Every night, as I stand to leave my office desk, I look over the remnants of my workday. There are lunch and snack scraps, used cups and cans, crumpled-up napkins, and more. Usually I clean it up, but sometimes I eat something like a Nature Valley bar and the crumbs are everywhere. The amazing thing is when I get to work the next day, everything is clean thanks to the wonderful night cleaning staff. These guys tend to be some of the more undervalued office workers, but work a few days in a messy hovel and you'll see the difference cleanliness makes. Filmmaker Jesse Allen decided to mine the world of nighttime cleaners for his fantastic, pitch black comedy short, The Clean Up.
The film opens on two maids cleaning around an overweight employee, cursing his slovenliness in Spanish. The joke continues as they invisibly move among the English-language-only employees left dallying around late at night on a weekday. Cursing and cajoling the men in Spanish, the elder cleaning woman gains an almost perverse pleasure in being totally ignored—until she gets to Mr. Samuelson's office, that is. He's the one man in the office who's ever noticed her, ever attempted conversation, and ever attempted to just treat her like a human. But when something totally weird, fucked up, and sexual threatens to destroy that bond, the two cleaning women set off on an unlikely quest to get a little bit of R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Watch the short below and then read an interview with its director, Jesse Allen.
VICE: Have you ever worked in an office?
Jesse Allen: Besides some time in Germany and a year working at a mental hospital, I've been working in an office for ten years as a video editor for commercials. I work a lot of 3 AM nights when projects require it, so I've had a lot of hand-gesture conversations with Chinese and Spanish-speaking cleaning crews throughout the years.
It struck me how we both have the same office just at different times of day. Half the people I work with never even see the people who come in late at night. It's a completely different world. My boss was nice enough to let us shoot the film at my office, Moondog Edit. Our current cleaning crew speaks perfect English though, and they love to give me shit about the plot. They were around for a lot of the filming.
How many fucked-up scenarios did you come up with for disposing the body? What were some of the best you didn't use?
There were a lot in early drafts. I remember there was one with an air vent that didn't quite work. I had to keep all deaths dealing with the neck bruises, so it limited my options. We actually used all the situations we shot. The actresses, Maria and Alba, saved a lot them—I credit them with really making the fan scene work. It was the weakest on the page and now my favorite on the screen.
Are you into autoerotic asphyxiation?
No, I wish I was that interesting. My producers, Simon and Jim, did some last-minute research and found out that people put lemons in their mouths during the act. It's a safety mechanism. If they start to pass out, they'll clench their teeth and the citrus burst in their mouth will wake them up. I loved that detail, so we put a lemon in Lynn's mouth. I like the authenticity, but it does confuse a lot of people. The most frequent question is: "What's the lemon all about?"
My next question was going to be about the lemon, but instead it will be about how you'd like to die?
Old, without my knowledge, and instantaneous. A coward's dream. We'll see if I ever get more comfortable with death. I'm amazed by those who are.
What are you working on now?
I am shopping my scripts My 30-Year War: The Story of Hiroo Onoda and Granite State (which can be found on the Black List). I'm also finishing up a short I made with Andrew Gilchrist called Dead Water. We'll be submitting soon to festivals. It doesn't deal with autoerotic asphyxiation, but it's much more disturbing.
Jesse Allen is a writer and director from New York by way of New Hampshire. His work includes Sea Pig, Delphine Lucielle: The Creation, The Frontiersman's Wife, and Party Trick. His script My 30-Year War (co-written with Andrew Gori) was a finalist at the IFP Film Market and optioned by NPR's This American Life. His Script Granite State was semi-finalist at the Austin Film Festival and the Nicholl Fellowship. Among others, he has screened his work at the Seattle International, Hamptons International, Chicago International, and Provincetown International Film Festivals.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as a film curator. He's the Senior Curator for Vimeo's On Demand platform. He has also programmed at Tribeca Film Festival, Rooftop Films, and the Hamptons International Film Festival.