In the near future we will be wearing stylish glasses from Augmenta. The glasses will augment our reality, allowing us to know as much as possible about the people we interact with, as well as giving us the power to multitask between email, internet surfing, avatar creation, video chat, and general web stalking with more ease than we previously imagined. Such is the world of the sci-fi film Creative Control, the second feature from director Benjamin Dickinson. Dickinson also plays main character David, an ad executive in New York testing out the Augmenta glasses in order to create the company’s ad campaign in collaboration with Reggie Watts, who plays some version of himself.
The film delves into the various ways technological inventions and advancements can turn against us, or magnify aspects of ourselves that we wish had been kept minuscule characteristics. David eventually uses Augmenta to create the ultimate augmented reality fantasy with his best friend’s (Dan Gill) girlfriend (Alexia Rasmussen). The all-too-real delusion ultimately puts his real life relationships with his girlfriend and best friend on sour footing. With Watts testing out the product as well, the film delves into the myriad of ways that one technological advancement can be used for both selfish desire and selfless wonderment.
I met with Dickinson and Watts to discuss the film and how close we really are to Creative Control‘s version of augmented reality.
Reggie Watts: I’m getting too old. I’m not going to be able to make movies for much longer.
How old are you?
Oh, you have so much life left, it seems. Maybe.
Watts: Maybe. Maybe five more years, or something like that. Then I’m just going to retire and that’s it. [Laughs.]
What are you going to do when you retire?
Watts: I’m going to build a huge sound stage in Great Falls, Montana and just make really weird movies.
Benjamin Dickinson: That’s like your mind home where you can wake up every morning and go, “I know what I’m doing,”
Watts: Totally. That’s what I’m building to, that’s all I care about. I just care about having random time to do whatever I want to do. That’s it. Because I like making stuff.
I’d like to build toward that too.
Watts: It will. It will happen in eight years I think for you.
Watts: Just feels right. Don’t ask, just experience. [Laughs.]
When you two were making this movie, there’s a lot of conversation around our dependence on technology, how it’s growing, and the way it informs how we socialize and function in the world. What aspects of that conversation intrigued you when making this film?
Dickinson: It’s the water that we’re swimming in. I think sometimes our behavior, with regards to technology, is invisible to us because we’re living in it. I wanted to take a step back and look at it through a critical lens. That was even my approach in the way we made the film, a lot of long master shots and looking at our technological behavior a little askance, a little bit skeptically. And also figuring out visual ways to represent how integrated it is with our consciousness in a way that was seamless but also evocative and felt true to life. So doing the texts on screen rather than close up of phones and showing that the technology, even though it’s on your phone right now, it doesn’t feel like it’s on your phone, it feels like it’s right here—I’m pointing to my forehead—it feels like it’s in front of your face. When you get a text message from somebody that you’re having sex with and it’s upsetting, you don’t feel it on your phone, you feel it here, it’s surrounding you. It’s an ubiquitous part of our everyday and I hadn’t seen it portrayed in a way that felt familiar or that I could relate to.
Watts: I love projecting how technology might be able to be used by the common folk, or the majority of people, should they want to partake in it. From that, learning more about how it affects the character in the film is something that I’m also interested in. How does technology create or tease out certain aspects of your personality that can drown out the common sense or the pragmatic or roundedness that we also have the ability to be? And so, to see a direct reflection of a futuristic technology that actually enhances the potential of you immersing yourself and running away from things even more and more is incredible. I think the timing of it is excellent. I think that right now people are in a confused state with technology. Technology is running their lives in a way. We’re in a constant crisis state waiting for the next notification and this film touches on that and makes you feel that. [The film] really keeps you in that zone for a very long time and it unfolds in a way that you know could happen and, if given the tools, will happen.
It will happen, and is that too why this film is five minutes in the future, so to speak?
Dickinson: Reggie hates that line.
Dickinson: I don’t know who first said it. I don’t know if I said it or a marketing person said it, but it’s definitely…
Watts: It makes sense.
Dickinson: It does. It’s closer than we think. Reggie and I went to Meta on Saturday in San Francisco, which is one of the leading companies working on AR [Augmented Reality], and it’s coming fast. I was surprised, it’s better than I thought it would be. It’s further along.
Watts: It’s scarily advanced.
More so than what you imagined for the film?
Dickinson: I thought five years out. Actually, I think the technology that is in Creative Control is five years, for it to really be at the point where it’s the size of a pair of glasses.
Ben, did you know that you wanted Reggie to be in this movie, playing some version of himself? And Reggie, how true is this character to who you are?
Dickinson: It is Reggie and it’s not Reggie. I don’t think Reggie Watts in this dimension would leave that character, David, hanging in that way. I know he wouldn’t. But the playfulness and the mischievousness, the lack of concern for protocol, is all part of what I love about Reggie. And also a sense of wonder and humor and the movie needs that. It needs an impish Puck-like fool to show how self-involved the other characters are, to highlight it. To give us a respite from all that navel gazing, that’s polite. It’s more like all the asshole-gazing.
Watts: It’s not quite self-awareness but it serves the same purpose. It actually manages to create a type of meta awareness without actually being that, without spelling it out. Because my character sees things, is totally in another realm really. He’s asked to do something and kind of asked for parameters but David gives him absolutely nothing so he’s like, “Okay!” And does his whatever, his Roger Rabbit thing, and then runs away from it because he doesn’t care anymore. He’s like, “Well, I did my thing and I’m out of here and you didn’t tell me I couldn’t do things.” In a way, that perspective is almost a heightened version of what all the other characters are, which are lost in their multimedia input world. I’m like the ultimate hedonist in a way. I’m just doing whatever I feel like doing but I’m jovial about it. These other people are still beholden to jobs where I’m just hired to be a person who makes stuff.
Dickinson: A guru. Funnily enough that is an archetype in the tech world. Who is the AOL guy? Suji? What’s his name?
Watts: Oh, I think I know who you’re talking about. He’s a spiritual adviser. Techno-shamans. It makes sense because tech needs the antidote. Tech is so tech, tech, tech tech, they need someone to humanize it, large scale viewpoint it.
Dickinson: Shingy, is his name.
Watts: Shingy. He needs to get out of here, that’s a ridiculous name. That’s impossible. “Hi Shingy, are you a rap artist from Compton?”
Dickinson: The Chinese mafia is going to show up at my house and kill me. Don’t put that in the interview.
Watts: China is awesome.
Dickinson: I’m looking up Shingy right now. Let’s take this interview into the 21st century. But please continue.
The ad campaign Reggie comes up with in the film is so great.
Watts: Yeah, very effective.
Dickinson: Look at this! That’s Shingy. That’s AOL’s digital prophet.
Watts: Oh my God.
Dickinson: That’s a real guy. So the Reggie Watts is a bit of that, a Shingy kind of guy. But you were in the middle of saying something that was important. Oh, his advertisement! I love the advertisement Reggie makes for Augmenta.
As someone who does commercial work, what are your thoughts on that industry and how you wanted to reflect it in this movie?
Dickinson: My thoughts on advertising are handily summarized in the [pharmaceutical ad] scene. That is my experience and that is all I have to say about advertising.
Watts: [Laughs.] That scene is so beautiful. There’s no satire in that.
Dickinson: Advertising has an important function, obviously, in capitalism, and actually has an important function in communism. And marketing ideas is sort of what artists and entertainers do too. I’m marketing ideas with this movie but I’m motivated by, and Reggie is motivated by, things like beauty and truth and fun.
Dickinson: Compassion. Understanding what it is to be human and playing with that. The bottom line for advertising and capitalism in general is to make a profit. It’s just a different motivation.
Watts: Which sometimes can synchronize with that.
Dickinson: It’s great when they do, that’s the hope. Especially when films are so expensive, you need those two things to be working in harmony. They’re not in diametrical opposition. But when there’s a lot of bad products out there that are being sold irresponsibly and the people that suffer, this is basic Marxism, the people that suffer for irresponsible marketing are the most vulnerable people. The people who are the least educated and have the least amount of access to options.
You cast Gavin McInnes, co-creator of Vice in the film as well as Jake Lodwick, the founder of Vimeo. What’s your intent with those casting choices?
Dickinson: I just had access to those people. In fact, the first time I met Reggie was through Jake Lodwick. You were his roommate, this was like 2005.
Watts: Oh my God.
Dickinson: I came over and Jake was like, “That’s Reggie,” and you were like, “Hey.”
Watts: [Laughs.] Wowzers.
Dickinson: Didn’t have a conversation. So I’ve known Jake forever and Jake has got a great screen presence so I knew that he would get excited about it. Jake actually helped me brainstorm the Augmenta technology and figure out what it would be like. Both Reggie and Jake, we’d sit around and talk about what we’d like it to be like.
Watts: It was like a fake tech company.
Dickinson: We started a fake tech company. That was making the movie. And Gavin I came to through the casting process but who could be better to play that role?
Dickinson: Nobody could be better to play that role. And that is Gavin’s style. Bullying charisma, that’s how he manages. The fact that he started Vice, that’s so much a part of the development of Brooklyn and branding culture. And Vice is now an advertising tech media conglomerate that’s taking over Brooklyn. No need to hire actors to represent those guys because they could do it for themselves.
That’s also a nice story of how you two met, just very blasé.
Dickinson: Yeah, we just didn’t see the future.
Watts: We didn’t know. But now we know. But still don’t know.
You still don’t know. When you look into the future are you hopeful or scared or what do you want from the future?
Watts: I’m hopeful, I’m hopeful. I should say cautiously optimistic. I know the realities of the addictive nature of technology and because of that people smell money and money dictates how to craft and shape an idea that could be great but often times could be hindered in some way. I will say that getting to the head of the wave, where the wave is just forming, is a good place to be if you have hopefully benevolent intentions for humanity. Ben and I are going to see the head-up display and having people trust us, or to even trust me — like if I go to a TED talk I’m talking to these people who are creating and generating the things that we will be using. And if I can have conversations with them and convince them that if they design their products a bit more like this, they still can turn a profit, but it also benefits us as well. Being responsible does not mean that you are going to make less money. I’m hopeful in that if I can be involved in those conversations in the future, or if a film like this can influence people who are in tech and make them pause for a moment and think about the implications of what they’re making, then that makes me hopeful.
Dickinson: We did a talk at Google the other day, like a Google Cast in San Francisco. The questions were great, people liked the movie. I think people in tech are concerned in general about developing products that are not destroying us as humans but helping. I’m optimistic in that way. I take refuge in the hearts of a younger generation. I think, like always, it’s 51 percent good stacked against 49 percent bad and that’s how it keeps shifting forward, it’s slightly shifted towards good. We’re going to have some serious challenges with global warming and the amount of military proliferation that’s happening, it’s going to be huge, huge challenges going forward.
Watts: The only thing that can change is people’s perspective.
Dickinson: That’s the best hope. That enough people’s perspectives are changing at the same time. And I think that’s potentially happening. Some kind of consciousness elevating singularity.
Watts: Another age of enlightenment. Spain did it. We can do it again as a world.