Discussion with director Alex Cameron, on the upcoming independent film Michael’s Resignation

An interview/conversation between Synchronized Chaos Magazine and Alex Cameron, director of the upcoming British independent film Michael’s Resignation.

From the film’s website, to catch everyone up to speed with the project:

Michael’s Resignation” is just the first episode from a series of 7 modern-day film parables collectively titled “Multivalence” written by Alex Cameron in 2008 and set in the UK around the 21st century recession, or so-called “credit crunch”. We follow 6 central characters and their powerful and highly-dramatic life-changing experiences, with the last (7th) film connecting them all together into a “bigger picture”.

The series is designed as a unique platform for undiscovered young talent and features:

  • A script written collaboratively online by a group of young screenwriters;
  • Characters played by young unknown actors and actresses;
  • A bustling soundtrack composed of unsigned bands;
  • Investment drawn from opening up the movie financing to ordinary people;

(Our questions and thoughts are in bold, with Cameron’s responses in normal type.)  

I’m excited/intrigued by how you are using all unsigned bands, aspiring new screenwriters, etc. How did everyone find each other? Was everyone initially on the same page in terms of plot and style, etc?

I’m glad you like it! We’ve been amazed at how positive the response has been so far, as it seems like a lot of people have been waiting for a project to come along with that finally decided to go the way we have. Once Joby Stephens (Director) and I had finalised the story, I decided the first logical place to look would be Facebook because of the way it fosters groups of people with the same interests and has fairly strict privacy controls. Luckily the story was already written beforehand so the cat-herding was kept to a minimum. All the characters, storyline twists and final scenes were set out on PlotBot.com, so all that remained was to organise the writers. We set up high walls but let everyone go mad in the garden, so to speak, by allowing anyone to write any part they wanted to. Our theory was that natural selection would take care of the details as the script evolved and a meritocratic approach to editing brought us to the final version.

How did you get the idea to use new talent, and do you think the pattern will catch on in the industry?

You just know what the cynics will say of course, which is that we’re doing it that way to avoid paying for it; but for that I’ll refer the critics to the actors, crew and artists involved. The honest truth is that I’m personally sick of celebrity-centric TV commissioning and the elitist circle in media that deliberately sets out to lock out good people for no good reason other than its a more diluted form of nepotism.

The simple answer is that we wanted to help people get a leg up in the world. It’s more interesting and exciting to discover a new talent than it is to enjoy a familiar one, if it’s really, really good. There is also more impact with a new face. There’s absolutely no reason not to use unknowns, as everyone known was unknown once. Unfortunately we have come to live in a world that is risk-averse and relies on names to sell things rather than substance.

“Risk” is a term that comes from conservative old men in the financial sector and has no place in media at all. We do risk. It’s our specialty. Although we’re seeing more and more projects start up that are similar (as well as massive passion for new types of media and experimental creativity), i very much doubt the scaredy-cat mainstream broadcasters, labels and studios will be brave enough to stray from what they believe are 100%-guaranteed winning formulas, not that they even exist.

Is the plot inspired by other films/stories, meant to comment on current events, or explore universals in human nature regarding how people respond to humiliation, etc?

It’s definitely a social commentary that’s inspired by current events, but there is an underlying question of “Why did he do it?” that is inescapable and haunts people once they read it, which generates an absurd amount of psychoanalysis. The script is incredibly fast-moving and we cover an incredibly broad set of themes that are difficult to list in one go.

Ultimately the film explores how we react when a catalysing event destroys the sense of false meaning/purpose we have built up in our lives. In Michael’s case, it’s a very bad and violent reaction, but in the 2nd episode, “Salvation For April”, the character does the complete opposite and goes on a rampage of good. It just seems so insane but we understand it for some reason as it’s happened before too many times. We are looking at a man who has done everything in his life because it was supposed to be meaningful, and then see what happens when all that sense of meaning is stripped from him overnight. Without meaning, we break down.

Where/how do you draw the line between observing/analyzing destruction and death and fetishizing it? Have you made any choices related to that in terms of screenwriting/physically constructing scenes?

I think that’s very much an issue that came about with Tarantino and his supposed “aestheticising” of violence, but is still very pertinent as audiences have become more numb as filmmakers try to outdo themselves each time. I like to think as human beings we automatically understand the distinction subconciously and are able to recognise when something is unrealistically glamorised gratuitiously and photography is just plain intense. We could of course go really overboard to draw publicity to this by glamourising, but when you read the story, the true impact is from Michael’s psychology and the terrible sense of the foreboding inevitable. Luckily the constraints of a modest budget mean that we can’t just pour out buckets of blood everywhere for a cheap thrill but need to focus more on what doesn’t necessarily cost the earth – characters, pacing, moments, tension, photography and heart-wrenching drama.

What do you most hope to illustrate/accomplish through the film? What thoughts or messages do you think might come across? What would you say in response to a critic who dislikes the movie because it’s too dark/violent/depressing,etc?

Joby’s answer would be different as his directorial outlook is considerably more brutal and uncompromising compared to mine as a story writer. My answer to people disliking it because of the negativity would be a question: have you been outside lately and taken a look at the human race? This world is incredibly dark, violent and depressing – in fact, there is horror out there you couldn’t even depict on film, and a third of the world is currently at war.

 If anything, we’re playing out what everyone wants to do, and has dreamed of doing at one time or another; better to watch it cathartically on screen in order to kickstart the discussion than keep it festering away in the dark. The film reflects what people are feeling right now. Darkness is just as valid as comedy, being just one part of a spectrum of the human condition. What makes it worse is that Michael isn’t evil at all – he’s superbly articulate, honourable and what you’d consider a perfectly enjoyable guest as a dinner party. The question is, why? What flips his kill switch, and what gives us meaning?

How and why did you choose this genre of films to explore the psychological effects of recession and the dehumanizing effects of war and financial collapse? Why a thriller as opposed to a black comedy or another genre?

I think there is a subtle mix of many genres involved really, and a lot of very black comedy without a doubt. Joby’s original concept was that another camcorder-style movie was due, but a truly engaging one. The concept and story was very, very dramatic, and when you juxtapose that with an intelligent theme you have a fantastic piece of cinema that wakes you up and makes you think. Horror is what can’t usually happen in ordinary life but the most disturbing things are those that can, and what is genuinely real and within reach. The “credit crunch” has made a lot of people question what is truly important in this life so was a very relevant backdrop, and the story was about psychology. We came up with a very simple idea that was slightly tongue-in-cheek at the time, but extrapolated that by asking ourselves how, where, why, who and when it could happen as plausibility was paramount. As Michael’s rampage too shape, the background became as important as the plot.

Who are your greatest inspirations in the movie business, the art world, or in literature? What do you think is the most important aspect of putting together a movie?

Personally i’m a massive Aaron Sorkin devotee (writer of the West Wing) and you can obviously find that in Michael’s rants and the rapid dialogue structure in use throughout, but the first Hollywood association will be Tarantino because of the swearing and violence. I love poetic use of the English language, and a lot of my own writing goes right back to schoolday influence of Shakespeare, as well as Aristotle’s “Poetics”. For me, a great movie is one that makes you think and changes your whole outlook on the world by the time the credits roll. Viewers are human beings who react to other human beings, not events, effects or things, and American drama would be my genre of choice when the remote control is in hand as UK material is just too tame and sterile for my liking.

Describe how the movie is financed, and the new business model. How and why do you believe it will work? Microfinance is catching on in the business and credit world, I’ve noticed – as well as person to person lending.

When you’re producing an indie, the barriers to entry are very high and the traditional path very established. Private investors are hiding their cash under the mattress, public services are completely useless, and broadcasters refuse to commission anything other than risk-free commercial tat, so that limits your options spectacularly. The default option for a film as dramatic as Michael’s was a donation-structure, also known as community “crowdsourcing”, but it just didn’t sit well with me to be asking people for money in a recession when there isn’t enough to pay the bills as it is. We wanted to give all the money back, but if we profited off the back of it, it would also be exploitative. So the investment model was born to provide a return rather than simply ask for donations.

After that, it became a political issue of economic regeneration and giving hope to a large amount of others in terms of fulfilling their dreams and helping each other to make money by redistributing wealth. All of this comes from a different way of thinking rather than being exclusively money-focused. All you need to do to accomplish big things is a matter of resources – the time, the skills, the materials and so on. Money is a means of exchanging resources, so if you can get hold of the resources anyway, you don’t need the money. If you look at the project itself, we have probably 5M of resources and only need to fundraise for the things we absolutely can’t get in another way, i.e. special effects, lenses and more.

All of these things are a matter of maths and probabilty, and what may seem random on a page is actually deliberately calculated. If we didn’t think the odds were good, we wouldn’t have done it. Adversity is the catalyst of accomplishment, so i’m deeply glad we have a challenge on our hands as the underdog and have been incredibly inspired and encouraged by the faith shown is us. Faith we intend to not only reciprocate, but honour and repay many times over – to inspire and encourage others to do the same.

For more information on the film project, including a weekly blog, cast and crew bios, plot synopses, a production timeline and a chance to get involved with the production or as a sponsor, please visit the Michael’s Resignation site:  http://www.michaelsresignation.co.uk/