Social media addiction is something that has been “think-pieced” to death. So much has been written about how facebook/twitter/chat roulette has changed the way we communicate with each other and how we feel about ourselves (both good and bad) that the very mention of the subject makes me want to reflexivlely roll my eyes. “Facebook and Twitter are ruining the world,” you say? Got it, Grandpa…now leave me be so I can go back to watching cat videos…
Sam Baron’s Windscreenwiperman isn’t an “issue” film by any stretch—it’s not a short with an agenda or easily deciphered moral. But, nevertheless, it uses social media as a tool to examine the authenticity and meaning behind the relationships we make online. Judging by the film’s description, as a viewer, you probably already have some preconceived notions about where this film is heading. Man makes friends with a teenage boy online? Call in Chris Hansen…
And, really, that’s the point of Windscreenwiperman. With his film, Baron is challenging the stigma around online friendships and our global dependence on social media. As the central relationship in the film develops—that between late-twenty-something Simon and 14-year-old “Michael”—the viewer is confronted with a situation that feels both abnormal and normal at the same time. Why can’t these two people connect? How does how you meet someone affect the way people perceive your relationship?
The film takes a bit long to really get into the “meat” of its story (perhaps too long for your average internet viewer…this is a film that could have been shortened quite a bit in the edit). But, there’s something about the inherent procedural nature of the opening act of the film that is fascinating. A large portion of our time spent on the internet is grounded in distraction. Baron captures this authentically—the way we skim things without really engaging with them. So much of how we interact online centers around ephemeral amusement—we’re addicted to the mindlessness of it all—the diversion—not the content itself.
Communicating via e-mail, co-writer and director Sam Baron explains his motivation behind the screen portions of the film: “…I had to come up with a visual style which would allow the performances to be unbroken and feel real. In the end, we decided the answer was to actually go inside the computer screen for several long sequences, to simulate the real experience of being online. I found the contrast ended up being really interesting, when we cut between scenes in the real world and scenes online.”
As with the best #longshorts, the film takes all those heady thematic elements and uses it as a springboard to develop its characters. Both leads are just average guys—Simon is a white dude with a stable job and nice girlfriend. Michael (Joe Hurst) is your prototypical modern teen—easily bored, never impressed (i.e. your average internet commenter). Yet, their rapport is oddly compelling as it feels so natural and relatable. To use a bit of critical cliché, they feel like “real” people and as viewers we’re privy to a brief epoch of both their digital and tangible lives.
Baron has a lot of bright cinematic opportunities in the future. His script, The Science of Love and Laughter was a winner of the prestigious Academy Nicholl fellowship in 2014. This, consequently has led to him getting an agent and manager in LA. Beyond taking lots of meeting with production companies, he’s recently been hired to write something for an Academy Award winner (though, he can’t say who at the moment).
Be sure to keep up with work via his website.