Kristoffer Borgli on his meta documentary ‘DRIB’ – the story of a hungry ad agency tricked by viral fight videos
DRIB is more than an energy drink. As the advertising puts it, DRIB is a pro-disability, anti-bullying, post-gender and all-inclusive brand for the “everyone consumer”. It quenches your thirst, it’s fun to chant, and it’s a sweet shortcut to superhuman strength at the small price of a chemically-induced headache.
Just one thing: it doesn’t exist.
DRIB, the drink, is the fictional commodity at the centre of DRIB, the debut feature from Kristoffer Borgli. It all comes down to a legal loophole. In 2014, the Norwegian director’s friend, a performance artist called Amir Asgharnejad, was flown to LA by a marketing firm to be the face of an energy drink. Amir had recently gone viral for being beaten up on camera, and this company aimed to cash in on his internet fame: they were to leak the content, then axe the campaign, and finally profit from the free publicity.
Unbeknownst to the ad execs, Amir faked his fight videos, and his trip to LA is a hilarious disaster when the violence can’t be recreated. Borgli loved the story so much, he pitched a movie version to Amir. To bypass NDAs he suggested the high-profile energy drink’s name could be changed, and that’s why we have DRIB. More importantly, it’s why we have DRIB.
The resultant film is a sort of meta documentary. Some of it’s certainly real, and other aspects are unclear. For the movie-within-the-movie, Amir plays himself, but everyone else is an actor (co-star Brett Gelman needs to be a Bond villain). Occasionally, Amir will break the fourth wall to comment on Borgli’s direction. There are bloopers within the film that seem scripted, and there are scripted re-enactments that seem entirely improvised. You wonder how much of it actually happened. But if it’s this funny and subversive, does that really matter?
To find out more about DRIB, I spoke to Kristoffer Borgli on Skype (there were DRIB coffee bags on a shelf behind him) about PC Music, fooling the media, and how racist ad agencies view the world. As Amir says, it hurts to be punched in the nose, but it hurts even more to not be famous.
Who came up with “DRIB” as a name? It’s a really fun word.
Kristoffer Borgli: I know! There’s a Norwegian photographer, Torbjørn Rødland, who did an editorial for Wallpaper, and there’s a photo of a kid with a Magic Marker. He writes “DRIB” on a girl’s leg. That really caught my eye. I kept Googling for definitions. It’s everything from a small drop, to killing someone. Urban Dictionary has it as a drug thing.
So I contacted him and asked, “How precious is this word for you? What does it mean to you? Would you be cool about lending the name to a fictitious energy drink brand for a film?” He gave me the thumbs up, and said, “Yeah, sure. I just wrote ‘bird’ backwards.”
What was the appeal of the meta-documentary structure? It could easily have been a traditional drama.
Kristoffer Borgli: It started out as a straight story without the documentary aspect. The first drafts were like that. But I was influenced by Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up – you don’t really sense whether it’s a documentary or fiction. Cinema usually makes you forget that you’re watching a film. You step out of reality and you forget about real life. But I like having one leg in each world.
One example is Seinfeld season four, when Jerry and George pitch a show to NBC. It’s all about making Seinfeld. Jerry comes back from a meeting, and he’s like, “We’re making a show about us.” Kramer says, “So who’s gonna play me? I should play me.” That did something to my brain. How is Michael Richards, the actor, talking about playing Kramer, who’s based on a real person?
I like that you get a bit into the story, and then you’re like, “Oh fuck – there’s a real story! I’m watching a reconstruction and this is not real, but the truth exists in reality.”
“It lent to the comedy of going into a project where no one knew it was just him fucking around and pretending to be this other person” – Kristoffer Borgli
Amir names Andy Kaufman as an influence, but Andy Kaufman always stayed in character and never revealed his secrets. Why did you and Amir admit that the fight videos were fake?
Kristoffer Borgli: That was only supposed to be a short-lived thing. It lent to the comedy of going into a project where no one knew it was just him fucking around and pretending to be this other person. It’s funnier for us, as the audience, to know the secret, and to see how the agency reacts.
“This film is about the synthetic copies of real things. It’s the simulacra theory: PC Music is like a blanket on top of the whole film”
It reminds me of when Joaquin Phoenix told everyone his hip-hop persona was fake just before I’m Still Here came out, because that really changed the viewing experience.
Kristoffer Borgli: Yeah, it’s a choice. It gives it dramatic irony. Say you have a scene at a dinner party and there’s a bomb underneath the table. If one character and the audience know about it, but nobody else, then that creates a different type of tension. Amir was going in with a bomb.
Why did you want PC Music artists like Hannah Diamond and AG Cook for your soundtrack?
Kristoffer Borgli: They’re synonymous with a lot of the film’s themes. Everything is about a synthetic version of something you can get in reality. Fame can be a by-product of real work. Feeling energised can be a real by-product of a healthy lifestyle. Musical tones can be created with organic instruments. But this film is about the synthetic copies of real things. It’s the simulacra theory: PC Music is like a blanket on top of the whole film.
Is it a coincidence that QT came out with an energy drink?
Kristoffer Borgli: It’s a coincidence. The film was in preproduction when she came out with it. I was like, “Fuck, this is too similar. We’ve got to join forces.”
So QT was borrowing from you?
Kristoffer Borgli: No, she didn’t know my project. When the film premiered at SXSW, we had a panel discussion about energy drinks – me, QT, and our team from DRIB. It merged and became a collaboration, which I think is right.
Do you see a parallel between DRIB and the Pepsi campaign?
Kristoffer Borgli: Definitely. That was also a happy accident.
Plus, your film sends up how this very white ad agency sees race as a commodity.
Kristoffer Borgli: For sure. Before this film, I’d done adverts in LA. So this story was also a vehicle for me to air out some things, like a spy from within. At some level, when you’re doing advertising, they start talking about everything as though it’s economics. “You need a black guy, an Asian guy, this and this to fill the demographics.” It’s just numbers and statistics. Within the ad world, they’re very cautious of race, but in a way that’s a disfavour to the bigger picture.
How do you make sure you don’t become what you’re satirising? Because DRIB, itself, is a brand.
Kristoffer Borgli: A Norwegian magazine made the case that it’s a really good film, but that we’re falling on our own criticism, because we opened a store in Oslo for the premiere. It was on a high fashion street, right between Isabel Marant and Gucci. We had a DRIB store that sold silk scarves and stuff.
“But this film is about the synthetic copies of real things” – Kristoffer Borgli
I would be open to discussing the merits of that criticism if this was a capitalist venture that I was heading into. But the extra stuff we’re doing, ads and merchandise, are like: show, don’t tell. We’re talking about branding and capitalism without writing an essay about it. We’re making an experience for the audience. You can go to the store and watch the movie and buy these things. But it’s a big loss for us. We got government funding, and we’re not making anything off it. We’ve lost money on this. That criticism just doesn’t hold up.
There’s a lot of talk about fake news at the moment. Have you been reflecting on how easy it is to trick the public?
Kristoffer Borgli: Yeah. To research the film, I read this book, Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday, who used to be the head of PR for American Apparel. He was 23 years old when he got the gig, and was this wonderkid of lying to the media. He calls himself a “media manipulator”, and that term stuck with me. He showed, step by step, all the loopholes.
But that book was written around 2011. It’s different now. He mentions Gawker as a big tool, and it doesn’t exist anymore. We’re starting to fix these holes – for the better, I guess. It isn’t a new phenomenon. Theodor Adorno was saying the same thing in the 40s about how news stories aren’t real, they’re a perspective. A story could have facts, but it’s about how you spin the story.
After seeing DRIB, I’m starting to wonder if Harmony Korine faked Fight Harm and that’s why he won’t release any footage.
Kristoffer Borgli: He didn’t release it, right? I think he broke his foot or something after two fights, and then was like, “Fuck it, this is too much.” I know that David Blaine shot it, and he’s all about illusions. It would make more sense that it’s fake if he actually released it. Or maybe it’s about creating this myth about yourself. If I’m looking at it through Ryan Holiday’s eyes, it’s just PR.
You know what would be a great way to drum up publicity for DRIB? If you reveal now, for this interview, the big litigious brand that inspired DRIB. All it’ll cost you is a major lawsuit.
Kristoffer Borgli: OK. The real energy drink is… (silence). Oh, did I get cut off?
Find out how to see, drink and wear DRIB at https://drib.us