Sundance Film Festival 2021
A life insurance company uses an artificial-intelligence algorithm to determine the risk of a new applicant. The subsequent denial sparks a period of introspection for the individual in question.
Hi Mitch thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Things have been indeed strange but it has been incredible how we have all adapted. I have been impressed with how festivals have quickly created online spaces for people to engage with new films.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?
I have certainly been awarded more time to spend on pursuing creative ideas. I have also been staying busy honing my skills as an animator.
Congratulations on having Forever selected in the Animation section at Sundance 2021, what does it mean to be part of such an amazing line up for short films?
It really was a shock to have been selected at Sundance. Forever is my first film that I have really put out there and the response has been overwhelming. I was just glad to get it out there, and getting into Sundance felt impossible. To be selected has truly been a dream come true as an independent filmmaker.
Forever has already had an amazing festival run gaining a Best Animation Short nomination at the 2020 Raindance Film Festival, what has it meant to you to have gotten such a great response to your film?
It has been a complete surprise to me and an incredible experience. I held this film really close to me while making it and had little idea how it would be received. It has been very fulfilling to hear that my film has connected with so many people.
How did Forever come about?
Forever actually started as a VR experience. I am a big fan of VR and was working in that medium at the time and wanted to create a realtime experience that re-created elements of dreams mixed with the notion of AI viewing humanity through mass data collection. While I was pitching this idea and refining it, people were always struck by the inspiration of the idea more than the VR experience itself. I then realised that it had to be a film that could reach a wider audience.
"Often I will try something new and an unexpected story comes along with it."
Where did your inspiration for Forever come from?
The inspiration came from my own personal experience with a life insurance company. My parents wanted to take a life insurance policy out on me after co-signing on my student loans (university is insanely expensive!). I thought it would be a simple process. I consider myself a healthy young adult and was very surprised when I was denied. I asked for an explanation of why and they sent me the breakdown of their decision. Coincidentally I was reading a lot about AI programs taking over white collar jobs, such as insurance underwriters. So I felt that AI looked at my life and determined I was going to die soon. I really took it to heart because I have a strong belief in the capabilities of AI. That experience really lasted with me and shaped my behaviour and outlook on my own mortality.
How flexible were you with your script, did you stick to what was planned or did you allow yourself to go in any new surprising directions?
I was very flexible. There was never an official script honestly. It evolved out of notes and voice recordings. I would sometimes be driving and have a sudden moment of clarity and pull over to record myself. Eventually all the notes and recordings homogenised into a single track. I then laid down and recorded the final voice over in one go and stuck to it. That’s the beauty of working alone in a DIY fashion. I wasn’t planning on recording the voice over that night, but the mood struck me and I was happy with what I got on tape.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently on Forever?
I can’t say that I would. I had the luxury of making the film over 18 months, so there was a lot of exploration in the first year. I tried several different styles and techniques in both the form and the content of the film. I ultimately settled on using my own voice over and working with the LiDAR for the entirety of the visuals.
What was the biggest challenge you faced making this film?
The biggest challenge was putting such a personal experience into the voice over. I struggled for a long time with how much of myself I would put into the story, but was encouraged by my peers and mentors to go all in and make it as personal as possible. It really is my life and thoughts I put up there on screen.
Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
Absolutely. Above all else I value originality in films. Don’t be afraid to let your work be imperfect, as long as it is honest and original, people will resonate with it. I am always excited about the new ways people come up with to tell their stories.
Have you always had a passion for animation?
I always had a passion for filmmaking, but animation came later on. I was interested in photography as a teenager and that developed into filmmaking as I got older. I often worked alone and had to come up with clever ways to pull off my vision without a crew. That led to me teaching myself how to create things digitally rather than practically. I then found my way into a masters program for animation without much animation experience. It was a huge moment for me when I saw what I could do with 3D animation tools. It was like being a whole crew on a film set. I fell in love with the level of control it allowed me.
Will you continue to explore the experimental aspects offered you with animation?
Absolutely. I come across amazing things people do with animation and technology and am continually inspired.
Do you have any wise words or advice you would offer a fellow animator?
I would say always be open to new ways of working and always try and learn new skills. Animation comes in so many forms and it is really exciting to explore new techniques. Often I will try something new and an unexpected story comes along with it.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Forever?
I hope audiences reflect on their own relationship with technology and AI. Tech is only advancing faster and faster and we need to learn to adapt and integrate it into lives in a healthy way. We have opened pandora’s box in terms of data collection. We can all do our best to control our digital lives just like we shape our own organic lives.