Firstly, tell us about the film and what inspired you to make it?
It’s a bit of a mixed bag really. Firstly, I was looking for a super short, concise film that took place in one location – preferably not an interior, to avoid any lighting, and with maximum two or three cast and minimal props – something that could be made with very little crew, essentially because I knew it would be self-funded. It had to be simple. Even with these constraints, I wanted to be able to make some sort of social commentary and for people to see a certain truth in the film.
There’s a lot of subtext really. Underlying themes are the privatisation of public space (read Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo’ for more on this), a critique of modern capitalism, working conditions in the precariat / gig economy, and the endless critique and dismissal of millennials who are so often told all we did was complain (I realise that we’ve moved on from that now, but it’s a product of its time).
Inspiration struck one day while I was working as a runner on Patrick Melrose for Sky (literally the credit I am proudest of, a great show, great team). I found myself often having to drive around London, park places, and pick things up. Each different borough seemed to have different parking solutions – some places used one app, other boroughs another, which meant multiple apps and accounts for something you used to be able to do with no hassle with a coin, but all the traditional meters had been disabled to force you onto this new system or you could pay a fine. It felt coercive and made doing simple things complicated, under the guise of efficiency.
Ultimately, the efficiency there is to put someone out of a job – no one gets sent around to collect coins. And the ones that still had jobs were increasingly divided into two groups: people who designed apps, and people who are controlled by apps (to simplify). Great for the council, but useless for the consumer / citizen.
At the same time, we also seemed to be paying for things we didn’t have to before. For example, London floated the idea of placing a toll charge on an already built tunnel. I mean, really? That’s a public asset already paid for by the people, and you’re going to charge us for it? It seemed crazy! And the people who operate this could make a tidy profit – like the companies who packed £30.00 food parcels for children entitled to free school meals during the pandemic and visibly skimmed a tenner off those families’ benefits during the pandemic. But by far, the most common example is food delivery. You used to order a takeaway, and it was delivered as part of the service. Now, is through an app, with an external delivery driver. The service had been outsourced to an app, which then outsources that service to a delivery man whose pay is determined purely by the results of an arbitrarily programmed system.
The Green Man takes that system and turns it on its head – it’s nonsensical, but asks that ‘What if?’ it all goes too far? What if we start getting asked to pay for public assets a second time (like the use of a pedestrian crossing). And then, what if there are contradictions in the system, where payment and rewards clash?
Do you feel that technology is headed in the direction seen in the film?
No. It will go further. Soon, the delivery man will be obsolete. Self-drive technology will be more or less everywhere, replacing delivery drivers in about 10/15 years. Again, people will accept the change, even though instead of checking out their own food, they’ll have to go out into the street to open a slot in a van that contains their delivery when their phone alerts them that it’s arrived. Don’t believe me? It’s already happening. Dominos are trialling self-delivery now
. Amazon are automating warehouses, and Mark Carney has warned that Marxism could be on the up in the next few years as people are increasingly made redundant. And ironically, it won’t even be delivery drivers that go first – an office in Japan already replaced a whole floor of accountants with a super-computer. The next ones to go are junior lawyers, because computers read faster.
What message would you like the audience to take from the film?
Hmmm… That there are certain things we shouldn’t be made to pay for – at least, not directly. And that tiered services especially (basic, premium, etc) are especially dangerous – think of net neutrality as an example here. The other thing would be that the gig economy doesn’t offer freedom – only another form of exploitation. I’m especially heartened to see that we’re realising that – the ruling of the courts in favour of Uber drivers (a case that had just been launched, if I recall well when I made the film), finding that they deserve holiday pay and worker’s protections was a big one.
The final message would probably be the same message as the one conveyed in the 1976 film Network: “You’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say ‘I’m a human being god damn it! My life has value'”. And then give it
Finally, what are you working on next? Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?