Featured Project: Operator by Sam Barnett


Sam managed to reach his goal! Episode 2 has been funded. We can’t wait to see the result

Making a chair takes time. And wood. And nails. Somebody’s got to front the $$$ before you plop your keister on down and turn on the tv. But what about what you watch? Sometimes we forget that ephemeral arts (you can’t pick it up, you can’t sit on it) also take time, money and effort to create. That’s why we’re sharing an interview with animator Sam Barnett today. His short film Operator was a youtube sensation – staff pick on Vimeo and called the creepiest film of 2013. Its a must watch – it’s the satisfying kind of creepy – none of that chintzy cheap shock and gore. No, it reminds me of being both fascinated and ooked out by Tool videos as a 14 year old. Now he’s ready to devote some time into taking the project to the next level. I think this kind of project makes a solid model of what makes crowdfunding a worthwhile and feasible way to get more interesting art into the world. Check out the first episode below!


LukeWhy claymation?

SamIn stop-motion, everything is very specific. Anything you animate is a real object that is not only full of imperfections, but a history of the things it has been through. It is very hard to create this feeling of history in 3D. (although 3D is getting better all the time, and I am excited about its possibilities). There is also something incredible about animating in a linear way. In stop motion the shot is completed from start to finish. In computer animation you make a version and then work and rework and rework each moment. Somebody comes in later and adds texture, someone else lights the scene, another person still moves the digital camera. It’s much less organic. If I did 3D I would I think I would collapse into a rabbit hole of infinite revisions.

LukeWhy are you turning to Kickstarter to fund this project? Why not make it in your spare time, or shop it around to a production company?


We did take shop it around to a lot of production companies. It got a lot of interest, from both major studios and newer smaller production companies. The conversation always started with “We LOVE this! We want to make it!” but then the big studios eventually decided it didn’t fit well enough into one of their marking categories, and the smaller places were either flaky or unprofessional.

As for making it on my own, its just not sustainable. It costs too much money and takes too much time to make something that is really excellent. You have to dedicate yourself absolutely. There is a reason why so many successful artist come from money. I just learned Kate Mara’s family owns 2 NFL teams. Robert Rodriguez financed his first film by letting people test new medications on him. Which is an option I haven’t entirely ruled out yet haha.

I was inspired to make Operator by a few things: parasites like the cordyceps mushroom, which controls the brains of ants so it can use their bodies as food while it spreads its spores as far as possible. Also, what I like to call “parasitic ideas.” Our minds are made up of ideas that come from all over the place. And somehow once we accept an idea it feels like its part of who we are, even if that idea ends up being terrible for us.
The point is that we grow up with this idea that there is a clear barrier between ourselves and everything else. Operator is a story about a world in which that barrier is ripped to pieces and the boundary between what is and is not us becomes very unclear. It is told from the perspective of characters that have very little power, struggling against a massive corporation that is trying to destroy them. It is a story that I am passionately committed to.Sam Barnett

LukeWhat do you mean by the term “parasitic ideas”?

Sam I am fascinated by the relationship between our identities and our ideas. When we accept an idea, like “I’m a Liberal/Conservative” it becomes part of your identity and it can be very hard to let go. We did not create these ideas—if anything we are a product of them—and yet it feels like they come from inside us. And because of that you trust in ideas which you believe. It’s not always a bad thing, but ideologies designed by cults or oppressive regimes explicitly to weaken and control the holders of such beliefs are parasitic. If you’re in a cult and they tell you to stop talking to your family because they are unclean and you must be pure, that is a parasitic idea designed to exploit your fear of your own insufficiency and keep you under the control of the group. If, as was prominently featured on Last Week Tonight, a TV preacher tells someone that giving them money is planting a seed with god that will turn into more money, that is as simply parasitic as an idea can be. It’s easy to scoff and say, I would never do that, but millions of people the world over do.

LukeIs Operator a reflection of the current social mileau, or is Infocorp (the ominous corporate entity depicted) more of a timeless warning?

Sam It’s both. There will always be a struggle between the powerful and powerless. But right now we are at a point where corporate power is arguably much greater than governmental power. AI, robotics, nanotech, biotech, etc. are all converging and can create incredible change in the coming decades. I have high hopes for the future, but I can’t pretend there aren’t individuals out there who will use these technologies to exploit others. I also think the line between flesh and machine is getting murkier every day. We are flying moths with remote controls, making crazy robots that respond to terrain in real time like Big Dog, and are absolutely dependent on our phones and other technologies.

Mike Freak Out And Reference GIF

LukeBonus question: There’s a happy ending…right?

Sam HAHA, no spoilers.

Disclosure: I (Luke) contributed the lobby background music to the first episode of Operator, but don’t have anything to do with the next episodes or Sam’s Kickstarter. Our encouragement to support this project is only because we think it’s awesome!