Last spring, Alexa made headlines when she secretly recorded a conversation between a husband and wife and then sent the communiqué to the husband's employee. The story was one of several high-profile news events highlighting the smart device's unexpected behavior. Other customers had experienced Alexa's creepy unbidden laughter. Reports of researchers' discovery that they could secretly program smart devices to hear commands undetectable to humans added to rising dismay from privacy advocates, as well as those of us who saw The Terminator too many times at a young age.
Lee Zlotoff—of MacGyver fame—rattles off these incidents while discussing his new web series, Our Own Devices, as examples of why the show is situated not just in the here—Santa Fe—but the now. "We are living in weird times," he says with a laugh. Zlotoff produced the web series, the first original content from Santa Fe Network (SantaFeNetwork.TV). It premieres online July 11.
Don't let my Terminator reference scare you off. Unlike most meditations on human/cyborg dynamics, Our Own Devices foregoes the dystopian twist—it's a comedy.
Written by Danny Rubin (writer of Groundhog Day) and directed by Vicky Jenson (director of Shrek), the 12-episode micro-series (each episode is just a few minutes long) takes a look at a particular Santa Fe household where the smart devices—Alexa and Siri, primarily—have a secret relationship.
The show grew from a conversation between Zlotoff and Rubin, both Santa Fe residents and friends with serious Hollywood experience. Zlotoff shared the idea, Rubin immediately responded and—with relative ease—the show came to fruition.
While Rubin immediately saw the comedic potential in a Siri/Alexa relationship—he started out in comedy, so writing short and funny comes naturally—the series also incorporates other themes he's explored throughout his career. "A fascination from when I was very young that carries through in all of my writing has to do with the pursuit of understanding of what the limits of humanity are: What are we bound to, what can we not escape and what are we assuming that isn't necessarily true? This juncture with technology raises a lot of those questions in an interesting way," he tells SFR.
Both Rubin and Zlotoff are also excited to be part of the movement to bolster New Mexico's film industry, and the booming landscape of online distribution presents unique opportunities for creatives living here—established and newcomers alike.
"It's a really exciting time for content creators," Zlotoff says. "It's a brave new world. It used to be unless you got a movie studio or network to fund or distribute whatever you made, there was no way to get it to the audience. With the internet … if you can build a better mousetrap and entice people to nibble on the cheese, then they're yours."
Such was the thinking behind SFN's creation, which allows New Mexico filmmakers to share their work online for free viewing. The project grew out of work from the Santa Fe Film and Digital Media Commission, and also is part of the Emerging Media Alliance, a network of groups here working across mediums and genres.
SFN Vice President Adam Shaening-Pokrasso, who has been on the digital commission since it began almost two years ago and also runs the creative agency 12FPS, says SFN "is really designed around cultivating a local and statewide network and platform for showcasing creative work." The film industry is strong here, Shaening-Pokrasso says, particularly when it comes to production and post-production, but SFN seeks to bridge gaps the initial stages of project development and the final stages of distribution. "We need the ideas to not be coming from California … but to cultivate the writers we have here, and instead of leaving to be distributed … stays here to be distributed nationally and internationally."
SFN's model already has attracted attention.
"I think it's the first place-based network, because we haven't found another one," Anna Darrah, SFN president, says. "Other places are interested, though, and asking a lot of questions because they think it's a smart idea."
SFN celebrates its own one-year anniversary, as well as Our Own Devices' launch, with an open party on July 11.
Zlotoff, one of SFN's founders, sees the effort as one that will help build New Mexico's standing in the industry. "I think Santa Fe and New Mexico, with just a little more effort," he says, "could explode as the next 'It' state."
Santa Fe Network Anniversary Party
7:30 pm Wednesday, July 11. Free.
Hotel Santa Fe,
1501 Paseo de Peralta,