The first task given to us on our Foundation degree (my second year at college, but the first for most of my peers) was to split into groups of three to interview each other in an imitation of David Lynch’s series Interview Project. The vast majority came out exactly as you’d expect, a parade of awkward 20somethings stumbling to describe identikit backgrounds of coming to do a film course because of passion or inspiration. That seems all lovely and heartwarming, and it is up until you’ve heard minor variations on it about two dozen times.
The group of three I was part of… well, it most certainly wasn’t better, but it was at least different. It was made up of myself, a nice bloke called Andy, and… Tommy. “Tommy” was not his actual name, but it was one of his many, many pseudonyms (more on that later), and was specifically the one used in this video, so we shall refer to him as “Tommy”.
Tommy was something of a Long John Silver to my Jim Hawkings. I was (and still am) a socially-stunted, painfully awkward, and generally oblivious weirdo who sat in the corner not saying anything, and he was… well, an enigma. Much like Silver, you never really knew where you stood with him. You saw multiple, vastly different personalities and temperaments over time, with no way that all of them were sincere, but without any clue which times you were seeing the “real” him and which times were an act. With the task of rotating roles between director, camera op and interviewee for this project, I ended up with the unenviable task of directing his interview.
While I never even began to scratch the surface here, this film does offer a practically exclusive glimpse at who he was and what he was like to be around. The kind of man who one day would message you elated at how well the film he was working on was turning out, and the next practically screaming through a keyboard about how it was all shit and a total failure and should be ignored like the bad joke it was. The kind of man who would practically beg for attention during classes by causing trouble and being as argumentative as possible with lecturers, and then create all his work under various pseudonyms because his work was “dangerous” and thus he didn’t want the “inevitable” blowback against his art to “affect his family”.
If you’re worried that he might have had any reason to think that was a plausible concern, don’t. He just made sort of lame and unimpressive pieces that veered between dull melodrama (his entry for the Dogme95 project that I made Slenderfan for? A kitchen-sink drama about a woman who insists her dead husband has been reincarnated as a kitten. And then her husband suddenly reappears, revealing that he’s been missing for years because a building fell on him in Majorca and he lost his memories. He has them back now. And then the credits roll) and low-effort attempts at being “experimental”. As in he filmed a bunch of random footage in various places, put random Premiere filters over them, dubbed on some random music and called it a day. Ever wondered what the cutaway gag featuring a film called I’m Being Provocative, Honest in Orange Blues was referring to? Now you know.
Anyway, back to Interview Project: Tommy. Here he makes his usual attempts to dodge questions about himself whilst simultaneously making every single thing happening around him about him and his opinions, as well as making good use of his well-honed skills in failing as hard as he can to be edgy and provocative. Why, no-one has ever done anything worth remembering them for? By Jove, that sentiment is most unorthodox! Let me just collect my monocle from the floor before continuing.
So yeah, expect lots of attempts to tweak the noses of people who, in real life, could not have given less of a shit about his scrub-tier trolling (pieces he clearly intended to play out to the offended horror of the film group always ended up playing to apathetic silence), vaguely angry pretentiousness (and that’s actual pretentiousness, not just ‘this thing is slightly arty and therefore I don’t like it’ “pretentiousness”), and a lot of detail about how the ways other people do things are dumb. He also never wanted this film to see the light of day, I only uploaded it back in the day in private mode for archival purposes. Luckily he moved to the other side of the planet immediately after finishing the course, including deliberately distancing himself from his past life in the UK, so he’ll likely a) never know and b) never care even if he does. So enjoy this insight into a truly… fascinating? Unique individual? Sure, let’s go with those, they’re the least insulting.
But while Tommy’s output was merely a bit eyeroll-worthy in places, he ain’t got nothin’ on my ability to make the skin crawl with unwatchable awkwardness. My interview was directed by Andy and shot by Tommy, and even before filming I knew how the day watching all the finished films were going to go. I’ve always detested watching myself and listening to my voice (to the point where I always have to leave the room whenever I appear in my own work when showing it to people), and I was going to be damned if I was just going to be yet another face in the parade of white kids mumbling about why they enjoy pointing cameras at things.
So, I made the entirely rational decision to do the entire thing in-character. As a masked madman who gives increasingly deranged answers to the simple questions given to him by Andy. Why I wasn’t immediately detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act I’ll never know.
It didn’t help that, even by the standards of my other on-screen appearances, it’s repulsively unwatchable. To this day five years later, I have only been in the room while it has played in its entirety once: the day when all of them were played in front of the class. I spent the entire screening in the fetal position with my elbows clamped over my ears. Wince-inducing doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Even so, I felt like there was still potential left in the character I created, which I ended up realising later that same college year with A Stranger Being. I still have a hard time watching the later film, but it’s a far easier thing to do than to watch Interview Project: ?. Be warned, this film is unsuitable to those sensitive to secondhand embarrassment as this will likely kill you.
For those adventurous types who will willingly venture forth to watch this anyway: you are very brave. Stupid and dangerously reckless, but brave.