Job interviews are pretty stressful situations, but sometimes the job itself can be far worse. That’s what it’s like being a telemarketer in Samuel Rudykoff’s short film Cruise, where job metrics have life and death consequences. In a room with a countdown ticker, a telephone, and a man pointing a gun at him (Ray James), a salesman (Simon Pond) has three chances to hook their callers with the enticing opportunity of an all-expenses-paid cruise.
Exceptionally bleak, Rudykoff’s Cruise is a fantastic slice of satirical dread served on a plate of existential emptiness. In a world where analytics prevail, workers live and die by their quotas. Cruise mocks workplace metrics by utilizing call-center-based employment, a profession with a nearly forty percent turnover rate. In other words, one day you could have a friend sitting in a cubicle next to you, and the next day they could be gone for any number of reasons. Rudycoff’s film is a seven-minute exercise in tension as call after call brings our protagonist closer to literal termination.
I sat down with director Samuel Rudykoff and editor Mark Delottinville to talk with them about Cruise ahead of its showing at the Chattanooga Film Festival. You can watch the interview below or read excerpts from the conversation.
Rudykoff started by telling us how Cruise came to be, how Mark and he had gone to college together, and how they both had been in the industry for many years and wanted to start making their own narrative films.
Samuel Rudykoff: We thought, let’s try it. Let’s do something. And the next conversation is, “What can we do?” And that led to, “What can we shoot in one room?” And then we thought, “What would be something fun that would happen in one room?” And beyond the sort of practical reasons for making it, I think that we’re both really drawn to the sort of what-ifs, and there’s so much in the world that we take for granted. Then when you think about it, you’re like, “Why is that like that?” Spam calls are a perfect example of, like, who would do that? Why would you do that? What’s the game here? Like, hey, is this working? So, it just sort of sprung naturally from that. It’s really a movie about hating your job, so I think that’s something that a lot of people can relate to, unfortunately.
SP: Were there any films that inspired [Cruise]?
Rudykoff: I don’t know about specific films to be honest, but certainly filmmakers. There’s a lot of Terry Gilliam in there, specifically Brazil, I would say. Just in that kind of Kafkaesque awful bureaucratic kind of environment.
Mark Delottinville: We took inspiration also from Burn After Reading, just in terms of like the look. A lot of the stuff that Sam was saying it’s not necessarily based on the particular movie. It’s more like the filmmakers and the looks that they’ve crafted that we kind of took inspiration from and then presented in the short itself.
SP: One of the things that I noticed when I was watching [Cruise]—and I really want to know if this was on purpose or not because the way it comes together is so fantastically beautiful—you’ve got this dark office setting that’s just tonally morose, and they’re selling this dream package, this luxury Hawaiian sort of package. And there’s this sort of depression versus anti-depression thing going on. And I was wondering, were you wondering where is the best escapism on this end, or…
Rudykoff: Yeah, I mean, we definitely liked the contrast of it. You know, we didn’t have to do a lot because it’s a real thing that happens to people. And it is funny how we live in this world where you regularly get calls with what sounds like, on paper, should be amazing news, and your reaction is just like, “Oh, God. No!” So, we can’t take credit for it because it was just already there, but that was, I think, something that drew us to the sort of dark comic elements of it was that contrast of having this thing that is, in the abstract, a tropical sunny getaway. But the way that we all sort of experience it in most of our lives is through these very like what-the-hell phone calls. So yeah, that was definitely something that drew us to it, and I think was a big part of why we chose this particular terrible thing to make the movie about.
Delottinville: I would also say, Sean, just on that to add to Sam’s point, is that in terms of the set design—I think that you were remarking about the dreary room—and we took a lot of inspiration from like Sam was saying like travel agencies and things like that. So, things like the posters that are inside there being the ones where it’s like a beautiful beach scene or a sunset, or all the colors of the tickets, or the pamphlets are all like pink and beautiful and this and it’s all like based off of like really tropical-like settings of what you would see in a typical travel agency, right? But, essentially, aside from that, you just have like the rest of it being this like huge contrast of the dreariness of the world that they live in.
Rudykoff: We had a really wonderful production designer, Rebecca Petro, who we basically said we wanted to feel a little bit like a travel agency, but also like a prison. And she did just an incredible job of bringing that to life.
SP: That’s a perfect assessment, too. Because that was the first thing I got. It feels like a prison, especially with the gunman just sitting right there. I love the fact that termination kind of has a dual meeting in this sense, and it really feels like it’s the best metaphor for stress ever, having that gunman sitting there just with him. Stress-wise, how do you think that’s messing with the telemarketer, Mark’s head?
Rudykoff: It’s messing with him lots, I’m sure! You know I mentioned that it’s sort of all about the experience of hating your job, and I think most people can probably relate to the experience of having a job that feels totally meaningless, and you’re totally mistreated. But you need it, and the only reason you take a job like that is because you need it. And, without diving into too much of a rant, that’s why capitalism stinks because the people at the bottom just get crushed under heel, and it’s the people who need the jobs the most who are often in the jobs where they’re mistreated in the worst ways and made to feel like they have no margin error. If you’ve ever worked a terrible job, where you’re serving or pushing a broom or something, your boss always makes you feel like it’s the end of the world with every little mistake. And we sort of wanted to evoke that kind of feeling of, “I don’t even want to be here, but I feel like if I mess up, something terrible is going to happen to me.” Because it’s just so unfair, but yet it’s a situation that probably the majority of people find themselves in.
My penultimate question concerned Cruise’s use of obsolete items, such as corded phones and phone books.
Rudykoff: A lot of it had to do with just the choreography of the action itself where, if we set this in the real world, it would just be a guy with a headset on at a computer, and we really wanted that action of the hanging up the phone and the clock dinging. And it felt like things had a lot more impact if we had those motions and those things happening. And there’s also something just more tactile in general about using that sort of ‘80s/’90s era technology. And beyond that, you know it’s obviously not existing in the real world. It’s a metaphor. So, giving it sort of a sense of unreality, and taking it out of a specific time and place, was something that was important to us in just sort of world-building or whatever you want to call it. […] It was just sort of a little bit of a shortcut to come to get people to suspend disbelief a little bit more, and then once we got production design involved, we fell in love with the look of it.
Delottinville: Especially the clock. The clock was like a key aspect that me and Sam went back on, probably, I don’t know, maybe 20-30 times on what is the right clock, and then eventually what we settled on was kind of a mixture of practical elements and digital elements to make it work. So, it really helped in terms of…for example, you’ll see the people who are watching it there’s kind of this like dark red writing or numbers that kind of pop up on the clock and as they do that it really gets a sense of adding to the dread and that really helps like create the world and create it more fantastical, in terms of what Sam was saying. It really kind of separates it, as you immediately identify with like, “Alright, he’s only got X amount of chances in terms of this.”
SP: My last question for you guys is a fun one. What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Delottinville: One summer, I call it my worst summer ever, where I basically worked eight or nine of the worst jobs you could possibly imagine. Because I worked for an employment agency, they would send me out on different things. So, every two weeks, I’d complete the job, and they would send me out to something else, which got [worse] and worse as the summer went on. So, it started out working for an aviation company and basically moving boxes from one small store to literally [the] next store over. It was dreadful and boring. And then it was doing landscaping, and then it was doing dishwashing, and then it was doing like any type [of work], and I worked a little bit of telemarketing. And it was just basically like I got every single worst job over one particular summer.
Rudykoff: Mine was also a summer job when I was maybe eighteen. I grew up in New York, and I had a job selling comedy tickets in Times Square—which, I mean, just being in Times Square is like existing inside of a headache. And having to approach strangers and try and sell them stuff, it was really not my cup of tea, so yeah, that would probably take the cake.
Though Cruise may be bleak, Delottinville and Rudykoff have bright futures. See Cruise this weekend at the Chattanooga Film Festival, playing in the CFF Salutes Your Shorts block. Tickets are on sale now, or purchase a pass and see all the available films playing.