If you’re stuck for something to do this evening but have a burning desire to learn more about the world of modern economics, you could do a lot worse than attending the premiere of The Four Horsemen at the Curzon Soho. An independent documentary by filmmaker Ross Ashcrost, The Four Horsemen features interviews with linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky, Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stigliz and economic hitman John Perkins, along with many others. We caught up with co-writer and narrator Dominic Frisby to find out more about the film. Thankfully I managed to conceal my total and utter ignorance about the world of economics, including the fact that I think the gold standard is part of the crown jewels.
Bleeding Cool: How did you first get involved with the film?
Dominic Frisby: I actually came to the project relatively late. The director is a chap called Ross Ashcroft and he had been working on this film since about 2007/2008, all about the global financial crisis. He’d recorded loads of interviews so he was trying to find a way of cobbling them together about a big economic theme, and he came to me in late 2010 and he said, “Look, I’ve made this film, and it’s a bit of a mess and I need someone to sort it out.
I looked at the film and there were some really interesting ideas in there and it had a real energy to it. But it was all over the place, in the sense that the logic of the film wasn’t quite there, and there were almost too many ideas in the film. So I basically spent the next six months locked in an edit with the editor, a chap called Simon Modery, who’s a really clever guy. We were re-ordering the film, we were finding new clips to put in, writing it and re-writing it and re-writing it, and trying to make… Because economics isn’t exactly a groovy subject for a film, and a lot of people are alienated by finance and economics. It’s not something that the everyday person understands, and that’s because a lot of time economics and finance is simply phrased in a language that people don’t speak. I write for something called Moneyweek, and the success of Moneyweek has been the fact that it’s put economics and finance in a language that people can understand.
So I spent six months rewriting the film into an accessible, comprehensible language, and some of the bits where we’ve done that in … And I’m so proud of the way that we’ve made what is essentially quite a complex system, how comprehensible we’ve made it. A lot of people watch the film and go, “Good God, is this how it really works?” And the answer is yes.
BC: The film has quite an ominous title. How did you go about tying together all the different interviews to fit the theme?
DF: That was one of the problems. He’d called the film The Four Horsemen, becaust it’s quite a gripping and gloomy title, but I tried to bring the idea of what the Four Horsemen represent, which is Conquest, War, Famine and Death. We tried to bring these four themes into the film so that the film actually tied into the title.
Ross has this company where he makes low-budget corporate videos, and if he was in New York or something, while he was in New York he’d go off and interview some prominent people. He’s brilliant at securingi nterviews, Ross, he’s managed to secure some interviews with the most amazing and interesting people, and his finger’s really on the pulse, he kind of knows who’s saying interesting things at the moment. So say he was in New York, he’d go off and interview prominent New York economics, and say if the next week he was in India or Pakistan or somewhere, he’d go off and find some interesting Indian or Pakistani economists to interview.
He built up this library of interviews over that period from 2007-2010, and in fact when I came onto the project I introduced him to a few people as well, because there wasn’t enough about money in the film before I came to it, and i introduced Ross to the idea of sound money. So anyway, he had this library of interviews and it was really hard to make the whole thing coherent. It was quite spontaneous, the way each interview had happened, and the process of making the film was basically trying to tie all these interviews and all these thinkers into one cohesive film, if that makes sense. It’s about a very big subject, as you’ve probably gathered.
BC: Why is the film important? Does it put a spin on the crisis that we haven’t seen before?
DF: Bits of it. Bits of it people already know, like the fact that maybe they shouldn’t have bailed out the banks, the fact that the banks had the politicians by the balls and they basically said, “If you don’t bail us out the whole system comes crashing down.” That sort of stuff people already knew. But like I say, the way our system of money works is a fairly new idea to most people. Say if I said to you, for example, that on a note it says, “I promise to pay the bearer twenty pounds” … Twenty pounds of what? It’s twenty pounds of nothing. So effectively that note is a promise of nothing. Once upon a time it was twenty pounds of silver, sterling silver, but those days are long gone. A lot of the ideas about money are new to people.
BC: You do a lot of work as a voice actor. Was it any different to do the narration for something that you’d written?
DF: Yeah, the script I wrote to my voice. Deliberately. I had my voice in mind as I was writing it. With the narration, at the top I tried to make it as dramatic as possible, and then with the rest of the explanation you’ve got to find the right balance between explaining stuff and pushing the film forward and keeping it interesting, and also communicating Ross’ passion because Ross is a very passionate guy. One of the things the film had, even in its first form, was lots of passion, it was never short of passion. Often we just had to make the passion a bit more intelligible.
BC: It’s quite a big change for you, since your background is mainly in comedy.
DF: Yeah, well I’ve always been a comedian who’s interested in finance.
BC: That’s the best kind of comedian.
DF: But not in a stingy way. There are plenty of comedians who are interested in money, but not in the system of money. There isn’t a great deal of funnage in this one, unfortunately.
It’s a low-budget film. Ross is very clever, I don’t know what the actual budget of the film is, because I’ve spent six months working on it for nothing, and the editor’s been working on it for several years for nothing, but we’ll all get a share if the profits if it makes money. It’s a proper cooperative venture. But in terms of actual money spent … very little. He’s been very clever, between him and Megan – that’s Ross’ wife, the producer – they’ve been very clever and very canny about getting the best possible product for the minimum outlay.
BC: Do you have any other projects in the works at the moment?
DF: Yeah, I’ve got three projects that I’m working on. One is a series of animated fairy stories, where we take exciting modern lives like the life of notable modern people, and turn them into animated fairy stories. I’m really proud of that. I’m also working on a zombie film, which I’m very excited about as well.
BC: Would you be looking to direct or star in them as well?
DF: I don’t really have ambitions as a director, but I’d certainly looking to act in them. Obviously I can’t act in the animated one, but I can narrate it. But the zombie one, yeah, I’m going to play all the roles. [Laughs] I made a pilot where I played all the roles and I’m going to try and do something similar in the zombie one.
BC: Are you going to play the zombies as well?
DF: Well, we want to get celebrities in to play in the zombies, if we can.
I would watch that.
The Four Horsemen is opening at the Curzon in Soho tonight at 6:20pm, with further screenings to follow worldwide, and the DVD will also be available on the website from April 2nd 2012.
Here’s a clip from the film, complete with the soothing tones of Frisby’s voice, that explains all about fiat money.