This Sci-Fi Filmmaker Created a Short Film Where You Are a Creepy AI Thermostat

Tuesday, 03 October 2017 - 11:58AM
Tuesday, 03 October 2017 - 11:58AM
This Sci-Fi Filmmaker Created a Short Film Where You Are a Creepy AI Thermostat
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Image credit: Alex J. Mann
Since the early 2000s, the "internet of things" has been picking up speed: from smart refrigerators to showers to toasters, the idea of a device that learns your habits, obeys voice commands, and subtly controls your life is slowly turning into reality. Alex J. Mann and Space Oddity Films decided to run with the idea with an inventive little short film called Cool, the pilot episode of their Eko series IRL, which allows the viewer to take the point of view of a smart thermostat and even change the course of the story by selecting different actions—like turning up the heat or spying on users. It's compact, creepy, and like nothing we've ever seen.

You can check out the film here, and read our interview with Alex below!

Outer Places:
 Tell me a bit about yourself—how did you get into film and what movies or directors influenced you?
Alex J. Mann: I got into film because I liked watching films. My earliest film-watching experiences were Fantasia and The Rocketeer. I'm afraid to revisit the latter because I remember it fondly (my dad built me the Rocketeer helmet out of cardboard) and it has a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Throughout my childhood, Ghostbusters, Happy Gilmore, Clerks, Goodfellas and Jerry Maguire were all on repeat. The first director I was aware of as a person was Martin Scorsese. Scorsese was and is my favorite. The first "director's decision" I was aware of was when Stanley Kubrick used "Singin' in the Rain" to contradict the horrific home invasion scene in A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick was and is my other favorite.
OP: What was the initial inspiration for Cool?
Mann: Me and Adam Bloom, my co-producer and co-writer on Cool, co-founded Space Oddity Films, a content studio exploring technology and culture. We've produced several tech thrillers, such as 3 Seconds, a Snapchat horror film, and Me2, an Instagram horror film. Adam texted me after installing a Nest thermostat in his home, saying it would be a good technology to explore in one of our films. We had already done a lot of work in the tech thriller space, so a smart thermostat that sees, listens and learns made for a fun antagonist.
OP: The film is interactive, with a branching narrative similar to hypertext fiction or a dialogue tree in a video game. How did that change the way you wrote the script? Were there challenges with reconciling different plot threads, or mapping out possibilities?
Mann: When we write something linear, there's a clear sense of all the plot points moving towards a single end goal. With Cool, we knew we wanted three different endings, differing in tone, so we worked off that assumption, and built plot points around those endings, collapsing storylines where possible to make sure the story didn't feel too meandering. Every ending needed to work with all possible scene variables before it—it was more math than writing.
OP: The film is also shot primarily from one angle, using one room. As a filmmaker, was it weird to be restricted like that?
Mann: Initially, it felt restrictive, but the constraints were also liberating. It forced me to be creative with all [the] other filmmaking variables in ways I hadn't previously—mood lighting and color palettes, set design, character movement and lens type.
OP: There's been increasing anxiety over the rise of "smart" devices and the "internet of things." What are your thoughts about AI, robots, and smart devices like Cool?
Mann: I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm enjoying technology's increased intelligence—it definitely makes my life easier. But I feel like we might be in some version of the "cute and fun" baby raptor scene in Jurassic Park.
OP: What are you working on next?
Mann: Cool is the pilot episode of IRL, an anthology series exploring millennial culture and the dark side of technology. Think of it as Black Mirror meets Twilight Zone for a younger demographic, with more topical reference points and shareable episode formats. Each episode will look at different technology and it's effects on a millennial life stage. We're hoping to produce a full season with our partner, Eko. We also recently optioned a feature script in the same genre, so we're working on getting it packaged and financed. Also, trying not to get killed by robots.

Alex J. Mann is a filmmaker whom Fast Company called "the Wes Craven of social media." His work has been described by Movie Pilot as "similar to the vibe of Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror," and by CNN as "underscoring the fears that applications instill in our lives." He's the co-founder of Space Oddity Films, a content studio exploring technology & culture. The studio's films and content for multi-billion dollar brands have garnered millions of views, reached audiences worldwide, and been endorsed by artists such as Eli Roth, Lil Wayne, Miles Teller, Adam Levine and Ashton Kutcher. 
You can follow Alex and Space Oddity Films on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.
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