Computer Algorithm Used To Make Movie For Sundance Film Festival

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The Pandora of movies. Films by Eve Sussman and Rufus Corporation are clips pieced together by a computer algorithm.

Indie movie makers can be a strange bunch, pushing the envelope of their craft and often losing us along the way. In any case, if you’re going to produce something unintelligible anyway, why not let a computer do it? Eve Sussmam and the Rufus Corporation did just that. She and lead actor Jeff Wood traveled to the Kazakhstan border of the Caspian Sea for two years of filming. But instead of a movie with a beginning, middle and end, they shot 3,000 individual and unrelated clips. To the clips they added 80 voice-overs and 150 pieces of music, mixed it all together and put it in a computer. A program on her Mac G5 tower, known at Rufus as the “serendipity machine,” then splices the bits together to create a final product.

As you might imagine, the resultant film doesn’t always make sense. But that’s part of the fun! As the Rufus Corporation writes on their website, “The unexpected juxtapositions create a sense of suspense alluding to a story that the viewer composes.”

It’s a clever experiment even if some viewers end up wanting to gouge their eyes out after a sitting. And there is some method to their madness. The film, titled “whiteonwhite:algorithnoir,” is centered on a geophysicist named Holz (played by Wood) who’s stuck in a gloomy, 1970’s-looking city operated by the New Method Oil Well Cementing Company. Distinct scenes such as wire tapped conversations or a job interview for Mr. Holz are (hopefully) woven together by distinct voiceovers and dialogues. When the scenes and audio are entered into the computer they’re tagged with keywords. The program then pieces them together in a way similar to Pandora’s stringing together of like music. If a clip is tagged “white,” the computer will randomly select from tens of other clips also having the “white” tag. The final product is intended to be a kind of “dystopian futuropolis.” What that means, however, changes with each viewing as no two runs are the same.

Watching the following trailer, I actually got a sense…um, I think…of a story.

Rufus Corporation says the movie was “inspired by Suprematist quests for transcendence, pure space and artistic higher ground.” I have no idea what that means but I hope they’ve achieved it. Beautiful things can happen when computers create art. And it’s only a matter of time before people attempt the same sort of thing with novel writing. Just watching the trailer, it’s hard to tell if the movie’s any good or not. I missed the showings at the Sundance Film Festival, but even so, they probably didn’t resemble the trailer anyway. And that’s okay, because that’s the whole point.

[image credits: Rufus Corporation and PRI via YouTube]

image 1: whiteonwhite
image 2: Rufus
video: whiteonwhite

Peter Murray was born in Boston in 1973. He earned a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore studying gene expression in the neocortex. Following his dissertation work he spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow at the same university studying brain mechanisms of pain and motor control. He completed a collection of short stories in 2010 and has been writing for Singula...

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