Kitty Green's new movie, The Assistant, is a searing look at the systems that shield predators like Harvey Weinstein in the entertainment industry. The celebrated film follows an entry-level assistant, played superbly by Ozark's Julia Garner, and her increasing concerns surrounding the shady practices of her tyrannical boss.
Why did you want to tell this story?
I released a movie a few years ago and I was at Sundance with it. I was very excited to be there but straight off the bat, I had questions from journalists that were condescending. There was some underlying sexism there. They'd ask questions like, "Who gives you your ideas, James or Scott?", and they're my two male producers. Bizarre things like that. So I wanted to make a film about sexism in the film industry, microaggressions, and behaviour that goes unnoticed but can affect someone's self-confidence or career path.
You started working on the film before the Harvey Weinstein story broke, how did that affect what you were doing?
I had started working on the subject in colleges in the US because they were having a sexual assault crisis at the time. But once it broke I shifted to a more office-based environment and shifted focus to the film industry. I spoke to a lot of friends who had worked for not only him but for predatory men like him and abusive bosses like him. I started asking what sort of environment supports behaviour like that? Are there any women in those offices? How gendered is the division of labour and tasks? Those sorts of questions. A lot of that was influenced by what I was reading in the press at the time.
How did you feel listening to your friends telling you these stories?
It felt pretty bleak. I was speaking to so many women who were telling me awful stories about being trapped in really awful situations where they didn't feel that there was a path forward for them in their industry. A lot of them experienced verbal abuse or sexual harassment or sexism every day at the office and a lot of them went on to quit. It was disheartening, that's for sure. It was shocking how repetitive it was. I spoke to more than 100 women and I was hearing similar stories every time. It was awful.
You never show the executive, which reminds me of horror films where the predator stays unknown, like how the shark in Jaws isn't in much of the movie. Did horror influence you at all?
I knew from the beginning I wanted a female-centred film. I didn't want to make it about a bad man and their bad behaviour. We've given bad men enough screen time.
I wanted to keep him out of it but focus on the machinery and the system around him. A lot of influences were David Fincher films like Zodiac or Mindhunter, these very claustrophobic, intense, office environments. We wanted it to feel authentic, have fluorescent lights and everything that an office has, but have a certain tension. It was a challenge to get that balance right so it didn't feel too much like a horror movie, because it isn't really. It's a very naturalistic portrait of somebody's day but having moments of tension and suspense.
Having done all your research and lived with this film for two years, were you able to find any answers to these problems or identify a way to rebuild these systems so this doesn't continue?
I was looking at a lot of #MeToo coverage that thought if we get rid of Harvey Weinstein we've solved the problem. I wanted to point to the fact that the problem's much larger. We need to really shake up the way we treat our colleagues and look after each other and make sure we have more equality in the workplace. I wanted to start those conversations, which I think we've succeeded in doing.
I really do think we're all complicit in some way, in this system that's sidelined women for so long. We all need to think about our behaviour, how we treat others, and how we support our colleagues. Rather than place the blame on one or two people, the film is trying to get us all to rethink the way our workspaces are and how safe, fair and equitable they are. A little bit of introspection will help.
Who: Director Kitty Green
What: The Assistant, a tense film about shady practices in the entertainment industry
When: In cinemas now