This has been a busy week for Seth Worley. The Nashville-based filmmaker's witty short film "Plot Device" has quickly gone viral, generating media buzz and putting him on Hollywood's radar practically overnight.
It's no surprise, either, because "Plot Device" makes for one helluva calling card: A visually scrumptious, ultra-high concept production, it follows a budding filmmaker (played by the director's brother) who purchases a button online that sends him reeling from one Hollywood genre to the next. One minute, he's surrounded by zombies; the next, he's dodging gunfire and aliens (watch it below).
The average viewer may watch "Plot Device" and realize Worley's evident skill, but they probably don't realize that the short is also a commerce. He was hired by Red Giant Sofware to produce it in order to showcase the company's color correction software, Magic Bullet. Worley hopped on a call (joined by Red Giant's Director of Communities, Aharon Rabinowitz, who wrote about the project here) to discuss the combination of commercial and creative goals that fueled the short, and what he hopes will happen next.
Did you expect "Plot Device" to receive so much attention?
The whole time, Aharon was saying it was going to be huge, and more exposure than I've been used to. I thought I would take a vacation after it went online, but that was totally wrong. It went online and immediately exploded on Vimeo in the first two days.
Had you used the software on other projects in the past?
Red Giant makes a wide array of software, like plug-ins for Final Cut Pro. I was using a few of their products when I got my hands on Magic Bullet. It's primarily used for color correction. When the last season of "Lost" was on, ABC did this promo content for fans to create their own promo for the series finale. I did it as a fanboy, but I also do this sort of thing for a living. I did this promo that, for technical reasons involving me not knowing how use the Internet, didn't get submitted properly. But it ended up going on Vimeo. I used this software called Trapcode Particular to create the Smoke Monster really easily. It basically shows the Smoke Monster the day after the final episode of "Lost." He's sitting on the couch watching TV, sitting in the park alone, and floating on a treadmill. Aharon saw it on Vimeo and that was how he became aware of my work.
How did the project evolve from there?
From the beginning, he said, "I want to do a promo for Magic Bullet, but I want it to be a short film that can stand on its own as a story that can show you off as a filmmaker." To his credit, there was never any prioritizing about serving the product.
My better ideas are the ones that are sparked by necessity. For my day job, I make videos for student camps. My job is to take these themes and let them come out organically. Because of that, I have something to shape a story around, and make it feel like it was extracted, not injected.
So how did this idea get injected into the project?
With Magic Bullet, you can create the looks of various genres. I thought about what the short could be so we could use all these looks. My brother--who's the star of "Plot Device" and did all the music for it--he and I had an idea awhile ago that we can't do now because it's too similar to "Plot Device": Some guy finds a radio station that only plays this movie score, and it turns out the score is for his life, everything he's doing. It starts to grow more and more ominous, and he's convinced he's going to die. It was called "Soundtrack of My Death." I thought about how you could do this visually. I thought, "What if he had a button and he presses it, and he's in different genres?" Suddenly we had this story construct that could organically showcase the product.
It's also interesting that the character wants to make a cheap movie. That seems like a statement of some sort.
It was Aharon's idea to make the guy a filmmaker. We had this book by the creator of Magic Bullet, Stu Maschwitz, called "The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies." It's shown at the beginning. Amazon suggests that he also buys the Plot Device. From there, it made even more sense. He was trying to buy film-related stuff online.
Speaking of film-related stuff online: You also created a web series called "The Time Closet." How did that experience compare to this one?
That was actually a feature that I wrote and directed three years ago. The most amount of money we spent on it was about a grand. We did it in our spare time with all borrowed equipment and we used the same house we used in "Plot Device." The movie itself didn't have the production value that I felt could compete at festivals, and I also didn't have the ability to do what we can do now. I wanted people to see it, so we decided to distribute it this past year as a web series online because we figured the stakes would be a lot lower. It's received a pretty cool response, but we had way less resources.
"Plot Device" cycles through various blockbuster genres, and while you're clearly a fan, it also works as a critique of using familiar formulas.
A lot of people have been calling it a spoof. My brother Ben, while working on the music, the first thing he turned in for the action sequence was a seventies-style "Shaft" theme. I was like, "Dude, we talked about this. We're going for 'Die Hard' and 'Lethal Weapon.'" He said, "Yeah, but it's supposed to be funny." I said, "No, we have to be audacious and take these genres as seriously as we can. The joke will always be your character thrown in the middle of it." We were having fun with these genres that we love, including "indie"--I'm a huge Wes Anderson fan. I had to go watch "Touch of Evil" to figure out how to shoot film noir. It was awesome.
You're heading out to L.A. next month to meet with potential agents. If you get the chance to make bigger movies, would you still want to use the same resources you had for the production of "Plot Device"?
I don't see any reason why not. I'm new to all this, so I don't know what the work flow in Hollywood is, but I assume there will be more people to help me with things. My goal will be to work with people who think the way I think, or better than the way I think. If I do go to Hollywood and get more money for a bigger project, the products we used on "Plot Device" are absolutely qualified to make something bigger. I think I can create everything with flashlights and smoke.
Do you have a long-term plan for your career?
When I was a kid, I went to go see "Jurassic Park" with my dad, and I don't think I had skin when I left. It just blew me away. I took every family member I had, one at a time, to see it again. By the sixth or seventh time, I realized I was watching the the people I had brought more than I was watching the movie, like I was taking credit for the entertainment experience they were having. I've been chasing that ever since.