What would life be like if emotions didn’t matter as much as the work we do? Alternate reality short film E.M.U aims to examine this concept.
Written by Xènia Puiggrós, E.M.U is currently in pre-production and will be directed by Adam Nelson, the writer and director of award-winning feature Little Pieces. E.M.U (Emotional Motor Unit) is the story of a lonely writer in an alternative present day, where work is the focus of our lives and emotions come second to output. Follow Graham Cawte (Little Pieces) as the writer who learns what it means to be human through his interactions with an E.M.U Robot.
Xènia and Adam sat down to talk about the film.
Where did the idea for E.M.U come from?
XP: When I started developing E.M.U I read lots of science fiction classics, like George Orwell’s ‘1984’ or Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’. That inspired me to think about the universe in which this story would take place. I wrote E.M.U before films like ‘Her’ or ‘Ex Machina’ came out, so my sources were movies like ‘Blade Runner’, and also the sci-fi series ‘The Twilight Zone’.
Unlike Little Pieces and The House Near Apple Park you haven’t written E.M.U, why did you choose to work with a writer this time and what attracted you to this particular script?
AN: I’ve not had a short film idea for a long time. I really struggle with the short film format when it comes to writing, I’ve only ever written three short film scripts and one of those was adapted from a friend’s short story. E.M.U was a wonderfully visual script, of the twenty four I read from the applications E.M.U was the only one I could actually see as I read it; that drew me in and then I fell in love with the story. Most of the screenplays we were sent had very dark themes and a lot of them ended with the twist of the protagonist being a murderer. The reading process became somewhat repetitive but my mind kept being drawn back to E.M.U. It’s sci-fi and a love story, two genres I’ve not worked with so it pushes me out of my comfort zone and can only help me grow as a film-maker.
How is development going?
XP: Script wise, the director and me are doing some rewriting, mainly to adapt the script to our budget, casting, and location conditions. We hope to have the final draft ready soon, and after casting we can start working on the dialogues with the actors.
AN: It’s a steady process. We’ve set up our social media accounts and are slowly building an audience; we’ve also started very early location scouting and put the advert out for our female lead, so hopefully we’ll have some casting news soon. A very talented friend of mine has done some concept work for us that we’ve been sharing with our followers. I’m in the process of breaking down the script and working out a preliminary budget so we can start thinking about funding applications and crowd funding. Xènia has been hard at work refining the script and it’s steadily coming together. It’s exciting.
What is your favourite scene in the script? What are you most looking forward to filming/seeing filmed?
XP: My favourite scene is the ending one. The way it is written, it leaves a lot of room for creativity with the camera and the edit, so I look forward to seeing that.
AN: I really love the scene where E.M.U makes Writer’s face out of the coloured pills he has been taking. It’s a beautiful visual and reveals so much about her character at that point in their relationship. It’s a sweet scene and combines the playful nature of a being in the midst of growing up with a very human display of affection. I can’t wait to see how it turns out, even if it’s going to be a pain to set up all of those pills.
What about casting? How is that going? Do either of you have any wish list cast members for the roles?
XP: I think we are just hoping to find the right actors for the roles. And, as a woman, I am hoping that some of the cast members are female, apart from the one female role that is already being cast.
AN: We’ve really thrown the net wide for casting. The character description in the advert was very brief and could be interpreted any number of ways. The applications we’ve already had a quite diverse and I’m looking forward to going through the applications with the rest of the team so we can pick them out. I agree with Xènia regarding a wider spread of female characters, there are three speaking roles and two silent roles. It makes sense to me that the E.M.U project is being run by women and it makes sense for those roles to be filled by women.
As Writer and Director what do you both think the essence of the film and its characters are? Do you agree or have differing views?
XP: In essence, this is a story about human emotion. The romantic drama and the sci-fi setting are just variables, I think that the inherent theme is how we relate to others and why relationships and human contact are so important.
AN: I see it as a film about what it is to be human. There’s a lovely ironic twist in that Writer requires a machine to know what it is to be human whereas in our reality technology drives us apart. I was in a restaurant the other day and saw a couple having dinner. [They] sat on their phones the entire time not talking to one another. I thought it was a funny parallel to our story. I also think there’s a warning in there about the dangers of becoming to separate from each other when we become too focused on work.
Who would you say your biggest influences are and how did this factor in to writing E.M.U? How will they shape the way you direct E.M.U?
XP: At the time when I started writing E.M.U, one of my biggest influences was Terrence Malick. I remember watching ‘The New World’ and thinking that my romantic scenes in E.M.U had to look like that. I think you can definitely see his influence in the way my script is written.
AN: I too see a Terrence Malick potential in the story, especially when Writer and E.M.U are outside exploring, there’s a lot of room for improvisation there and in other parts of the script. I’m a big lover of improvisation and used it a lot on my last project. ‘Blade Runner’ is one of my favourite films and I’m going to draw on that a lot when it comes to working with our female lead. Visually I’d like to shift from a very static, de-saturated look at the start and shift to a more colourful, moving camera style as Writer comes alive – that’s where the Malick influence will come in to play.
What do you both hope to bring to E.M.U from your past experiences?
XP: I have experience in almost all fields of filmmaking, so I hope I can bring the lessons I have learnt from mistakes I did making films. Filming with a low-budget is always a challenge and it becomes a very collaborative process, so I just hope to be of help to the team as a writer.
AN: Patience. One of the compliments I received from the actors in my last film was my patience with them and the events of the shoot. I want to continue with that and apply it to the more technical aspects. We had 18 days to shoot Little Pieces, my feature, and because of that we always got the barest minimum of coverage and a few indulgent shots. This time I would like to spend more time getting a lot of coverage to make the film more interesting on a visual level.
What are your hopes for the project once production is finished?
XP: Hopefully we’ll be able to do the festival run and maybe win some awards. And have as many people as possible watch it. That would be the best reward.
AN: It’d be great to get it into festivals and win some awards. Little Pieces got into some festivals and won an award at one of those so it’d be nice to top that and show some progression. Aside from that I would just like to people to see it and enjoy it.
Lynnaire MacDonald does publicity and marketing for films. You can find out more at her and The Film Sprites at their website.