Image: Antisocial (AUS)
Technology has brought massive changes to our lives. Whether it be the invention of electricity or the rise of the internet, it now allows near-instant communication all around the world. To find someone without social media accounts or without owning a smartphone feels like finding a unicorn – are you sure they even exist?
But with all the benefits it brings, there are also negative consequences to having this technology ingrained in our environments. More and more people are becoming addicted to social media and (for better or for worse) their lives have become even more convenient. With the success of Netflix’s Black Mirror, we’re seeing more stories that revolve around the unintended consequences of technology, privacy and its usage – including here at Melbourne WebFest!
From depressed AIs to a humorous take on how the use of technology can go wrong, we talked to the creators of Antisocial (AUS), Interface (AUS), Subverse (USA) , and Who You Are (USA) to learn more about their inspirations, challenges, and hopes for their series!
Antisocial creators Luke Goodall and Marc Gallagher set off to make a sketch comedy version of Black Mirror, bringing a much-needed lightness to an otherwise heavy topic. “We were both fascinated with technology, particularly how we are misusing it in our culture,” says Goodall and Gallagher.
“Sketch comedy also allowed us to explore and experiment with various film genres and characters. We’d love people to think about how they conduct themselves online and more importantly have a good laugh at themselves in the process.”
As with Black Mirror, each episode of Antisocial consists of standalone stories that share a theme of technology gone wrong, albeit in a much funnier way. This led to each episode having their own lifespans. “Episodes like Web Tutorial Fail and Twitter Fight had a massive VFX (visual effects) element to them, though. This meant Gallagher was chained to his desk for weeks while Goodall sipped beers by a pool somewhere…probably,” Goodall and Gallagher quipped, “while others came together relatively quick.”
“Each episode had it’s own gestation period and were conceived individually, so we never strayed too far from the initial vision of it being a comedy Black Mirror. Retrospectively, I guess it evolved into something we could never have envisaged if we sat down and wrote them all at once.”
By basing their series on how integrated technology and social media has become in our lives, Goodall and Gallagher found that there were a lot of opportunities to continue growing the series. With Antisocial as the biggest project the duo has undertaken with little time between filming, post-production and release, the duo says, “Maybe after the Melbourne Webfest we’ll reflect?”
On the other hand, Who You Are is based on a short film that Samuel Roots, writer and co-creator of the series, began writing a few years ago.
In the words of the director, editor and co-creator Joel Jay Blacker, “it dealt with a depressed AI that could determine, without a doubt, the nature of your soul and provide a picture. That same existential thread is what we carried over into the series: the idea that even if we had all the answers to who we are, we’d still be unhappy about it. Despite having access to a machine that can tell you exactly who you are, the characters still struggle to find meaning.”
“I think one thing that resonates in the series is that no one has it all figured out. Self-knowledge is important, but it can be an uphill battle when you find something out about yourself you don’t like,” Blacker continues.
“Personally, I think being able to laugh at the struggle and at yourself is necessary. That’s what has always really drawn me to making this series: being able to laugh at all our insecurities.”
While Blacker utilises an element of improvisation on all his sets, the process of filming Who You Are was incredibly rapid, with only two days to shoot five episodes and plenty of long one-shots rehearsed to a tee. The short time limit meant there wasn’t much room to stray from the initial vision – but they did change some things, like a visual gag that worked better in a different form (to say anything more would be a spoiler!)
“Until we release the show online (in July) I’ll be tampering with it. That said, I rushed to meet big festival deadlines after we shot and had episodes 1-3 completed within 2 months, which I’m very proud of,” says Blacker. “We’re currently pitching and planning on creating a longer length version of the show.”
Subverse creator Joseph White got his inspiration from “reading the news and realising just how weird, surreal and f**k’d up our world is these days. There are now legitimate news articles about things that would’ve sounded like science fiction just a few years ago – chat bots suffering from depression, parents paying online assassins to kill their children’s avatars, state funded troll farms brainwashing the electorate.”
“I think this story is all about technology, and couldn’t exist without technology. It’s about what happens when you live in world such as ours, with limitless online interactions and romantic possibilities, but you realise, deep down, you’re still an awful human being,” says White.
White says that the biggest challenge his team faced during the production of Subverse was the speed at which they had to shoot. “We were basically shooting a visually complex VFX-driven sci-fi, but at the speed of an indie rom-com web series.”
White does recommend that any aspiring film-makers out there should “make sure you have loads of followers on social media BEFORE you launch. Don’t do what I did and start out with zero. There’s now too many Netflix and HBO shows turning people into zombies – so finding your niche audience is harder than ever.”
Student series selection Interface directed by Jason Albury and written by Shonty Fisher looks into the effects of social relations in a world dominated by competition between individuals. “The very notion of examining modern society is what we wanted, and the idea of unanticipated consequences of new technologies is where we see the future going,” explains Albury.
“I would say the main difference when it comes to the technology in Interface is that it has consequences on more of a social level, where class struggles see the rich thriving from its benefits while the working class are left to stagnant in their unending financial struggle.”
The most memorable challenge they faced during production was making the world in the web series look like it could realistically be ten years away from our current reality. “It might not sound like such a hard task but when shooting science fiction on a nano-budget you really have to put a lot of thought into how you can make everything seem a lot bigger than it really is. We achieved this mostly through [our] locations, production design, and costumes.”
The end product hasn’t changed very far from how Albury and Fisher envisioned the series when they began casting the roles. “You don’t want it to change too much from what you first hoped, but as you begin pre-production it takes on a life of its own and you just have to go with it,” says Albury. “I think that was the real joy for myself, seeing what becomes from the script into the production.”
Being a student production, the whole budget was self-funded, with the team collaborating on multiple parts of the series. “Shonty was doing the writing course and I was doing the directing, once we knew we wanted to do a collaboration we went in halves and approached CJ Welsh to be the Producer. The initial feedback from the graduation screenings have been great, but the main thing that has come up is of course “What happens next?”, which really is an exciting thing to hear because it means that people want to see where it goes.”