How the filmmakers of the episodic series “Who You Are” were able to turn a ‘80s Macintosh into a living, breathing character.
While we have big SXSW headlines from mainstay filmmakers like Jordan Peele, Harmony Korine and Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, some of the most insightful stories come from the DIY creative artists whose blood, sweat, and muscle was needed to create some of the most odd, innovative, and fantastic films at the fest.
In a project which has been called “Halt and Catch Fire on bath salts”, some handy SXSW filmmakers were able to cram together a cinematically functionable “hackintosh” Mac for their show “Who You Are”.
"Who You Are" is about the accidental invention of an asshole AI that spells trouble for a tech startup in the late 80’s.
Let’s take a look at how director Joel Jay Blacker (along with writer Samuel Roots, cinematographer Tanner Hall and production designer Sam Neidenbach) was able to literally hammer together their star self-aware personal computer.
1) Find Your Mac
Joel Blacker: “I just scoured Craigslist every day. We have two of them now. The first one we got was cheap because the guy didn’t think it worked. Which… it doesn’t now; I destroyed it. Which felt sacrilegious. But it didn’t have the printer we needed with it. So we looked for other printer options only to later come across the Apple ImageWriter that came with the computer originally. We got really lucky as the printer was still functional. With the push of a button, the spindle churns out a print. We’d just have to reset it between takes.”
2) Light Your Screen
Joel Blacker: “My DP (Tanner Hall) and I were experimenting with an LED bulb and diffusion paper behind the screen, but we didn’t get the spread we wanted. We had a buddy with LED tape which ended up being best for an even distribution of light. I had to use frosting glass spray so as to not reveal too much of the inside of the computer, which I gutted to fit the light.”
3) Smoke Out Your Floppy Disc
Joel Blacker: “We had a lot of gags where we wanted to sell that Jonathan (the computer engineer) had rigged the Mac to be operating up to its breaking point. We wanted a lot of smoke effects coming from the inside as if it were literally dying, so our Production Designer (Sam Neidenbach) squeezed a duct-taped silicon tube up through the back power port directly to the floppy disc port to pump smoke through it.”
4) Put the Man Back Into the Machine
Joel Blacker: “The computer communicates its emotions and reactions by lighting up to different levels of brightness. To operate the light source we had someone hidden behind the computer desk dialing the light in response to the voice actor (Clayton Farris) off camera. We just picked up a $5 dimmer from Home Depot, which we rigged up to the light source inside.”
5) Make Your Mistakes
Joel Blacker: “We had no money for a props specialist. We shot the series for under five grand, so we had to figure this stuff out ourselves. I very unprofessionally took the computer apart by watching Youtube videos and we made a lot of mistakes. I literally took a hammer to the hardware inside, which cracked more of the monitor than I would have liked. It’s mostly duct tape inside now and no actual working parts."
But it worked out because it fit the aesthetic we wanted. It really is a “hackintosh”. It serves as a temperamental, difficult, and real character in our story.”
For more information, you can find out more about “Who You Are” here.
Cover photo by Carolina Rodriguez.
For more, see our ongoing list of coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
No Film School's podcast and editorial coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.