one week window before the carnies rolled up their wagons and rumbled down the highway. Originally intended to entirely take place on the Exhibition grounds, they moved some scenes to the waterfront and parks to broaden the film’s scope and give them a few scenes away from the noise and crowds. A handful of scenes that they started to shoot at the Exhibition had to be abandoned or moved to quieter spots because of the non-stop flood of carnival-goers walking through their shots. Because of the short shooting schedule, Elvis generally only had three takes of any scene to cut to, and each take would be similar, but have differences in the specific dialogue. The editors had to find the moments that cut together from take to take.
“The process of shooting a film in the wild without a script should have been scary, but it’s freeing.” says Elvis. “In improv, you just have to take an idea that comes at you and make the best scene you can with it. We had to apply that to every aspect of the film. I’ve since shot a few more short films this way, and while it’s not the only way I’ll film a movie, there’s a beautiful freedom in coming up with an inkling of an idea and exploring it with the actors until you tell a story together.”