The East London-born writer-director talks young carers, Beyoncé and her BFI NETWORK-funded short Signs
Yero Timi-Biu is an award-winning TV, film and theatre writer and director. Her previous accolades include two heartfelt short films for Channel 4’s Random Acts, and she previously worked at BBC Films. An east London native, Yero upped sticks to sandy Margate to truly focus on the craft of screenwriting. Speaking with Andriani about BFI NETWORK-funded short film Signs, Yero discusses how the film follows the life of a young carer, a story that is very personal to her. The film won the Youth Jury Award at its premiere at Encounters Film Festival in 2019, which was judged by young carers and young care leavers.
What inspired you to write about young carers?
I was home-schooled and quite isolated. My mum was understanding because she was a young carer, and hearing about her experience really impacted me. Then, when my mum was ill, I became a young carer too.
Young carers are mainly shown as disenfranchised people living in an estate or having alcoholic parents; I wanted to show that this situation could happen to anyone. Rhianne, the protagonist, is one of nine children, so when she read it, she was like, “Oh my goodness I really get this.” You kind of just get on with life, despite hardship.
Did you look for anything in particular when scouting crew?
My producer Katie Sinclair and I met on a Holby City episode about young carers. I remember telling Katie how amazing the episode was as I was writing about the same topic. We found ourselves working together again at BBC Films, where I told her that I really needed someone who is emotionally intelligent enough to understand the nuances of family life to work on my film, which Katie did.
Then out of all the DoP’s that I met with, Olan Collardy kept asking me questions that I hadn’t really thought about. I think it is so important for collaborators to challenge you.
What do you want people to take from Signs?
That without knowing it, the people around you could be carers. For people to understand the psychology behind the duty that you have; it’s overwhelming.
In early drafts, the grandad in the story is the one that goes missing. It wouldn’t have worked; it’s about Rhianne’s character Mariam and her little sister. That bond with her sister is the biggest thing, and her duty to look after her.
Also understanding that it’s alright to get help. Help doesn’t negate that you are a really solid, great human being, and that you’re allowing yourself to still be a kid.
What was your biggest challenge when making this short film?
Signs is actually based on the Beyoncé song. We wrote to Missy Elliott, who wrote the song, to ask permission for it to be used, but it was too expensive. Rights can be hard!
Locations were tricky. Katie has a babyface, so when we would go around asking if we could shoot stuff, people would think it was a school project. Also despite having permits and visibility jackets, we would still have to deal with asking people politely not to drive into the shot.
Your films seem to have allusions to London…
Definitely! For me, east London is so specific in the stuff that I write. Your environment is so impactful to your work. I now live in Margate in this beautiful Georgian house overlooking the sea, but it’s only got a 0.5% black population. My next project is actually called 0.5% and I’m looking at a kind of anthology, like Little America.
East London is always home to me, and I think it’s really important for me to reference Hackney, because Hackney Young Carers and The Children’s Society have been really supportive with Signs.
Do you have any advice for emerging filmmakers?
Network! Make sure you are surrounding yourself with people that want to tell similar stories to you. I didn’t know three years ago when I met Katie that we were going to work on this together.
Take risks, if you have something in the pit of your stomach, telling you to do something creatively and that feeling isn’t going away, I think it’s okay to do it. I read somewhere that Spielberg gets really nervous on the first day of every new film set, and people are like, “What, Spielberg gets nervous?” Nerves show you care.
What is your goal as a filmmaker?
Recently I was thinking, are we really selfish? Are writers so narcissistic that their minds have to be shared with the world? As much as I want to write for myself, I also want to write for my younger self. There was so much I was seeing that I didn’t relate to. I think having that inclusion of unspoken voices is really necessary. Also, for me personally, understanding my privilege to even do that. I have to film my truth and my perspective, how I’m experiencing Margate as a black British person, but also be aware that not everyone has the same experience.
Find out more about The Children's Society here.
Find out more about Hackney Young Carers here.