The Robot Dreams Interview
Pittsburgh has made a name for itself in the film industry over the past few years, potentially even reaching the status of a mini, more down to earth Hollywood. Local film projects are popping up left and right that are worth your attention just as much as the feature film playing in theaters. Battery Life is the first project from the Crane Collective, a creative group of filmmakers collaborating on what they do best: making films. Battery Life is a stop-motion animation short film that follows the story of a robot’s desperate attempts to rescue his wife in order to rekindle his family. The film is set in a dystopian land of robots where scavenging is the only means for survival. The robot is excommunicated from his community and decides to make one last effort in hopes that it will be enough to save his wife and unite her with their son. He is met with great obstacles along the way that question whether or not the love of a father is enough to overcome even the darkest of battles.
We were lucky enough to be able to talk to Justin Nixon, the writer and director of the film, who was able to tell us a little bit more about the Crane Collective. He explains, “In late 2012, Crane Collective came about as friends who wanted to pull resources together to make films. Since filmmaking is such a collaborative effort it made sense to bring more people together toward a common goal. We all have day jobs, most of which are in the film industry, and it’s hard to find time to fill every role needed to produce a film whether it’s a feature or a short. Also, not everyone is good at everything. If it was just me working on Battery Life, the armatures would look terrible and our digital effects would be seriously lacking. Since we have a team of people dedicated to specific roles in the filmmaking process, more time can be spent on individual tasks and everyone can focus on their strengths, bringing their best to the project. Working with this kind of team makes for a really fun process. Plus there are few things more rewarding than celebrating a finished project.”
The use of robots in his film, instead of humans was a strategic choice for Justin. “The future of technology seems to be demonized in our culture (end of the world – robot sentients…losing our connection to each other as we use technology more and more, et cetera). The robots in the film are shaped like people, act like people and sound like people. The only difference is they’re made of metal and wire, not flesh and blood. In Battery Life, you’ll see hope, fear, loss, grief, joy, sadness and perseverance from things that are expected to only be cold, emotionless and calculated. I wanted to incorporate the idea that things aren’t always what they seem to be.”
How does one become so passionate about their skill? Everything starts with a little spark of inspiration. Justin told us his inspiration came from the idea of connecting with people. “Everything we’ve ever experienced becomes a story the moment it’s over. Memories are just as much stories as films and novels, and I’ve learned that everything I experience comes out in my storytelling whether I mean for it to or not. Stories are a great way to connect to people, and if they’re told well, the audience is not merely experiencing the story being told, they’re experiencing it as their own. Some examples of this have been from the screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, especially in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Everyone knows what it’s like to really want to forget a relationship. You can just replace Clementine with someone from your past and it immediately changes your perception – it makes it about you. This is what a good storyteller should do – help you reflect on your own life by experiencing the life of someone else.”