Short films matter. Vimeo wants you to know it. So do we. That’s why every week we’ll take a look at some of the short film world’s best and brightest. This week, we bring you Oscar Sharp’s experimental sci-fi comedy Sunspring.
The Plot: You probably shouldn’t worry too much about the plot.
The Film: People are always worrying that technology is ruining the art of cinema. They might sleep a little better after watching Sunspring.
Why Press Play?
Oscar Sharp’s film was written by a computer program. A program that Sharp and his tech collaborator Ross Goodwin adapted from the same technology behind your phone’s intuitive keyboard. They filled that program’s memory with hundreds of sci-fi screenplays from film and TV. They named it Jetson. But it didn’t like that name. So it renamed itself Benjamin. Benjamin was given a single task by its creators – to write a screenplay entirely on its own. The result is Sunspring. And Sunspring is … let’s just say it’s interesting.
The film doesn’t have much in the way of plot. The characters are barely sketches. Two of them even have the same name. And the dialogue is almost completely nonsensical. With all of those marks against it, Sunspring should be an outright disaster. And it sort of is. That is to say that Sunspring is a beautiful, hilarious disaster that entertains from start to finish.
Sharp and his creative team are largely to thank for that. In their hands, Benjamin’s nonsensical – but occasionally poignant and poetic – story is not an impediment more than it is a vital creative tool. A tool they use to bring Sunspring to vivid life. Make no mistake, Sunspring looks and feels like an actual film … of the brainy, no-budget sort. The sets are lean and realistic. The visual effects are simple but shrewdly utilized. Andrew Orkin’s music is sparse and moody. And Yuki Noguchi’s photography is crisp and stylish.
Of course, style can only take you so far. The performances of Thomas Middleditch, Elisabeth Gray and Humphrey Ker are what make Sunspring click. It would’ve been all too easy for the stars of Sunspring to play the film’s story for pure camp. The dialogue is often silly to the point of absurd. But the brave trio treat that silliness with a surprising degree of dexterity. The serious approach adds to the comedic atmosphere. The actors’ ability to play it straight also lends the film an unexpected level of drama.
That’ll come as no surprise for fans of Middleditch. His ability to say and do almost anything with a straight face – not to mention his ability to humanize idiocy – are part of what make Silicon Valley one of the funniest shows on TV. He uses those skills to maximum effect in Sunspring. But it’s his reactions that steal the show throughout. That’s less of a challenge when you’re reacting to dialogue like, “Whatever you want to know about the presence of the story, I’m a little bit of a boy on the floor.” It’s almost easy when you’ve got actors like Humphrey Ker and Elisabeth Gray reading those lines.
Gray in particular feels like a revelation here. Her reading of the film’s closing monologue is stunning in its comedic pathos. It’s captured with a delicacy that couldn’t possibly exist on the page. And it may well be the defining moment of Benjamin’s illustrious screenwriting career. It’s certainly the defining moment of Sunspring. So press play and see it for yourself.
Meet The Crew:
Directed by: Oscar Sharp Written by: Benjamin (an LSTM RNN Artificial Intelligence) Writer of Writer: Ross Goodwin Starring: Thomas Middleditch, Elisabeth Gray and Humphrey Ker Director of Photography: Yuki Noguchi Visual Effects by: Justin Chandra Edited by: Taylor Gianotas Music by: Andrew Orkin Original Song by: Benjamin (Seriously, the program also wrote some song lyrics. Unprompted. Which is kind of frightening.)
I hope you enjoy Sunspring! Even if the film doesn’t really make any sense, it’s still a fascinating little experiment. That Sharp was able to cobble together a working narrative is something of a miracle. That he realizes Benjamin’s story so viscerally is akin to magic. That feat alone should land him on you ‘director to watch’ list. And you can watch more of Sharp’s work over at his Vimeo page. While you’re there, be sure to check out a few of the thousands of other short films – animated, live action and documentary – the Vimeo team have made available for your viewing pleasure (via desktop or mobile device – SWEET!). You’re sure to find something interesting and you may just stumble across the next great filmmaker.