By its own admission, and title, Thomas Meadmore’s feature documentary, How To Lose Jobs & Alienate Girlfriends, is a blueprint on how not to do things. Initially conceived as a documentary about the nebulous idea of finding success and following one’s dreams, Meadmore sets out to document his boss and mentor, television director Tony Jackson, and Tony’s band Speed Orange, as they record a new album. This idea reveals a major snag, however, when Meadmore admits to the audience that he’s not a fan of Speed Orange’s music (and only gets more blunt about it, and other things, from there).
So he expands the documentary idea to include his singer/songwriter girlfriend, Amanda Medica. There too the documentary is tripped up when Meadmore realizes that his girlfriend is not as driven as he’d like her to be in her pursuit (or non-pursuit) of her dreams. At a loss with his own focus for the documentary, Meadmore’s not-always-tactful behavior serves to disrupt everyone’s lives even more, as he flounders with a film that is clearly not successful in any way he’d hoped it would be.
Which brings us back around to a documentary film, that teaches you how not to create a documentary film, by being brutally honest at every turn. To his credit, Meadmore dishes the sometimes insensitive honesty at others but doesn’t spare himself his own righteous wrath. He admits when he’s wrong, which is often, and he delivers a film that is as warts and all as they come.
And frankly, that’s really the only option he had left. After years of filming and tons of footage captured, it truly is a lemonade from lemons scenario. When I’ve edited films or content in the past, I’ve often enjoyed that feeling of making something out of nothing, when seemingly disconnected footage was delivered and I had to build something from it. Here, I think Meadmore’s own experience as an editor played a massive role in seeing and crafting a film where, perhaps, others would see no film to create.
Thus, in a (severely) roundabout way, Meadmore’s documentary isn’t about success so much as it is about the act of artistic expression and creation. It’s about perseverance. It doesn’t matter that you probably have never heard of Speed Orange or anyone else in the film (and outside of Australia, that’s very possible), because its appeal is less in what it professes to be about and more in what it actually is. Which, you know, is a trainwreck at times, but a trainwreck you can learn from.
I do think it could be difficult for audiences to embrace this larger view of the film’s purpose, however. It’s hard to get beyond a lack of knowledge about, or connection with, the supposed main subjects, and there’s a cynical gag reflex that can naturally occur when a documentarian makes themselves a massive part of the story. Here the latter makes sense, however, as the filmmaker didn’t make a film about something outside his life so much as he made a film about something he was very much immersed and entangled in. That doesn’t mean it is easy to stomach how insensitively he manages to make certain points to Tony and Amanda, however.
In the end, How To Lose Jobs & Alienate Girlfriends is indeed a documentary cautionary tale, but it is also a great example of not quitting in the face of adversity. The individual acts that make up much of what goes wrong are to be avoided, obviously, but the grander point, that Meadmore finished a film that appeared to be hopeless after all that went wrong, is something to be respected. As an editor, I think Meadmore embraced that cinematic truth that most films have at least three distinct evolutions: there’s the film you write, the film you film and the film that reveals itself in post. The film that revealed itself may be nothing near what Meadmore originally intended, but it has value nonetheless.
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