Space is often considered the final frontier. But once mankind has conquered that, what comes next? Well, if science fiction is any indication, the advent of artificial intelligence would be the next thing we are aiming to master.
But here on a Dodge sound stage, there is a currently filming thesis project that is hoping to shed some light on human / AI interaction. That film is BINARY, telling the story of a man on a deep space voyage that has to choose between his human girlfriend…and his artificial intelligence one.
I visited their still in construction set last week on Stage A to chat with director Carol Liang (BFA/Film Production ’17), producer Alexander Rocca (BFA/Creative Producing ’17), and production designer Bhargavi Anganarasu (MFA/Production Design ’17).
The first thing that struck me when I walked into Stage A was how massive the set was going to be. While A is the smaller of the two, the construction of the ship’s bridge and living quarters took up most of the room. A large, sphere-like structure surrounded it, as they were hard at work to get it done before the weekend.
“It was a big project, and definitely something I wanted to take on for one of my projects,” said Anganarasu. “How often do you get to work on a science fiction film like this?”
The story was one that Liang wanted to tackle before. In fact, she had even once tried to write it in high school, but it proved too ambitious for her then. However, she was able to take it on with Victoria Wang (BFA/Creative Producing ’17), especially since A.I. is such a hot topic in pop culture these days.
Liang was once a computer science double major, and also a massive fan of science fiction, so this was something she had an interest in.
“I wanted to look it like biology is just another boundary we will cross one day in terms of relationships,” she explained. “It’s almost an interracial love story, how people with different inherent values come together.”
Even with help from Wang, the script didn’t come naturally at first. The original lead was going to be the AI, but she found it hard to relate, and thought people would see her as the antagonist.
“Thematically, it was hard, but after a lot of revisions, we definitely found our place,” she said.
Rocca came onto the project last year, and liked how different it was than the other projects he did for AP and the interterm pilots.
“It was ambitious, it had stage builds,” he said. “In the past I haven’t gravitated toward science fiction, but the character-based story of BINARY really resonated with me and pushed me to become attached to the project as the producer. The viewer connects with the humanity of the characters despite the elements of artificial intelligence.”
Because it is a science fiction film, Rocca had to be inventive with how they executed the project with the limited budge. They luckily were able to crowdfund some of it as well to help meet that cost. While that may have been hard to do, they all agreed that the biggest challenge so far was the stage build itself.
Thankfully, they were able to get into Stage A during the interterm and start mapping everything out. But that didn’t mean it didn’t come without its challenges.
The entire set was encapsulated by a dome-like structure, giving it a very sci-fi feel. However, they had a difficult time getting it just right during that first day of construction.
“We had to re-assemble it a few times, because our measurements didn’t add up, and the set wouldn’t fit inside of it,” Liang joked, looking back on it. “We started at 10:30AM one morning with a large group of people, and we didn’t finish until 6AM the next day, with only three people left!”
But once that was up, it wasn’t the only late night the crew would have. In order to make sure it got completed on time, Anganarasu and the other production designer had spent a long time in Stage A as well.
“I get here around 10AM, but sometimes don’t leave until 3 or 4 in the morning,” Anganarasu said. However, she is enjoying it. She came onto the project in August, and finalized her designs around December.
She is graduating this May, and liked that she took this on, because she saw it as a challenge to her own skills…not to mention that it would look great on her resume.
However, with the shoot in just a few days, there were more late nights ahead, and they were all looking forward to getting some rest before the shoot began.
Overall, the set was incredibly impressive, and the story sounds great. I am excited to see how it all comes together when they were done shooting (with another set being built for this coming weekend). We’ll be checking in with the BINARY team again when they are closer to finishing their production, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.
Some photos of the final set, courtesy of the BINARY team: