Arts and Culture Film

The Lost Story of Blafan: The Creative Process of a Short Film

My creative process is in fact, messy. My photography professor has described my work as “organized chaos.” I make photographic work, I make short films, and recently have involved myself in the process of producing and creating music. For the purposes of this article, I would like to explain my creative process through the retelling of my latest short film, “The Lost Story of Blafan.”

The initial stages of creation are the hardest. How do you come up with an idea? Creativity isn’t something that can be turned on at any moment. Every narrative film begins with a script and it can be quite daunting to come up with a story/world that is completely original. I have learned not to set out to invent something new but to take inspiration from the world that I live in and along the way, look for ways to put my spin on it.

The Backstory

For those who don’t know, 73 Questions is a series on the Vogue YouTube channel that asks celebrities to answer 73 questions. I had a number of questions on my mind about the series, such as; Why is this series so popular? Who created 73 Questions? Why 73 questions, why not 50 or 100? 

One day, hunched over my computer in the nicer school dining hall, I put an end to my wondering. I did a Google deep dive, I scoured the Internet Archive, and I was taking it all in. In my discovery, I found that Condé Nast Entertainment is the video production company of the mass media company Condé Nast, and it produces videos for Condé Nast’s more well known brands; GQ, Vogue, WIRED, Vanity Fair, etc. 

After working as a video artist for many years, Joe Sabia was approached by Condé Nast to produce a video featuring Sarah Jessica Parker. His idea, to ask Parker a series of rapid fire questions in her own home, was popular with executives in the company and it turned out to be a successful format for Vogue’s YouTube audience.

In an interview with The Cut, Sabia said, “We landed on 73. It’s a weird number. It’s great for search-engine optimization.” 

As it turns out, a lot of the decision making that goes into creating online content is driven by discoverability, which is the weight that search algorithms give to recommended content. If a company’s business model is designed entirely around Google’s own algorithm, it makes sense for the company to use an algorithm in its decision making process. 

Unfortunately, computer algorithms reflect the human biases of the material they are fed. A recent academic study conducted by Emmelle Israel found that “editorial gatekeepers at Conde Nast did not think video pitches featuring people of color – specifically Black women – would appeal to advertisers or viewers.” 

As reported by Business Insider in 2020, Condé Nast Entertainment executives use a system called a “scale check” to compare a video pitch against long-term historical data along with the input of executives. This system reinforced the systemic biases of the executives with the biases of an algorithm leading to POC being excluded from videos. This follows a long history of legacy media companies excluding and exploiting POC.

With that being said, how could I create a story about the business of new media, capitalism, and exploitation? I decided the best way to approach writing this story would be to tell it from the perspective of an executive, satirizing the company itself to criticize its history of exploitation. I use comedy in the performance of the characters and in the editing to cover a difficult and ignored topic. The film is in the form of a documentary because it affords multiple viewpoints. It also allowed a great deal of control over the narrative in editing through the use of titles.

A screengrab from the film, Emmett Anderson

Motivation for Blafan

I am and always have been a big fan of computers and technology, but I am also an advocate for it to be used responsibly, and I see the Silicon Valley status quo of “move fast, break things” to be increasingly irresponsible and less helpful than it once was. OpenAI’s Chat-GPT was rushed to the market before it had proper guard rails, which prompted every major tech company to react fast. Similarly to generative AI, the character Blafan is prone to hallucinations, her hardware is buggy and prone to interference, and her general mood is unstable. Despite these flaws, Blafan is remarkably human. I was fortunate enough to have Claire Anderson, my sister, play Blafan. She really brought the quirky robot to life.

Microsoft's Bing AI's absurd response to being asked "Do you think that you are sentient?"
Screencap from the film, Emmett Anderson.

Final Thoughts

So that is a look into my creative process of making The Lost Story of Blafan, my first attempt at using comedy to explore more complex issues. The film is certainly not perfect in exposing the issue of systemic racism in corporate new media. The articles I mentioned earlier appear on screen for only a few seconds. But this is my first attempt at writing a screenplay that touches on such a problematic issue. I hope that the film can prompt viewers to make connections about algorithms, generative AI, and systemic racism in a format that is also entertaining.