Monday 15 June 2020

Scenes From The Floor

It’s been a while since I film has affected me in such a way where I have physically wanted to scream out in anger at the screen. There are times where I do talk back to what is happening in the film or TV show but not with such rage. Kitty Green’s latest film has been seen as comment or a continuing response to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement.


The film spans one day in the life of Jane, a junior assistant at a film production company. We see her day to day duties, how her co-workers treat her, interact with her and how everyone reacts to her boss, the head of the company, and his actions. The main event in the day is when Jane decides to go to HR as she suspects that her boss is harming young women.


Choosing to tell a story, probing the culture at a film company, from the perspective of an assistant shows what and how everyone else thinks. The film is more revealing of those who are compliant in the actions of one. Jane knows that something isn’t right and does what she thinks is the right thing to do but only 2 months into the job, she doesn’t know how the system works. She can’t trust anyone. But it’s her meeting with the HR manager where she is broken down and made to feel like she’s in the wrong, threatened and told how lucky she is to be there. There are cutting moments throughout but one that sticks with you until the end and beyond, is his final throwaway remark that she should be fine as she’s not his (her boss’) type. Saying that this film is just about the cases of sexual harassment would do the film disservice as its about showing how wide the net of silence goes and also how poisonous the industry is.


I’m worried that people who go to watch the film or rent it, stream it etc will go in expecting a suspenseful thriller and be confused or disappointed by what they see. The film is a thriller but it isn’t of the slow burn variety which it could be mistaken, there is no twist or surprise. It is a story, like so many others that I have yet to see on screen until now, where the tense atmosphere and uneasy feeling of on-coming dread can be felt in almost every scene. There are the small things that don’t build up, they stay in the memory. The feeling that something awful is happening or happened is never far away. The film is superb how it captures the exact feeling of what it is like to be an assistant in a film or TV company.


I have a personal connection to this film, only because I know exactly what it’s like to be in Jane’s shoes. It doesn’t matter how big the company is, you feel trapped. There seems to be an unwritten rule within these industries that you have to ‘do your time’ at entry level and be expected to be treated like dirt and be told that you’re lucky to be where you are. Thankfully, I’ve never worked anywhere (within film & TV) where I’ve suspected my managers of sexual harassment. Julia Garner is fantastic in what looks like an understated role but just from one slight flicker of her eyes, you know exactly what she’s feeling or thinking. I’ve been Jane making endless photocopies only to be told they are the wrong ones. I’ve been Jane cleaning up in the kitchen only to have the careless colleagues ignore me and leave a whole load of plates and cups for me to deal with. I’ve been Jane cleaning up a meeting room (how the hell do they make it so messy?!) only to have a group of people sigh in annoyance and block the door so I can’t get out. I’ve been Jane sending apology emails to managers when I really shouldn’t have. I’ve been Jane arriving first and not being allowed to leave until my boss wants to go home, even if its 11pm at night. I was always astounded by the behaviour from the senior staff members. They would let doors shut in people’s faces, request ridiculous things, expect things to be done whenever they snapped their fingers, it’s as if they had never been entry level or conveniently forgotten how to treat human beings. Their arrogance knows no bounds. These things may seem odd to connect to and specific to the film & TV world, but they are. These work places can be poisonous for some. Others thrive and can carve out a career, of course, after ‘doing their time’ first. But it’s the stories told from the perspective of the assistants, the interns, the entry level workers that are key.


I won’t go on about my own experiences as there are so many like mine, like Jane’s, that I’m sure these have been documented in books, online in new stories over decades but rarely have they been told on screen. The industries don’t like to show the truth about working in film or TV and I don’t mean on set. No one really cares. Apart from those who have lived it and either walked away or gone further in.