Talking about robot movies

Staff Reports


 Transcendence director Wally Pfister sat down with editors of college newspapers around the country, including The Collegian in a conference call to talk about his directorial debut. 

Question: So, how did your career as a cinematographer influence your directorial debut?

Pfister: Well, I think what – what you’ll find in life is that everything you do kind of contributes to what you do later on. So everything that I did as a cinematographer even going back to before I shot feature films when I was a news cameramen, the documentaries.

All of that – all of that experience makes easier when you get on the set as a director for the first time and one of the great – great things that I got out of all those years working on big budget features as a cinematographer was have a little intimidation in getting on the set for the first time as a director.

Question: What sets Transcendence apart from [other artificial intelligence films]?

Pfister: Well, it’s an excellent question. I think partially what sets Transcendence apart is that it’s not strictly speaking in artificial intelligence. The original project that they are working on the film is in artificial intelligence, but I think I can say without any spoilers that it’s actually, you know, a human mind that gets uploaded.

Because we are talking about, you know, most of the – throughout most of the movie, the idea is to question whether in fact this machine that sent in if it contains the actual soul of this particular person. That person being (Johnny), of course.

Question: With the open ending of the movie, what do you hope viewers discuss or internalize?

Pfister: There are a lot of things I would like people to be thinking about and discussing as the movie concludes. But I think – I think most of it is sort of this notion that, you know, if we are going to be relying on technology or are dependent on technology, it’s good to know whose hands it’s in. 

Question: I know Jack Paglen wrote the script, but how much research did you put into things like nanotechnology in preparation for the film?

Pfister: I did an enormous amount of research. Jack wrote the original screenplay and then I continued writing drafts consequently. I went on a little trip. I went on my own little college tour in early spring of 2012.

I went to visit MIT and talk to professors in the field of nanotechnology and in neurobiologies and robotics, and even in the media lab to look at some of their projections and get ideas for what was the state of the art in terms of projections and holograms and that sort of thing.

And then I also visited Stanford and spoke to professors there and then did the same thing at Berkeley. And I landed on two professors at Berkeley, one in neurobiology and the other one in nanotechnology.

Question: Obviously, sci-fi films must differ at some point from scientific reality. How far does Transcendence stray from what currently being researched of artificial intelligence?

Pfister: Well, I think – you know, it’s in terms of stray stretching, you know, how and where we are going with it, it’s pretty – you know, this is fiction and it is important for everybody to remember the fi in sci-fi.

You know, this is obviously designed as entertainment and so in terms of where we push the limits. Obviously you cannot upload a human brain with the current technology now.

So that’s our real stretch is being able to take, you know, a human mind and upload it in the computer and successfully. So that sort of what drives the science fiction in this film to begin with.

So you know – and could potentially happen in the future. Beyond that, you know, it’s, as I said, it’s fiction.

The Collegian: Why did you choose to work on this particular film and how did you get involved with this particular project of Transcendence?

Pfister: Well – how I got involved was through my agent sent a screenplay over and my agent also represented Jack Paglen and she said I’ve really think to have a look at this. Just came across my desk and I think it’s pretty fascinating.

And what attracted me to it was really I thought it was very original and even though it dealt with, you know, artificial intelligence, which has somebody mentioned earlier, you know, not a completely original subject matter – I thought it was a very original screenplay. And I really love sort of what Jack had created with these characters and sort of emotional journey and – it felt different to me.

Question: So I knew you feel strongly toward the use of film. So what about the story of Transcendence and the use of technology is specifically personal for you?

Pfister: I think there is probably a little bit of that in there. You know, it’s kind of hard to avoid the fact that film is the organic and the more sort of traditional technology. It’s been with us for 100 years and you know, technology represents, you know, the digital I supposed.

But at the same time, I’m not that crazy about giving out personal information on social medial sites and I also get a little annoyed when my phone makes me upgrade to the new software quite frequently rather than just letting me use it as a telephone.

Pfister: Those are great questions, by the way, guys. Thank you very much.