Director: Joe Kawasaki.
Starring: Emily Somers, Travis Aaron Wade, Martin Copping, Sonalii Castillo, Janna Bossier.
Run Time: 40 minutes.
Set within a dystopian world where technology and humanity collides, Reboot touches upon many of the current social and political concerns that arise from becoming more and more intertwined with the virtual. In contemporary Los Angeles, a young female hacker, Stat (Emily Somers), awakens from unconsciousness to find an iPhone glued to her hand and a mysterious countdown ticking away on the display. Suffering from head trauma, and with little recollection of who she is or what is happening, Stat races against time to figure out what the code means, and what unknown event the pending zero-hour will bring.
The film was partly funded through Kickstarter, which I imagine our tech geeks will get their teeth stuck into in the near future, and there is also a pretty elaborate ARG campaign, with people playing the game in 135 countries.
There are some pretty stunning visuals on display, such as the time-lapse footage of LA (reminiscent of Drive, Heat, and Collateral in achieving that otherworldly sheen), and the overall production quality seems higher than your average indie film. It has that clean look of a film, and although only set in a few locations, each place has a distinctive feel to it. A lot of work has gone into the film, and this shows, enhancing the experience from the film.
The story, for its short running time, does a great job of getting the exposition in and throwing us into the meat and potatoes of the action. My one real criticism of the Reboot is that I felt that the ticking clock plot (I bet that’s a hard one to say under pressure) would work a lot better if the tension was strung out over a longer running time. The phone being glued to Stat’s hand would have also benefitted from an increased time span. In the time we do have though, a tight and unpredictable sci-fi thriller plays out, creatively supported by ubiquitous technology. I was unsure how things were going to play throughout, which is always a good sign in my eyes. Short films of this nature often follow an easily predictable pattern, so I was happy to have a few curveballs thrown my way.
It’s also refreshing to see more strong female leads, and part of the appeal for me was the connection made with Stat from the get go. Our very own Josephine Bourne held my attention and earned my trust with a steely gaze to rival Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley (almost). She is very much a modern interpretation of the femme fatale. It was a standout performance from Emily Somers, who performed like a seasoned pro, knowing what beats to hit, and when. She suited the ‘bar brawl Chic’ look, and gave the impression that she would be handy if a mass punch-up were to occur. I image that Stat is a character that both men and women can get behind (pun intended).
The supporting cast all have their place, with good comic relief from Martin Copping’s Bren, while the fantastically named Sonalii Castillo fulfils her role as sassy sidekick with effortless ease. The way the three play off of each other feels natural, and the chemistry helps to settle any wobbles with dialogue.
My only gripe with the characters was the villainous Jesse, with the film feeling too short to fully flesh out his revolutionary ‘Hacktivist’ arc. It was hard at times to get to grips with his motivation and motives. Again, this is an issue easily solved with an expanded run time or sequel/prequel opportunities. The film feels ripe for expansion, with a whole wealth of different avenues to be explored and expanded upon.
This is helped by the issues that the film puts under the microscope, and the ideas that it touches upon, such as the worrying expansion and miss-use of technology, and the potentially malicious power of certain online groups (who I won’t name for fear of having my bank account wiped and pictures of me dressing as a woman circulated around the web). Cyber terrorism is a fledgling plot device, and one that is pertinent and diverse enough to really go to town with and exploit the fear of the online threat. All in all, there is a lot of potential on show in Reboot, and it’s a great effort from all involved.
The creators of Reboot were kind enough to speak to us other at Geeks Unleashed, and here is what director Joe Kawasaki had to say:
Where did the inspiration for the film come from?
I was sitting in a coffee shop in LA and was stuck on this short piece about Middle Eastern Black Magic. It was spooky stuff, but it was also very hard for me to construct something that would have this slow, grinding twist of tension within the construct of a “short film”. So I was stuck, and looking around, and I noticed that everyone – and I mean everyone – in the coffee shop was on a device. They weren’t even talking to each other if they were at a table together. They were either texting, swishing and tapping, typing, or just reading something on their screens.
So I made a joke about how funny it would be to have a film about a woman who wakes up with a smart phone glued to her hand and she couldn’t get it off; that the thing that we all utilize habitually has suddenly become a curse. So the seed of it started there. It obviously grew and expanded from that kernel as I wrote and developed it, but that was the initial seed of inspiration.
As film makers, what influences you?
I was always interested with the unique relationship between people and technology, and the social/political behavior that derives from it. I grew up being a huge fan of all things science fiction, and my father was a computer programmer in the U.S. Space Program, having worked on the Galileo project, Viking I and II, Voyager I and II; so it was always around me. But then somewhere in the eighties of the last-century I started to see a very interesting trend where things that we grew up thinking were sci-fi, were becoming actually science fact. That was also about the time that such seminal works as William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” was published, and when Phillip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Sheep?” was transformed into the ground-breaking film, “Blade Runner”. Once those things entered my life, it was pretty much over. I found the “thing” that ultimately fascinates me and is intensely relevant to me.
Push it forward to the present day, and it continues to develop all around us, with daily news and events that show a brave new world connected on virtual networks, and with everyone pretty much connected on a device of some kind, interacting with them.
Cyber-warfare is real. The amount of day-to-day workflow and activity in our lives that is actually computer-controlled in some manner is so prevalent and widespread, I sometimes wonder if people even know how much of their lives are dependent on this one thing. And electricity. So influences come from the daily fountain of events and trends that are literally unfolding and changing the world around us very rapidly.
When/how will people be able to see Reboot?
Sidney and I discussed having this go completely public a little later this year, through some online platform. It’s been getting some amazing screenings and showings around the world after our big show at DEFCON in July, but it should be “released” soon.
How was the Kickstarter experience?
Fantastic. Exhilarating. Stressful. And ultimately, quite humbling and surprising. All of those things. I mean, the prospect of putting your stuff out there and asking people whoyou don’t even know to pitch-in to fund it took a week or two to turn over in our heads. But it’s amazing how it works. I think it’s a brilliant platform. Granted, a good portion of the money came from our amazing friends and family, people we already have known and who have been incredibly supportive of what we do; and that was the humbling part.
The surprising part was how many people we didn’t know who had donated, which was quite a lot; and from all over the world. And beyond that, through our own website donation button (which we have never solicited), how gracious donations continue to come in periodically, simply because they think the project is cool. It’s all extremely… let me put it this way: it makes you seriously respect your audience. It’s one thing to go ahead and, say, make a film, and hope people will pay some of their hard-earned money to come see it. It’s a whole other thing when people are donating their hard-earned money to help you make it and support you for future endeavors. What I love about it is how much it really makes us look over what we’re working on, and to make sure it will resonate and ring true in some way; because you have to. You owe it to yourself and to all these great people who are backing you.
How important is Kickstarter in this day and age, and how does it affect film making?
I’ve heard from Sidney that Kickstarter is definitely becoming more and more a viable funding platform for independent films, and I think it’s wonderful. In a lot of ways, you can see this as the ultimate democratic financing model, where the people out there decide what they want to see made, and what they would rather pass on. You do have to work very hard at it, in making sure your pitch gets seen, and to drum up interest.
I don’t think any Kickstarter campaign ever really was successful without a lot of leg-work and follow-up and engagement with the community. You can’t just throw something up there and think it’s gonna get funded, even if it may be a brilliant concept or project. So as a truly grass-roots, crowd-sourcing platform for creative endeavors of all kinds, I think it’s incredibly powerful and important, especially today.
How will it affect filmmaking? I’d like to think it will allow independent films to continue to be made; that you can have all kinds of films that can benefit from this and get produced because of it. Everything from high-concept entertainment ideas to extremely personal stories that would otherwise have a very hard time ever seeing the light of day. It’s a great avenue to have for indies.
How did you research things that occur in the film?
There were a few discussions with actual hackers, but most of the research and ideas came from digging on the net, our new world library. Articles, forums, dedicated blogs and websites, anything and everything that had some kind of relevance was read about and looked into. But because it was a short film, I can’t say I spent that much time buried in research so much as I spent simply formulating a balance between creating something that was entertaining, yet wasn’t ignoring or misrepresenting the very culture and community we were talking about. It was very important to, in as much as it is possible within the context of a short fiction film, to have an anchor into that reality.
What are your views on the increase in the influence of technology and the ease at which it can be exploited?
So long as you have thinking human beings who have a burning desire to innovate and improve things, there can be no real cap on where technology and scientific advancement can go. How it influences us as people is more important than how much it does. It really comes down to responsibility and decency. You can take any greatidea that can create amazing benefits to mankind, and then just as easily twist it to fuckus all over. So I can never blame technology itself. It’s neutral, a tool. How we chooseto use it is where the philosophical and ethical questions arise.
What next, in terms of follow ups?
We’re developing a feature project along the lines of where “Reboot” left off, as well as another cyberpunk piece that is equally as ambitious and interesting for us. I think the big things that continue to fascinate us as storytellers will always prevail, and so I don’t doubt it will touch on similar ideas as “Reboot” had initially, but we certainly want to take it to a much larger scope and level that we think is appropriate for the story and its characters. We are also showing “Reboot” throughout the year and into early next year through a lot of conferences around the world, and the ARG (Alternate Reality Game) around the film has been great fun and has quite a following through Twitter.
How will the characters be involved in any future follow ups, and will we learn more about their pasts?
Well, I can say that some of them may continue on a feature level. We have been playing with the idea of a serial, whether on the web or on traditional media platforms, but we keep gravitating back to the feature. We’ll see how this stage goes with the writing. I can say that it’s been a lot of fun and quite interesting for us to keep the thread going in some way.
How does the ARG tie into the film, and how has that experience been?
The ARG ties in with the film as an auxiliary layer wherein you can delve further into thehacker world with these fun games and challenges. It begins with clues that were hidden within our trailer; and once you find those, the rabbit hole begins. Sidney has been spearheading the ARG from the beginning and it’s really been amazing to see how its grown with the community and how so many folks are into it and having fun with it. We’ve always been interested in the idea of an extended reality around a film, any film. ARG’s are a wonderful and creative extension of the experience, allowing us to drop in more details and little textures and notes on the world in which the film is based, as well as the characters who live within it.
In the end, it certainly caters toward the hackers out there with challenges that are more hacker-based – meaning, if you don’t know how to code, or are not familiar with some of the tools hackers may use, then you will hit a wall with the ARG. But it’s been great fun. We even have had several of the players volunteer their time and talents in creating “bonus level” challenges that they completely designed and implemented themselves.
Games and open-platform gaming is a very creative and engaging thing, and we always felt it was a great arena for creating a larger world outside and around any film we may make. It shapes it and ultimately gets shaped by its participants, and that has been a wonderful thing to witness and be a part of.
If you get a chance in the future to see Reboot, then do so, and tell us what you think. Support Independent film makers and all that. We at Geeks Unleashed (and me at Reel Talk) are priveliged enough to bring Reboot to your attention, and are always willing to get involved with up and coming artists who we feel have something interesting to say, and you should too. It’s you that they are making it for, after all.
Score: 7 out of 10.
If you liked this, check out: The Matrix, Phone Booth.