By Jonathan Browning
Jonathan Browning is a Midwest-raised actor and filmmaker who now lives in Los Angeles, California pursuing his passion. With a background in comedy, it’s not unusual for Browning to see things from a “twisted” angle. It was exactly that vision that he brings to his work and which inspired him to create a 3-minute short film called “The Job.”
In the film, Browning “twists” the situation of day-laborers in such a way that it makes people think about the issue in a real way. That Browning can accomplish this feat through humor makes his message that much more effective.
This little film is making a big impact at film festivals around the world. Already, it has won 18 major awards and is slated for a host of new festival airings in April from Vail to Barcelona.
Mr. Browning shares with Latina Lista readers his reason for making “The Job” and what he hopes audiences take away from it.
(At the end of Mr. Browning’s piece can be found the video of “The Job.”)
My name is Jonathan Browning and I wrote and directed the short film, “The Job.”
I was born and bred in the small blue-collar town of Benton, Illinois. Both of my grandfathers were coal miners, in a time where the tools that they used were considered to be more valuable than the lives of the miners themselves.
I grew up hearing stories about life underground and the treatment they received. One of my grandfathers was almost killed in the mines and the company didnâ€™t want to provide the basic medical needs to save his life. These stories do color the way I see the world.
Because of their hard work and sacrifices, I never had to work the mines. I have however spent the majority of my life working â€œundesirableâ€ jobs. I spent one entire summer hauling buckets of rotting fish up three flights of stairs into an outdoor dumpster warmed by the sun.
In 2001, my wife and I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles where I started working as a production assistant. (My first few jobs I worked for freeâ€¦until I worked my way up to $50 for a 14-hour day. Eventually, I got the sweet, sweet standard $100 a day.) Production Assistants (P.A.) are pretty much the lowest person on the pecking order and you spend your day doing whatever you are told.
I was working as a P.A. when I drove past a Home Depot on Sunset Blvd. Sitting at the red light, feeling sorry for myself for not having a better job, I watched a group of Latino men try and get hired by a guy in a pick-up truck.
As I sat there, I couldnâ€™t help but wonder how long those men had been there and how far they had traveled to stand in this parking lot to TRY and get work. Here I was feeling sorry for myself that I had a job that paid well and these guys were working harder than me to TRY and get work.
That image stuck with me as I pulled away.
I kept wondering if I would be willing to get up every morning at the crack of dawn and fight to get my job. What if everyone had to do it? What if that was how the world worked for everyone? What if every single working person in the world had to get up every morning, get dressed, go down to some location and fight for his or her job?
“The Job” was born.
I have no â€œagendaâ€ with “The Job.” When I sat at that stoplight what I felt was empathy for those men. I wasnâ€™t looking at them in terms of the immigration debate. I was looking at them as individuals.
I guess, to be honest, I did have an agenda when writing and shooting “The Job.” I wanted people to see a group of â€œday-laborersâ€ and think to themselves, â€œWhat if that was me?â€ They can answer that question for themselves however they like. I just wanted to ask the question.
Immigration, like many political issues, isnâ€™t discussedâ€¦itâ€™s yelled.
Not many people (from either side) are wiling to have a dialogue about it. It tends to be boiled down to â€œtalking pointsâ€ or â€œhot button statements.” The truth is itâ€™s complicated.
My goal with “The Job” is not to tell people what to think. I just wanted to share an idea I had sitting at a stoplight on Sunset.
“The Job” has screened at over 70 film festivals. I have been lucky enough to attend several of them and to participate in the question-and-answer sessions after the film. The audiences have always had insightful questions about the short and I have always enjoyed discussing it with them. Maybe some love it, maybe some donâ€™tâ€¦but they were always willing to discuss it with me.
The Internet has been a whole new ball of wax. I have had several people e-mail me to inform me that I am a â€œhateful racist.” I have also had several people e-mail me to tell me that I am â€œanti-American and so in love with Mexico I am willing to sell out my own country.”
All of these people watched the exact same 3-minute short. How can one person watch it and consider it â€œracistâ€ and another watch it and consider it â€œanti-America and pro-Mexicoâ€? I think itâ€™s because people bring their own biases to the film.
I worked very hard to make sure that nobody in the film was â€œgoodâ€ or â€œbad.” THIS IS JUST HOW THE WORLD THEY LIVE IN WORKS! It is really that simple.
I think it is a huge compliment to the cast and crew for their amazing abilities as artists. Alex Castillo (the driver) doesnâ€™t belittle the businesspeople. He is simply hiring them. Something that is done a hundred times at every hardware store in LA.
Alex even apologizes that he can only hire the ones he needs. The businessmen arenâ€™t buffoons. They are real people who really need this job. They are behaving exactly like the Latino men who are hired every single day.
Allow me to give you an example. There is a shot where an older businessman (Bernard Thurman) makes eye contact and nods at a young female businesswoman (Leslie McManus) when they are in the back of the truck.
I have had some people say that unspoken moment is, â€œYeah! We made it in the truck!â€ and others say it is, â€œThis is so humiliating. I canâ€™t believe we are in the back of this truck.â€ Same moment!
To me the moment was suppose to be an â€œelevatorâ€ moment. Itâ€™s what you do when you are waiting for an elevator and someone comes up beside you. We all do the same thing. Turn our heads, smile, nod and then look forward again.
I created this moment in “The Job” because this â€œgetting chosen and getting in the back of a truckâ€ happened every day. It was no different than them waiting for an elevator. We kept it simple, the actors did a great job and people make their own meanings out of that 2-second beat.
And at the end of the dayâ€¦I think the film is really funny.
I think the nuances of the actors, the shots that David Jones (my DP) used, the music and the editing make a really funny short film. I am proud of what we were able to create together.