“Trust me” is the first phrase we hear from our off-screen protagonist, Joseph, played by writer and producer, Ashley Tabatabai. Entirely set in a small, but spacious cafe, The Interview introduces us immediately to the contrasting worlds of this apparent hotshot, and his meeker interviewee, Robert (Scott Michael Wagstaff). And although those first lines are Joseph speaking on his phone, that trust element is key to this eight minute gem.
Kicking back in his booth, with seemingly no care in the world, Joseph can get your attention with the click of his fingers. He sounds confident, persuasively demanding, certainly a cool character – he even wears shades indoors. On the flip-side, Robert is a much more nervy figure, a little like a fish out of water in his suit and tie, and the fact he brings his own flask to a cafe.
What we do perhaps get a peek at in these character dynamics, are a sense of ambition and integrity. With Joseph, we can assume his success shadowed his own natural swagger; whereas Robert has just been laid off, and is anxious to bounce back. That eagerness to break out of his shell, and portray a respectable level of confidence, soon brings the two men closer in mindset than we first thought. Joseph labels it “tenacity” – acting impressed.
Robert is quick to ask Joseph not to write down that his experience in media prompted him to go with his awareness of YouTube. My guess is Joseph just likes clicking his pen, something proverbially mightier than the sword. The man who made his big bucks behind viral videos, scoffs at Robert’s folding cellphone. But slips in subtle compliments and ego boosts, that Robert laps up like a house dog told his is such a good boy.
At this stage, it is harder to tell how much of Joseph’s warming to Robert is part of the act, or a candid part of himself. After all, Robert demonstrates his dilemma with the information that he has a son. Joseph’s smug retort, that the people he works with are his family, might well suggest a lonelier existence for him outside the business bubble. But that’s neither here nor there.
The floor is Joseph’s. And his ultimate goal in this little scenario is to capture on a much more modern cell phone, the film short’s closing gaff. The return of the two-shot brings us out back into the reality of the cafe, and that Robert’s next test is beyond their short conversation. Joseph’s corporate jargon,”global reach” or “new frontier”, maybe have afforded him the audacity to prank an outsider. At least in his eyes. He might be right, then, to an extent, that “most corporations are inherently psychopathic”.
Ashley Tabatabai is cool as ice in the shoes of Joseph, and Scott Michael Wagstaff convinces as the timid member of this cat and mouse satire. Stefan Fairlamb’s direction (and editing I might add), delivers the film’s mutli-layered social ping-pong in minimal time like a gust of refreshing wind.
I was fortunate enough to get Tabatabai, actor, writer, and producer of The Interview, to answer some of my questions:
Do you remember a specific time in your life when the passion for film light switched on? When did you know you wanted to work in this field?
I feel like it was more of a subtle spark, that turned into a fire, rather than a clear flip of the switch. When I was 15 we had a class at school that asked us to create a TV news episode from scratch and air it live to the entire school. We had 3 months to create everything from branding, to studio and final product. That creative process was when I felt a conscious shift.
I was specifically tasked with writing the script, but found myself wanting to be around the edit, as well as getting pulled in to do voice-overs and interviews for segments on the show. And none of it felt forced, it was just fun! The year after that whole vibe got compounded when I did drama and this whole new world of exploration opened up in front of me.
As a writer of film, which screenplay do you wish you had written?
This is such a good question. Mainly because I don’t think I’ve ever been asked it before!
It really depends on the genre, which I know is sitting on the fence a little, but I’d have loved to have written The Dark Knight or Collateral just as much as something like When Harry Met Sally or Jerry Maguire.
And onto acting, which film character would you have traveled oceans to audition for?
There are many, but I’ll give you a straight answer on this one and say Lou Bloom from Nightcrawler. I think there are so many levels to that character and the journey he goes through. What I like about him is that he lives in this grey area, whereby he is relatable, but his actions can make you feel like his moral compass is way off… which in a way asks us to all introspectively look at ourselves and see what aspects of his personality we have within us.
Aside from that, I’d travel Oceans and Seas to audition for the role of Bruce Wayne, the guy who seems to have everything and yet underneath is struggling with the hand life dealt him, just like everyone else.
So tell us a little about your short film Falsified first of all. And where can people watch it?
The film is inspired by Spain’s stolen babies scandal “Los Niños Robados”. Between the 1930’s and late 1980s/early 1990s there were an estimated 300,000 known cases of children being stolen from their parents at birth and sold to other families. Initially it was for political reasons during the era of Franco, but over time it became more of a money making practice for doctors and nuns. I mention nuns due to the implicit interconnectedness of the church and state in Spain back in those times.
Having grown up in Spain, it’s a scandal I was aware of, and wrongly assumed everyone else was too. I soon realised most people had never heard of it. Our film was indirectly looking to help raise some awareness. The focus was more on the human side behind the scandal, exploring what it could be like for a parent and child who had been involved in it. We follow a man whose son was stolen at birth and is now convinced he has found his long lost child over 30 years later.
The film has finished its festival run and is now available to watch online here:
I’m sure this is a common question, but do you have any plans to write / direct feature films?
So, I’m actually in the process of writing the feature length version of Falsified. This is my first venture into writing a feature, so it’s taking me a little while. But I feel the story is there based on a lot of the work we did on the short.
In terms of directing a feature, it’s not one I’ve really thought about at this stage. Perhaps in the future. For now, my focus really is on acting and writing and producing as a conduit for that.
So your latest short film, The Interview, how did you get this made?
The key thing is that the cast and crew are all people who have worked together before. Having that core unit helps make the process so much more fluid. We wanted to do something that could be shot over a few days, which it was. The concept was intentionally character driven and the most time consuming aspect was finding the right venue. We eventually lucked out with a great American diner who were incredibly accommodating.
Was your new film The Interview inspired by any memorable interviews you’ve been part of – either side of the table?
I can’t say I’ve ever been in an interview like that, thankfully! I’d say there are little nuances and phrases that come from having been in numerous meetings at marketing agencies, where you hear a lot of the kind of rhetoric that the Joseph character comes out with.
What else inspired your writing on The Interview? Real events, people you’ve met, moments from films etc?
I wrote my University dissertation on corporations and corporate social responsibility. One of the books I read was “The Corporation” by Joel Bakan, which is also a documentary. In it, he has a checklist that illustrates how Corporations possess the same qualities as those given to someone who is diagnosed as psychopaths. Hence the line “Do you know that most corporations are inherently psychotic?”.
Why did you not direct it?
I was keen to focus on the performance side of things on the day. I’ve worked with Stefan Fairlamb before and he is a Director and Editor, so has a great eye for how what we do on the day lines up with post-production. It made things pretty seamless in terms of that transition and allowed me to put all my energy into the acting side of things.
How wide is that line between those roles of a writer and an actor?
Less than what I would have thought if you would have asked me before I started writing. Ultimately it’s all storytelling. The writing still requires you to get into the mindset of the characters, to understand their desires, wants and needs. All of these same things apply when preparing as an actor. If anything the writing side helps give a macro level view of the overall narrative which then helps you as an actor. That’s because it allows you to understand where in the arc of the story your character lives and what he or she is doing when it comes to serving the story.
So we hear The Interview is at the Oregon Short Film Festival. What does the festival circuit mean to you, personally and professionally?
I feel very lucky that we’ve had a good festival run with both Falsified and The Interview. We’ve been able to have our films screened across the globe at some prestigious festivals and that is always a nice feeling to have when you’ve put so much effort into creating something.
I feel like the festival circuit is a great place for indie film to get exposure and is still one of the most important platforms when it comes to building your career. That combined with leveraging the power of the internet means that filmmakers have a route to market that doesn’t have to solely rely on the mainstream system.
With the awards season almost over, have you had time to catch any of these Oscar movies? Which are you personal favorites?
I really haven’t seen anywhere near enough! I’ve been spending more time writing than I have watching. Of the few best picture nominees I have seen I liked A Star Is Born for how raw and honest it is. Bohemian Rhapsody was also really well done and such an engaging film. And, I kinda liked Vice, but that’s more because I’m looking at it from an actor’s perspective and appreciating the full transformation Christian Bale undertook… again!