Manchester based film producer Lauren Tomlinson is the founder of Acting on Impulse, a unique drama and film project for – and starring – homeless people. SHARON BARNARD reports
The idea for a film sprang from Lauren’s experiences helping with a concert for homeless people in Manchester city centre a few years ago.
“I spent an evening listening to life stories and hearing about the boredom and aimlessness of life on the streets,” she explains. “Many folk expressed an interest in acting, so I came home and wrote a film script for them.”
Since October 2007, Lauren and a team of volunteers have been running Acting on Impulse, a fortnightly acting workshop with homeless people.
She says the project offers real hope. For example, one man, Neil, found Acting on Impulse has helped him to regain his confidence and to feel life is worth living again.
“We have about 30 people from the homeless world involved each year,” explains Lauren, “plus a further 20 or so when it comes to the [film] project as we recruit extras.” The extras tend to be drawn from addiction houses or parks where they have been sleeping rough.
“In terms of the team, there are about 10 involved in catering, organising workshops and projects and mentoring. Production sees a huge team of crew and volunteers to get it off the ground.”
Acting on Impulse’s first short film Humanitas, involving homeless people as cast members, was premiered at The Cornerhouse, Manchester in June 2008 and it received a standing ovation. Since then it has been screened at three film festivals, nominated for a human rights film award, and three of the cast have been signed up by agents.
A second film, Under the Tracks, produced by Lauren and directed by her colleague Gary Paton from their media production company Finite Productions, was released in 2009. It follows events in the city over the course of an afternoon and intertwines the lives of young people out for a meal with those of rough sleepers.
One weekend in May this year saw Lauren and Gary filming again – this time a comedy short called The Invitation. It’s about different groups from deprived communities trying to get to a wedding.
“It has some fantastic human touches,” says Gary, “the main theme being about letting go of the past and embracing what you have in front of you.”
Derek Nicholl, who plays the lead in the film, has been homeless for eight years. “He joined Acting on Impulse just before Christmas and at that point barely spoke and did not give eye contact,” explains Lauren.
“He said the project has made him happy, and given him the will to keep with the Methadone programme – and he wants to do more projects like it.”
Lauren’s own dream is to make a commercial feature film.
“It is really humbling to work with every one of the people involved. Sometimes I forget where they have come from and treat them as professional actors. Then I realise they are going back to hostels or recovery centres and you remember the ongoing battles they have. I feel so proud of what they are achieving.”
For the latest film Lauren also enlisted the help of two award-winning actors – Dave Spikey (co-writer/co-star of Phoenix Nights) and Neil Fitzmaurice (Phoenix Nights and The Office).
“We got Dave and Neil involved by simply approaching them! They bought into the heart of the project and wanted to give their time to be involved. It was a huge boost to our actors and for the project.
“My church, Altrincham Baptist Church, has supported me since the first day I had the idea back in 2007. People help on set and in fundraising, which makes the production have that extra special family atmosphere.
“It also reminds the church of the poor and broken that we have on our own doorstep.”
For more information go to www.actingonimpulse.net
Lauren Tomlinson was nominated for an Inspiring Individual Award by her mother, Sue Tomlinson
Photos: Howard Wilkinson
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