The Garden is a short sci-fi film we set out to shoot independently in New York City in the beginning of March 2015. The film, originally written for the Directing Workshop for Women at the AFI, tells a story about a rebellious ballerina Luc stuck in the Garden—a post-apocalyptic transitional camp where humans get converted into Artificial Intelligence constructs in order to survive.
Luc is a gifted but rebellious young dancer, and she would rather die than conform. But when she meets an odd robot-boy Azul, the idea of integrating into a better version of herself and living forever suddenly sounds tempting.
How The Garden Raised Over $14,497 On Kickstarter
We launched a Kickstarter campaign for the film to raise 50% of the budget. The whole budget is $23,000, which is not low for a 14-minute film. We knew, however, that in order to create a compelling post-apocalyptic world, we’d need the money.
The campaign began shortly after Thanksgiving and was designed to last two months to account for the difficult holiday period. By the end of week six, IndieWire picked The Garden as their Project of the Day, Yahoo listed it as one of the “5 coolest crowdfunding projects” of January 2015. From there we received an endorsement from Filmmaker Magazine’s Scott Macaulay who described its future world as “being realized with a lot of independent ingenuity by Natalia Iyudin and her collaborators.”
How We Got Attention
Much of this modest success can be attributed to the fact that we worked very hard on creating a series of teasers that would focus less on us as filmmakers raising funds for their dream project, but more on the style, feel and story of The Garden. Our vision was inspired by Solaris and Blade Runner with a tough female protagonist at the center.
We also loved the idea of creating a look evocative of a totalitarian regime—the tyranny of robots—along the lines of Orwell’s 1984 and Soviet propaganda. We wanted to create a futuristic world that’s inviting and cinematic, but decided that we can leave certain things ambiguous as long as we suggest a compelling conflict and mood.
Our Biggest Challenge
The most time-consuming and pricey part of preproduction turned out to be the art department: from costumes to wigs, to reflective contact lenses ordered from the UK, which arrived the night before the scheduled shoot.
We hand picked every detail to make a perfect robot. Kristy Strate, a phenomenal make-up artist, worked for an hour before we started shooting to turn Heather Hollingsworth’s face into a blank, soulless mask.
We filmed the four teasers in the course of one cold day at a legendary, abandoned train station in New Jersey secured by our producer, Marta Harasymowicz, which fit perfectly with our vision of an industrial garden turned into a futuristic prison. Heather, who also co-created the concepts for all four teasers, plays the A.I. doctor. We looked to Tilda Swinton for inspiration, but also wanted the acting to be creepy-sweet.
Planning Our Production
We had two set ups: one for The Doc, and one for the ballerina Luc. Because the film is still in the process of casting, the girl playing Luc is turned away from the camera.
The other three teasers, which were released at different points of the film’s Kickstarter campaign, were focused on The Doc only, as she discusses different aspects of being an A.I. It was relatively simple to shoot all of it at once and the static shots are not hard to execute.
They just need to be well composed to keep production value high. The visual design, which was created by Hypatia Porter, was used by director/animator Bartek Kulas as the background, with superimposed logos and propaganda posters, all animated in After Effects. Director of Photography Autumn Eakin used her Sony PMWF50 and only two lights (including a ring light) drawing juice from a simple generator.
We cut all four pieces, did color and special effects in two days. Sound design took the longest, with recording Dmitry Iyudin’s haunting score inspired by Twin Peaks, Drive and Stalker, and Benjamin Horn’s original mix of spectral sounds and resonant special effects.
You can become one of the co-creators of this Kickstarter Staff Pick project by backing it: http://kck.st/1s9CjB4
Natalia Iyudin is a New York City based Writer/Director, Film Curator, and Editor, as well as a member of Film Fatales, a prestigious collective of US film directors. Her short films, documentaries, and music videos screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival, New Orleans Film Festival, Oberhausen Film Festival, Starz Denver Film Festival, and aired on Direct TV and Current TV. She has collaborated with MTV, PBS, MoMA, National Gallery of Art, San Francisco Film Society, SONY Pictures Classics, and Film Society of Lincoln Center.