My Story: Timothy Hay

The Ballito MagazineJanuary 3, 2024

Overcoming challenges and achieving exceptional success in the film industry, we explore local director Timothy Hay’s life story through his lens.


Tell us a bit about the work you do 

I work in film, but it doesn’t feel like work because I love what I do. While some film jobs can be frustrating, especially when I’m passionate about a project, it mostly feels like fun rather than work. I enjoy every aspect of filmmaking, from conceptualisation and scripting to shooting, directing, editing, sound design, and colour grading. This broad understanding is helpful when working on larger projects as a director or director of photography, as I understand each person’s role.


Many successful filmmakers have experience in various film roles before becoming directors, and I believe this diverse background sets them apart from others.


How did your film career begin?

I didn’t study film, due to financial constraints after my father’s death. Instead, I saved money from casino jobs and travelled, recording videos with a mini DVD camcorder. Despite having no formal training, I enjoyed making videos inspired by what I saw on TV.


Upon returning to South Africa, my uncle recommended me to a fishing show, called ESA, based on my filming skills. I excelled there while learning the basics. Eventually, I started my own production company, Hellmot Productions, using the skills I acquired. I’ve been working in film ever since.


How are the significant people in your life who helped you along your journey?

My little family (made up of myself, my supportive partner, Nicole, and our two kids) is incredibly important to me, teaching me valuable lessons every day. I’m grateful for the role I play in their lives. Nicole has stood by me during tough times. My mother has also been a pillar of support whenever I’ve needed her, and my siblings are pretty cool as well.


What are your happiest and saddest moments in life?

In 2017, I survived a severe car accident while filming in Clanwilliam, Cape Town. The BMW X5 I was filming from overturned, leaving me with a severed colon and two broken pelvis bones. Stranded without any aid, I faced the reality of dying far away from loved ones. Despite the odds, I managed to hold on until help arrived even lasting a 12-hour trip to the hospital. I slowed down my breath completely to delay the amount of internal bleeding and septicemia. I closed my eyes and pictured Nicole and myself with two children playing on the beach.


After enduring a month of hospitalisation, Nicole and I were overjoyed when the doctor finally gave us the green light to go home. Today, I see every day as a blessing, especially with my two beautiful boys. My scars serve as a reminder of my resilience.


Can you share a favourite work story? 

There are so many great stories, but one comes to mind. When I worked at ESA, we travelled all over South Africa and sometimes abroad to film fishing expeditions. On one trip to the Transkei, we used three helicopters for a week to explore the region quickly. We would find spots to fish, land in suitable areas, and even fly over breathtaking sites.


One day, I flew in a news chopper with Dean, the pilot, and he performed thrilling manoeuvres, including flying over a waterfall. When we headed back to our hotel in Port St Johns, Dean decided to take the craft to the top of the mountain near the airport runway. He flew over the runway to the drop, elevated to a good height with the nose to the sky, stalled and dropped backward. My heart sank into my chest and the craft spiralled down to the ground! It was awesome! Despite the adrenaline, we landed safely, and the experience was unforgettable.


Who has influenced you the most, and what lessons did they teach you?

My father has been the biggest influence in my life. Even after his death, I still consider him my mentor. He passed away in a car accident and, coincidentally, my accident happened on the same day as his car accident all those years back when I was 15 years old. He was hardworking, honest, and giving – qualities I admire.


My mother is another important figure, selflessly dedicating herself to others without expecting anything in return. As a parent now, I appreciate the sacrifices my parents made for my well-being and am grateful for their love and support.


What project are you the proudest of?

Recently, I’m most proud of our film The Spider Web, featuring renowned surfboard shaper Spider Murphy from Durban. The film has been successful in various festivals, winning the Jury Award at the Port Shorts Film Festival and Best Cinematography at the Toronto Documentary Film Festival. Despite the challenges, the story was easy to tell thanks to Spider’s character. The film was a collaborative effort with Mike Frew managing the crew, Kevin Rom handling the filming, and Simon Mulholland capturing aerial shots for our drone company, Done Analitix.


In addition to The Spider Web, I have created another short film called Amanzi Olwandle, which won the Judges’ Choice Award at My RODE Reel, an international film competition. This film, based on a true story about surfer Avo who lost his brother, Zama, due to a tragic shark attack, has inspired us to pursue a feature-length version. Currently, we are seeking funding options online, leveraging our awards as a strong proof of concept for the project.


Click here to watch The Spider Web, directed by Timothy Hay: