14th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL, 2021
"...FILMMAKING IS A TEAM SPORT AND YOU SHOULD ALWAYS BE DOING THE MOST TO FIND COLLABORATORS AND ESTABLISH WORKING RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR PEERS."
Section: WE ARE NOT OUR TRAUMA
The Moderator screens as part of the BFI Future Film Festival from 18-21 February, free on
Ade is a social media content moderator on the verge of a promotion - but he's traumatised by the violent videos he views each day. He's forced to keep his deteriorating psyche under wraps when he is called into a company-appointed evaluation. The situation quickly deteriorates when a HR representative confronts him, and the harrowing content ingrained in his memory begins to distort his reality.
Hi Elliot, thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
I’ve been doing okay! I just finished my MA degree last week so I’ve been taking the opportunity to relax and take stock before I move on to the next thing. I’ve recently started jogging.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?
I think the constant never-ending social isolation has had us all climbing the walls a bit, and on a subconscious level that maddening aspect has weaved its way into the ideas I’ve been developing.
Congratulations on having The Moderator selected for the BFI Future Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of We Are Not Our Trauma section?
It feels slightly surreal to be given a platform by the BFI - this is a festival that every young filmmaker has on their radar so I’m just honoured to be involved. And with all the films streaming for free this year, that’s massively increased the reach and accessibility of the platform. So I’m excited to get a lot of eyes on the film, and hopefully spark a conversation about the topic.
Can you tell me a little bit about The Moderator, how did this film come about?
The film was made as part of my MA Filmmaking course at Goldsmiths. My producer Aliyu Gambo pitched an adaptation of an article investigating the horrendous work conditions faced by social media content moderators. It’s essentially the internet’s nastiest job, sifting through horrendous violent content day in day out with sparse mental health support. So the film follows one of these people, with aim of showing the human cost of our smooth everyday social media experience.
What where the biggest challenges you faced bringing this film to life?
We shot the whole film in a studio and built the set from scratch. That gave me so much freedom in designing the film, but it took a colossal effort from our producers, design and lighting departments, all working on a typically tiny budget. The difficulty wasn’t just building it but also adapting the shots to amplify the strengths of the set and smooth over the elements where that budget inevitably started to show.
Looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this film?
I’m very self-critical so there’s a million little things I’d do differently in retrospect. I wish I’d loosened up a little on the shoot. We stuck rigidly to the shot list and schedule whereas I think if I’d prompted a bit of filmmaking jazz – a quick little extra shot here and there – it would’ve given us more to play around with in the edit. But overall I couldn’t be prouder of the film.
What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from making The Moderator?
Being open to others having a big collaborative influence on your vision is key. Especially in the edit. On previous films I’ve either cut the thing myself or watched over the edit like a hawk - but seeing our editor Marie Pinnelli bring her own spin on the footage with those snappy, lacerating match cuts toward the end was a delightful and eye-opening moment. The film really was a team effort on every level.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
As far as I can remember, yes. When I was a kid I used to make little action movies with my friends; think Saving Private Ryan but with 13 year-olds, shot in my mate’s garden with a camcorder and finished in a bootleg copy of After Effects. It was a lot of fun.
"Whether that’s through a film school, the internet, or communities like Shooting People."
What has been some of the best advice you’ve been given?
Don’t call cut too soon. What the actors are giving you after the last line has been uttered can be some of the best stuff in the scene.
Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
I don’t think any great film has been made without an element of risk or boldness in its creative decisions. If you’re making low-budget short films there’s more than likely no higher-up there to tell you ‘no’, so filmmakers at this level should be looking to make the most of that. But of course, in all mediums the simplest choice is often the best one, and there’s a lot of value in following established creative paradigms. It’s about balance. If you’re making provocative decisions, you have to ask: ‘what does this do for my story’?
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
I don’t even know what I’m doing half the time so it feels weird imparting advice. That being said: filmmaking is a team sport, and you should always be doing the most to find collaborators and establish working relationships with your peers. Whether that’s through a film school, the internet, or communities like Shooting People. Be where the other filmmakers are. Find cinematographers/sound designers/editors who do what they do better than you ever could. We all wish we could be a miraculous one-man band like Steven Soderbergh, but that’s rarely the case. Filmmaking is collaboration.
Finally, what do you hope people will take away from The Moderator?
I hope viewers are into it on a visceral level, but I also hope it illuminates the human cost behind the everyday tech we very much take for granted. We live in a dystopia of powerful corporate monoliths who neglect the wellbeing of low-level workers for efficiency and profit. What goes on behind the scenes of your social media feed is no exception.