The Bay Area Gig Economy Finally Gets the Short-Film Satire it Deserves

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Marion Anthonisen plays the beleaguered gig-economy worker Denise in 'ThunderCoat.'  (Courtesy Bonanza)

There comes a point in everyone’s life when they want to fling their smartphone out a car window, amirite?

In Bonanza’s newest short film ThunderCoat, Denise (played by Marion Anthonisen) reaches her breaking point while clutching someone else’s pet Dachshund in the backseat of a car, her phone pinging with an anxiety-inducing chorus of alert dings. With a primal scream of “Fuck these apps!” she hurls the device away from her.

Denise’s moment of catharsis is well-earned. In the looping 18-minute video playing at San Francisco’s new-ish Telematic gallery, we watch the gig-economy worker strain to connect with techie Uber passengers, deliver paleo groceries to a Postmates customer, hustle to gather Lime scooters outside of West Oakland BART, drop off dry cleaning and walk other people’s dogs.

“It’s Wüf, it’s not woof,” she explains of the “Uber for dogs” company to one of her off-screen passengers. She’s wearing a T-shirt that reads “I let the dogs out.”


Bonanza (the collaborative of Lindsay Tully, Lana Williams and Conrad Guevara) has long satirized the Bay Area’s particular blend of eco-conscious, tech-forward hypocrisy in their film projects (just one facet of a practice that skillfully dabbles in fashion, painting, sculpture, installation and stand-up comedy).

Their 2015 film The Initiation blended sci-fi with campy horror, depicting a future “Com Francisco” where the ultra-elite swap their humanity for technological parts (the heroine rebels and stages a bloody “techorcism”). A year later, The Drought picked up where The Initiation left off, this time following Oakland residents to an eco-cult meet-up where they gorged on the last natural watermelon. And in 2017, Bonanza produced an infomercial advocating for the uploading of one’s consciousness (but just “the happy you, the best of you”) into the ether.

In ThunderCoat, Denise’s transformation from earnest yet struggling gig-worker to howling refusenik mirrors the Bay Area’s own long-term relationship to the tech boom: once rosy and optimistic, now embodied by the cutthroat world of midnight denizens who recharge the Bay Area's e-scooters, fighting over scraps from the sharing economy.

The night of the opening, a trio of scooters leaned in one corner of Telematic’s space, while a small pack of dogs wandered underfoot. Other real-life “props” from the video complete the scene: a slatted park bench sits in the darkened gallery for optimal ThunderCoat viewing comfort; spiked dog collars with dangling USBs hang on the wall. On a monitor, found footage of dogs sticking their heads out of moving cars becomes a reworked music video for Shakira’s “She Wolf.”

The name of the show (and the film) comes from a line of dog jackets designed to alleviate a pet’s anxiety and fear with gentle, constant pressure. That company’s tagline? “Insanely Calm™.” In the Bay Area of 2019, we might all need such garments. What if, Bonanza posits, that gentle, constant pressure could be applied not by a product, but through simple contact with others?

'ThunderCoat' is on view at San Francisco's Telematic (323 10th Street) through April 27, 2019. Details here.