“Paranoia is the backbone of science fiction, and deservedly so.” – Chris Garcia
Some films grew out of concepts that are neither obvious, nor simple. When I watch a short, whether on YouTube or as a part of my selection viewing for festivals, the first thing I look for is that itch, that unexplainable need to watch and re-watch. When I find a short that gives me that feeling, I know I’m on to something. I mean, if you know you HAVE to watch four or five hundred shorts and you keep going back to one over and over, that says something for it, doesn’t it.
AutoDrive by director Rory O’Donnell is the kind of short that makes you want to watch it again and again.
The story is pretty clear cut in cocktail party form – a guy’s GPS starts giving him directions to where it wants him to go. That doesn’t say it all and it doesn’t really start to tell you what to expect. The message for help is from a woman held against her will, working within the AutoDrive corporation, and Steve, our Hero, has taken it on himself to answer her distress signal. He starts to see a world he never expected, and that is where things get interesting. There is the way that the tension ramps up, builds along character lines, and eventually into whole concept of what we take for granted everyday, as well as how we interact with things we are distant from. It’s not that much of a stretch to think about how it applies to our world today. What happens to us if we allow our distant connections become personal, real? How can we distance ourselves from far-off difficulties when we understand what’s going on? And what exactly is behind all our technologies? This could easily be seen as a condemnation of the ways in which major corporations use their employees, the conditions they create and the forces they wield.
Ok, that might be a bridge too far, but it did come to me.
AutoDrive is a fine science fiction film, is the kind of short that you can talk a lot about. Watching it, you’ll think that it’s a much bigger budget project than it turned out to be. And done in 4 days! This is the kind of filmmaking that might not be terribly showy, but when you’re walked through it, it will shock you at how much they did with so little. Rory and producer Nicola Petrides did just that at Cinequest, took me through the entire film shot-for-shot, showed me all the SFX shots, and I was amazed. As a guy who works in the field of Computer Graphics history, I’m usually really good finding when things have been added in post, but here, with the exception of two shots, I was amazed! There’s no feeling of artificiality, no marred vision of the scene, no feeling of insertion. That’s the sign of great filmmaking. What really strikes me seeing AutoDrive on a big screen is how successfully they fooled me. I thought they had managed to find the perfect setting, that they had done everything as a practical, but alas, this was not true. They used subtle CGI in ways that I could not detect. This was the work of a team that were not only very good at their jobs, but also who understood what Orson Welles understood about movies so well: that the eye will never be fooled by anything less than exactly right, and the effects and stunts we’re presented in AutoDrive are exactly right.
And there’s some excellent practical stuff, too. The design of the AutoDrive device is awesome, retro, created from an old radio (one I recognised from my years as hanging out at antique stores) with a couple of touches added on. It’s a beautiful piece, and if I could get myself a GPS system that looked like that, I’d be a happy guy. There are books that are seen throughout, which is a nice touch. As are the piranha.
AutoDrive is a wonderful film, one which could have gone on longer and still had juice. The shooting is clean, the script well-managed, and the setting completely believeable. It’s hard not to see a bit of Philip K. Dick in it. There’s a sense of questioning of what is real to it, and what is our responsibility when it comes to our technologies. The little touches, like motion animation in eyepieces, and row upon row of wooden cages, make this a short film that plays so smart with our interactions with devices and the possible voices calling out behind them.