Black Mirror and Peaky Blinders director Otto Bathurst on his big break, best career advice and the modern plague of cyber abuse
Q. What’s been your career highlight so far?
A. I went to a film premiere about two years ago, and I arrived early and the red carpet was empty. In those days I had a pretty shaggy beard and was wearing a knackered leather jacket. As I walked the carpet, one of the paparazzi shouted “Oy, Wolverine!”
Q. What was your biggest break?
A. A long while back there was a horror anthology series on Channel 5 called Urban Gothic. We were given ten days to make three half hour films. Two of my scripts were very thin, so I spent two days on each of those, but one was great so I saved six days for that one and made a pretty tidy film that then went on to entice all kinds of people. Broadcast opportunities like that are now very hard to come by for young film-makers who are just starting out. It’s becoming harder and harder to break through.
Q. What one piece of career advice has stuck with you the most?
A. Well, film-making is all about the people you work with. Look after them, respect them and walk alongside them. As much as possible, within all the pressures of film-making, I have tried to do that. I am always listening to other people, and I’ll take suggestions from anyone… Why not? Only a fool would let their pride not hear it. On Peaky Blinders, I remember a set piece where I’d made some bad decisions and had dug myself into such a hole that I couldn’t see how to switch in the stunt man. I was kippered. The fabulous 3rd AD who was a film-maker in his own right was watching. He spotted a solution and eureka – we were saved. The bonus of all of this is that if everyone sees that their voice is being heard then everyone gets inspired and begins to own the project. That’s the holy grail for me – when everyone cares and connects. I love that.
Q. Your current project is about cyber abuse – can you tell us more about that?
A. I am making a short film / commercial that will smash once and for all the notion that cyber abuse is any less damaging than physical abuse. It is a big budget, high impact film that will hold a very bright mirror in the face of society and expose the absolute responsibility that each of us has to do everything we can to ensure that this deeply damaging behavior is halted. A huge amount of people are getting very seriously hurt by this modern plague and all of us have the power to do something about it. We are becoming accustomed to a level of abuse online that we would never tolerate in person. A level of abuse that no-one should ever be subjected to. A level of abuse that is causing huge damage to thousands and thousands of people. And it is already being normalised in a way that people feel this is something they just have to put up with. And it is getting worse.
Q. What drew you to the topic of cyber abuse?
A. I became increasingly aware of the horrendous damage that it was doing, how prevalent it was in so many peoples lives – and it is not just kids and teenagers, but thousands and thousands of adults are victims of this abuse. And I also became increasingly aware of how ignorant almost all of us were about what was going on.
Whenever you hear from victims of cyber abuse, they repeatedly talk about how the real damage, the real shame, the real hurt comes not just from the words that are being said to them, but the fact that there are X number of people also on the thread; listening in and supporting the thread. They speak of the total and utter loneliness and abject sense of helplessness this causes. It’s like being bullied with 1500 (or often many, many more) watching, baying for your blood, joining in, confirming what has been said. This is what magnifies the hurt. The Bystanders are what make cyber abuse so uniquely damaging. But. If you ask around, no-one, absolutely no-one is aware of this. The consensus, even amongst the most ‘digitally aware’ people is that they are doing nothing wrong because they are not joining in.
But as Einstein said many moons ago “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of those that don’t do anything about it.” Which perfectly and exactly describes the role of the passive Bystander.
Whilst the police and lawyers struggle through mountains of bureaucracy and politics to enforce action, we wanted to do something NOW - because we all, every single one of us have the power to instigate change. And we all, in the pursuit of a harmonious and equal society that supports the individual and the freedom of speech, have a deep responsibility to each other as fellow Bystanders.
A message that, in truth, is relevant for everything. Digital, analogue, on-line, physical.
The film is being put together by a collective of us operating under the banner of All Rise – a not for profit company we have set up to tackle this insidious and ever-growing plague. One aspect of the whole campaign is an international survey that we are running. The first and most wide reaching of its kind. A survey that will highlight the extent of the problem and will arm us with the information needed to enact change. I implore any readers of this blog to fill in the survey and also to spread to all colleagues and friends. If we ALL RISE, we can stop this rot. Thank you.