New Aussie sci-fi/comedy System Error, written and directed by Matt Vesely, is about a “well-meaning service unit that works at a convenience store”.
“George tries to make friends with a human, Sid, and starts to unravel when he begins editing his code to be more likable,” Vesely tells Supanova.
With the short film released today, we caught up with Vesely, who shared some more insight into its story and gave us an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at production.
Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
“The short is a sort of pilot for a series we’re working on called Overheater, which is a dystopian romantic comedy about a love triangle between an anxious young woman, a reckless man with a deathwish, and… George. He’s really lovable, I swear. It was selected for Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival last year and was made with Epic Films and Closer Productions, a production company I work with and recently put out the ABC comedy series Afterstate (which I wrote on). It was funded by the South Australian Film Corporation. Good dudes.
“I’m a massive sci-fi guy – my favourite films are Alien, Akira, Children Of Men, stuff like that. Fox Mulder is my hero. But I also struggle to take myself too seriously, and watched way too much Futurama growing up, so can’t help but make my own work dumb and funny.
“I was inspired by two big things – one is Canadian comedian Nick Nemeroff, who plays George (you can check him out on Conan here). Nick started doing comedy on exchange in Adelaide and was in my previous film, and he’s just so funny… and sort of speaks like a robot. At least, the kind of robot that I’d like to be friends with. I wrote the role for him.
“The story was also really inspired by my own experience of mental illness. A robot’s corrupted code is a great metaphor for the way we all feel broken sometimes – but those faults are the things that make us special, make us who we are. I’ve lived with anxiety and related issues my whole life, and I wanted to make a film that got to the heart of how I and many people felt in a way that was really warm, relatable, inclusive, welcoming. This isn’t a bummer of a film that grapples with how bad mental health is. I’m pretty sick of that. I hope this is a film that people feel celebrates them for who they are. Hopefully, we can make our TV series Overheater and continue celebrating how diverse our mental health experiences are.
“We’re really excited for science fiction fans in particular to see System Error. I’m a fan myself, and it’s such a passionate community, so I can’t wait to share this with them – so thanks to anyone reading this for their interest!”
Give us some insight into production…
“George is a nightmare to work with. Honestly, he just never shuts up. He’s very friendly, but sometimes you just need to get to work, you know? I even did a live show with him at the Adelaide Fringe, and I did all the work, and yet he took all the credit!!
“For real though, George did actually break down on set. All of George’s lights and voice effects are practical, on set effects. We run the pre-recorded dialogue through a waveform analyzer that triggers the light on his mouth to flash in time with his voice. And halfway through the final day, on a low-budget short where we are going to run out of time and money and crew, his light just came on and wouldn’t go off.
“George was built by an amazing guy called Stephen Robb, who designs and builds a lot of custom cosplay for people across Australia, especially for conventions like Supanova (you can check out his work here). But, Stephen also has a day job, so he was at work that day. He was in transit between jobs, and said he could stop by on his way to have a look. We sent someone to the nearby Bunnings to buy a soldering iron and downloading some open source programming software onto my laptop. Stephen rocks up and pulls open George’s controls, it’s like he’s dismantling a bomb. And he can’t figure out what’s wrong, until eventually, he says to me, ‘I don’t know why, but I think if I cut this wire, it might work.’ It’s like scene from Speed. But it works! George is back online! I hugged Stephen, the robot surgeon. If George hadn’t broken down at all across the shoot, it would have almost felt too easy, so I’m thankful in a way!”
You can watch the film and check out some exclusive behind-the-scenes shots below.
Content Warning: System Error contains strong mental health themes, as well as coarse language. Viewer discretion is advised.
Lead image by Anders Wotzke.