Like a real-life incarnation of the most annoying people you’ve ever tangled with online, Michael Organ– antagonist and subject of David Farrier’s latest documentary Mister Organ, streaming now in the usual places– seems to have taken Mark Twain’s apocryphal quote about arguing with fools and built an entire lifestyle around it. He draws people into preposterous situations, which are then impossible to get out of without becoming preposterous.
He’s a particularly modern kind of petty terrorist, and in trying to make a film about him, Farrier—director of Tickled, an equally hard-to-summarize 2016 documentary that begins as an exploration of “competitive endurance tickling” videos—found himself drawn into Organ’s web. Mister Organ, which is also playing in theaters in New York and Los Angeles, is about Farrier’s struggle to both explain Organ and free himself from Organ’s orbit.
Horror films function by allowing us to externalize and neutralize our gnawing, subconscious fears. Mister Organ works in some of the same ways, making real a kind of modern bogeyman, one who doesn’t hurt his victims physically or even financially, but robs them of an even more precious commodity—time.
“After Tickled, I started pivoting a lot of my written journalism towards strange rabbit holes,” Farrier says. “And I don’t know if I was good at finding them or they were good at finding me, or it was just luck, but I do seem to stumble into some unusual situations.”
The rabbit hole that became Mister Organ began with a story about a “car park terrorist” in the Ponsonby neighborhood of Auckland, New Zealand. Much like a scofflaw with unpaid tickets can get her car “booted” in the US, New Zealand has “clamps”– and until recently, owners of private car parks in New Zealand were allowed to clamp illegal parkers themselves, and to charge basically whatever they wanted to unclamp them.
And it turned out that a humble antiques shop in Auckland was so consistently clamping cars that they were becoming known more for this particular form of bespoke extortion than for antiques.
“I lived really close by at the time,” Farrier says, “and there’d just always be police there at 10 o’clock at night, people screaming, people yelling. And I was just like, what the fuck is going on? This is a boring antique store, but the most drama in Auckland, New Zealand, is happening in their car park every night.”
The guy doing the clamping—and it was always one guy—turned out to be a mysterious character known as Michael Organ.
“I started talking to people that had encountered this man,” Farrier says. “They had left their car for half an hour, maybe to go and get some pizza down the road. They’d come back and there was just this man there who had trapped their car in the park and wouldn’t release them until they went and paid him a thousand dollars. And he was doing this night after night after night.”
Further digging revealed that the man had already been to prison, that he’d made headlines in the past for posing as royalty, and that he’d been involved in countless strange court cases. Intrigued, Farrier began writing about the saga—for news organizations in New Zealand and for his own popular newsletter, Webworm. Before long, Farrier received an oddly worded cease-and-desist letter from someone calling themselves “MDA ORGAN MA [HONS] LLM [HONS].”
It seemed to be Organ again, now posing as a lawyer. Farrier wrote about the story some more. The shop in question, Bashford Antiques, continued making news over its clamping policies, until it was eventually so bombarded by negative reviews online that it abruptly picked up and moved. The clamping furor went all the way to New Zealand’s parliament, where a law was passed in 2020 setting a maximum fee of $100 to get a car unclamped.
That seemed to be the end of that. Farrier went to Bashford Antiques to see if he could get a follow-up comment. He found the former site completely abandoned, with nothing left but a broken-down sign discarded near the dumpsters. Farrier kept the sign as a souvenir, and posted a photo of himself posing in front of it.
Soon he received an official complaint accusing him of stealing the sign, which he’d assumed had been discarded as garbage by its owners. Now he discovered they were suing him. Believing he could still resolve the situation peacefully, Farrier went to return the sign, only to find that someone had stolen it from him. Dumbfounded, Farrier headed into court and found himself facing off against a well-prepared and long-winded opponent—Michael Organ, representing himself—and ended up having to pay almost $3,000.
While the fine rankled, Farrier recognized that the case had been a stroke of diabolical genius. And it raised the kinds of questions so many of Organ’s schemes do. How far ahead had he planned this? Did he deliberately leave the sign knowing Farrier (or someone) would take it, or did he simply recognize an opportunity and capitalize?
Once Organ tentatively agrees to participate in Farrier’s documentary, Farrier finds him living with Bashford Antiques’ owner, Jillian Bashford-Evers, a woman 20 or 30 years Organ’s senior. Seemingly inseparable, the two refuse to clarify their relationship or explain how Organ insinuated himself into Bashford-Evers’s life in the first place. Again, the question of premeditation comes up: Did Organ befriend a car park owner in order to initiate his wheel-clamping extortion scheme? Or was it merely a happy accident as he pursued some other, equally diabolical plan?
“Michael definitely thinks about things a lot ahead of time,” Farrier says. “When I first started the process of making this film, I hired a private detective to follow him for a day. And Michael spent a number of his days just driving to the local grocery store in his van and just sitting and watching people coming and going for hours on end. And that was just him looking for his next mark.”
Farrier did what journalists do, speaking to Organ’s past victims and trying to piece together a coherent portrait. Organ’s schemes ranged from the horrific to the petty. One of his victims, a bookstore owner whom Organ had bizarrely accused of stealing a model boat, ended up committing suicide by jumping off a balcony. At the funeral, the bookshop owner’s friends explicitly blamed Organ for his death. Another Organ scheme, perpetrated against a landlord who’d evicted Organ from a sex shop Organ owned, ended with Organ going to jail for stealing a yacht.
“He hadn’t been paying the rent, and the landlord kicked him out,” Farrier says. “That really fucked Michael Organ off. And he knew his landlord had this yacht that he just loved. And so [Organ] was like, right, I’m going to steal my landlord’s yacht to get revenge.”
Even the most vengeful petty criminals might have left it at that. Organ’s flourish was to go to extreme lengths to forge ownership papers for the yacht, so that when he was caught he could invent a new reality in which the yacht had been his all along. It didn’t work out that way and he went to prison. Farrier calls it “literally the one plan he didn’t get away with.”
In the process of trying to get Organ to reveal his secrets, having him followed and trying to trace his past and keep track of his machinations, it was perhaps inevitable that Farrier himself would become Organ’s focus. And as Farrier was learning better than anyone, that’s the last place anyone would want to be.
Farrier has an uncanny ability to find people, like tickle-fetish svengali David D’Amato in Tickled and then Michael Organ, who take almost sexual satisfaction in these elaborate yet utterly esoteric torture schemes. Organ quickly seemed to understand that the best way to torture a journalist like Farrier, who thought he’d found his perfect story, was to take up all his time and then deny him a satisfying ending.
“I got hopeless,” Farrier says. “This film was sort of horrific to make, because I thought it would take me about the same amount of time as Tickled, which was three years from beginning to end. But then a couple of years in, he turned his focus onto me, without me quite realizing what was happening.”
Brilliantly, Organ kept his adversary close, ensnaring Farrier with hours and hours of fantastical bloviating while giving the filmmaker almost zero usable material. Farrier would spend days or weeks running down red herrings, to the point that he began to legitimately question his own sanity. Organ exploited the questions that gnaw at every journalist. Is this story worth telling? Am I going to be able to tell it?
Farrier was desperate to find closure for his story, about this man who seemed to invent his own reality as he went along and always got away with it. And now the reality the man was inventing was that of an adversarial journalist who’d never be able to finish his biggest story.
“Michael Organ is a man without closure,” Farrier says. “He’s a nightmare human. It’s ongoing.”
Yet this realization itself turned out to be its own kind of closure. Above all, Organ wanted to deny Farrier understanding. And yet Farrier did come to understand him, as a man who derived an almost psychosexual thrill from making his victims question reality. The resulting film plays like a lurid combination of Tickled and Catfish, with a revelatory ending that feels like an homage to The Usual Suspects.
Of course, just because Farrier had closure sufficient for his film didn’t mean he had closure in life. He may have had his masterpiece in the can, but Michael Organ was still very much alive to continue tormenting him.
“Even when I finished the film in New Zealand,” Farrier says, “our whole team was thinking, What is he going to do once the film is out? We were anticipating that he would be creating chaos at the screenings. But no, he happily went along and sat in the theater when it opened in New Zealand. Being Mister Organ, he talked throughout the entire fucking film.”
Naturally, merely being an obnoxious patron wasn’t Organ’s end game. He needed to sap Farrier of more of Farrier’s money and time. This time, he managed to gin up a criminal case involving one of the victims Farrier had interviewed for the documentary.
“He dragged me into a domestic violence court case as an associated person,” Farrier says. “He used a part of the New Zealand court that’s so sensitive that you aren’t allowed to talk about it.”
Organ then leaked Farrier’s involvement in the domestic violence case to a radio host Farrier describes as “New Zealand’s Tucker Carlson,” who, as it happens, was eager to help smear him due to Farrier’s past antagonism of right-wing political figures in the country. Farrier found himself blasted in the press as a domestic abuser—and at risk of being arrested for violating court confidentiality if he tried to defend himself publicly.
“It cost me another $10,000 and a lot of stress in trying to clear my name from this thing that I had nothing to do with,” Farrier says. “And again, it’s annoying in a way, because I’m telling you the story, and it’s so convoluted and weird that it’s hard to describe. Which is another frustrating thing Organ does: He hurts you in a way that’s hard to share because it’s impossible to describe in a short amount of time. That was my process with the entire film.”
Michael Organ continues to find new and novels ways to torture Farrier as the Mister Organ rollout continues, creating an ongoing drama that never seems to end. It’s a Kiwi In Cold Blood for a car park Truman Capote—you’ll come away glad someone told this story, and relieved that it wasn’t you.