A professional actress for over 15 years, writer/director Taryn O’Neill developed a passion for creating science fiction worlds after she co-produced the 2008 STREAMY nominated sci-fi web series AFTER JUDGMENT. She has written for horror site Black Box TV and a wrote a sci-fi action series for Stan Lee and POW Entertainment about supermodels with superpowers. Her scripts have been finalists at the NYTV Fest and the Sundance Institute. A self taught science nerd, she co-founded the science in entertainment group ‘Scirens’ and has been featured on io9, Innovation & Tech Today, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s STARTALK RADIO (Nat Geo channel) and BILL NYE SAVES THE WORLD (Netflix) for her science outreach work. She has a degree in Economics, Film and Theater from Duke University and spent a semester studying at the USC School of Cinema. LIVE is her directorial debut.
Q & A
If the world you created in your film became a reality, is that a world you would want to live in? Is there a Sci-Fi world you’d buy a one-way ticket to?
If the world of LIVE became a reality, then a pervasive artificially intelligent camera system is watching you around the clock and most people’s livelihood is based around their social media numbers, so no, it would a world that I would work hard to change! I have yet to find a sci-fi world that I would confidently relocate to but some planet systems in the HYPERION realm (at least before The Fall) seem brilliant to visit.
Name a Sci-Fi character you relate to on a spiritual level? Who is your Sci-Fi spirit animal/spirit alien?
This is a weird answer, coming from someone who aspires towards badass female warriors, but I spiritually relate to the A.I. robot, David, played by Haley Joel Osmet in Spielberg’s A.I. — it connected with me on a powerful and visceral level. There was something about his quest to be human, to be loved, understood and accepted that resonated, as these are deeply human needs. As for spirit animal, I’d have to say the love child of Dana Scully and Ellen Ripley would be my ultimate spirit animal.
Friend or Foe: humanoid robots with advanced artificial intelligence? What if robots start making their own Sci-Fi films? Will you support them in their endeavors?
Insufficient data to answer question. :) But, as a guess, our advanced humanoid robots are both our friends and our foes, so I suggest keeping friends close and enemies closer? And if they want to express their creativity through film, it will give us some access to the way they think and perceive the world, which is probably a good thing. The more you know…
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?
I have never seen this movie, but if I needed to pull together a squad it would have to have Wonder Woman and Carl Sagan on it.
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?
Thanks to my crazy imagination and the amount of science and tech articles I read, I have too many ideas to even deal with! But I’m pretty sure that it was a good idea that I didn’t move forward on my ‘Romeo and Juliet are spies… in space’ idea. (Or… not?)
Do you consider yourself part of a sci-fi community? Or when your brain is in the future and your body’s in the present, is that isolating?
I would consider myself part of an extended geek community that includes sci-fi, fantasy and actual science communities. I owe a big debt of gratitude to the early webseries community that was so inclusive and gave me opportunities to be involved at San Diego Comic Con. But that doesn’t mean that the sci-fi creator mindset isn’t isolating, especially as most people don’t always want to talk about the newest science research or where our world is heading (the present is exhausting enough!).
Do you consider yourself more of an analog or digital person? What kind of balance do strike between the two? Is there a disconnect between the technology you make films about and the technology that you make films with?
I love the push and pull between the past, present and future. LIVE has an analog element to it in that it was shot with anamorphic lenses. Thus it has a very ‘cinematic’ look (along with the rustic and light filled loft it was shot in) which is in start contrast to the advanced digital world it takes place in. The digital analog duo aesthetic captured in Spike Jonze’s HER was a huge inspiration. I think people will grasp on to sci-fi concepts better if there is a visual touchpoint that evokes nostalgia. I didn’t want to direct a sci-fi short that looked like BLADERUNNER. That aesthetic, though incredible, has been overdone now.
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?
Creating a new world for the screen in the sci-fi genre is so exciting! Not only do you get to create a new visual experience practically, but through VFX, color AND through the audio track of the world’s ambient sounds. The post production of LIVE was where much of that magic occurred. We didn’t have the budget to create any ‘futuristic’ objects to place in the space physically (though production designer Katie Moest found some amazing things!) so the hi-tech (HUD, drone, camera) was all virtual, again inspired by HER. The physical space was art designed to reflect the character’s ‘on camera’ persona as well as her ‘off camera’ reality by using different color palettes (also reinforced during the ‘Live’ sections.)
Lightning round: Star Wars or Star Trek? Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs? Practical or CGI? Dystopia or Utopia? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
I stand in super position on all these questions. I love them all equally. (Though I am rooting for Utopia).