A video essay is a thought experiment that you put to the test in an actual audiovisual montage. Just as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of the essay is in the making. Sometimes, the result is savory. Sometimes it comes out inedible.


Sunspring can be seen as such an essayistic experiment. This short film was produced for the Sci-fi-London festival in a truly sci-fi fashion: its script was penned by a computer. Based on a bunch of sci-fi screenplays for (mostly) Hollywood blockbusters, an Artificial Intelligence knocked out a new script. The idea being that the science fiction genre is so dependent on recurring tropes that even an artificial writer should be able to turn all those genre conventions into a coherent script. But in all honesty, the AI’s writing won’t be up for awards consideration anytime soon. Still, the text served as the basis for the short above, with the actors (often desperately) trying to make sense of the garbled and nonsensical lines of dialogue. The abandon with which they try to add some emotional intelligence and subtext to the AI’s mumbo jumbo is admirable.


While the end result falls far short of the examples the AI was fed, it is a fascinating failure nonetheless. It proves even the most clichéd writing is hard to emulate, for one thing. But the most surprising aspect is the strangely surrealist quality of the resulting short. The filmmakers also had to visualize cryptic stage directions such as “He is standing in the stars and sitting on the floor”. This leads to bewildering visuals and continuity-defying cuts that could have sprung from the minds of Jean Cocteau or David Lynch.


Maybe the script is much more evolved than we give it credit for, and the Artificial Intelligence skipped all the boring clichés of sci-fi and jumped straight to a surrealist rethinking of the genre? After all, the production method of this short was a high-tech variation on the surrealist parlor game of the cadavre exquis or exquisite corpse, with the computer as one of the participants.