Work in Progress: The Man Behind the Curtain

Name(s): Michael Nichols and Joshua Woltermann

Title: The Man Behind the Curtain

Description: A documentary exploring the troubled mind of artificial intelligence researcher Chris McKinstry, a man teetering on the razor’s edge between genius and despair, and ultimately succumbing to his own tragic nature.

Why did you decide to pursue this story for a documentary project?
It had all the elements of the kind of story we wanted to tell. Highs, lows, multiple layers. In telling McKinstry’s story, we hope to be able to explore the nature of the human mind, the conflict between academia and non-academics, and what it is about artificial intelligence that fuels the imagination of so many people. McKinstry is often described as a “misunderstood genius,” and we think his work will be fascinating to a lot of people.

What have been the most interesting parts of the process so far?
Figuring out the film’s style and tone. And interviewing these incredibly intelligent and interesting people.

How has the idea changed since its initial conception?
Yes, quite a bit. Initially it was a story about two AI researchers, Chris McKinstry and Push Singh. Unfortunately, we were unable to convince MIT to speak with us, so the focus has shifted wholly onto Chris. Which has turned out to be fortuitous: we’re able to go into more depth with a narrowed focus, and there are more visuals available to tell Chris’s story.

What have you learned about the documentary process since you began pre-production?
That you have to be patient and trust people. And that you have to have a very clear idea of the story you’re telling before you film anything.

What are your plans for the film once it is completed?
We will try to get the film into festivals.