By Sharat Raju
Rahul’s days blend together. GlobeCom India, his employer, specializes in remote systems operation. When Rahul leaves his dungeon-like GlobeCom office, he goes to his dungeon-like living quarters in Technology City. But things change when an American contractor announces a new partnership with GlobeCom — Planet Dogstar, a massive multi-player online flying combat simulator where players shoot down targets on an alien planet. GlobeCom is hired to operate and manage the game. To decide who will lead and manage the operation, the company organizes an office showdown: whoever shoots down the most targets wins the promotion as well as a one-week furlough to leave Technology City. Can Rahul beat his coworkers to win the game?
Herein lie spoilers.
What if we outsourced war? And why not? Since much of combat can be conducted through computer technology, it stands to reason that combat – like any other service - can be done relatively easily and for less money, by a willing firm.
And that firm would likely operate in India.
A great deal of combat is "outsourced" already, so to speak. Government contractors are hired routinely to save the military money – cooking, cleaning, maintaining combat vehicles, etc. And several companies even provide "protection services" which can involve them in actual firefights.
But for now, no one is subcontracting the most popular method of combat today: Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – Predator Drones.
Drones have become the most palatable solution to combat for politicians and for many in the United States. After all, no one puts the remains of a shot-down predator drone in a flag-draped casket.
But there is a cost, of course. Predator Drone strikes are far less precise than we're led to believe. Collateral damage remains high, killing innocent civilians who never appear on the news – but provide a rallying cry for insurgents and anti-American activity around the world.
And there is a cost to the predator drone operator, as well. Operators can come down with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Operators can only listen listen as their fellow soldiers on the ground endure hardship or are killed. Some begin to feel empathy towards their targets, who they follow on the ground intimately sometimes for weeks before ordering a God-like strike from above.
Drone mission signals can even be intercepted with very cheap technology. One report showed that the same equipment used to steal satellite TV signals for home use can be used to hack into the predator drone communication signals – at a cost of approximately $59.99.
But say, in the future, the kinks in the system are worked out on the technical side. The problem of a pesky, empathic human brain would be the only problem left to solve. The solution would have to be deception. Make it a game.
The closest I will ever come to actual combat is by playing these intensely realistic video games – and that probably goes for most people. And a generation who has grown up on video games will be poised to be the soldiers of an outsourced war, distanced from the true and bloody nature of all violent conflict. Just playing a video game.
I wanted to explore what would a world of outsourced war look like to someone who is merely a cog in the machine. An insignificant pawn – a disposable worker drone in the bee hive of a complex world. And what would happen if he knew he could do something about it, even in a small way...
-- Sharat Raju, Writer/Director
Day 1 – Daybreak, Carl's Jr. parking lot in Stevenson Ranch, CA. As glamorous a place as any to begin a film shoot. We trudge out into scorched earth, a burned-out mountainside from a forest fire last month. An unheralded benefit to forest fires in Southern California: ready-made, post-disaster set pieces for motion pictures.
For the most part, things go smoothly with our small remote location crew. We shoot with Sachin Bhatt ("Rahul") and Aarti Mann ("Neela") in what will be the final scene of the film. Sachin gets rather dusty from collapsing on the ash repeatedly and we all survive without major damage to our lungs. At least nothing we'll know about definitively for years.
We pare down the crew and send a splinter unit to film Sachin running through Malibu Canyon while we stand about a mile away filming with a very long lens. A good workout for Sachin, who looks like he really doesn't need a good workout. A very light day which sets up false expectations for the days to come.
Day 2 – Lynwood Stages. We had found this incredible location to film for the majority of Worker Drone – an abandoned furniture warehouse converted into filming space. We take up a tiny corner of the 110,000 square-foot property, the corner with overhead offices looking down onto the work floor. Art Director Patrick Higgins frantically continues to build the set he began yesterday – the GlobeCom offices – a wall, 15 workbench tables, and 30 computer stations. I can't help feel that I've put him in a tough spot, a feeling that will continue throughout the shoot.
The GlobeCom Offices have the feeling of a warehouse basement, retrofitted over the eras from hand-weaving textile sweatshop, to machinery sweatshop, to electronics sweatshop, and now to a computer and outsourcing sweatshop. The kind of evolution found throughout the manufacturing regions of South and Southeast Asia, but in our own unique way for Worker Drone.
The day goes ... okay. In order to give Patrick more time to complete the entire set, our shooting strategy consists of knocking off smaller pieces of the office interior scenes. Inserts of hands, closer exchanges between two actors, a few shots with the handful of background actors we have, and so on. It's not a way I like to shoot, but I've planned a lot in advance so I know the bits and pieces I can get to fit in the final puzzle later.
Still, we run behind and I choose to cut one scene short that was in danger of being cut in advance. Now it becomes inevitable. And Day 3 will be bigger – more background actors, bigger setups, and additional crew. And in a sign of things to come, I see our power generator truck is being given a jumpstart by a Toyota Corolla on my way out the door. If that's not a bad sign, I don't know what is. Hopefully tomorrow will go smoothly.
Day 3 – Lynwood Stages. It doesn't go smoothly. The set is still being built while a large jib-arm is erected and nearly ready to shoot the opening of the film. Midday we finally have the complete set and our entire nearly 30-person GlobeCom Office is filled. It looks great, I'm really thrilled to have what looks like a real movie now. A complete set, extras, and a crane.
That feeling fades because by the end of the day, we're behind. The scene that would feature the wonderfully decayed warehouse facade and serve as Technology City's ghettos, is now lost. We're throwing it to the visual effects crew or for a future reshoot. It's unfortunate – I was looking forward to the night exterior there. But we're forced to wrap up, go home, and re-evaluate life.
Day 4 – Lynwood Stages. Instead of saying goodbye to the really terrific set Patrick and company built, we are still in it, finishing up a small bit in the morning before moving on to Rahul's living unit. It goes quickly, and we move over to another corner of the warehouse where we set up a two-camera operation between Aarti and Sachin for the scene. The drab, grey interior of the bedroom set is great – it feels like a prison and is incredibly barren. Art Department has rigged up a nice retracting bed gag as well.
Assistant Director Rachel Jensen says it'll take us two hours to get out of there and onto the final location. After things go smoothly and it looks like we'll be done soon, Cinematographer Matthew Blute says, "Two hours? No way. We'll be out of here in ..."
As if on cue, all the lights go off. Our generator stops working. We have angered the Gods of Filmmaking with our hubris.
After apologizing to the vengeful Lords of Production, the lights come back an hour later on and we finish scene with no further interruptions. Following an incredibly fast location move, we quickly made our way to our final set – the night exterior at CalTrans headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles.
Neon lights accent the industrial post-modern building serves as our GlobeCom office exterior. One scene with Sachin and Aly Mawji ("Amar"), a few establishing shots, and we'll be home free. But one problem – we only have limited time before our permit expires and we'll be shut down.
Our final shot features Sachin running as we dolly alongside him. We have 60 seconds to film it and somehow we pull off two takes in that time. It was a mad sprint, but we pulled it off.
Now past midnight, a grateful director thanks his crew, goes home, and begins editing two days later. Thankful for the struggle, for the stress, and for the pure joy of being on set and working with friends to make something good.
-- Sharat Raju, Writer/Director
Writer, Director, Editor, Producer
Sharat's creative work has earned nearly two dozen international awards and continues to entertain audiences throughout the world. He wrote and directed the short film American Made, which aired on PBS's Independent Lens. Sharat produced, directed, and edited the similarly acclaimed Divided We Fall, the first documentary to chronicle the rise in hate-crimes in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Recently, he was chosen to be a Directing Fellow at ABC Networks and at Film Independent, after graduating with high honors from the American Film Institute. He began his career working for legendary casting director Mali Finn on The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, 8 Miles, and others. There are no outstanding warrants for his arrest.
Marcus has been making film and television programming, with a special appetite for social interest stories, for more than 10 years. He received an MFA in Film Producing from the American Film Institute, where he worked with writer-director Sharat Raju to make the award-winning short film American Made. Marcus also worked in development at the newsmagazine Dateline NBC and the Mark Gordon Company. Marcus began a successful casting agency in Los Angeles before moving to Georgia, where he is now a digital-filmmaking professor at the Art Institute, Atlanta.
Sachin Bhatt — Rahul
Originally from St. Louis, Sachin Bhatt received his BM in Vocal Performance from Indiana University. After graduating he worked on several productions playing the lead in the Broadway national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Bombay Dreams" as well as Chino in the world tour of "West Side Story." He currently splits his time between Los Angeles and New York City. Some of his television and film credits include Outsourced, Ten Things I Hate About You, Glass Heels, The Love Guru, The Ode, and Bollywood Beats.
Aarti Mann — Neela
Aarti has appeared in several films including Pox, The Punching Dummy, and Monsoon. She played Shaila in the series Heroes, appeared on Quaterlife, and was an assistant producer for the film Loving Randy.
Aly Mawji — Amar
Aly received an MFA in Acting from California Institute of the Arts. He has appeared in Reversion (Sundance Film Festival), Colorforms (Tribeca Film Festival), and on television in UnderCovers, Accidentally On Purpose, and Medium. His stage credits include Animals Out of Paper (SF Playhouse), Back of the Throat (Pasadena Playhouse), Pirates and Ninjas (Theatre of N.O.T.E. / Ars Nova), NYC: Dead End (Henry Street Settlement, NY Fringe Festival Audience Favorite Award), Democracy in Islam (Theater for the New City), Tamburlaine (Target Margin Theater), and Kate Crackernuts (The Flea).
Sunil Malhotra — Kiran
Sunil Malhotra's film and television credits include: Fair Game; Dude, Where's The Party?; Call Center; House; 24; ER; Cold Case; Half & Half; and The West Wing. Onstage appearances include Town Hall on Broadway, Mark Taper Forum's New Works Festival, and most recently the west coast premiere of Christopher Durang's Why Torture Is Wrong, and The People Who Love Them at The Blank in Los Angeles. He's also voiced many animated shows, videogames, and audiobooks, including Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Cartoon Network, X-BOX's Halo: Reach, and the acclaimed book Cutting For Stone, by Abraham Verghese.