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Warning: Some scenes in these embedded videos are not for the squeamish

Tired of Hollywood’s science fiction movies relying on boring old tropes or reviving favourites with mediocre sequels? A new project by Neill Blomkamp, the director of the sci-fi film District 9 may be exactly the tonic you’re looking for.

Blomkamp’s project, ‘Oats Studios’, is aiming to see if they can crowd-source the funds to produce interesting science fiction stories. They’ve begun by releasing a few science fiction-themed short films – under the banner ‘Volume 1’ – which are available to watch freely online as a kind of ‘sampler’, and asking viewers to chip in if they’d like to see more.

When the audience understands that this isn’t the complete, final story, and they choose to get behind us financially, we can then figure out if this is an episodic thing, or if it’s one big feature film. There are other ideas that we have in Volume 1, and some that will be in Volume 2, that are explicitly feature films.

These stories aren’t pre-determined: they don’t have to be HBO-style, 60-minute episodes. They can be multiple 20-minute pieces, you can have a five-minute window into a character with just one scene, or you can have a two-hour piece somewhere else.

If you feel like you want to get behind it, go to Steam, buy the film instead of watching it for free. If you like what you see, the only way for us to make more is for you to give us cash to fuel the next round of stuff.

Blomkamp sees this very much as a new model of doing business with viewers, seeing opportunities for developing a real relationship through ‘value-adding’ – for instance, making the 3D models from the film available to subscribers.

The first film, Rakka – embedded at the top of this post – is set in 2020, in the wake of an alien invasion and takeover. Blomkamp described the storyline of Rakka in this recent interview (spoilers below):

The original idea was to make make a science fiction piece that was about an occupying force in a foreign country, and it kind of grew around that. I always wanted to do a science fiction invasion piece that had direct parallels with an occupying force in a country, like the Germans in France, or Americans in Iraq. There’s these levels of armed troops that are walking through neighborhoods, and well-built buildings, and local politicians have been turned or manipulated. There is a lot of stuff in there that I felt was really interesting, and to look at it from a different point of view is really cool. That’s where the seed was from.

…The aliens that we see in this piece, which we have dubbed the “Klum” aliens (rhymes with ‘plume’), are actually a sort of genetically cloned drone. They’re not entirely sentient, and they’re sent out by a far more intelligent species who we haven’t really seen yet.

…They’re floating around in the peripheral edges of our solar system, and they’re visualizing what’s happening on the Earth by proxy. They live inside some kind of quantum state back in their ship. They’re gathering any organism that they find that can help them think about how to survive the end of the universe. They know it’s coming, and they don’t want to die.

And now a new ‘Volume 1’ release from Oats Studios has hit YouTube, this one titled Firebase, which plays with the idea of an individual whose overwhelming grief at the loss of a loved one has turned him into a god-like creature (spoilers below):

When discussing it, Blomkamp talks about Simulation Hypothesis, “messing with space-time,” and setting The Matrix in Vietnam. “The tone of it in certain areas was meant to be surreal,” he says. “I like the idea that, if the audience doesn’t explicitly know that it’s a simulation–and that someone from one perspective can now sense that and The River God from another perspective has overcome that–the audience can get these images and feelings and ideas that seem supernatural or seem inexplicable, but to the filmmakers they are explainable and they do follow logic.”

I’m liking what I see, and will definitely be supporting this project.