Wow, we have never had such an enthusiastic interview on DFAT! It was more than a pleasure to have a geek-fueled discussion with twin sisters and filmmakers Kailey and Sam Spear. It is refreshing to see young talent of this caliber and we can only hope more from this gifted duo. Check out the interview below and take a look at the Spear sisters and enjoy some of their work!
Do you find that being twins makes things easier or harder when it comes to directing?
In our case, I think it makes things easier. I am sure that it is not the case for all twins, but we are fortunate in that when we are working on a project we come at it with the same vision of what we want it to be. We will be heading to the same final destination but, being two people, we can find different roads of how to get there. Before we start heading down a road, we can always check out the other and see which one has less potholes.
Often if there is a note we want to give after a take, we will both know immediately what it is without having to talk to each other. We will just shoot each other a look to see who is going to go over and deliver it. We don’t split up jobs when directing, but rather will float between being in different places. Sometimes you will find one of us giving direction to the camera, and the other giving direction to the actors. Sometimes if there are, let’s say, two actors in a scene we will divide and conquer, giving them their separate direction at the same time. It saves time. When we are shooting, we will usually have one of us behind a monitor, and the other will be on set closer to the actors. We will keep switching up where we are. And, no we don’t call action in unison. Usually. Haha.
We actually work in quite a similar way with our cinematographers on CC, the Talbot Twins, Graham and Nelson. Yep: We had two sets of twins on this film! If two minds are better than one, four minds are definitely better than two. We have worked with the Talbots before and always come to the projects with a very similar vision of what we want to see. It makes for very seamless communication on set. They, like us, will often switch back and forth between being behind the monitor and on set. That means, you will usually find a Spear and a Talbot by the monitor and a Spear and a Talbot on set.
Now, the tricksy thing that we do run into being identical twins is that sometimes our cast/crew can’t tell us apart. That is why we now have different lengths of hair. We want to help everyone out!
We see what you did with ‘tricksy’ quote and we like it. I guess we know at least one film that inspired you to get into directing but what else?
We always loved films growing up. John Sales’ “The Secret of Roan Inish”, “Star Wars“, Agnieszka Holland’s “The Secret Garden“, Kenneth Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing“, all those great animal adventure films of the 90s. But when it came to thinking about how we could possibly be a part of them, we had only ever thought of being actors. We went to theatre school growing up, and had seen our cousins (the wonderful Tegan and Jesse Moss) work as actors in film and TV. But anything beyond being actors seemed completely out of the realm of possibility. It was Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films that really changed things for us. It was those films that really set us on the path to directing.
First of all, we fell in love with “The Lord of the Rings” as soon as we saw it. Truth be told, we fell in love with it as soon as we saw the trailer for it in front of “Spy Kids” (yes, we do remember the first time we saw the trailer!). The scope, the texture, the creativity, the heart. We loved it all. But it was the special features that came with the DVD that was the game-changer. We watched everything right down to all of the commentaries (multiple times). It was our first film school. It taught us all the pieces of making a film and we wanted our hands on all of it. Watching Peter Jackson work, we started thinking “We want to do that. We can do that”. Haha, now before you start thinking “well, those were a couple of cocky eleven year olds thinking that they could make a film like Peter Jackson”, what we were thinking was “we can be directors”. Being the people to helm a film, to make it happen, to bring characters and worlds to life – we suddenly saw that it was within the realm of possibility. We could be the people that made the kinds of films we loved to watch. From then on, we have been on the track to be directors.
Looking back at it now, we can see that we had wanted to be directors our whole lives. We recently found a video of us when we were four years old getting our parents to film our story about the itsy-bitsy-spider. It has always been something that we have loved doing, but it was “The Lord of the Rings” that really showed us that we could .
More recently, the films that have kept us motivated and excited about filmmaking are films such as Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth“, Nikki Caro’s “Whale Rider“, Michel Gondry’s “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind“, and Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank“. Sitting in the theatre and watching Patty Jenkins’ name come up in the middle of the screen in the credits of “Wonder Woman” was a pretty incredible experience. And, yep, we still love the “Star Wars” films. One of our dreams is to direct the young Leia film (we all know there will be one eventually!).
We’d love to see a Young Leia film. It’s be a geeky dream. So, where did the idea for CC come from?
The idea for the short actually came from an idea for a feature we had a couple years ago. We never wrote the feature, but had thought a lot about the characters of the AI nanny, CC, and the mother, Lena. The characters and story came out of our fascination and fear of how AI is developing.
We have been watching as Siri, Alexa and Sophia have been developed to interact with people like humans. To act like our friends. We can only assume that their behaviours are going to become increasingly more convincing. As these machines become more humanlike, we have seen many people fixate on the question of whether or not these machines have the ability to be more than just machines; searching for their potential humanity often becomes the focus. However, we find people are usually so focused on that question that they don’t see the other questions that need to be asked about the development of these AI robots.
As we see technology advance, taking the responsibilities that once belonged to humans, we are asking: is there a line we shouldn’t let it cross? Are there jobs, responsibilities, that we should not hand over to a machine? The role of a child’s caregiver, for example.
Think of this scenario: What if there was an affordable product available that could take care of your child while you went to work? While you worked to pay for your child’s food, clothes, activities, schooling, vacations, etc. An AI robot nanny that would be quick enough to catch your child if she fell off a ladder, strong enough to stop a car from hitting her, that has the ability to teach her multiple languages, who could answer all of her questions, who would know the best food to feed her, who would notice right away if she was sick and would know what to do about it, who would record her activities during the day and send you video updates. It would be care-linked specifically to your child; programmed to do the very best for her. Would you get one?
Who is the better caregiver for your child? You or this AI nanny?
Now, think about who made this AI nanny. What do they want? What would the company selling or leasing these products (let’s say the “Cloverhill Nanny Agency” from our film) have to do to make them affordable to their biggest market: working parents like you? AI nannies are programmed to always do the best for the child, but “the best” is just a program setting…
So, imagine a brand, say “Prosper Juice”, has bought into Cloverhill in exchange for Prosper Juice being programmed to be “the best” juice. The nanny would encourage you to buy Prosper juice. They want the best for the child, and it is “the best”. If you knew this, would you still get an AI nanny? Hey, you might not even know they were doing it. These AI robots know you and your child well. They would know what you respond to and how to convince you that you want to buy the juice. Anyways, even if you knew what was happening, the choice of juice would be a small price to pay in exchange for the safety of your child, right? But if “the best” juice can be programmed for money, what other preferences, even values, can be programmed to the highest bidder?
What boundaries are important to set for AI helpers as it is developed?
We wanted to create a film that prompts the audience to think about these kinds of questions and try to come up with some answers. Questions that need to be addressed before the product is created! As technology quickly advances, we believe it is important to talk about where things could be heading and to set boundaries before we find ourselves in a place where it is too late to fix mistakes (yeah, we’re lookin’ at you Facebook).
We all see what happened in the Matrix when we didn’t pay attention to technology. Or Terminator! Switching gears a bit. As big Firefly fans, we gotta ask: How did you end up working with Jewel Staite in CC?]
Jewel came to mind for CC when we were writing the script. Once we thought of her, we couldn’t think of anyone better to play the role. We were looking for something very specific for the character. CC is a robot designed to be the perfect nanny. She needed to be someone that kids would immediately like, and who parents immediately trust. She needed to balance a caring / fun energy, while also being undoubtedly strong, efficient and capable. CC is designed to mimic human behaviour in a very convincing way, but she is ultimately a machine programmed to do a specific job. We needed an actor who possessed the innate energy needed to bring this character to life and the skill level to pull off this unique challenge. We knew that Jewel would be perfect. We had never worked with her, but we had seen her work and knew that she had that perfect combination we needed. We wanted her for the role, but we didn’t know if she would want it. It is pretty rare to be able to get your first choice of actors for a role. There are many things that can stand in the way – she might be busy on another project, she might not like the script, she might not want to join a crazy-whirlwind-project-that-would-be-shot-edited-and-showcased-in-only-8-days-helmed-by-relatively-new-filmmakers-she-didn’t-know. That being said, it never hurts to ask.
As soon as we found out that we had been selected for Crazy8s, we reached out to Jewel’s agent offering her the role of CC. Her agent knew us as we had worked with another one of her client’s on our last film (the talented Emma Tremblay in our film “The Mary Alice Brandon File”). We sent along a personal letter to Jewel explaining what the project was, how we saw the character of CC and why we thought she would be excellent in the role. And… Jewel agreed to come on board. Yeah!
As we knew she would, Jewel brought CC to screen with beautiful nuance and skill. We feel very fortunate to have had her on this film. She was truly fantastic to work with.
She’s always amazing in everything she does and you’re so lucky to get her. We’ve heard of fast film shoots but eight days is bananas to start and finish a film. Did this make it harder or easier to get the project done?
Haha. Yep! It is bananas for sure! For the most part, yeah, it did make things more difficult. Filmmaking is always a race against time. In this case, the race was cut in half, then that half was hacked into little pieces, and we got one of those pieces to work with. It meant that once we hit the ground running, we couldn’t stop for anything.
Our editor got to work as soon as we finished our first day of shooting. We joined him as soon as we were finished the shoot. We needed to race through editing to get the final cut to sound, music and colour. Visual effects had race through their work to get it to our colour session. Having breathing space on time is great for things like doing that one more take, being able to try out more timing options in editing, being able to get sleep.
That being said, the thing about this 8 day timeline is that everyone knows that they are in it for the challenge and to support emerging filmmakers. Because of this, cast and crew volunteer their time and talent for the project (which is great because Crazy8s only gives each film $1000). Having a group of talented folks gather together because they wanted to be involved in the project, not because they were waiting for the paycheque at the end not only gave us the ability to get the film done, it gave the process as a whole a wonderful energy. We were overwhelmed with the talent that our cast and crew brought to this crazy adventure and that energy definitely made it easier to get the project done.
If you have the right people behind you, then that makes the project that much better. We have a really hard question now: If artificial intelligence were as advanced in real life like it is in your film, would you have one working in your house?
Great question! That is a tricky one for sure. We feel that is akin to asking whether you would choose to have a cell-phone with the internet, Facebook, a camera, on it, etc. Here are these things that allow us to communicate easier. Do our jobs quicker. Keep us safe. If you were hiking in the forest and had an accident, would you want a phone with you to call for help? If you were hiking with your child and your child got seriously hurt would it not be horrible, even irresponsible of you, as a parent to have chosen not to have a cell-phone that could call for help quickly?
Neither of us have kids at the moment, but if there was something that was designed specifically to keep our fictitious kids safe- fast enough to grab them out of the way of a falling tree, observant enough to notice if they were sick and smart enough to know what to do about it, that could teach them multiple languages – it would be a difficult choice not to get one for sure. But it was really like CC – if all the information it recorded of us and our children belonged to “Cloverhill Nanny Agency”, if it was programmed to learn what we like and how we think, not only to take care of us in the best way, but also to subtly manipulate us to into buying say, “Prosper Juice” (maybe even swaying your vote depending who is sponsoring “Cloverhill”…) – we would really love to think that we would not get one. We do not want our children, we do not want anyone’s children, to grow up putting their trust and love into something that ultimately does not have their best interest in mind. A nanny that operates in a way where “the best” thing for the child can be sold to the highest bidder, or that will forget about the child as soon as your lease runs out and they are care-linked to someone else, can only do more damage in the long term than good.
Here’s the thing. We don’t want to be in the position where we have to have to choose whether or not to get a helper like CC. We would rather products like CC not be created as she was. That is one of the reasons we made this film. We want people to look at CC and start thinking about what problems could arise if an AI robot was designed to act as one of a child’s primary caregivers. We want boundaries to be set before things race ahead and we find ourselves in a place where the choices about what is best for our children are being determined for them by a consumer product.
Just that idea of completely relying on AI is haunting to us. Now, let’s get to the hardest question of the interview: If you could be any superhero, who would you be and why?
Oooooh! Fun question. Ok. We have different ones here.
Kailey: Wonder Woman. She is strong and values the truth.
Sam: Hmmm. Molly Weasley. Does she count? What am I saying?! Of course she counts. Now, if we are talking which superpowers would we like to have: Similar to CC, I would love to have the ability to know all the information, stories, history, languages, etc, that is out there. I would also like the ability to time travel. CC doesn’t have that superpower… yet. Haha. Oh, well now you’ve got me asking myself what a time traveling robot nanny would look like! (Kailey added here: Sam, isn’t that the Terminator?)
Hahaha. It’s definitly a version of it right?! You’ve created many shorts in your career, what would be an idea for your dream full-length film project?
Other than that young Leia film? Haha. Ok, so this one is a rather different than “Star Wars“, but our top dream project, our baby, the film that we are wildly passionate about getting onto screen, is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet“. This is a film that we have wanted to do for years. This dramatic thriller will be set in a modern-day social media crazed landscape. The titular young royal, Hamlet, will be female.
Although it will be set in our time, we will keep Shakespeare’s original dialogue. A huge part of what makes “Hamlet” so striking, so memorable, is that artfully crafted dialogue. It is masterpiece writing that taps into the intricacies of the human experience in a stunningly beautiful, viscerally heart-wrenching, gritty and honest way. We are dedicated to bringing the story to screen with as much intention, beauty, texture and heart as is seen in the craft of the dialogue.
We actually put the play up on stage a few years ago. We always knew that if we were going to direct a “Hamlet” for screen we were always going to have to direct it on stage first. Stage and film are quite different beasts, but being able to have the experience of running the piece all the way through and testing out our new ideas for it was incredibly helpful when it came to tackling the screenplay.
Watch out for it. H A M L E T . It’s going to be great. Once we find the find the money to make it… it is going to be great.
You make it and we’ll be there to watch it! You guys did an amazing job on the interview and we appreciate you chatting with us. Keep an eye out for these twins Towelites on the next Star Wars film, at least we’re hoping for it.