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Saving Grace: An Excellent Premiere

Sisch and her SL avatar.

The "Saving Grace" premiere took place in Second Life this last Sunday. We had a good turn out (about 15 people) and everyone enjoyed the film very much. Sisch (Simone Schleu), the director, gave a text commentary during the screening and afterwards stayed to discuss the film with Phil Rice and then the audience. Phil did a great job running the Q&A for Machiniplex (his first time) and I thoroughly enjoyed finally being part of the audience.

"Saving Grace" is a science fiction story in the tradition of Isaac Asimov and Lois McMaster Bujold (both authors Sisch reads and admires). It's the story of one woman's crises of identity and how the AI aboard her ship, which has been sent on a mission of vital importance to the future of Earth, through an act of devotion and friendship, helps her understand her reason for living. It is a story of choices and of their consequences. A character driven science fiction film beautifully performed and very well written.

Part of the audience watching the screening of Saving Grace

Sisch worked on Saving Grace for about 4 months. She said she struggled over the script, rewriting it many times until she got the story she wanted. Then she put together her voice cast (including her own performance in the lead role) and go the voice recordings first. She smartly waited until she had the other actors performances recorded before she did her own and adjusted her interpretation to fit with the other actors. Sisch mentioned that she wasn't trying to be "realistic", but wanted the style of the acting (and the film) to be real for the story she was telling. A distinction often forgotten not only in machinima, but in commercial filmmaking as well.

She used three different real-time engines to create "Saving Grace": Moviestorm, The Movies and X3: the Terran Conflict. Her background in machinima filmmaking was primarily with The Movies, so she was comfortable with that game and it's various mods. Sisch said she really loved the animation system of Moviestorm since it allowed you to stack several animations to get unique ones that fit perfectly with the internal drama of her characters. X3 was used primarily for space shots and The Movies Game was used for a few dream sequences (to great effect).

Phil on the left and Sisch on the right during Q&A

Sisch spent a lot of time getting the individual animations just right for various scenes. At one point, for the climatic scene between the AI and Grace, she spent 4 days just trying to get Grace's reaction right. Her careful and meticulous attention to detail pays off in making the film one that involves you with the characters and their moral choices. Something you don't often find in many machinima films.

Phil made an excellent point about how the AI characterization works against the cliche of Hal 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey and instead of being the emotionless villain, the AI in "Saving Grace" actually becomes more human, more empathetic in the end. Sisch's decision to make the AI very stiff and artificial at the beginning, then move to a characterization that has more subtle movements (and I think more subtle performance) at the end is the mark of a thoughtful and careful director. In fact, the entire film is so well edited and shot that it's hard to believe Sisch has only been directing machinima for a few years.

And, of course, the fact that the central character, which is usually portrayed as a heroic male, is female. Exploring the nature of female heroism (and her final decision is heroic, imo) is another example of how subtle and intelligent this film is.

Sisch also mentioned that she thought that the story of Grace was complete and that she wasn't considering going back to the story as a kind of series. "What else is there to say?", she said (paraphrased). With the popularity of the film and because both the AI and Grace's characters are so interesting, there has been some interest in her extending the story some. I was very glad to hear that Sisch wasn't interested. Her reasons make so much sense.

Much more was discussed over the 1 hour + conversation, but it's too much to summarize here. We are working (Phil and I) on a way to archive these Premiere's in some fashion, so those who can't make it can at least get a feel for what the event was like. In the meantime, you can screen or download the film at machiniplex.net and if you follow the links there (or here) you can read her interview at the Moviestorm site and on her own blog.

Screen cap from Saving Grace early in the film

It's a testament to the impact of this film that many people asked if the film was going to be screened again on Sunday. Phil was able to set the server to continue to show the film at the Z-Studios Theater continuously through the evening. I know when I signed off there were several people in the audience eager to see it again.

My sincere thanks to Sisch for letting us Premiere her film and for archiving it at Machiniplex. I was also very impressed with here poise and her thoughtful answers to the questions she was asked. Also, thank you Phil Rice for running the discussion and for setting up the film both at Machiniplex and in Second Life.

Machiniplex Premiere: "Saving Grace" by Sisch. Feb 15th, 10AM @ Second Life

Machiniplex will premiere "Saving Grace", a new machinima film created by Sisch, on February 15th (Sunday) at 10AM (Pacific Time) at Z-Studios Theater in Second Life. Created using a mixture of three separate real-time engines (Moviestorm, The Movies and X3 Terran Conflict), "Saving Grace" has a unique style along with an intriquing storyline that is very well done. It's themes of loneliness, self-sacrifice and human/machine authenticity remind me a bit of the sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick with some Ursula K. Leguin thrown in as seasoning. "Saving Grace" is an excellent blend of style and content.

We are proud to present "Saving Grace" as a Machiniplex Premiere. We will screen the film at 10AM (Second Life time) after which Sisch will answer questions and comment on the making of the film.

We will be posting "Saving Grace" at the machiniplex.net site a few days before the premiere, so you can stream it there or download a copy if you'd like to see the film early.

If you've never been to Second Life before, it's a virtual world where people create things and host virtual events. It's a free download and is fairly easy to learn. You can come early if you are a first-timer and we'll have someone there to help you out. We generally use voice chat for the discussions afterwards, but if you don't have a microphone or headset, we'll also be doing text chat as well.

Here is a link that will tell you more about how to get going with Second Life:

Getting Started with Second Life

In world, you can instant message me (gtoon jun) or Phil Rice (Sol Bartz), and we'll respond promptly. You can also ask any questions here in the "comments" section of this post and I'll do my best to answer quickly.

Hope to see you there!