Reflections on our use of technology are a hot topic for living in the 21st century, in his thrilling short if you never answered x, Daniel McKee examines the narrative of a missing person through the responses and notifications from their phone. DN spoke with Daniel about what inspired this story and how it has affected his own use of technology.

What was the genesis of if you never answered x?

Firstly, I have to thank the Homespun Yarns for giving me the opportunity to make the film, if you’re an up-and-coming UK based Director make sure you apply to this year’s brief, it will likely be coming out over the next few months.

The greatest influence for me was the different ways I was seeing people continuing to “live” online after death. Cultures have evolved traditions and rituals in relation to death, but I think the rapid development of the online space hasn’t yet given time for a universal etiquette. Because of this, it’s a bit of a free for all in regards to paying respect and I’ve seen it done in the most elaborate of ways. Did you know that 30 million of Facebook’s users died in the first eight years of the social network? I was very interested in integrating vacant social media accounts into a creative project and this led me conceptually onto missing persons and the different ways technology is used in these emergency situations, particularly social applications.

I’m interested to know how you construct a screenplay for a film that operates like this or was it a treatment you shot from? Did you outline the narrative beats before constructing the film?

There were three separate processes – the story of the phone, the video memories and the progression of the notifications.

Prior to the shoot I made a strict, timed animatic for the journey of the phone with text overlaid that suggested the stage and tone of the communication. The beats themselves are based on the bureaucratic stages of a missing persons case balanced upon the intrinsic feeling of energy draining away. Alexander Calder’s mobile structures were a visual source of inspiration for the film – both in the way they are designed and hang on different threads but also come to life in the wind before returning to static structures in the absence of kinetic energy.

In each scene the method of the delivery of the notifications alters, irregular message sounds and ring tones in the opening scene shift through to a focussed rumbling vibration in the closing drawer scene. These progressive changes work in tandem with the shift in the content and context of the notifications – personal messages from contacts opening the film demise into automated messages from databases in the later third.

I’d like to think that everything that appears on the phone screen in the film is based on a truth.

Has making if you never answered x made you question anything about how you use your phone?

The phone featured in the film is actually the phone I use everyday – most of the notifications in the film are based on comments and posts I found through research, or they were sitting on my phone having been sent to me in the past. The memories featured in the film are friends of mine I have captured candidly and spontaneously over that past 6 or 7 years. I’d like to think that everything that appears on the phone screen in the film is based on a truth.

I invested a great amount of time into researching notifications and comments online and across social media platforms. It was possible to look at real-world examples of people dealing with disappearances. Some cases were very active happening almost in real time as I made the film while others were years old and had become a kind of tribute to a lost person rather than remaining an active search.

To someone holding a hammer, every problem looks like a nail – I think owning a smartphone is similar.

But to answer your question, I think phones are useful tools, but to someone holding a hammer, every problem looks like a nail – I think owning a smartphone is similar, you think everything is at your fingertips, but it’s not – something that happened on the other side of the world in a different timezone, posted 8 hours ago is an event you’ll never ever get to truly experience.

And last but not least, what are you working on at the moment?

In the coming weeks I’ll be releasing a video featuring over 3,000 flags from world history. The flags have been sequenced in a way that the designs animate hypnotically from one into the next, as seamlessly as possible. It’s over four minutes long and has taken me over a year, on and off, to complete.

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