“I’m Not Even Sure Satire Exists Anymore”: Writer/Director Tom Gilroy Talks with Jim McKay About His Dystopic — and Timely — Short, #WaynesvilleStrong
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#WaynesvilleStrong

Tom Gilroy's #WaynesvilleStrong is a dark, weird and scary plausible vision of a very near future in which low-wage labor, enforced patriotism and the pan-optic powers of the Internet together create a pandemic hell landscape. The short was made quickly in May and during the quarantine, all of whom were reasonably socially distant, and it is thanks to the fact that two months ago, with the current struggles for "reopening", political satire is turning into political reality. The short stars of orange are the New Black's Nick Sandow, and the slow burning of his impatient fear as he subjects himself to the relentless scrutiny of the government's AI-powered video chat rating system will create a hint of recognition for anyone who is stuck Keep trying to get their stimulus check.

Gilroy has been making independent films with features such as Spring Forward and The Cold Lands since the mid-90s. In the following conversation, his director Jim McKay discusses the relationship between work and science fiction – especially 1984 and J.G. Ballard how the short film was produced on iPhone 10 during quarantine, what influence Ken Loach and Mike Leigh had and what it means that a work is political today.

Check out #WaynesvilleStrong here at Filmmaker.

McKay: This film was made about a month after staying at home and made about a month later and finished a month later. The world has changed radically in these three months, but the story has remained very relevant and is sometimes more relevant than when it was conceived. Can you talk about the start and impact of current events on work, if any?

Gilroy: The impetus for writing was to respond in real time to the government's introduction of another unprecedented and poorly managed disaster. I've never thought about what the script could be or where it could go. I had just reached a point where there was no going back. It was an almost unconscious act. This impulse was, of course, put under pressure by the inability to leave the house, and a kind of "producer brain" had to be instinctively used where I realized that the quarantine dictated that the play would be a monologue.

We all now know how quarantine feels like detention and ultimately solitary confinement. You will become a prisoner who speaks to walls and ceiling – or 2020 a website that can be the same.

So I just listened to the voices in my head and imagined a man sinking into quicksand and begging a machine to pull it out. This guy in his basement tried to navigate through the tsunami of news and misinformation, tweeting lies, calling the schoolyard name, dog whistling, aggression, gas light, fear, law and order, denial of science and demonization of expertise, the babel social media, lack of empathy, blame as a distraction, complete lack of responsibility and the approaching cloud of death. It all boils down to Nico, the troubled meat packer in his Ohio basement who runs out of options, money, leadership, and self-esteem. He stuffs all of these stubborn fragments into a soulless algorithm to find a way to feed his family – and maybe gain some self-esteem, the kind of self-esteem that goes hand in hand with survival. If this means coping with a crime you haven't committed, looking for slogans that you know are empty, looking for a way to appease your perpetrator, disparaging your wedding day, or your child's gender identity , then be it so. Nico is like Winston in 1984 when he finally realizes that if he just turns on Julia, they will let him live.

The fact that a lot came out funny is probably proof of how much Beckett I read.

McKay: We are in a moment when there is a new crisis every day, and because the crises never end, cycles arise: children in cages / police killing / Karen of the day / billionaire bailout / coronavirus spike / border patrol Murder / White Supremacists / Karen of the Day / Police Kill … The story of this film could have happened two months ago, last week, or in the near future. And there is a science fiction element, but even that has become more of a current event in a few months …

Gilroy: Perhaps the only genius of this government is its ability to sustain the outrage so quickly that it is almost impossible to act as an artist because it takes time to create something. But many artists (for example Andy Borowitz) have internalized the presentation of the likely sequence of events; We learned to imagine what would be the worst course of action that no sensible person would do, and then just wait for it to actually happen. Predicting things in this era is easy if you brush aside your ethical, moral, or even logic expectations. It's like the White House guiding principle is "Do The Wrong Thing" (sorry to Spike Lee). It's almost like math.

So in the letter I used what actually happened in the country Nico was in, and of course that turned into a very confident prediction of what might happen.

And now, here we are just a few weeks later to find out that the pork factories that were campaigning to reopen to "save our food supplies" were massive GOP donors and the pork was actually sent to China (like planned before COVID) The industry could expand its global market share (pork consumption in America has been declining for decades – coincidentally since the release of Babe). The “patriotic duty” of the returned workers, often under unsafe and unsanitary conditions, had nothing to do with “America First”. It was "pork producers first".

And now, literally last week, it has been found that many American workers are being asked to save the economy by cutting their salaries by 25% while their CEOs receive bonuses.

Did I know this was going to happen? Of course not, but if you do the math …

McKay: Have you been influenced by science fiction?

Gilroy: Back then I read a lot about JG Ballard. I love sci-fi obsessively, but for me this was never sci-fi, it was more like Orwell wrote in 1948 and called it 1984. We live in sci-fi. I projected the figure into the near future as a kind of warning of what could happen by reading the tea leaves. Of course, a lot has happened now, which is not evidence of clairvoyance on my part, but rather a function of the obvious nature of our government's work. It is really only a matter of time before citizens admit what they have never done and their plea is to be human guinea pigs for vaccines. I know it sounds outrageous, but on the other hand, I never expected citizens armed to the teeth and encased in Kevlar to storm state houses to claim their right to a haircut or happy hour at Hooters just to to be encouraged by the president. And we already had older Republican politicians who said they were ready to die to "save the economy," and others should too. What is sci-fi anymore?

I'm not even sure anymore if there is a satire.

McKay: How about political work, whether films, directors, graphics …

Gilroy: I honestly don't see #WaynesvilleStrong as political. It is really just a guy who deals with his crumbling world. Quarantine and masks are hotly politicized topics right now (hello again, sci-fi), but this is just the backdrop. It's really about how every structure on which Nico's worldview is based collapses outside of his basement – marriage, children, reliable government, health insurance, food supply, good work, civic responsibility – and he wonders (and a machine): "What am I? ? "

On the other hand, one could say that politics is inherent in everything we see, so it is inevitable that what we create will be imbued with it. Every work of creation wants to stimulate you to think, be it To Kill A Mockingbird or Moonlight or the haiku by Jack Kerouac. Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, George Saunders and Ocean Vuong are political. Fashion trends are political, music videos, Viagra commercials.

I try to stay aware of my culture. I love artists like Robbie Conal, Dredd Scott and lately I've been obsessed with Winston Tseng and Edel Rodriguez and heard Kendrick Lamar and Nick Cave. Is Sunn O))) political?

In terms of directors, I've worked with Ken Loach on three films, and he has had a profound impact on me, not only in terms of subject and social responsibility, but also in the way you make the film. The film's greatest influence on #Waynesville was this beautiful and funny short film by Mike Leigh, A Sense of History, a monologue by Jim Broadbent that mocked how history and tradition anchored privileges and class. It's a slap in the face, but you're crying with laughter. Oh, and I love Ben Palmer from @Palmertrolls. And Terrence Nance.

McKay: How did the piece actually come into being? Can you talk about the limitations of COVID-19 and the technical process you had to perform?

Gilroy: Things can be easy when you have no money. While I was writing the script, I called Nick and asked him to do it. We knew we would never be in the same room together. I called my friend Wyatt Garfield, a cameraman, to find out how best to photograph it for a POV on a computer camera – it turned out to be the iPhone 10 that Nick had. It was shot in his attic, which we decorated as a basement with things that were already in his house. I called Luke Thorpe to see if he would help posting and when he suggested the graphics, I knew the three of us were thinking. Luke asked if I would ever want to hear the off-stage voice from Candace, Nico's wife, so Luke's partner Bianca Muccia finally recorded it with him. They were just two people who were ever in the same room together. There was no other crew and no money. It was very punk rock.

McKay: The film feels very natural, but is obviously narrow – Nick Sandow not only does this amazing feat, but the invisible computer website is his acting partner. You and Nick have worked together before: How was the process between the author, director and actor on this play different given the limitations of COVID 19?

Gilroy: Nick and I were together in a theater group in the Stone Age and we are all still working together in different combinations – together with Lili Taylor, John Ventimiglia, Chrisopher Rossi, Michael Imperioli and Maggie Low. Last year he asked me to write a feature film for him as a director, a kind of gender-specific YA time travel film called Star Of The Sea. He was in my last feature film, The Cold Lands (as well as Johnny and Lili), so he knows what's behind my dialogue. Like all theater companies, we had a common vocabulary that accounted for 80% of the job for directing actors. They snap into a family shorthalk, which saves time. No ego. I tell Nick if he sounds wrong and he tells me if the words are stupid we have some wine.

I wrote it in about four days and all Nick knew was that it was a quarantine meat packer in his basement in Ohio. We rehearsed, paused and started via FaceTime for a week and micromanaged various beats while I edited and rewritten them (a holdover from our time as a theater group). Then he took a day for about three days, filmed it on PhotoBooth and I watched it at night and took notes. We spent a day tweaking the background and his clothes and hair (I love that he wears a shirt, but he sweats under the frame). Then we set up the iPhone for recording (with an external backup microphone (thank goodness) and Nick took a day for four days without saying anything. I chose the one that I liked, and sent it to Luke. Nick stayed out of the rest of the room except saying that he didn't like one of the font colors. Luke and Bianca were basically on their own.

An interesting quarantine story; Nick's adorable son, Sterling, had primary school grades above zoom while we rehearse upstairs. At some point there was a knock on the door and he said: "Papa, are you taking another picture? My entire class hears all these F bombs in the background. “So Nick, the actor, juggled in many ways with family matters similar to Nico, the character. And you can't give a child wine to relax them!

McKay: Have you ever thought about how the piece should be viewed or what effect it should have on the viewer?

Gilroy: We both agreed that it had to be a single, no-cut setting for restriction and paranoia to accumulate, the feeling of the world above and outside to collapse, and the viewer to be drawn into the kind of psychotic web he spins. We wanted the viewer to be as caught as Nico, not to be able to escape, but also not to be able to look away from the screen. Everyone slows down when they drive past a car wreck. That is why it is so difficult to turn off the TV when Trump does one of his word salad monologues about bile.

McKay: What is your plan for people to see the film?

Gilroy: Nick and I are reacting to the present, and making money or waiting around is over, so these restrictions become powerful guiding principles. The first thing I did was email Scott (Macaulay) and the filmmaker and then a few other friends in the media. I think our “platform” will be a kind of simultaneous publication via the Instagram and Facebook accounts of all of our friends – some of whom, like Michael Imperioli, have a large fan base. Instead of waiting for press quotes or blurbs from the festival catalog, we only gave a series of answers from filmmakers to focus on the work itself. Nick Dawson from Talkhouse asked me to write something and he has a large following. We will link to it here on Filmmaker and maybe eventually create a Vimeo link without a password. I really do not know it. Youtube? We applied to some festivals where our work had previously appeared. Hopefully some will see what we are trying to do and will not limit themselves to exclusivity or premiere now. In these times, such considerations about boilerplate marketing have to be let go. I have the feeling that Fugazi sticks flyers for an appearance at night to avoid police officers.

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