Viewing the brain as “an operating system with glitches,” Benjamin Dickinson’s Creative Control spins a futuristic, Brooklyn-set tale about the virtual complications and distractions of man. Experimenting with a pair of highly specialized eyeglasses known as the Augmenta, David (played by Dickinson), an ad exec with a curiosity for the unexplored potential of Augmented Reality, begins to experience a heightened state of consciousness. A female friend he fantasizes over becomes more than merely an object of desire, an ad campaign he’s working on grows to be an all-consuming nuisance, and his relationship with his girlfriend weakens as a result of jealousy and general malaise as David’s sensory overload grows complicated by his exploration into a heightened reality.
Never to fear: the film is quite open in how it addresses these dense concepts and it is poignantly smart and witty in its accessible execution. The recipient of a Special Jury Recognition for Visual Excellence at last year’s SXSW, Creative Control opens in theaters this Friday courtesy of Magnolia Pictures and Amazon Studios. A special advance screening for IFP members will take place Wednesday, March 9th at the Made in NY Media Center by IFP.
— Erik Luers
IFP: I first have to ask, what are your thoughts on Google Glass? Have you used it?
Dickinson: I’ve never used Google Glass, and from what I can tell it is a bad product. It definitely pointed the way for what Augmented Reality will be eventually, however. Actually, pretty soon…
IFP: Where did the idea for Creative Control come from?
Dickinson: The usual place: a miasma of personal frustration and pain. Someday soon I hope to make a film that is born of joy.
IFP: How would you describe the Augmenta, the eyewear that the film’s lead character David is at the forefront of designing?
Dickinson: I would describe it the way Gabe, the CEO of Augmenta, describes it: ‘the first actually convincing Augmented Reality system.” Another way would be “face computer”.
IFP: When the viewer sees David wearing and experiencing the Augmenta, it’s essentially a portrait of the male gaze stripped down to its bare essentials, a man wide-eyed and gawking at the (virtual) realities in front of him. That he uses the device primarily for sexual satisfaction seems to drive this point home. Do you agree with this assessment?
Dickinson: Yep, that’s the idea. It’s not very different from what the character of Wim does with his camera.
IFP: David and his co-workers are in the Augmented Reality world, but the film makes it clear that they’re also in the marketing and PR world (perhaps even more so). Their inventions and art are only as good as their ability to package and sell it. Is a cutting-edge product only as good as its ability to be sold?
Dickinson: Or to be put another way, a cutting-edge product doesn’t even have to be good (for people, for the environment) if it is sold well.
IFP: When using the Augmenta, David can control each program by means of his body, i.e. pushing into his palm or his leg to start or pause a video. There’s no need for a control pad anymore. The new flesh is a Cronenbergian combination of technology and human epidermis, the film seems to be saying, but how conscious are you of the relationship between technology and human touch?
Dickinson: I think we need a lot more human touch involved with technology! Less screens, more physicality and more interaction with others. I actually think Augmenta is a good product in that respect. We worked hard on designing our fake tech!
IFP: In addition to being a film about the virtual world, you focus quite heavily on relationships (some virtual-based) and infidelity. There’s a disconnect between your character, David, and his girlfriend. He experiences satisfaction through augmented reality, while Juliette, being a yoga instructor, is more in tune with her physical being. How did you connect the more tech-heavy aspects of the film with the central relationship at the heart of the story?
Dickinson: I think technology provides us the opportunity to be less and less in touch with our physical selves, and to enable us to live in an increasingly mental realm. Of course, we’ve been avoiding being in our bodies for centuries, which is why yoga was invented in the first place. I guess technology magnifies this tendency. As per the disconnect in a relationship, that ain’t nothing new either. Whether it be the virtual world or the mundane world, the basic problems of human beings aren’t going away.
IFP: In the film, text messages serve as a kind of subtext, representing the thoughts and advances people wouldn’t dare express in public. When two characters in the same room have a conversation through text, it serves as a study in silent movie acting. How did you direct those moments of emotive silent expression?
Dickinson: What a great question! We actually had the Assistant Director, Josh Hartsoe, reading the texts out loud, so that we could respond to them and sort of flirt with just our expressions.
IFP: One scene features a frustratingly amusing portrayal of sensory overload. While using the Augmenta in the office, David receives a call from Reggie Watts, frantic text messages from his friends and girlfriend, and a new edit of an ad he’s working on, all at the same time. His ability to consume and retain information is tested. What are your thoughts on the idea of multiple screens serving as a catalyst for intrusive distraction?
Dickinson: All I know is that I don’t like it when it happens to me. It frazzles me. I try to create boundaries for myself when I work. I put my phone on airplane mode and I don’t have chat windows open when I’m trying to concentrate. I am fortunate in that I don’t have a 9-5 job. I think I would go mad if I did, there’s too much going on all the time, and the conflation of the personal and the professional is so difficult to negotiate. I think going forward, if we are wise, we will design our software to allow LESS multitasking; we will value longer, deeper periods of concentration. We might even establish protocols of certain times of the day when we check emails and respond. We might establish protocols of what is appropriate to discuss over text. For example, let’s not have lovers quarrels over texts. I really think this might be necessary, and if we just let our whims decide, we’re going to go insane.
IFP: The film’s classical, operatic-like score (featuring Antonio Lucio Vivaldi and Mozart and Bach) compliments the extended, slow-motion takes. What made you want to go with a timeless score in a story very much about the future?
Dickinson: Vivaldi is the epitome of the Baroque era, and I saw some parallels. It’s the go-to music for luxury advertising as well. I thought it was appropriate for this world, and added a little layer of irony, the self-seriousness of the whole thing.
IFP: I assume going with a black-and-white color palette only helped to emphasize this feeling?
Dickinson: It’s the language of luxury advertising. It’s a way to deconstruct the message of those ads.
IFP: How did you get in touch with Mathematic? How closely did they work with you on the film’s visual design?
Dickinson: We had worked on several French language commercials together, and their owner was an investor in the film. We worked very closely together on the design. The lead designer was an amazing man named François-Côme du Boistesselin. It took awhile to find the right feel. I knew I wanted it to feel very, very light and translucent. One day Francois showed me a very simple animation he did of a hexagon spinning around, which formed a cube (a hexagon is a cube drawn in 2D, if that makes sense). Anyway, that was the Ah-Ha! moment, and from that point on, we did most of the work by discussions over three-hour dinners.
Creative Control opens in select theaters Friday, March 11th.