Lily Howkins Discusses Her Dystopian Sci-Fi Thriller A.R.P.U (Average Revenue Per User)


A.R.P.U. – which stands for ‘average revenue per user’ – is a short dystopian film inspired by the Netflix documentary ‘The Great Hack’ and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The film explores our relationship with our online data, and what could happen when we give it away so freely.

The film appeared in this year’s Soho London Independent Film Festival.

A.R.P.U (Official Trailer)

Read our interview below with Lily Howkins, the film’s writer, producer and lead actor.

Presh: What was the inspiration behind writing “A.R.P.U”?
Lily: ‘A.R.P.U.’ was inspired by a conversation with the film’s composer Adam Gerber, who had recently watched a Netflix documentary called ‘The Great Hack.’ He cited the fact that data was now the most valuable commodity on the planet, surpassing fossil fuels like oil. I found this concept fascinating. With many people theorising that cash will become obsolete in the near future, it made me wonder what the world would look like if data were to become our only currency. I was aware that social media sites generate income from their users data by working with advertisers. When I watched ‘The Great Hack’ however, I was shocked to discover just how directly this income comes from our personal data and this began to feed into the concept for the film. The fact that the term used to discuss a social media site’s worth is ‘average revenue per user’ says it all really, and is where the title of the film comes from.

P: How did the production come together? And how did you meet with the film’s director Phil Spencer?
L: I decided that if I was going to write a script, I wanted it to be turned into a production within two years. So, from the start I had a timeline in mind and set about sourcing funding, bringing team members on board and I started thinking about how this world and story would be realised in a production from the first draft. I first met Phil Spencer through a charity called The Soldiers’ Arts Academy where we worked on a play together called ‘Soldier On.’ Phil served with the Royal Marines and the SAA provides a platform for military veterans to engage with the arts. Phil then went on to direct me in his short film ‘House Hunting’ which is where I decided to ask him to direct ‘A.R.P.U.’

P: The ending was particularly interesting. Without giving away, how did you decide on the ending?
L: I love films that give you something to think about after the credits end, that you want to go away and discuss them further. I wanted there to be room for the audience to make up their own minds about what they had just watched, whilst still ensuring the main messages of the film were clearly conveyed. I spent a lot of time working out how this whole alternate world works, with its various social structures and corporate systems. ‘A.R.P.U.’ is just a tiny snapshot of that, so hopefully, the ending also gives a sense of a wider world and a story that continues after where the film leaves us.

P: As we live in an increasingly digitised and interconnected world, do you think this has reframed how we approach Sci-Fi?
L: Absolutely, every time technology advances it throws up a whole new set of possibilities to explore. The science takes a step forward, and so does the fiction as creative minds theorise about what avenues this new technology might lead the world down. Of course, sometimes it feels like it is the science catching up with the fiction, which is always unnerving!

P: When will ARPU be released?
L: We are awaiting screening at a few film festivals, so it will be publicly available in February 2022. If you follow our Instagram page @ARPUfilm, we will be announcing where and when it can be watched.

Also Read: 10 Great Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix

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Posted by
Presh Williams

A lover of all types of films: from micro-budget indies to major studio films. It's the story that counts. Co-Founder of Big Picture Film Club and Cinnect.