When TV shows and movies try to incorporate text messaging and other digital media into the story, it can feel forced. See, for example, 2003’s “From Justin to Kelly,” which included the hot Motorola-enabled pickup line, “Kelly, I O U A BRGR. U GAME? JUSTIN.”
But writer and filmmaker Alex J. Mann has managed to create an entire short film told through a Gchat conversation that feels totally natural — except when it becomes supernatural.
In “Green Dot,” a girl named Mallory receives a message from someone she hasn’t heard from in a while, and the twists and turns keep going from there.
The attention to detail is impressive — as Mallory gets more and more freaked out, she starts misspelling words and hesitating to respond. Mann effectively builds tension and tells a story with a beginning, middle and end all through Gchat.
Watch the short below. Then, read our Q&A with Mann himself, who also happens to have a hilarious Twitter account.
BUSINESS INSIDER: Can you give me the rundown of who you are and what you do, beyond what’s available on Google? What’s your other video experience?
ALEX MANN: I’m a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles. I moved here from NYC about a year ago. I write mostly comedy — recently, sketch videos for Maker Studios and segments for the Funny or Die TV show, Billy on the Street. I’ve also got my own scripted television show in development at a cable network. On weekends, I make short films. My goal this year was to have less scripts sitting on my hard drive and more things made.
BI: Where’d you get the idea for the short?
AM: I don’t have a clear answer, but I’ll hypothesize. I was on the Facebook page of someone who died recently. It was jarring to see posts from the person, even though they were technically being written by the person’s sister. That planted the idea in my head of a dead person using social media. I combined that idea with Gchat, because Gchat is this sort of time portal in your Gmail window of names of people from your past.
BI: Do you follow any online urban legend or scary story communities? Is this genre something that interests you a lot?
AM: I don’t, but I’ve always been a fan of the genre. One of my first books was “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” I owned it even before I could read because I liked the pictures.
BI: How did you create the short, technically?
AM: First, I wrote the script, which started at about 10 pages. Me and my friend/co-producer Adam Bloom set up the Gmail accounts for Mallory and Trent, and had the conversation on Gchat. We used Quicktime’s screen recording feature to record it. I typed for Mallory, and Adam typed for Trent. Our first cut was 15 minutes. We edited the script and recorded again. Around the fifth or sixth take, we got it to seven minutes. Adam was able to make a few cuts and speed it up in editing to get it to the length it’s at now.
BI: Were you inspired at all by the new movie “Unfriended,” which tells a horror story through the lens of a webcam conversation?
AM: I hadn’t heard of the movie when I started writing the script, but I knew there’d be comparisons once I did hear about it.
BI: Do you think we’ll see more stories told through digital communication media like Gchat and Skype? What attracted you to the idea of doing this yourself?
I think so. Maybe not entire stories, but we’ll see digital communication more integrated into filmmaking. From what I’ve seen, “Black Mirror” does it best.
I was attracted to the idea for two reasons:
1.) Constraints. Could I make something engaging using only text?
2.) The genre I’m most interested in right now is the “dark side of technology.” Adam and I created a production company, Space Oddity Films, to create films for the genre. Engagement, our last short, is a murder mystery involving a text alert. Uber Driver is about a technology-obsessed uber driver who goes insane. Our next short involves an Instagram stalker.
BI: Of course, there will be naysayers who think this is not a legitimate way to tell a story, as there always are when new channels and media are developed. What would you say in response to that kind of criticism?
To this question, Mann gave a succinct response that might seem clever to those who’ve already watched his video: “u died too.”
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