Mister Organ
David Farrier spent three years chasing the shadowy figure, Michael Organ. (Photo: Supplied / Treatment: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureNovember 5, 2022

David Farrier on making a movie that never ends: ‘It sucked … it fucked me’

Mister Organ
David Farrier spent three years chasing the shadowy figure, Michael Organ. (Photo: Supplied / Treatment: Tina Tiller)

He fled New Zealand to get away from the subject of his new film. Ahead of Mister Organ’s release, David Farrier’s worried it’s about to kick off all over again.

David Farrier, the journalist, podcaster, film-maker, TV adventurer, online provocateur and bird fanatic, would like to make it very clear that he did not enjoy making his new movie. “I absolutely wouldn’t do it again,” he admits just moments into a Zoom call from his current residence, a clammy, claustrophobic Los Angeles apartment. “It was just a fucking mission … I desperately wanted to drop it. It was miserable. It just went on and on. It was so fucked up.”

With a cap stuffed over his shaggy hair paired with stubble that’s well past the five-day mark, Farrier gives the impression of a man in desperate need of a warm bath and a long nap. After what he’s been through, it sounds like he deserves one. “It just ended up being this long, awful fucking time,” he sighs, hunching further over his laptop screen. “It sucked … It fucked me. If I had my time again with this, I guarantee you I would not do it.”

Farrier’s known for being a dogged journalist, unflappable in the face of tense subject matter and litigious interview subjects. He showed off those skills in his first film Tickled, when he chased an elusive underworld figure desperately trying to cover his tracks, and in Dark Tourist, the Netflix series that saw Farrier horsing around with Pablo Escobar’s former hired guns and swimming in a radioactive lake. With his Substack newsletter WebWorm, he’s spent much of this year taking on the might of Arise church.

But it sounds like Farrier met his match in Mister Organ. Released in theatres next week, Farrier’s second movie tracks a shadowy figure – one who claims, among many other things, to be a prince around Aotearoa for three years. He also talks to many of his alleged victims in an attempt to understand what makes him tick. Over that time, Farrier loses control of his subject and the tables get turned: his front door key is stolen and copied, some of his possessions go missing, and he’s forced to decamp regularly to Whanganui to chase his subject and front for a tense court case.

As tenacious as he is, even Farrier found himself up against it. In one of Mister Organ’s most wrenching scenes, Farrier can be seen crying, hunched over his bed on the phone to a friend, breaking down while regretting every decision that led to him making this movie. That scene, Farrier confirms, was not faked. “Fuck, no, no,” he says. “I was lost in it, lost in what this was, and it was such a shitty, depressing place to be. There are a lot of those moments that happened over probably the last year of shooting where I just … didn’t see a way through it.”

Mister Organ
David Farrier meets Michael Organ outside the Whanganui District Court. (Photo: Supplied)

Filming only finished when Farrier decided he’d had enough. He blocked his subject from his phone, left New Zealand and fled to Los Angeles in a bid to escape his clutches. Why keep going for so long? “I get really obsessed with stories. I don’t want to let things go. And if I’m curious, I want to see what happens next,” he says. “I find it very motivating when people are cagey, and this started with a lot of cagey-ness.”

Farrier likes to find ghosts. He is, he admits, addicted to the thrill of the chase. “If you poke something and people say, ‘There’s no story’ or just don’t talk to you or hang up the phone, that’s when you know there’s definitely something happening. So, that’s like crack. Like, how can you stay away?”

Mister Organ’s princely protagonist is Michael Organ, a character Farrier first encountered while covering him right here on The Spinoff. Regular readers will remember Farrier’s five widely read dispatches on the Bashford Antiques saga, when hungry Ponsonby diners who parked their cars briefly in front of a local antique store while dashing in to pick up their takeaway food would return to find their car clamped. A bearded, black-clad figure would approach demanding hundreds of dollars in cash before they could leave.

It was during this time, while researching his third Bashford Antiques piece, that Farrier decided there was more to Organ than perhaps met the eye. Once he started digging, interviewing those that had come into his orbit, he couldn’t stop. “It was less about a wacky person [and] more about someone who had a really unique fetish for controlling people,” he says. Where most journalists would have run a mile, Farrier decided he’d found the subject for his next film. He began to pull on threads and chase leads. There were many.

He soon found himself immersed in a world where reality began to blur. The relationship between him and Organ is consistently antagonistic. Angry words are exchanged. Legal letters are filed. Threats and counter-threats build up. “You’d think, ‘I’ll never speak to this person again.’ Next minute, out of curiosity, you ask, ‘Do you want to sit down for a coffee?’ and suddenly it’s happening and you’re back in it,” says Farrier, who gets called a “c***” during their first formal interview together. “You’d never quite know what was what was going to happen day to day.”

Mister Organ
Michael Organ and David Farrier enjoy a coffee and a confrontation on the streets of Whanganui. (Photo: Supplied)

Farrier believes his film, set mostly in the confines of an old bank and the surrounding streets of downtown Whanganui, captures a small part of something much bigger going on in the world. While making Mister Organ, the OG of blurred reality, Donald Trump, was never far from Farrier’s mind. “We’re living in a time when … a really good technique to get ahead in life is just to lie and to keep lying and sort of live within your own reality,” says Farrier. “It works really well. You can become president of the United States if you just lie and stick with it.”

Farrier didn’t realise just how far his own wormhole went until he was in too deep. To explain more would give away too much about his twisted film that needs to be seen to be believed. But the film-maker expects most viewers to connect to Mister Organ because they’ve probably had encounters with someone just like his subject. “There are Mister Organs everywhere,” says Farrier. So far, the reaction he’s had to his film seems to confirm this. “That makes me feel slightly better about it. We all brush up against [these kinds of] people. And then we hopefully get the fuck away.”

But Farrier can’t escape. As he returns to Aotearoa to continue promoting his film and front a series of in-person Q&As, he’s worried his subject may want revenge. Has Organ seen his film yet? Farrier doesn’t think so. He hasn’t shown it to him. “He can buy a ticket if he wants to come,” he says.

Is he worried something could spark him off again, or another court threat might be issued, forcing Farrier to return to the world of Michael Organ that he’s only just escaped from? “He’s certainly made his presence known,” says Farrier. “He’s always a bit ahead of where we think he’s going to be. So I’m curious what he’s going to do.” By this, Farrier might be referencing his recent clash with The Platform’s Sean Plunket, who appeared to be taking Organ’s side with a flurry of Twitter posts.

One thing’s for sure: Farrier’s never doing this again. “I’ve got no intent to go and spend time with with another unpleasant person anytime soon,” he says. In fact, he might even be done with documentaries for good. “The whole process was fucked and I hated it. I’m very happy not thinking about making a documentary about anyone at this point.”

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