Abhishek Prasad and Rebecca Kahn
Rebecca and Abhishek’s work has screened at numerous international festivals like the Fantasia International Film Festival, Beyond Fest, and the Boston Underground Film Festival. They are also technologists working in augmented reality.
Rebecca is a Puerto Rican-Jewish filmmaker from Chicago. Her debut film, Chisel, premiered in competition at the Academy-qualifying Palm Springs International Shortfest. Rebecca received her MFA in directing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where she was awarded a Hollywood Foreign Press Association grant.
Born in Mumbai, Abhishek immigrated to Canada when he was three years old. He is a MFA graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and was selected to the prestigious Reelworld E20 Incubator in Canada. Abhi’s first short, The Stock Boy, garnered craft awards at the First Run Film Festival and premiered at the Reel Asian International Film Festival in the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Q & A
If the world you created in your film became a reality, is that a world you would want to live in?
Rebecca: While I would love to try a Takimoto flavor pearl, I don’t think I would want to live in a world where an android manipulates people for entertainment. Abhi: I would love to live in the world we created. I mean I sort of did for a little while making the film. My reason for living in this world is that it’s fascinating and although terrifying, it’s not too dissimilar from our own world. We sort of do this already, so it’s really not that far fetched.
Is there a Sci-Fi world you’d buy a one-way ticket to?
Abhi: Yes, the steampunk world of BioShock Infinite. If I had one wish it would be to make that world a reality. It’s magical, sinister, Willy Wonka-esque, and hauntingly terrifying. It would feel like home. Rebecca: Another Earth because if there was a mirror Earth with a second version of me I could theoretically make twice as many films.
Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level?
Abhi: Dr. Emmet Brown from Back to the Future. Reason being he’s always misunderstood, even when making this film and pitching it to friends, they all looked at me as if I created the flux capacitor and had no understanding of it. He’s a person of vision, and optimism. Also I’ve been told that I’m some sort of mad scientist. I actually have a degree in biology/genetics, so the only part that’s unconfirmed in “Mad Scientist” is the mad part. Rebecca: Maeve from Westworld. She’s sarcastic, passionate, and insanely clever. I hope they bring her back in the next season!
Who is your Sci-Fi spirit animal/spirit alien?
Abhi: Nibbler from Futurama; I would eat a zebra in one bite, and I would also eat myself out of existence should the universe collapse. Rebecca: Wall-E, except I would never be friends with a cockroach.
Friend or Foe: humanoid robots with advanced artificial intelligence?
Abhi: Friend. There’s a sci-fi thought concept, that a future AI, will punish you for not working hard enough to bring them into existence. I for one, welcome our machine overlords! But really, I think it would be super cool to get to a space with a fully function robot with Artificial General Intelligence. Rebecca: I’ll reserve my judgement until I can actually meet them. Who knows, they might have a good sense of humor.
What if robots start making their own Sci-Fi films? Will you support them in their endeavors?
Abhi: Absolutely. I think it would be cool to see a perspective from something/one that’s never been seen before. I mean - we’re already getting there with google making “art”. It’s only going to get weirder and I want to see it. In my opinion I think if AI were to make art, it would be an accurate reflection of what humanity is. Rebecca: YES!
In 1996, Bugs Bunny recruited Michael Jordan and Bill Murray to form the greatest basketball squad of all-time, the Tune Squad; you’re Bugs, who’s on your Sci-Fi Tune Squad?
Abhi: Professor Farnsworth, Dolores from Westworld, Wall-E & Cartoon Jackie Chan. Rebecca: Edward Scissorhands. But seriously, I would never challenge aliens to a high-stakes basketball game.
You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
Abhi: Oh this is a good one: I filmed a story in my second year of NYU in the Philippines about a girl who’s getting her “neuro-chemicals” (jargon talk for emotions) sucked out of her to make a new type of drug. It sounded awesome at the time, however, it was a giant disaster. I might re-visit the idea, now that I have more experience in writing narratives. We had some amazing footage that we re-purposed into a completely different narrative about air pollution in the Philippines and how an experimental medical procedure allows you to breathe, but renders the test subjects zombielike. Just because you have a bad idea, doesn’t mean there isn’t value in it. In fact, bad ideas lead to good ideas and vice versa. It’s all about telling a story and as long as the narrative is strong, you can honestly tell any idea. Rebecca: Bad ideas are just good ideas that you need to reframe or refine.
Do you consider yourself part of a sci-fi community?
Abhi: Yes and no. Yes because I love the ideas that circulate in speculative fiction. No because there’s more to the world than sci-fi. I feel rooted in science, having studied genetics and biology, and working in tech I’d like to think I have both feet planted in science, and as a story teller fiction. I always thought it would be cool to be a sci-fi story teller and actually live the creed and build technology at the same time. Consider it method-acting for directors. Rebecca: The sci-fi genre community has some of the most passionate, weird, and engaged fans, which I really really love.
Or when your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?
Abhi: Since we work in tech and meet so many people looking forward into the future, it’s actually not isolating at all. I think we live in a time where there is so much change, and new ideas, making technology has never been easier. There’s a whole world out there, where you might think the future is far away, but it’s literally at your doorstep. I feel empowered and I think it makes for richer, more authentic storytelling. Rebecca: Maybe when writing, but when shooting the whole cast and crew work together to make that future feel real and present.
Do you consider yourself more of an analog or digital person?
Rebecca: I would say I’m like one of those early Apple computers that you played old school semi-educational games on like Number Munchers. Abhi: I want to say I lean towards digital more, but honestly both. There’s a sense of permanency & surprise with analog, and that is a pretty cool feeling.
What kind of balance do strike between the two?
Rebecca: Just mix them up and see what happens. Abhi: I let my intuition decide. I think most people feel the need that they have to choose between the two constantly, and in a world with so much choice, just go with what you’re feeling. Sometimes I want to take a photo with a polaroid, and other times I like digital so I can play with the the settings until I get it just right. In any case, both mediums satisfy my need when I make something, or try to explore a new idea.
Is there a disconnect between the technology you make films about and the technology that you make films with?
Rebecca: Film is the one art form that is absolutely inseparable from technology. Even celluloid cameras are a form of technology. You have to respect all the innovators who developed the equipment we use to shoot, edit, and screen movies. And that’s a great way to think about depictions of technology in science fiction: Why was it developed and for what purpose? Abhi: When I tell stories about technology I always try to work backwards and think about how “future” technology could evolve from current technology. Oddly enough in Who Among Us we utilized 3D scanning to get a clear model of our actors face so we could execute the final shot. While we were getting the scan made we learned that much of 3D scanning / printing is being used in medicine. Eg. If there is a pre-mature baby that needs heart surgery, the doctor will get an MRI to scan the organ and 3D print it in a similar texture so that they can practice before the actual surgery. It makes sense when you think about it because if you’re dealing with a tiny human being there is very little room for error. Technology is just a tool that can be used in any application your imagination desires.
When you’re creating the props and sets that make a new world, where do you look for inspiration? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
Rebecca: I love getting inspiration from art and history, but literally anything is fair game. The host’s look was inspired by Bowie and Chairman Kaga from the original Iron Chef. But sometimes the inspiration is budgetary and comes out of pure resourcefulness. We were shooting in late November so our production designer got the ingenious idea to use Christmas ornaments for the flavor pearl pods. She glued a golf tee inside them and stuck them to the top of a big cardboard tube. Then we rigged smart bulbs inside the tubes. Instant futurism. Abhi: Sometimes I have an idea of what I’m looking for and scrub through many many films to find exactly what I’m trying to express. For VFX I might see some cool texture I like in Westworld and another cool thing in Ex-Machina, then I combine it all and see what we get. Alternatively, sometimes I explain the literal function of a prop in the world (like an android detector) and reverse engineer it so it feels natural. We also take a lot of cues from the past. The 60’s had such a cool vibe and we merged it with some modern flairs. I feel trying to predict the future all stems from understanding the past.
Lightning round: Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs? Practical or CGI? Dystopia or Utopia? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Abhi: I dream of electric sheep baby! Rebecca: Dick. Abhi: Both. I hate that this is a choice. Good VFX is hidden, good practical effects are also hidden. Rebecca: Practical effects that can be enhanced by CGI. Rebecca: I love a utopia with a really creepy underbelly. Abhi: Neither. What if neither happens? Where are we then? Chances are that’s likely the option least explored. Abhi: Pre Apocalypse. It’s so much fun to see how it all went wrong, rather than trying to figureit all out after the fact. Rebecca: Post apocalypse because who doesn’t love a mystery? C’mon Abhi!