Learn About Barry Ptolemy's Personal Life
Producer and Director Barry Ptolemy talks about his future, his desires and his favorite films.
Learn About Barry Ptolemy's Personal Life
It wasn’t that I’ve always had the desire although I guess you could not say that I did not.
But really I think that having been around computers all my life my father had brought
home personal computers at a very early age in the ‘70s. So being around computers from
a very early age perhaps I had even subconsciously seen the exponential progression of
what was happening with computers. But then later on with the Commodore 64, VIC-20
Commodore 64, and then the Apple and then the PC and on upward.
And so you internalize what’s happening and you can see pretty clearly that technology is
increasing and I thought that I could get to a point where technology would be so great it
would extend my life longer and then I would get to another bridge where I would be
able to extend it longer and so on and that’s what I revealed when I was about 14.
Well, I think one of the thing that makes a Kubrick film a great experience is the fact that
he bends reality to his will and is so confident that he ends up creating something that is
the island in the stream of pop culture and he takes a stand that’s so firm and so confident
and unyielding that it can’t be ignored and I appreciate that. I don’t know why. I can’t
exactly explain it except that I’m mesmerized by it like a lot of people are and I just adore
his work and enjoy watching his movies over and over again and I usually always take
something else from them.
Well “2001”, I have a great experience for “2001” because I was in 7th grade at Lorner
Bern Middle School and I remember my art teacher, Karen Jones, had created the
screening of “2001” and everyday she was going to play every 20 minutes of it in the
library and she had set up all these chairs and she had set up the VCR which was going to
play it and we had to give 10 cents everyday. And I went in there and I was the only
person in the school that went to go see it and that’s how I saw “2001” and even seeing it
disrupted day after day like that for the week, it was still the single most profound
experience up to that point in my life and I just was really moved by it.
I think “2001” was so powerful because it was a departure from science fiction that came
before that. If you look at science fiction previously, just even to the previous decade,
you would have seen spaceships that looked smooth and archaic and for the first time
someone was really taking space travel and making it realistic and he was also doing
something else, he was taking a look at what the future of artificial intelligence was for
the first time in the personification of Hal and that really rocked my world.
I thought that that was pretty cool but also just the human journey overall starting with
these early Homo sapiens and fashioning the first tool which was again what Ray’s ideas
come back to is that we’ve always leveraged our self with technology from the very
beginning and these early Simians took a tool, extended their reach and we do the biggest
jump cut in cinematic history from this bone being thrown into the air to a spacecraft. It
jump cuts to a spacecraft if you recall in the film and I think that kind of metaphor speaks
for itself and I think that it’s a wonderful metaphor for all of human history.
I think that people talk about radical life extensions as if it is just one linear kind of
journey, when actually what’s going to happen is we’re going to radically expand our
lives billions and billions of times in every way, in every dimension and so I’m looking
forward to things I can’t even imagine yet. This conversation becomes so moot because
how can we entertain these technologies that haven’t even come about yet but we’re
confident will come about. I’d love to live non biologically and move about at the speed
of light and be in communication with a million people at once and create works of art
that are grand and sophisticated and very human at the same time so all these types of
Well, obviously Errol Morris is someone that we look to and has shaped really probably
more than anyone else the style of our film, “Transcendent Man.” And there’s so many,
even Ken Burns. The way he goes about detail, his research is very impressive. But also,
I really look to narrative filmmakers to help guide us because our film is a documentary
at core but is also very much a narrative film in the sense that it does tell a story. So once
again, we did look to storytellers to help guide us.
Sure. Again, Errol Morris, all of his titles, “Fog of War” is particularly brilliant I think.
There is a film called—that also actually had the hero’s journey involved in it—it was
called “Dot Com” that came out, I think in about 2001, just after the “Boom and Bust,”
the “Dot Com”, “Boom and Bust” and that was quite extraordinary. “Hearts of
Darkness” was a film about the filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola that honors what
Coppola had made and I thought that that was extraordinary. Of course, I’m forgetting so
many wonderful documentaries that I just watched recently, they escape me now but
they’re just such a contribution to our society. Some of them just tell things or talk about
things that we don’t often, sometimes want to hear but they should be heard.
Steven Spielberg made a movie called “A.I.” and another called “Minority Report” where
they do try to extrapolate what the future would be like. The problem is that those futures
never really bear out, and obviously for obvious reasons, it’s hard to do so there’s a part
at the end of “Minority Report” for example where he picks up, he takes a phone call
with a little device and he puts it in his ear and in 2001, that was futuristic but we already
have in 2009 those devices. We have Bluetooth controllable headsets and so it wasn’t
seen, and that film was supposed to take place in 2050 but we already have that now in
2009. So again, like what Ray points out, we mistakenly underestimate what will happen
over a decade or two.
Probably the most astonishing revelation was the one regarding his father, the
relationship that Ray had with his father and that’s something that we’re kind of able to
tease out of Ray and we’re able to reveal it and we really, it became a story about a father
and son story I should say and that’s what the film really is as a core, as a father and son
story. Now, the film also happens to be about all these ideas, but they take place in the
diegesis of this father and son story. And that’s probably what was most interesting and I
think it’s what adds the human element to a story as well.
That’s a great question and I don’t know exactly how to answer other than to say I knew I
wanted to have these ideas articulated clearly but in a very entertaining way. We wanted
to make a film not just for the intelligistas but for mass audiences. So how do you do
that? How do you take these ideas and do that? Well, one of the things to do is to create a
story that reveals a hero on a journey trying to achieve his or her goal and so we set the
film up in that type of framework and so Ray does have a goal in the film. One of the
goals is to bring his father, his late father, back as we reveal.
What is the organizing principle for making a film like this? Again, it’s to get these ideas
out but what we knew we had to do is to shoot a lot of footage, overshoot as a matter of
fact which is what we did. We shot about 200 hours for about an hour and a half final
film. So you end really having enough footage to where you can craft and take the film
wherever you want to in the editing process and that’s really what we did. And so as it
got later in the game and we started to narrow what we’re trying to do then of course we
could go out and continue, and shoot more for specific things. And that’s kind of what
we did. For example, we needed, at the end of Act Two, we needed a crisis to take place
and so knowing that we were able to acquire footage of that kind would help us get or
take our hero on that journey right there.
Not at all. In fact, we left many of the biggest names on the cutting room floor as it were
just for time’s sake. So these individuals, people like Colin Powell for example, they
really were very generous with their time and they were happy to help us out. I think
happy to help be responsible for helping get Ray’s ideas out and so we’re very thankful to
Oh dear, there were certainly several. Ray is actually a funny guy, believe it or not. He’s
a very serious man but he’s also remarkably aware of things that are funny. And one
time, he was giving a very serious speech at a venue called TransVision in 2007 at the
Field Museum in Chicago and a question and answer session had been provided for and
people were lining up to ask questions. This young chap stands up and he said something
to the effect of, “Ray Kurzweil”—and this is in front of a huge audience and William
Shatner’s there and all kinds of celebrities are there—well, he says, “Ray Kurzweil, post
human this,” and he just flips Ray Kurzweil the bird right in front of everybody and I’m
filming of course and Ray, just so calmly and coolly, just says “I don’t think I will
transcend my humanity but I will transcend my biology”. He just kept on going and that
was pretty funny I have to say. And unfortunately, it didn’t make it into the film for
various reasons but it was pretty funny.
Well, the obvious ones: we had to get financing, we needed to figure out the kind of story
we were going tell, which we talked about, finding the kind of organizing principle, what
would guide us through, and once we found the story I think things flowed a lot easier.
There were some tough nights for myself, when I felt like I didn’t know what the story
would be so I was very happy when I finally came to terms with that. I think gaining
Ray’s trust—he’s now revealed that I always had his trust but I wanted to make sure that
he knew that he could trust me so that he could take me into his confidence and reveal
things that he wasn’t revealing to anybody else because I knew I needed that confidence
if I was able to tease out some of these nuanced ideas and some of his personal beliefs.
Learn About Barry Ptolemy's Personal Life
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