From Vine to Feature Film: 'Sylvio the Movie' Aims to Cross the Attention Span Divide

Albert Birney making Sylvio
We live in an age where 6-second films are a real thing. While some might be rolling over in their graves, others are using Vine as a much-needed creative outlet. But can a character transition from Vine videos to the feature film format?

That's just what Sylvio The Movie co-directors Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley are trying to do. We've heard of Viners trying to make this leap before, but Albert and Kentucker bring their backgrounds as independent filmmakers to tackle a medium that didn't exist a few short years ago. For them, finding Vine was an exercise in going "where the river is flowing" and led to the invention of Sylvio, a gorilla at odds with the universe.

The result is over 800 6-second Simply Sylvio episodes, each exploring the idea of finding our rightful place in this world. I spoke with Albert and Kentucker about the current state of attention spans, why internet entertainment is like drugs and the childlike sensibilities that makes a man in a gorilla suit work.

"It's an attempt to break free from the desperation loop that we're in and make a larger comment about how dangerous these disposable forms of media are becoming."

NFS: I'm generally stubborn and resistant to these new mediums, but it seems they are becoming more and more powerful each day. As filmmakers pre-Vine, has this project changed your view on new media?

Kentucker: There's so much free content, it's kind of counterintuitive to pay for entertainment at this point. It's so available. It's even more satisfying for a typical consumer to watch YouTube videos or Facebook videos. That's entertainment now. It used to be movies, now the crown jewel of entertainment is internet videos.

Albert: It's just the flow of the river and this is where the river is flowing. If you fight the river you're gonna drown. Sylvio is a Vine account that's very fast and disposable, a quick hit almost like drugs, but I think people respond to the thought and craft put into it. If you can tell someone put thought and craft and some of themselves into something, I think that will always hit.

 

Kentucker: It's a mistake to be bitter about these transitions. We're not entitled to people caring about our work, it's not something that's owed to us. But it's a startling transition going from this world we thought we were entering into, where we would make a movie and push it out to the world and it wouldn't be forgotten within a minute. It's a shock to the system. Everything we thought about how to cultivate a film and put it out in the world is not true anymore.

NFS:  The main reason I'm resistant of episodic formats has to do with this drug comparison. I feel when I become dependent on a certain kind of media, attention span greatly suffers.

Albert: Yeah, that constant need to get another hit of it. It's scary because it's changed how I watch feature films. For me, before Vine I worked on a film for 3.5 years and shot it on 16mm. It was the opposite of this. After that Vine came along and it was so exciting. I could think of something and put it out instantly. It was like this drug. Still, the longer stories for me personally are more satisfying. Maybe it's growing up with the old video store idea, going to get a movie and you have to hold it in your hand and really put some thought into it. It's that slowness of thought that's missing. These 800 Vines have been huge for flushing out this character – now let's take all that and put it in a longer story and return to that the slow process of making a film.

"Vine is a lot of appetizers, but after a while you want the main course, y'know?"

Kentucker: That's the fundamental question. It definitely destroys your attention span. You're on Twitter and you're looking at your feed. And you're just going through the circuit of your websites, but you mistakenly press Twitter again. You're refreshing the page. You're lost in the cycle. And you don't realize you're going on the same page.

Albert: And the internet is endless. You're always clicking for the next hit. It's very easy to get lost and to be adrift in this new media landscape. The act of making this film will get us out of that loop. We will have to focus on one thing; it will take a month to shoot. I want to end the Vine account after the movie. So the Vine account will be a finished thing, and even though it's episodic you can look at it as one long story to go alongside the film.

"How do you keep that youthful spirit and that creativity we all had as kids when you get older and suddenly faced with bills and jobs you don't like?"

Kentucker: I really like the idea that the movie being the last Vine — it's an attempt to break free from the desperation loop that we're in and make a larger comment about how dangerous these disposable forms of media are becoming. So much of this disposable entertainment doesn't get deep at all, it's just these superficial bytes of nothingness. It's very important for our sanity to make this movie and break out of the cycle.

NFS: What steps are you taking pragmatically or in the story itself that will help make that transition?

Albert: Indie film world where you want to tell a story over 80-90 minutes. So we both already have one foot in that world, and this new world we've been exploring on the internet. Hopefully we'll have a new audience, someone who's never seen a Vine. We just want to make a good film regardless if you know the Sylvio character or have seen his Vines. Then there are also fans of Sylvio that have said they are excited to go along on this journey.

"There’s legitimacy given to a film with darkness and edge and a sourpuss attitude. That's why I'm excited to latch onto this vision that Albert is pushing, it’s such a different take on indie film and I don't think anyone is tackling anything of this nature."

Kentucker: Sylvio has a hand puppet named Herbert, it's his stand in for what he's thinking or his creative process. Sylvio has his own Vine account for Herbert and makes these little videos. Like when we have an idea, a thought or something we want to capture. We're all just trying to capture these moments [in life]. We just want to tell a story about someone who is struggling to find his place in the universe.

NFS: I'm getting a strong Pee-Wee's Playhouse vibe; a certain unbounded creativity and childlike curiosity and playfulness. It's refreshing and shocking at the same time, to see something like that in contemporary indie film.

Kentucker: There’s a limit to the darkness, it's getting overboard. There’s legitimacy given to a film with darkness and edge and a sourpuss attitude. That's why I'm excited to latch onto this vision that Albert is pushing, it’s such a different take on indie film and I don't think anyone is tackling anything of this nature.

"Feeling not alone, I think that's the initial appeal of internet culture."

Albert: Pee-Wee was one of my first true loves. That unhinged zaniness, but even Pee-Wee's Big Adventure there's some darkness in it too. That's why adults can relate to it. How do you keep that youthful spirit and that creativity we all had as kids when you get older and suddenly faced with bills and jobs you don't like? It's playful but it's rooted in the reality of the world that we're living in. There's war in the background. In the laundromat we see a death tool of 100 on the TV. It's seeping into every aspect of our world, how do you stay young and have the spirit of Pee-Wee Herman? A kid at heart. It's important to play our whole life, and making these Vines has been play, for my dark feelings and light feelings.*

NFS: Would you recommend other filmmakers to use Vine?

A: If it's fun and it's quick but it will never be as worthwhile as putting thought into a longer film. Vine is a lot of appetizers, but after a while you want the main course, y'know? For young filmmakers it's a great sketchpad, or if you're feeling stuck and you're not able to get an idea out of your head. For me it let me shoot my ideas right away instead of stewing on it for 2 weeks. You can just make these little dreams that go out into the world. It reminds myself to have fun — film should be like play — just don't forget that there's bigger fish in the sea. Ultimately it's about getting out there, sharing ideas and being part of a community. Feeling not alone, I think that's the initial appeal of internet culture, you get community going. But an internet community will never be as satisfying as a real community, you want to have a balance between internet and reality.     

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