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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.

  1. Blogger Overman | February 17, 2009 at 6:51 AM |  

    Sisch was such a pleasure to talk to, I really enjoyed interviewing her and hearing about her thoughts and feelings about her work. This film was a great choice, Ricky, nice going!

  2. Blogger sisch | February 17, 2009 at 1:48 PM |  

    I had a great time at the event - thanks to you, Ricky, for choosing my film to be shown, and to both Phil and you for the interview! Also many thanks to the audience - to get such immediate feedback was a wonderful experience!

  3. Blogger Killian | February 17, 2009 at 2:16 PM |  

    I've had the pleasure of working with Sisch in a directorial capacity, as well as on a friendly basis, and can only confirm that not only is she a truly visionary film maker, she's also a thoroughly lovely person as well! Long may she continue her work in the field of machinima!

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