It’s a short film that feels like the central storyline is ripped straight from the headlines, not once, but multiple times. Such is the case with ongoing news stories of sexual misconduct and assault being reported from around the entertainment industry.
In director Kylie Murphy’s comedy short ‘Green’, she specifically focuses the numerous stories of famous male comedians being ousted after accusations of sexual misconduct, and how those around them often seek to protect the comedian in power, silence the victims with gaslighting narratives, and work on ensuring they have a “comeback” despite their hideous behavior. It is a commentary on the way society undervalues the voices of victims, especially female victims, and how power and fame combine in a toxic way, something that the #MeToo movement has exposed.
‘Green’ follows CJ (Iman Richardson), an up-and-coming comedian who is prepping for a show in the green room of a comedy club. She finds out that a famous comic has dropped in for a surprise comeback set after the fallout of sexual misconduct allegations against him. She faces the futility of trying to stop him from reclaiming the stage. ‘Green’ was inspired by the ongoing question of what to do when the predominantly male artists we cherish abuse their positions of power.
Right now, we are living in a unique era of public reckoning. Kylie’s intention was to show a story that would not be hyper-visible, one that happens behind the curtain. In these situations, there is no system in place to define consequences or quantify wrongs. She wanted to explore what justice looks like to people on different levels of the hierarchy in a given industry, and spoke to us more in depth about the process of making her film, which you can watch in full below:
How did the idea for ‘Green’ originally come about? Were you already working on the storyline before various news headlines about real life comics being accused?
The idea initially came from reading the reports of Louis CK dropping in to perform after those months of silence following his statement about the allegations against him. I immediately started wondering about the people who had to deal with his sudden reappearance that night and how they would react.
I heard some of the leaked audio from that set but I didn’t make it much further than applause. I wasn’t interested in him, but rather the response he received. The overwhelming, thunderous crowd. What sounds like complete acceptance. That acceptance is the default in a room like that, with a man like him. Any dissent or questioning is a deviation.
Talk us through the filming process – where did you shoot, how did you assemble the cast, and how did you envision the entire film taking place in one particular Room?
It was surprisingly tricky to find a nondescript room in the whole of Manhattan. Googling “small room NYC” does not result in the internet jackpot one might expect. I looked at some improv venues and theater backstages. Eventually I found a bar in the East Village that was amenable to tiny crews and even tinier budgets. We shot in their V.I.P. room in the back.
Since this film focused on the actors and dialogue, I knew its success would hinge on casting. The studentness of a student film is always the first hurdle to jump over — it’s hard to get people to look at it as a film rather than a school project. Thankfully I had established some established people in my life who I could politely coerce.
Kate and Steve, who play Maggie and David, I’ve known for a few years from babysitting their son. They are both amazingly talented actor/improviser/writers from the Chicago world. After holding a beloved Paw Patrol toy hostage, I forced their hand and they had to agree. Luke, who plays Mike, is a performer and writer as well as my brother-in-law and I can attest here he is playing the Hyde to his sweet Jekyll self.
For CJ, I reached out to a bunch of New York actors/improvisers and I found Iman on the UCB page. She wasn’t working on student productions anymore, so I was lucky that she was intrigued enough by the premise to read the script. A few seconds into her self-tape, I knew she was right. She walks that line between comedic and dramatic moments with incredible grace. Plus she and Kate ended up having great chemistry which was key to that foundational relationship.
I wanted to make this as small a scale as possible. The subject matter is so daunting that reducing it to just the four different points of view in this room gave me confidence to approach it. I also wanted you to be able to pick up this room and place it in different parts of the industry, so I think minimizing the surrounding context and making the returner just a he/him allows for some freedom to see this dynamic in other settings.
With many of the conversations and long takes, you really get a sense of the tension, anger and anxiety building up in the room between CJ and the two men David and Mike. Can you break down the creative decisions behind making so much of the film in long takes and how it drove the story?
I knew from the start that I wanted the whole film to be handheld, with the camera having the freedom to move and respond to the actors in real time. As a DP, my instincts usually lean handheld anyway. Plus I expected some improvised moments, so I wanted the camera to be ready to catch anything.
I had written a paper on realism in film (is it a thing? is it not a thing?) the year before, using Rachel Getting Married as one example. I watched that DVD commentary many times and was fascinated by how they created this documentary-like, in-the-moment feeling. They had a roving camera and the actors never knew where it was going to be, so they had to be ready and present at every moment. I was really drawn to that idea, particularly with this film which is all in real time. I wanted that sense of immediacy and uncertainty to come through, especially in the crux of the argument.
Shooting handheld also ended up being just practically necessary. The owner of the bar called me the week prior and said he forgot they had booked a wedding (!) on the second day we were supposed to shoot — perhaps he too wanted to help me create the sense of immediacy and urgency. So we only had one day to shoot. Keeping the camera mobile and responsive was the only way this was possible. We also saved time by rigging all the lighting out of sight beforehand so that the camera could move anywhere.
We shot chronologically which lent to the energy as well. I thought that would create a nice flow for the day — starting off lighthearted, getting to the core of it in the middle, and dealing with the aftermath at the end. By the final scene we were collectively exhausted. When we did those long takes with the camera responding to the actors, there was something really electric in the performances.
Many of us have now seen the viral video of Kelly Bachman who confronted Harvey Weinstein who appeared in the audience at a New York bar after his high profile accusations. What were your thoughts as a filmmaker and a woman when you saw this?
I remember seeing that video when it first came out. It holds some similarities to Green — the frame focusing on her, the unnamed man off-camera, although we all knew who that was.
I read an interview with Kelly afterwards where she talked about feeling like maybe she hadn’t said enough in the moment. First of all, she shouldn’t have been put in that situation. On the most basic level, when someone like Harvey (take that, first name only) comes into that space, it can be incredibly triggering and traumatizing for survivors. And second of all, it shouldn’t have been her work to decide how to handle that. Why is this falling on someone like CJ or someone like Kelly? Why does this individual have to have the answers here?
It shouldn’t be an individual response, it should be a collective one. We should be systemically ready to hold people to account, but we’re not anywhere close. It always ends up on the shoulders of the people with the least amount of power in the room. I think it was unbelievably brave what Kelly did, as well as the other person who yelled at him on video that night too. Just any moment that acknowledges that this should not be normal is so massive and it is absolutely enough. I don’t know if I could have done it myself.
There is also an unspoken conversation about race, with one Black woman confronting two white men about sexual assault and privilege. Was this intersectional aspect of the story by design?
This was something I was intentional with when creating the film. In the casting, I auditioned primarily Black women and women of color for the role. I think this is the bare minimum that we as white people can do when making creative decisions — casting a wide net and being intentional in that process. I am still constantly learning how to do this better.
We are taught in school that the bottom line is we need to cast the best actor who is most suited to the role, but I think the potential of that process is sometimes over before it even starts. Whether it’s seeing a role as default white because it reflects us or that’s how we’re programmed to see it, or we’re casting by reaching out to a personal network that is predominantly white. Iman was the best person for the part out of everyone I saw, and I think if I auditioned a hundred more people that would still be true.
Although the male comic’s race isn’t stated, I think we can all make an educated guess that he is white. Not only did his whiteness contribute to his rise to that level of fame, but it also allowed for the grace of this return by an audience we can also assume is majority white. CJ lacks so much power in this system, and he holds all of it, even offscreen.
The best thing about the film is that the comic accused of sexual assault goes unnamed, and we don’t have to see him at all. And given the revolving door of real life male comics this story line applies to, does it help to make the film continuously relevant?
I didn’t want to make this film about one specific person. I didn’t want the specifics of one story or one incident to distract from the universality of this experience. It’s like a Mad Lib you can fill out. ________ (disgraced male) returned to _______ (industry) after allegations of _________ (type of sexual misconduct). I’m not one to step on anyone’s imagination!
The coverage of these comics or actors or news anchors or directors returning after allegations is so rarely framed in terms of the other people it affects, who end up being predominantly women or nonbinary individuals. That’s what I was most interested in. I had enough of it being about the man of it all, because it was always about them. So I don’t want this film to be about the man. I want it to be about the culture that upholds him and how others are forced to move around him.
The dialog is very on point and TO the point in terms of some of the real life discussions about powerful men being cancelled for their criminal actions, then being allowed a “comeback”. What particular conversations or stories did you draw from to write this film?
In what can only be described as the greatest test of my patience yet, I spent a lot of time reading opinions and takes from people who were supportive of these guys. Whenever a new celeb’s Notes App apology would pop up, I would sigh like a retired detective with a past being pulled back in on a case, gaze upon the vast Norwegian landscape, and then diligently log in to read what brosef4000 thought about X’s return. (I made that name up for the purposes of this example, but if you’re real brosef4000, please don’t dox me.)
Certain phrases were just constantly recycled. The idea that he “served his time”, that he “didn’t rape anybody”. Most commonly, “What else did we want him to do? What is he allowed to do now?” These defenses come up over and over again. It could be Chris D’Elia, Woody Allen. It’s always pulling from the same script.
In these situations, there’s no system in place to define consequences or quantify wrongs. There’s nothing reliable to point at, to say that a certain amount of time or a certain combination of words will absolve an action. It’s incredibly murky, and with this film we’re watching people try to create a system of accountability in real time. But at some point the responses from the side supporting him become rote. They detach themselves from this person and become in service of defending against an idea, what they might call cancel culture. It’s really disheartening to try to come up against that.
There is also a sense of this theme being relevant to so many men in a number of industries. What do you hope audiences will take away from watching ‘Green’?
When these men return, especially without asking, they take away our choice to be a part of it. One of the grimmer parts of this film is that somehow, Maggie has ended up opening for the comic. She had no say in that. We find ourselves having this mandatory participation in a system that is not kind to us.
There are so many Mikes out there in the world who believe that they don’t have a choice in how they can respond in this situation either. They would probably self-classify as a bystander at best, someone who has to go along with this because they don’t have the power to not.
Someone like Mike always has a choice, especially as a straight white cis man in the room. I wish we had a world where we didn’t have to rely on their responses. Where there weren’t articles titled “25 Male Comics React to X’s Return” as if that holds more weight in public opinion, but it absolutely does. Every time. I don’t think this could get through to any Davids out there. I don’t think he’d click on a vimeo link. But maybe someone who is in a similar position to Mike could watch the film and see how much power and sway they hold here. What if he questioned the return too? What would that mean?
Someone who had shared the film on twitter addressed other comedians, saying that one day they’re going to be put in one of these characters’ shoes so they better start preparing. And I think that’s true. I don’t know how brave I would be in a room like this one but maybe it would help to start imagining it.