Hidden Gem: I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

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Hate? Let me tell you how much I’ve come to hate you since I began to live.

         I was never assigned to read the literary “classics” like Grapes of Wrath or The Great Gatsby going through high school. For some reason my English professors always decided to have slightly-off, unique twists to their curriculum, so we would end up reading and learning different things than the other students. I’m not saying this was bad, and yeah, I mean we still read Hamlet and MacBeth, but I feel Shakespeare just goes without saying. In fact if anything, I feel honored that my teachers had their own personal love for different works that wasn’t the standard. It just goes to show they had a lesson to really teach us.

         One of the books I remember reading most was Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. For those of you that don’t know, Brave New World is set in the far dystopian future, where humans have manufactured everything to be the most efficient and best it can be. Human reproduction is reduced to an automated system of test tubes and DNA splicing, and everyone is constantly popping future-antidepressants called Soma while partaking in massive public orgies. Some pretty brutal stuff, even for me being a senior at the time it’s a little dark in retrospect. Then again, so is Grand Theft Auto.

         While I never learned the hardships of the great depression, or the folly of pursuing lost love, I did learn that the future will probably be terrifyingly bleak.. but of course this was not the only moral of the story, and this is not the only piece ever written about the future either. War of the Worlds, iRobot, Alien, Back to the Future, the…. The Jetsons. It’s really just human nature to think about the future and what’s to come. It’s one of the largest differences between us and animals.

While the scenarios may seem limitless, there are those few time travelers who boldly go where everyone has gone before! Those who read through space and time at 88 pages per hour! We get wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey to to seek the greatest golden tales of tomorrow!

I too have gotten heavy and discovered this little gem.

         That angry voice belongs to AM, otherwise known as Allied Mastercomputer, and he is the wondrous villain of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison. Originally a short story, the video above was taken from the video game version, and was in fact the monologue that got me cast in the play Nanawatai in the Fall of 2013. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is set in the distant future, a time when computers become super intelligent. One computer named Allied Mastercomputer becomes self-aware, and ironically uses Descartes “I think therefore I am” as a means to call himself simply AM. He slowly begins killing the entire human race, leaving only five survivors. These five become AM’s playthings, and spend eternity being tortured and kept from death by the mastercomputer.IHNMAIMS

      That’s just the pretext of the story, the actual plot comes after that (I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone that may want to go read it). However, in this instance, and I think possibly the only instance I’ve ever recognized, the video-game version of the story is much, much better. And rightfully so.

        In the game version, which is your typical Sierra-styled point and click adventure, you get to choose between the five survivors and play out their individual “tortures” that AM is forcing them to go through. In order to progress and eventually escape his control (to finally die), you have to stealthily find ways to revive AM’s faith in humanity. There are a lot of really clever callbacks to the original written story, and it’s always fun to try to kill yourself in the game and see how AM stops you. There are a surprisingly wide assortment of locations to explore, from castles to pyramids, flesh prisons and concentration camps. The puzzles you have to solve are, I’ll admit, very difficult at times. Some characters like Ted are easier to solve, but the difficulty curve is really harsh. Which is a shame, but the payoff you get from furthering the story is so worth it, and one that I haven’t felt in quite some time.

       So, if you’re feeling adventurous you can buy it over at Good Old Games here:
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream – GOG

It’s playable on Windows and Mac, and I highly recommend searching for a walkthrough if you get stuck. Or, if you want to read the original story, you can read the entire thing here:
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream – Full

And as always, let me know what you think! I personally loved it, but I could see how it wouldn’t be for everyone. It’s a little graphic, and a little twisted, but I liked it nonetheless.
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Filmography – Simon & Stan (2014)

Simon & Stan

(Watch on Vimeo)

“And that’s how I became the new stealer of souls.” Simon – Travis Franks

Director of Photography: Jay Kim

Starring Travis Franks (Simon), Sean McGehee (Stan),
and Hannah Chandley (The Woman)

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       Simon and Stan! This bad boy was created for the 2014 annual CWU 48 Hour Film Slam. Having made Torch the year before, I feel like my bar was set pretty high to one up myself. The thing about these two day slams is that they always have very specific guidelines. For Simon and Stan, first of all it had to be a Western. We had to incorporate a bath towel (which Travis wears around his neck essentially the entire short), we had to have one of the characters named Simon, and we had to use the line “I am big, it’s the pictures that got small”. Oh, and on top of all that, the character named Simon had to be a mortician.

       During the writing process we realized that all the other groups would take the mortician requirement literally and probably have one of their characters be an actual mortician. So, being the prick that I was at the time, I wanted to think of how many different ways we could take the “mortician” element in a different direction. Having to rely on one of the characters of our story be an actual mortician meant we would need to have bodies and other things that would just further complicate whatever story we wanted to tell.

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-7-56-10-pm

So, first we went off on a tangent about making Simon work for a company called “Mortician and Sons”. It could have been a modern western about small businesses fighting against the man.

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Do not read the following unless you’ve seen it already.
Major spoilers.

      Somehow we got on the topic of what a mortician does, and I wanted to do something with an exterminator gassing someone in a shoot-off, and then somehow that all converted that into “what if the devil was the mortician?” and then BAM, we were off onto all these ideas about the devil. Satan, the ultimate mortician, that was our clever idea for passing the requirement. So we knew we wanted the devil to be in it, and it had to be a western… which reminded us instantly of those old fiddle competition songs and tales against the devil for peoples souls, Faustian stuff. So somehow we went from the “Devil Went Down to Georgia” to the devil helping a dying friend with cancer. It got weird in the brainstorming room, and there was pizza. What we ended up coming up with was this concept that Satan was real, but he didn’t have a physical body. So, he needed to test dying souls to see if they had what it took to take up the throne. It’s not really obvious in the final version of the film, because we cut some of the dialogue, but you could potentially infer that Travis’ character Simon is in some kind of coma during the entire film, but it’s not necessary for the story.
screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-7-55-55-pm       This also marked the first time I had made a film with all the correct film-making procedures. I asked one of my film major friends Jay Kim to DP. I was very much put in my place when he showed up to help for the festival. Jay had all the knowledge of the technical aspects of cinematography, the side of the spectrum that I’ve always lacked. I had been so used to being alone, having to handle all aspects of the video making process on my own. Having somebody else who actually knew the procedures, well, it was a very relieving experience.

       Despite the horrendous cold weather we had to suffer through during some night shoots, it was a lot of fun filming. I couldn’t be more proud of Travis or Hannah, as they both nailed their performances.

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