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Sunspring, the first short film written by an algorithm

‘Benjamin’ is the AI (Artificial Intelligence) that wrote this work, premiered in the last edition of the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival.


A dark and strange future; three characters living in a space station, connected for what it seems to be a love triangle. This could be the definition of the story told in Sunspring in its nine minutes length, although its story, the same as its dialogues, are tangled and a little unintelligible, giving the production a funny touch, mysterious and captivating.

The short film is the first to be totally written by and artificial intelligence, which calls itself ‘Benjamin’. It provided the dialogue, the name and some acting directions as confuse as the plot, like “He is standing in the stars and sitting of the floor”. The production was born from the filmmaker Oscar Sharp’s deep desire of designing a machine that could create original pieces of writing. He has directed short films like The Karman Line, for which he received the Jury Award at the Aspen Shortsfest 2014, and was nominated for Best British Short Film in the BAFTA Awards 2015.

Sharp’s interest began when he was studying at NYU and he realized that he preferred to spend time with the specialists in technology from the Interactive Telecommunications Program, rather than being with his fellow filmmakers. He met Ross Goodwin there, a programmer and researcher in topics of artificial intelligence and neural networks, with whom he shared the idea of making a machine that could create original texts.

Goodwin spent an entire year working in an intelligence that could accomplish Sharp’s wish, and for this, he gave it scripts, found in the internet, of science fiction films from the 80s and 90s. ‘Benjamin’ is a type of intelligence usually used for text recognition, and Goodwin made sure to dissect the scripts to each of their letters, creating an algorithm that could predict the letters that tended to be repeated, and in this way, which words and phrases tended to be generated together. ‘Benjamin’ also received letters from around 30.000 pop songs, and it used them to write the original lyrics of the song titled Home on the Land, played by the band Tiger and Man.

Sunspring was made to participate in the 48 Hour Film Challenge of the last edition of the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival. For this competition, films had to be entirely produced in two days. Sharp gathered actor Thomas Middleditch, renowned for his work in the TV series Silicon Valley, with the actress from The Voorman Problem (2011), Elisabeth Gray, and the actor Humphrey Ker, for the roles of H, H2 and C, names given  by ‘Benjamin’ to the main characters of the film. Together they did a general reading of the script produced by the machine and started to interpret the lines, giving each one of them a body expression and tone, what is reflected in the final result of the production.

The short film reached the Top 10 of videos selected by the jury, from where the public could vote for their favorite. When the voting started, Goodwin perceived that the number of votes wasn’t normal and must had been generated by computers destined to constantly vote for certain films. They decided that ‘Benjamin’ voted more than 35.000 times for its work Sunspring. Filmmakers confessed this to Louis Savvy, director of the festival, and he found it very funny, for what he decided to invite them, along ‘Benjamin’, to be interviewed in the event.

When ‘Benjamin’ was asked what was next for him, he declared: “Here we go. The staff is divided by the train of the burning machine building with sweat. No one will see your face. The children reach into the furnace, but the light is still slipping to the floor. The world is still embarrassed.
The party is with your staff.
My name is Benjamin.”

With his experiment, Sharp reflects the tendencies of science fiction cinema, showing that in this genre, characters constantly question the context and the environment that surrounds them, as well as the objects and the reality in front of them. The fact that the public associated Sunspring with a love triangle, for Sharp and Goodwin is a demonstration of how all the scripts that viewers have consumed, have made them expect certain narrative lines and adjust stories to certain models.

By María Alejandra Santamaría - Editorial office Velvet Voice, Laboratorios Black Velvet.

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