Updated: Aug 15, 2020
I sat down with Director Ryan Turner, Actress Danielle Roosa, and Writer/Creator Kathleen Roosa the day after the private screening. Their thoughts are labeled RT, DR, & KR. It was one of those LA nights where I was late and couldn’t find parking. I was coming from writing group where my peers pitched me a new opening for my pilot. All I could think about were my fictional characters and their new potential beginning as my heels clacked down the foyer of Duello.
Hurrying along the polished checkerboard floor, I saw that the party was in full swing. I felt my nerves flare as my head was still in the mindset of world-building in 19th century England. I saw my date wave at me, a plate full of various cheeses in his hand, comfortable being a stranger in a sea of my friends- I was late and he was just going with it. I was surrounded by my lovely girlfriends who, several glasses of wine in, pulled me in front of the step-and-repeat faster than I could say hello. As I was awkwardly posing, I couldn’t help but watch my date, holding my purse, being supportive, totally in the moment without a care in the world. Damnit. I want to feel that way right now, I thought. There should be an app for that. Minutes later, the film screening began of ‘APPYNESS’, a short film that ponders that very concept: what would the world be like if control over our emotions was just a touch of a finger away? Creators Ryan Turner, director of the film, and Danielle Dallas Roosa, the lead, produced a thought provoking, sci-fi, comedic short, that explores a, perhaps, not so futuristic concept.
Ryan, Danielle, and Kathleen sat down with me the next day to give me more insight into the conception of the film. DR: It started out with a conversation about how to deal with grief. We played around with an A.I. quorum, almost like a Greek chorus, representing the different emotions – a bit like Inside Out but sci-fi and more mature. In the writing process, Kathleen pitched the concept of an interview after doing hours of research and mock interviews for grad school. KR: We have all felt the pressure to present our best face, or faces, in life, online, at work, in relationships. Adding something at stake, like a job, heightened this intensity.
I use apps to scan documents, learn Italian, check my astrology, navigate, book flights, make art, meditate, watch my stocks, date, read the news, and monitor my health. Apps shape our daily experience and the modern day public just can’t get enough. The film rationalizes that the moods selected on a smart screen are connected to an earpiece that’s implanted and delivers manipulative brain waves to the subject, controlling their moods. In ways the CALM and RELAX apps remind me to slow down and be mindful, APPYNESS snaps you to a different emotion in an instant.
Speaking of, how do you feel when you open your Instagram? DR: In today’s society we tend to glorify the “successful”. Look at your IG or FB. But those environments are highly-curated highlights of your life, not the full story. While studying communication in college, we often talked about the downfall of spending time on IG. I am glad I’m aware of that because I catch myself looking at other profiles like, “why am I not that thin? Why can’t I be in that TV show?” and then feeling super anxious. It’s not healthy. I honestly would be happy if we went back to flip phones. RT: I love seeing what my friends are up to, but the key is to not let it become something more than that. It can be a fun tool, but I try my best not to take any personal value from how many followers or likes I have. That being said, please follow me on Instagram. Attracting 700 million users worldwide, Instagram can facilitate serious depression, anxiety and loneliness according to recent studies by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH). Personally, when I open the app, I’m overwhelmed and sucked into a continuos swipe of content that incites different feelings with each new pic. Posts send me on a rollercoaster of JEALOUSY, ANGER, FEAR, ANXIETY, ELATION, EXCITEMENT, ATTRACTION, JEALOUSY AGAIN, WARMTH, LOVE, INADEQUACY…much like the selection of emotions on the Appyness keypad. So, what’s the difference? RT: In many ways, we (as a society) are already trying to control our emotions. We wear masks: we smile at people we don't like. We laugh at jokes that we might not find funny. We say something didn't upset us when it really did. This app would only magnify the negative aspects of those traits. I think we should all strive to be in touch with who we are and what we feel.
We can all acknowledge that a keypad that controls your emotions is “bad”, but we live in a society that condones drugs over therapy, clearly defines the perimeters of “attractive”, and denotes self-worth from a number of likes. RT: Our society does not encourage us to deal with emotions in a healthy way. There is still a negative stigma around therapy and feeling sad. We have so many ways to distract ourselves these days, but sometimes it's important to sit in the sadness and let our internal wounds heal naturally. One could argue that at least we have a choice to buy into these societal constructs. But asking someone to not be upset by their ex's pics with a new sig other is like asking a human to not feel hot in the 110 degree Los Angeles sun. Isn’t there a flavor of emotional control over everything? Society presses the buttons and transmits a way we should feel to the “earpiece”…social media, magazines, pop culture, the social “norm”…and we feel the emotions as a result. So…how do we cope?
DR: I really struggle with comparing myself with others. And thank God Ryan always keeps me in check. RT: One metaphor I heard that really resonated with me is that you're a horse running your own race. Put your blinders on, and just focus on running. If you take time to look to your right or left all you'll do is finish the race later. In the social media age, it can be hard to put those blinders on, but it's so important. When someone else reaches a benchmark faster than you did, use it as inspiration to run harder. Sometimes I feel like society sets us up to need therapy to stay sane. DR: Three hardest things to find in life are a good partner, a good therapist, and a good hair stylist. RT: I agree, therapy is a great way to do this. It's really helped me learn more about myself and my emotions. Meditation is also a powerful tool. APPYNESS, beautifully acted and directed, sparked all of these conversations and more. I think I even walked away with somewhat of a conclusion: All we can do in the end is learn what deserves our emotional response and what doesn’t. But is there a place for negative emotions? KR: Vengeance, jealousy, mania. Even negative emotions can be powerful. Anger can lead to a wish to change the world. Grief can be bittersweet, and often creates strength. Stress can help you be better prepared. Actually, maybe anything relevant EVER happened because of an emotional response, positive or negative. Pretty powerful. KR: Imagine a movie that made you cry and how powerful that felt. Or the calmness in a glass of wine on a rainy day. A painting that struck you to your core. Or that upwelling of love when your pup looks up at you. Life isn’t all about strong emotional responses. Sometimes, it’s the culmination of a lot of small ones that sustain us. It’s all about balance and knowing yourself in a moment in time.
That night, I felt ELATION to be goofy around my friends. WARMTH when I saw my date smiling at me. PRIDE watching Ryan and Danielle share their film. The love around us, when present or lacking, seems to be at the backbone of anything worth caring about. Not an arbitrary selection on a screen or Kendall Jenner’s Instagram feed. DR: On the surface, Cass controlling her emotions may help her land a desperately needed job. But below, she’s been through a recent trauma and needs to process that. That’s why she pulls out the app. Bottom line - emotions make us human. It’s how we appreciate art. It’s how we savor a person and grow meaningful relationships. It’s how we grow. We shouldn’t want to change emotions or damper them. If we do, they will pop up in unpleasant ways. A friend once told me ‘emotions are storms, we need to let them pass through’. All in all, I think the sweaty run to a premiere you’re late for, the insecurities, fears, joys, and sorrows, are just about all that make us human. Well, of course until they move it all online. If you want to embrace irony, follow Ryan / Danielle / Appyness on Instagram: @ryanturnerrt -- @danielledallas -- @appyness.thefilm