Computer Chess Q&A with Andrew Bujalski, Houston King, and Wiley Wiggins

Computer Chess Q&A with Andrew Bujalski, Houston King, and Wiley Wiggins


FEMALE SPEAKER: Hey. So this Houston. Houston was one of the producers
on the film. HOUSTON KING: Hello. Thank you all for coming. We pulling in Andrew, too? FEMALE SPEAKER: Yeah. I think he said he would
be a little late. Oh, wait, here he is. HOUSTON KING: I think
here he is. FEMALE SPEAKER: Hey. ANDREW BUJALSKI: OK. FEMALE SPEAKER: Hey,
how’s it going? ANDREW BUJALSKI: Hi. Good. How are you? FEMALE SPEAKER: Good. Yeah. Everyone just watched
the movie. That’s what happened. ANDREW BUJALSKI: That
happens sometimes. FEMALE SPEAKER: I
know, it does. ANDREW BUJALSKI: You’ll
all be OK. FEMALE SPEAKER: Yeah. So it’s a pretty loose
forum here. If anyone has a question
and wants to ask it, just raise your hand. We’ll throw a mic your way. HOUSTON KING: Yeah. Andrew, I might even say we’re
sort of in the stunned silence stage of one of your films. Why don’t you warm them
up a little bit here? ANDREW BUJALSKI: Me
warm them up? No, no, I mean, I think it’s
nice to rest in the stunned silence for a while. Sometimes you just
need to close– you can fall asleep in the
chairs if you want. I don’t know how long we have
the room for, but let it all wash over you. FEMALE SPEAKER: Something
that was interesting– I saw the film at Sundance,
and when you were talking about the process for shooting
this, because it’s 4:3, it’s clearly more analog than
digital, yet it’s about a digital topic– do you want to
talk about that a little bit? ANDREW BUJALSKI: Sure, yeah. Well, I mean, we shot it on
40some year old video cameras, and before I knew anything else
about this movie, before I knew I wanted to make a movie
about computer chess programmers, I knew
that I wanted to work with this camera. I’d seen some images. There’s some beautiful stuff
that William Eggleston, who everybody knows as a
photographer, and particularly a color photographer,
from Memphis. But he shot some great stuff
on the Sony Portapak video camera in black and white– this
same family of old analog cameras in the ’70s. And I saw some of that footage,
and it just blew my mind wide open. And I thought, here’s a kind of
language of images that has sort of disappeared
from the earth. I mean, analog video was there
and widely used for a few years, really, before the next
wave of video came along, and we haven’t really
seen it since. But there’s something so
specific and so beautiful about how those cameras make
images that I just started to fantasize– you know, I’d been making movies
for 10 years shooting on film, and for those 10 years,
people had been asking me, well, why do you still
shoot on film? Why do you still
shoot on film? And so I thought if people want
to see video, I’ll show them video. And we found the prettiest,
weirdest, most difficult video we could. FEMALE SPEAKER: Do you
want to talk about– I mean, I don’t know how much
you guys are into workflow for this stuff, but it was
actually pretty interesting, right? You guys had to basically build
out your own rig with this camera that, obviously,
no longer is supported or really around, right? You got it from eBay, I
think you said, or– ANDREW BUJALSKI: Yep. Ultimately, we had three
cameras, because we could never be sure how much we
could rely on them. So two came from eBay, one I
think we were able to borrow from a camera collector. And we were really lucky. Thank goodness I was not too
intimately involved in trying to figure out how
to make it work. That’s kind of above
my pay grade. But it does turn out to be
shockingly difficult, and I’m sure some of your audience can
relate to the technological woes of you take something that
was state of the art and worked perfectly well 40 years
ago, and you think, well, what’s changed? It should work perfectly
well now. And it sort of does, but if
you want to get it to communicate with current
technology– if we want to be able to show the film in a 21st
century theater the way we just did– there are an
incredible number of hurdles that you have to overcome. And so I thought this
would be simple. I thought, well, we’ll just
shoot it the way we would shoot it in 1973– just a guy
carrying around a camera. Easy peasy. But we ended up with this
ridiculous rig with 20 wires coming out of the back of the
camera, and going to various converter boxes, analog
to digital converter, time based converter. Again, stuff that I’m not even
sure what was happening. But ultimately, we captured
the hard drive. So using this very old analog
technology, we were still making a very 21st
century movie. FEMALE SPEAKER: Does anyone
have any questions? Just yell them out. Do you want to talk a little bit
about what inspired you? And even on an acting front,
too– like, what really interested you about the
situation or the dynamics of these people, or just this idea
of old school computers doing mundane things? Or I guess, very complicated
things that seem mundane. ANDREW BUJALSKI: Yeah. I’m happy to throw
this to Wiley. I think both of us are about
the same age, and certainly grew up with kind of
spotty childhood memories of this era. And so I think there’s a lot,
probably, that all of us were drawing on subconsciously,
but happy to toss that over to you. WILEY WIGGINS: Who, me? I don’t know. I mean, obviously there’s kind
of a nostalgia element to anybody who had these big,
clunky machines in their lives when they were a child when they
seemed like the interior of some kind of a rocketship. But then, I think when you grow
up, there’s this whole idea of the utopian ideals of
early computer culture kind of in some ways may have gotten
out of hand, and sort of thinking about that
aspect to it. Sort of like nostalgia mixed
with casting a critical eye back at the origins of the world
that we live in today. I don’t know. Is that fair, Andrew? ANDREW BUJALSKI: Yeah, sure. No, and I think a lot
of what I remember– I remember in that era, when I
was a kid, that there were all these philosophical questions
hanging in the air about what is it going to mean as computers
enter our lives? We all knew they were coming,
and so there was the kind of utopian ideas about it, and then
there was all the fear that went with it. And to some extent, we have our
new utopian ideals and our new fears now, and the
old ones seem quaint. But I like the idea of
revisiting those old questions, maybe
as [INAUDIBLE]. FEMALE SPEAKER: Well,
we tried. Oh, wait, no. WILEY WIGGINS: We lost you for
a moment there, Andrew. ANDREW BUJALSKI: Oh,
it was genius. FEMALE SPEAKER: It was really
actually perfect timing as you were talking about computers
in our lives, and all of a sudden it was just
frozen in time. ANDREW BUJALSKI: Right. Well, obviously, yeah, the
computer didn’t like what I was saying. I thought it was pro-computer,
but who knows? WILEY WIGGINS: I had a really
good time doing this, because I had kind of a weird dual role
acting, and then also helping doing some of the
equipment purchasing. The machines that were still
functioning, we had to get them to look like they were
actually executing computer chess programs. So I had to dust off my memory
of Commodore 64 Basic to try and write some fake computer
chess stuff. So that was super exciting
and fun. I had a Commodore PET in my
house here for a while, which was pretty awesome. I don’t know if you guys have
ever seen one of those. ANDREW BUJALSKI: Yeah. It was very fun to hang
out with [INAUDIBLE]. And Houston sitting
there became– I was surprised with how
obsessed you got with the old computers, Houston. You became a– WILEY WIGGINS: Hacking
Houston King. ANDREW BUJALSKI: Hacking
Houston King. You became a 1980s hacker
before our eyes. It was amazing. HOUSTON KING: I had to spend
hours upon hours writing this program so they would run
on the screen, and I was so proud of them. And there’s maybe about two
seconds of it in the film. But I learned Linux, I think,
for a little bit, and a couple– what other languages
were we working in, Wiley? WILEY WIGGINS: Well, all of the
stuff that was happening on the actual computer was
Basic, but any of the stuff that was sent over the serial,
I can only imagine what that was coming from. I’m assuming it was just modern
laptops that you were just sending serial stuff to. We were really lucky. Actually, goodwill in Austin has
a computer museum, which is a strange and wonderful
thing. So that was a really good
source for a lot of the machines that we found. HOUSTON KING: Right. And so we actually got
to go to the museum. And we knew the teams that were
in the film, so there was a corporation, there was MIT,
and then there was, like, Papa George, who was on his own. And so we would try to
correspond what the most expensive computers with the
biggest amount of memory for the corporations, and then work
our way down to what Papa George’s computer setup
would look like. And luckily, they had so
many computers that we were able to do that. And ultimately, Czar, who’s our
hero computer– it’s got that very beautiful soft oval
face to it, if you will. And it’s even mainframe that
we use for that work– the exact ones at the time that were
the best computers, they were using for computer chess,
just by pure coincidence. We got lucky. WILEY WIGGINS: [INAUDIBLE]. FEMALE SPEAKER: So it was a
Goodwill that had computers? Like, a computer section? HOUSTON KING: I’ve never
seen it before. It was the Austin Goodwill
Computer Museum, and right next door to it was just
regular Goodwill stuff. WILEY WIGGINS: So it started
out because there was a specific Goodwill computer store
here in Austin that was basically selling old computers
that people had brought in. And just over the years, they
started getting all of these really ancient machines, like
stuff that people were hauling off from estate sales
and stuff. And somebody finally had the
presence of mind to be like, we should actually probably hang
onto and preserve some of these machines. So they opened up their little
miniature museum alongside the store. It’s really cool. ANDREW BUJALSKI: It’s great. It’s a little one museum, but
then if you’re granted access, you can go back to the little
warehouse they have behind it, which is huge, and full of all
kinds of beautiful old stuff. And that felt like
the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. We were just like, oh my god,
everything is here, and we need it all. And they were kind enough
to give us some of it. And it was a real lucky
break for us. HOUSTON KING: And similar to
the Museum of Moving Image here, or even more similar to
the Goodwill Computer Museum, there’s the Museum of
Computer History that’s in the Bay Area. I don’t know if you’ve
ever heard of that. Or there’s another museum– I think it’s called the Museum
of Living History in Seattle, which is just computer
museums. And there’s probably a lot more
that I’ll find out about. FEMALE SPEAKER: We have a little
mini one here on the fourth floor. HOUSTON KING: Oh, do you? FEMALE SPEAKER: Yeah. ANDREW BUJALSKI:
That’s awesome. FEMALE SPEAKER: Yeah. HOUSTON KING: I want
to see it. FEMALE SPEAKER: Yeah, yeah. We can show you. It’s interesting, seeing all the
variations of computers. At least for me, I only know
specific milestones, but I don’t necessarily know the
spectrum of all the variations, so it’s cool that
you guys were able to pull from ones that actually existed,
and just be like, well, one– HOUSTON KING: I mean, for a
while, Radio Shack was all in the computer business. They had some beautiful
stainless steel computers that they were selling. And some of them are
in the film. FEMALE SPEAKER: Some
of them worked. Do you want to talk a little
bit more about– some of the actors, I feel
like– again, if I’m wrong, I’m sorry, but do you want to
talk about how some of the actors may have actually had
computing experience? Like, Wiley, it seems like you
had a little bit as well. Do you want to talk about
that a little bit? ANDREW BUJALSKI: Sure. Well, there are plenty of
folks in the movie who– Gordon Kindlmann, who plays
Professor Schoesser, he is a computer science professor at
the University of Chicago. James Curry works with Wiley,
and they do video game programming stuff. And James– the great thing
about James, who plays the British programmer, Carbray, is
that he remembered all of the ’80s programming. In theory, he’s too young for
it, except I think he was a child prodigy programmer. So at age eight in Britain, he
was doing all this stuff, and he knew at all intimately and
remembered all of it, which was fantastic. And certainly, Wiley knows a lot
of this stuff in and out and up and down, and
it was hugely– I mean, A, as Wiley mentioned
before, it meant that I could doubly exploit my cast as
technical advisors. But also, that I wanted
it to feel real. If I’m going to make a movie
about computer programmers, I want them to feel like
computer programmers. And those guys to bring
so much more of that. I’m not a computer programmer. If I had sat down with Wikipedia
and tried to figure out enough factoids to fill out
a script, and then handed it to conventional actors, I
don’t think we would’ve gotten anywhere near it feeling right
the way that it does, or the way that I hope it does. And all credit is due to the
cast for that, certainly. FEMALE SPEAKER: Cool. Well, how much did Weird Science
have something to do with [INAUDIBLE]? WILEY WIGGINS: It feels more
like Real Genius to me than Weird Science. ANDREW BUJALSKI: Yeah,
that sounds right. Yeah. FEMALE SPEAKER: Yeah, that
actually makes sense. Fine. Fine. WILEY WIGGINS: There’s a deleted
scene from this movie where we fill the hotel
with Jiffy Pop, heating it with a laser. Little known fact. ANDREW BUJALSKI: It’ll
be on the DVD. FEMALE SPEAKER: Oh. Special features. Do you have a question? You can use this. [INAUDIBLE]. AUDIENCE: Yeah, I had a question
about the use of VHS. You mentioned William Eggleston
stranded in Canton, and I knwo that Harmony Korine
cited that as a really sole influence for Trash Humpers. And I don’t think there’s
anything that’s been written yet, but I can totally see a
think piece being written in the next couple years, like,
is VHS coming back, or that sort of thing. And I was just wondering if
you guys feel like VHS is coming back, or maybe more
specifically, I was wondering why it seemed to resonate
to you guys. WILEY WIGGINS: Well, this
is way pre-VHS. AUDIENCE: Oh, yeah. I guess I meant more the
Portapak stuff, too. WILEY WIGGINS: Oh, right on. AUDIENCE: I just meant
antiquated video form. ANDREW BUJALSKI: Well, I’d be
surprised if you started to see this look take over the
multiplex, but I’d also be surprised if this was the
last stunt like this. I mean, to some extent, it is a
stunt, and certainly it was this great leap off
the cliff for us. On the other hand,
we meant it. I mean, I hope the movie works,
and I hope it works because we were using these
cameras for a reason, and to produce a very specific kind of
feel, and to do something very specific with that feel. So yeah, I mean, it’s open
for anybody to use. I, of course, fell in love with
the cameras while we were doing, and I started to
think, I want to shoot everything on this. Which I probably won’t, but it
is a beautiful thing, and it doesn’t look like
anything else. And you know, Trash
Humpers was VHS. It was very much
its own thing. It’s hard to imagine that
on any other format. So I just think it’s
out there. It’s like any kind of palette. It’s very easy, certainly in
our current culture, for people to get addicted to this
idea that whatever the newest, latest, and greatest is is the
only thing you can shoot on. And you see this all the time,
of course, that there are camera fads, and I’m not
up to date with it. A couple of years ago, at
least, people were only shooting their movies on the
Canon, and I don’t know if they are now or not. But for me, I just see all this
opportunity with all the other formats that nobody else
is touching to say, what can we do here that nobody
else is doing? And that’s kind of how I
approach any movie I make. I hate the idea that my next
door neighbor might be making the same movie. I want to have some territory
to ourselves, whatever that may be. It doesn’t have to be the
camera, but that’s certainly one way to get it something
unique. WILEY WIGGINS: I was going to
say, also, if you’re doing a low budget period piece, it’s a
pretty magical way to do art direction for all the pieces
of the world that you don’t have control over. You’re applying this sort of
texture to everything that makes it all work. ANDREW BUJALSKI: Absolutely. We had a brilliant costume
department, we had a brilliant production design department,
but we also had very limited resources and very
little money. And I think the camera goes a
long way toward bringing back that late ’70s, early
’80s feeling. Because this is the kind of
image that you haven’t seen since then, so I think
it inevitably transports people to there. HOUSTON KING: And even beyond
just the issue of VHS, I find the writers that we’re talking
to about the movie are incorporating writing about
the film as a bigger piece about that we finally have
enough history and technology that people are starting
to get nostalgic. And seeing these pieces come
up about the old computers, and even the gifs that we’ve
used to publicize the film, and we’re just starting to
finally see people looking back at technology for
the first time instead of always forward. WILEY WIGGINS: Well, a new
tool doesn’t necessarily replace an old tool. They all fill the toolbox up,
and you can go back in history and pick things when they’re
appropriate. And that applies to technology
as well. ANDREW BUJALSKI: But I can’t
tell you how many sane and rational people, when I talked
to them about doing this movie on these old cameras said, why
don’t you do it on a new camera, and we’ll do x y z
filter in post to make it look like the old camera? And that, on the one hand,
makes a lot of practical sense, and on the other hand,
I’m so glad we didn’t, especially because this camera
brought so many weird, quirky glitches in the movie that the
camera gave us that we never would have been able to invent
ourselves that really, I think, become very much a part
of the texture of the movie. HOUSTON KING: And if you like
the look of it, there’s another example of a film that
just came out in theaters called “No” that they used an
actual time period camera as well, from, I think, it looked
like it was late ’70s. FEMALE SPEAKER: Yeah. Something about the nuances of
when something doesn’t work that really kind of adds to the
overall aesthetic of any film that’s being shot with a
period camera that I think we forget, because we just assume
that that’s stuff you just sort of glaze over. But you’re just used to
it at that point. But going back, it’s
very cool. Anyone else have a question? Yeah. Should he be using that one
for the purposes of this? Does it matter? AUDIENCE: Hey. It’s possible that there are
whole genres of films about conferences that I’ve never
heard of, but I was just really struck by– I’ve never seen a movie about a
conference before, and maybe that was just a byproduct
of the topic that you’re talking about. But it seemed so accurate and
true, but also depressing, but also not depressing. And I was just wondering where
the conference came from. Like, is there a lot of movie
conferences that feel like that, or how did that work its
way in, and how did it end up being so realistic and weird? ANDREW BUJALSKI: I’m sure a lot
of film festival memories crept in there, because
certainly, you make a movie, and you end up, if you’re lucky,
and people want to show it, then you travel around
with it, and you end up feeling like– I mean, I certainly remember
waking up in some of those hotels and thinking,
like, I might as well be a carpet salesman. It’s like, you travel around,
you kind of see the same people, and say, hey,
how are you doing? Here we are selling carpets
in Milwaukee. All these people who– we all like to think that we’re artists, but anyway, yeah. I mean, that’s the closest
thing I know to convention culture. But I’ve seen them. I’ve certainly heard plenty of
great convention stories and hotel stories from anybody who’s
hung around these things for any of their business. Hotels are great, because
they’re weirdly anonymous, but also, they’re so full of human
drama, but you never know what that drama is. It’s all these secret
compartments of drama. And it was so fun to get to
explore that and play with it in the movie. In some weird way– I couldn’t quite figure it out–
but the way that people described early computers to me,
too, that the architecture of the computer was much more
knowable than it is now. And this fascinates me, that
at some point, I was lucky enough to get on the phone with
Richard Garriott, the video game programmer, and he
was talking about how when he started out working in his
parents’ garage, he knew everything about the computer
intimately, and there was nothing the computer did that
he didn’t know what was happening, because he’d
spent enough time with it to master it. And now, there’s nobody
on earth. I’m talking to you through
a MacBook Pro. There’s not a single human
being on Earth who knows everything that’s happening
inside of this computer. It’s gone way beyond the ability
of one person to understand. But something about– and now I’m stretching a
metaphor pretty thin– but something about that
architecture of early computers with all these kind
of knowable but unknowable compartments– I don’t know. Somehow, the hotel felt to me
like its own kind of computer, or its own old computer. Maybe an unbelievably enormous
hotel would be today’s computer equipment. But I felt like there was some
weird cosmic resonance there. I can’t quite explain it, but
somehow, it helped with whatever I was thinking in the
editing and the shooting. A friend, Kevin Bewersdorf, who
plays the cameraman in the movie, said to me after he
watched it– he said, it’s like a drug movie made by
somebody who doesn’t do drugs, which is basically exactly
what it is. So this is like, if some of my
thinking sounds a little stoned, it’s just me
trying to project myself into being stoned. I don’t really do it that
much in reality. WILEY WIGGINS: Timothy Leary
said that computers are the new LSD, Andrew. ANDREW BUJALSKI:
Who said that? WILEY WIGGINS: Timothy Leary. ANDREW BUJALSKI: There you go. He should’ve known. FEMALE SPEAKER: Any
other questions? HOUSTON KING: There’s one. AUDIENCE: Howdy. So there’s that one shining
moment around the end where it flashes to color, and there’s
this old woman, and moments of talk of religion. It just seems like this strange
kind of anachronistic hole, and characters get lost,
and they’re never seen again. And it was just a very
interesting moment, and I was wondering if you could talk
about it a little bit more. ANDREW BUJALSKI: I could
talk about it a little. I think it sounds like
you saw most of what was going on there. You know, to some extent, we
were raising the ante so much. In the last third of the
movie, as you noticed, everything goes fairly insane,
and we’re kicking everything into as high a gear as we can,
and kind of throwing every experimental impulse
at the wall. First of all, there’s an
incredible history of black and white movies with color
sequences, and I think my all time favorite is The Women
from 1939, which had this amazing fashion show sequence
that just kind of comes in the middle of the movie, and goes
color, and then it goes back. But Raging Bull has one, She’s
Got A Habit has one, Schindler’s List even
has the girl with the little red jacket. And again, it’s always a kind
of stunt, but the question with any stunt is, is there a
way to do the stunt that means something, or that provides
some value? And I like the idea, in this
case, that going to color usually is about something
becoming grand or beautiful or magical, and I like the idea
here that it was actually the black and white footage that
really was our futuristic footage, and to go into color,
we were really stepping back. As you said, there’s something
anachronistic about it, and we’re with this older woman. And so this color photography,
which is in some ways more familiar to us, although it
looks weird in its own way– but we’re stepping back from
1960s technology to 1930s technology to shoot that. And I liked the idea that that
color and warmth would be somehow something
old and musty. Which, again, is not an
explanation for it. It’s just one of the things
I enjoyed about it. I can’t explain anything. It just is what it is. FEMALE SPEAKER: That
was pretty good. That was good. ANDREW BUJALSKI: OK. FEMALE SPEAKER: Yeah. WILEY WIGGINS: I just think he
couldn’t bear to not have some 16 millimeter footage
in there somewhere. ANDREW BUJALSKI: There’s
that, too. There’s that, too. For sure. FEMALE SPEAKER: Anyone else
have any questions? No? You guys have anything
you want to say as final remarks, or– HOUSTON KING: Well, Jacob,
Jessica, thank you for having us screen here today. This is one of the very first
pure tech audiences we’ve screened for, and so it was
very exciting for us. And thank all of y’all
for coming. And we open in mid-July at the
Film Forum, and so if you like the film, please spread
the word and tell people to come out. Andrew will be here for the
Wednesday and Thursday when we open, and Wiley, it looks
like, is coming Friday, Saturday for more Q and As. And so please come out, and you
can meet them in person. ANDREW BUJALSKI: Thank you
guys so much, yes. WILEY WIGGINS: Thanks
for watching, guys. FEMALE SPEAKER: Yeah, thank you
guys for joining us on the Hangout, too, for chilling. But yeah, thank you so much for
bringing the film here. It’s also great to see ways
that people interpret– filmmakers, especially,
interpret technology, and what people have done in the past,
and what they’re doing now. So that’s rad. Thank you. ANDREW BUJALSKI: Thank you. FEMALE SPEAKER: All
right, guys. See you later. HOUSTON KING: See you guys. FEMALE SPEAKER: Bye. ANDREW BUJALSKI: Later. FEMALE SPEAKER: See you.

2 thoughts on “Computer Chess Q&A with Andrew Bujalski, Houston King, and Wiley Wiggins

  1. When I got to 10:48 seconds along this video of them saying nothing, absolutely nothing regarding computer chess, I turned it off. I don't care about the process of making the movie, the video cameras chosen. I care about the topic.

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