Published: Friday, 20 September 2019 | Written by SciFi Vision
Auggie, which opens in select theaters and is available on video on demand starting today, follows Felix Greystone (Richard Kind), who after being forced into early retirement is given a pair of augmented reality glasses called AUGGIE. The glasses project a perfect version of an interactive companion to the user.
When Felix’s wife, Anne (Susan Blackwell), is promoted, and his daughter, Grace (Simone Policano), moves out to live with her boyfriend, Felix, feeling lonely, decides to try on the glasses. The attention from Auggie (Christen Harper) helps ease the loneliness, but when he starts to fall for her, it jeopardizes his relationships. Can Felix recognize his addiction and stop before he loses what truly matters?
Director and Co-Writer Matt Kane and Co-Writer Marc Underhill recently talked to SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about working on Auggie. SCIFI VISION: Can you talk about coming up with the concept of the film?
MARC UNDERHILL: I am a big fan of technology, and I kind of like to get a sense of where things are headed. This is our first feature film together, and I knew that whatever idea we were going to come up with, it might need to track for like three years, because if you're making something that’s future sci-fi, you can’t pick something that's too close to becoming a reality, because by the time the movie’s out, it could actually be reality.
So, I picked something I liked, like augmented reality, because I think there's a lot of untapped potential that a lot of people are working on ways to bring that future to the present. You know, Snapchat has glasses, Facebook is developing it and has Oculus, and there’s rumored to be Apple smart glasses. So, people are trying to do it, which is cool. And honestly, Google Glass has already been out.
But then, the other thing was, I wanted to talk about loneliness. I live in Los Angeles, and dating is kind of tricky; it can be quite lonely. And I think it would be nice to have an augmented reality companion where when I feel like I need a partnership, I can put them on, and when I feel like I need space, I can take them off.
And then obviously, there are problems that come with that kind of instant gratification in that kind of a one-sided relationship.
But I took that idea to Matt, and he also elevated it even further.
Do you want to talk about that Matt?
MATT KANE: I thought it'd be interesting to look at how this kind of a device, this kind of a presence, someone that is there instantly and then is gone instantly, could affect the person that is already in an established relationship, someone that had been with someone for some time and was going through a period in their lives where they were facing some kind of existential vulnerability. So, that's kind of how we started talking about the idea.
Was there any specific research that you did into artificial intelligence, even any movies you watched or anything like that when you started to write it and get ready to film it?
MARC UNDERHILL: I am a big fan of Gizmodo as well as Ars Technica. These are tech blogs that I read. I feel like that's kind of the initial place that the idea kind of came from, is sharing about how more and more companies were developing augmented reality technology and how groundbreaking it could be, and multiple revolutionary implications in all different kinds of industries, even everyday life.
And then when Google Glass happened, I think that was such a cultural touchstone moment of privacy concerns in terms of if you're wearing Google Glass and you walk into a locker room at the gym, you could take a picture and no one would even know. And these ideas of how technology is revolutionary; technology can be disruptive immediately in terms of how society adapts.
So, I think the research that went into it was mostly just kind of basic reading of tech blogs and pondering about how this might affect us in the future.
Matt, do you want to talk about anything?
MATT KANE: Yeah. I think we're just excited about the fact that technology really is developing at such a rapid rate that we can barely kind of keep tabs on it and understand quite how fast it’s moving.
So, that just opens up a whole world of opportunities for stories, because we can look at so many different angles of how this kind of a technology might affect people and might be good for people. And then we can look at other technologies, and I think, you know, Marc, having such a keen interest in that world leads to us having almost philosophical conversations about how these technologies will affect people in general and people going forward and how we're going to continue to interact with them and engage with them in our lives. That's kind of how we became interested generally and why we are interested in sci-fi as a genre.
Can you talk about the casting process? How did you come to cast Richard Kind?
MATT KANE: We had a wonderful casting director, Alice Merlin, and she was a big supporter of the film and friend of ours as well. She had the script on the platforms where agents and managers who represent actors of Richard’s kind of caliber can have access to the roles that are available in films coming up.
So, Richard’s manager saw a breakdown for the character, and she asked for the script from our casting director to see if Richard might be interested in it.
Then that information was brought to us by Alice, and we were very excited about the opportunity to work with Richard, because he’s so frequently been cast in, you know, character roles and kind of bit parts, but he's done some more serious work over the years, but not a huge amount of it and not as much where he has been the protagonist of the film, and he has to carry the whole arc really.
So, when he was brought to us, I think we were both really excited about that opportunity and hopeful that he might also be intrigued. And luckily for us, he did really respond to the script, and he agreed to do it pretty quickly.
Can you talk about the decision to not go with more of a sci-fi look kind of look for Auggie? Like you don't have a hologram or anything like that, just the actress and that little sound you hear. Can you talk about why you decided to go for a more human, less tech look?
MATT KANE: I think we really wanted to explore the psychology of the of the idea and how this presence, this sort of being that appears before Felix, affects him in a really intimate way. And I think that the idea itself is so sci-fi and is kind of like, near some future, but we're not there yet.
I think that we really wanted to focus more on that relationship and how his relationships were affected, you know, how Felix’s marriage is affected, how Anne feels about his distance and what he's doing, and how Felix feels about his life and the beginning of this new chapter where he doesn't know quite what to do with himself.
And then his interactions with Auggie in particular, the more naturalistic and real they felt, the more we wanted the audience to be able to almost participate in these conversations, and the less we would remember that she isn’t real, that this isn't a real, you know, friendship that is blooming or relationship that is blossoming or developing. So, we just kind of wanted to ground everything and explore how people were feeling versus how affected they were by the technological advancements that are taking place in order for this product to exist.
It was advertised at the beginning of the film that Auggie could potentially be used for an assistant, but I would think most people would probably not automatically use it for that purpose, but for a companion as Felix did. So, I'm just curious of his co-workers' thoughts. Did they really think that he would use it as an assistant? I'm just kind of curious to their idea of why they would get this for for their co-worker, like a little bit of insight into that.
MATT KANE: I think it's really looking at almost this ageism, kind of someone being pushed out of their job at a point where they're not quite even ready to retire. You can tell at the beginning that he doesn't necessarily want to be in this position; he’s not happy about it.
And then the younger generation having access to this kind of technology and being familiar with it and more comfortable with it, it's almost like a tongue in cheek kind of gift of like, you know, have fun; here’s someone for you to interact with now, because you're not going to be around people as often; you're going to be alone a lot. It's not quite a joke gift, and it's not it's not necessarily intended that way, but it is a little mean, and it's a little cheeky of them to be kind of hinting at how lonely he's going to be as a result of them kind of giving him the boot.
MARC UNDERHILL: Yes. Hillary (Larisa Oleynik) though, the woman who overtakes Richard to run the company in that first scene who gives Felix the glasses, she has a kind of a glint in her eye about the way she's pushing him out as well. I think she is the kind of person who might be willing to throw a kink in Felix's marriage.
And then that next scene, there's a dining room scene where he says that Hillary's dad wasn’t at the retirement party; it was just Hillary, and Anne kind of refers to Hillary as “the little shit.” So, there's definitely a little bit of tension in between Anne and Hillary. And I think this is just another example of Hillary kind of messing in Felix and Anne’s lives.
Can you talk a little bit just in general about the morality issues that go along with the film, because, you know, you kind of watch it, and you think, well, on one hand, he's not really having an affair, because it's all in his head, but on the other hand, obviously, he is still really seeing this person. And then of course you find out later she is actually based on a real person. Can you kind of talk about that dichotomy?
MATT KANE: I think, for us, we were really interested in the idea of exploring emotional infidelity versus physical, and how, you know, every relationship is different, and how every person in a relationship communicates with their partner, some more openly than others, about their feelings, about, you know, how they feel in that relationship versus how they feel about other people they interact with. And I think this is an example of a couple that doesn’t necessarily communicate as openly about their interpersonal relationships with their coworkers or other people they spend time with, with their partner.
So, we're not necessarily saying that what Felix is doing is is entirely wrong, but we're certainly looking at the darker shades of any implications that it has on his time spent with Auggie. And, you know, the way that this thing is for Felix, he kind of is unbeknownst to himself becoming addicted to really. He doesn't quite know how this information would affect his wife.
And then, of course, later on when she discovers that he's been kind of so distant and falling down the rabbit hole, just as a result of using this thing, that's the sole technology that she doesn't necessarily fall for. You know, it does affect her negatively.
So, she thinks about how vulnerable her husband is and how easy it was for him to become distracted, you know, not only with time but with his heart almost, with his emotions for this thing that doesn't exist. So, in Anne’s mind, maybe it's more serious than it is in Felix's, or at least more than he would like to admit to himself. Near the end of the film, we see his daughter's friend, who is who Felix sees when he looks at Auggie, and at that point he obviously gets really upset. I just wanted to talk about that. I felt he was partially disgusted at himself, but also maybe feeling even more guilty, because it kind of in a way made it more real to him, because, you know, she was a real person.
MATT KANE: Absolutely.
MARC UNDERHILL: Right. I think Matt touched on this a little bit about how we're kind of exploring addiction issues with Felix’s trajectory as well. And so, as he becomes addicted to this thing, he doesn't even really know it. Because it is subconscious, he doesn't even really know until the end that it is based on someone real. So, when he's confronted with that, that is what basically shows him how far he's fallen.
And earlier there's a scene where Anne has a conversation with Felix that, you know, she's real and Auggie isn’t. And Felix hears that, but it isn't really until he's confronted face to face with how creepy it is and what he's been doing, for him to actually be able to maybe consider stopping.
So, you think before that he would have continued still to use them? Because that's what I was kind of curious to, if he was really done or not, because at first it seemed like he was, but it wasn’t completely clear.
MATT KANE: Like someone who's addicted to a substance, I think the intention would be like, yes, I know, I need to probably stop this, especially when you're faced with, you know, reality. And in this case when his partner and his wife says, like, “Look, I'm still here, and I still love you, and I choose to be with you, regardless of your faults, and if you're not here, I don't know what that means for us.” And I think that he obviously doesn't dispose of the glasses.
At the end of the film we see he’s kept them even though he's kind of put them aside; he put them out in his in his garage; he hasn't made the decision to get rid of them.
So, it isn't until the moment that he really gets a taste of where his subconscious got the image for Auggie that he has to really face that side of himself and really kind of consider how that deeper part of his subconscious speaks to who he is as a person. And I think he’s utterly sickened and disgusted with himself, but there’s this small hint still of the addiction that exists beneath that, which is why we chose to explore it in an ambiguous way at the end of the film.
Okay, and that kind of leads into what I was going to ask, which is, “Why was it important to you at the end to not actually show whether he goes through with breaking them?” I mean, it looks like he does, but technically, we don't actually see the follow-through. Why was that important to you?
Photo Courtesy Samuel Goldwyn Films
MATT KANE: We had several versions of it. We had versions of it where Felix would pick up the hammer and slam it down towards the glasses, but we made it clearer that he was actually going to destroy them.
But then we really didn't want to put a button on it in that way. I think for us, we don't know exactly if Felix would necessarily destroy them, because it kind of leaves this imperfection and this gray area open to discussion for the audience. We didn't necessarily want to give them a neatly tied ribbon at the end of the film, where we decided the fate of these characters in the future of Felix and the future of their marriage, et cetera. I think ambiguity has its place, and in this case, for us, it felt important that we didn't necessarily make everyone's minds up for them when they watched the film.
MARC UNDERHILL: Right. It invites the audience to make them answer for themselves and maybe put the question on themselves of would I be capable of, you know, smashing those glasses, or who would I see when I wear them? I think ambiguity lends itself to an engaged audience walking out of the theater still asking themselves questions and living in that world a little bit longer.
Yes, it’s definitely a movie that leaves you thinking, which I love.
And then just quickly, before you go, if you could just kind of tell how people can find the film.
MARC UNDERHILL: Absolutely. So, the film is going to be in select theaters, starting September 20th. It'll be in New York at Cinema Village and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Monica Film Center in Santa Monica. Also, on the same day it'll be on digital platforms. I believe it’s going to be on Amazon, FandangoNOW, iTunes, [Google Play, and Vudu]. To find out exactly where you can get it, there's a link on samuelgoldwynfilms.com on the page for our film.