Hi Sam, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Firstly, could you explain the premise of Men Matter?
Hi Will, thank YOU for proposing it! Men Matter, simply put, is a short mockumentary style film that focuses on a man who believes that men are better than women, and attempts to prove this by making a documentary about it. In doing so he repeatedly makes a fool of himself, and without giving away any spoilers, his deserved bad luck follows him into the culmination of the film.
Why did you decide to tell this story in the style of a mockumentary?
There are a few reasons behind this choice. One of the most important to us was the extra characterisation of the main character Mark that we wanted to gain through the format. The premise being that the majority of the footage in the film is shot by Mark and his friend (played by our actual camera operator Volkan Ozkan). We wanted to utilise the handheld camera style in order to express that the character had more money (from his successful wife) to buy equipment, than sense or skill when using it. Almost every element of this film, from production design, equipment, characters, directorial style, locations and dialogue were chosen and crafted in order to present Mark as incompetent and therefore to present his views as incompetent and un-informed as well.
From a genre standpoint we also wanted this film to be enjoyable as well as informative to watch, and what better way to express a mixture of comedy, information, and audience satisfaction than through the mockumentary format?
How entrenched do you think traditional gender roles are in society?
Very, unfortunately. But I’m optimistic for the future. As a man, it’s difficult for me to comment on this as I have no first-hand experience as a woman. However, this is the world I live in and I’m lucky to have a variety of friends from multiple genders and backgrounds. Even in statistics we can see that the gender pay gap has still not closed, and with abusers and bigots leading some of the world’s most powerful countries I feel we still have a ways to go before we can say that society has moved away from traditional gender roles.
On the bright side, looking at our generation today, we appear to be much more realistic when it comes to gender roles being a relic of the past. It’s very rare that I see gender discrimination amongst my own generation, and when I have it’s been shut down and ridiculed by the majority. It’s encouraging to see that the future leaders of this world may be coming from a generation that sees men and women as equals.
How well do you think the media depicts the men’s rights movement?
As is the way with the majority media, the most popular or controversial stories get printed. These days the subject is either vilified, satirised, or celebrated in the news and tabloids depending on where you look. However, it’s not bashed nearly as much as feminism is in the media. I wouldn’t be surprised if a serious documentary in this vain actually accrued praise from a worryingly large portion of the media and society at large. Men’s rights has been a term in circulation since 1886, becoming a movement in the late 70s when it split it’s ideals from the feminist-sympathetic ‘Men’s Liberation Movement’ of the early 70s that emerged when scholars began reading feminist texts. In all this time, it’s both worrying that such a baseless and selfish movement is still being presented positively in the tabloids, or even presented at all, because surely, it shouldn’t even exist at this point. Personally, I feel that the politics of the media cloud any possibility for true judgement, but that’s a whole different interview.
On the topic of film and television and entertainment media, I’m happy to say that any misogynist character usually gets their just-desserts. It’s unsurprisingly rare in modern artistic and entertainment media to find bigotry that isn’t sarcasm, satire, or openly challenged. I feel that this speaks for those behind it, the film and television industry is becoming more and more intersectional and open minded in it’s thinking as it adapts to new generations of audience and new generations of artists.
Why do you think sexism is still so prevalent in society today?
Tradition and insecurity. I know I’ve condemned our elders already, but I hope your readers understand that I don’t intend to blanket. I know for a fact that there are many open minded, tolerant, and moral people in older generations, as well as those of the opposite disposition in mine. It has always been the job of our parents to tell us in youth “this is how things are done, this is how we feel about things”, and it’s easy to see how old ideologies are passed down through parenting, school, and religion without any adaptation to fit a newer, larger world. The mainstream use of the internet has both backed these traditions and opposed them, offering new outlooks to those willing to search and continued rhetoric for those stuck in their ways.
To be completely honest with you, it’s difficult for me to comprehend how any man can look at a woman, or anyone else, and say that that person is lesser than me or that they have lesser potential and deserve lesser rights. I’ve been brought up to see people as people. I find it hard to judge without the context of personality, action, or background. That being said, I’m no stranger to my male insecurity or closed-minded traditionalist structures. I feel the difficulty many have is the effort it takes to actually change your mind about something. So I’d probably add laziness to the list.
What was the casting process for the film like?
Casting was very fun actually and we were very lucky! We used a popular casting website called StarNow where our producer put out a casting call for the roles we were looking to fill. We received a few replies for each role and sent each a script sample along with some contextual info and asked for a short scene reading. Keep in mind that in the casting call we made clear that this would be unpaid work for provided food and transport as well as any footage actors wanted for showreels. After receiving a full set we, as a 5 person team, voted on the final casting for each role.
This communal method is not industry standard as a casting director would usually handle the majority of this with the input of producers and directors, however as a small independent team we tackled many steps in production and any issues as a collective. Correspondence with the actors we chose has been consistent throughout the process as I find it’s important to maintain pleasant and healthy working relationships in order to achieve the best result. Not only that, but there’s no need to not be a decent human just because it’s a work relationship.
Overall, the casting turned out rather well. We cast the characters of Mark, his wife Victoria, and the receptionist Warren using StarNow. the actor for Alex was a freelance professional cast through a member of our team, and other characters were cast from our friends, I even make a cameo as an aggressive swastika wearing bigot (that was fun to have on the back of my jacket in the middle of a busy Trafalgar Square, believe me!)
What was the filming process for the film like?
Stressful but very rewarding. We shot the film over two days spread over a week, this was due to a few conflicting university schedules and actor availability. Before this film, I hadn’t had the opportunity to direct professional actors and so it became a big learning curve for me in the balance of professionalism and getting what I wanted out of the actors. It’s a tightrope walk, especially when your actors are there out of nothing but choice and good faith. As I said previously though, casting went really well and the actors we had were fantastic to direct, even in scenarios where we required multiple takes or had to wait for a train to pass every 5 minutes (shooting on location has its drawbacks).
Filming in public locations such as Trafalgar square, Canary Wharf, and outside Downing Street was certainly a new and nerve wracking experience, although with prior research, permissions, and planning it went off pretty well. As soon as we arrived we made ourselves known to local police etc and it all chilled out and we got on with it. Everyone we met seemed perfectly fine with it, I even remember telling the Downing Street gate security with his sub machine gun at his side what we were doing and getting a final confirmation that we were okay to do so, shooting a film involves some out of the ordinary interactions.
We also did some shooting on private land. The house you see in the film belongs to a lovely woman (I’ll leave her name out) who responded to a flyer we posted around various houses that fitted our requirements asking permission to use them as the location for Mark’s house. This lady was incredibly welcoming and helpful and made a cold evening shooting through her front window a lot more pleasant for all involved, an unlikely friendship has come out of it too and we still had a chat at the front door if I was passing before I left London for the summer, and she’s even looking after some plants for me over the holls.
Overall the shooting was a pretty efficient and enjoyable experience: The actors did a fantastic job, I became a more confident director, the team worked well together, we secured and utilised some fantastic locations, and we shot in a pretty slim time frame with plenty of useful footage. If I could offer one tip for location shooting, or any shooting in general to new filmmakers its this: Coverage is everything, No matter what you’re shooting always shoot it from at least two angles. The more coverage and angles you get, the more room to play you have in the editing process.
What has the reception to the film been like?
The cut you can see now on YouTube was released very recently and has already been pretty well received where members of our team have shared it, including to family and friends on Facebook and Instagram, and to a wider community on certain Reddit subs. We plan to possibly enter this cut into film festivals, but that discussion is still in it’s very early stages and no action has been taken to do so as of yet.
The original ‘Uni cut’ was well-received by peers and faculty alike, in spite of early worries in the pitching process that we might not be able to pull it off without it becoming a misogynist film in itself. I’m happy to report that the project awarded the group a first which was astonishing news (I couldn’t be prouder of the team and talent). In our course, whenever we make a film there is usually a showing where all groups screen their films in a lecture hall and can invite who they like, other students and faculty are also free to attend these, and so it was really nice to receive constructive positive feedback from not only faculty and peers but from third years we didn’t know who were, at the time, in the pre-production stages for their grad films. As co-writer and director for this piece it was amazing to hear the validation of laughs where they were designed to be and to see the intrigue and reactions on the faces of the audience as they were watching.
Most of all I’m really happy that it’s being received well by female and feminist audiences. Being written by a pair of blokes and directed by one we were worried that the film might not resonate correctly with female and feminist viewers and even, in a worst case scenario, reviewed as a misogynist film. All the feedback we’ve had so far tells us that the message is clear and that it’s what we wanted to convey.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
Our main aim for this film was to express the ignorance behind misogyny, we wanted to show that those who preach it often outright refuse to accept facts in an immature manner. The film is mainly targeted at those sympathetic to it’s message, but is also aimed at those who aren’t and those who have no opinion on the matter. This isn’t primarily an activist piece, it was written and produced as a comical mockumentary similar to The UK Office, but just because The Uk Office is funny, doesn’t mean you’re not meant to see that David Brent is an awful person with many backwards views. An important tenant we kept in mind from conception all through production was that “The Misogyny is not the joke, the character’s stupidity is”.
What future projects have you got planned?
Third year brings with it the prospect of grad films, and I was in line to work with a friend of mine on a fantastic screenplay he’s written along with a team of others, but that’s all up in the air now with the global pandemic on our hands and third year itself not being a certainty.
There are a few other plans though; an independently produced scifi double feature with a twist that was intended to be a uni project before it was replaced with an essay in light of ‘rona. Although we’re planning to make it ourselves as soon as we can. I myself have a few screenplays I’m working on in the background, but what self-respecting film student isn’t endlessly mulling over their own ideas?
You can watch Men Matter below. With thanks to Sam for agreeing to this interview: