One second warning

Scott Bateman on the extraordinary creation of 5000 Space Aliens

by Jennie Kermode

5000 Space Aliens
5000 Space Aliens

Every now and again a film comes along which is quite unlike anything else before or since. One such work is Scott Bateman’s 5000 Space Aliens, which claims to be the only extant footage of all 5,000 space aliens currently known to be on Earth and presents images of them, sequentially, for just one second each. Whilst it might sound unwatchable it is, in fact, a film that many people will want to watch multiple times, and which can be interpreted in all sorts of different ways.

Getting hold of a film like this is a treat for any critic, and once I’d seen it, I was determined to get to talk to Scott about how it was made. It’s a work which obviously required tremendous diligence and hard work – with no guarantee that audiences would respond to it after all that was done – so when we met I asked him what gave him the confidence to take it on.

5000 Space Aliens
5000 Space Aliens

“That's a question that I've asked myself from time to time,” he says. “I worked on this film for maybe two and a half years and it's such a weird, different film. I look back and I'm just amazed I had the confidence to think, ‘Okay, there's going to be people out here who will like this film and will really get into it.’ I just kept going with that strange belief. I don't know even know where it came from.”

Something that struck me about it, I tell him, is that there isn’t always time in the one second available to take in the whole of each image, so people will be coming away from the film with very different impressions of what they just saw. Was that something he were aware of as he put it together?

He nods. “One thing I like to do when I'm making a film is to make sure that there is enough stuff there that it will repay future viewings. I don't want someone to just watch the movie once. And this is like the ultimate example of that because there's so much that just flies by at warp speed, practically. There's just so much going on here that hopefully it'll reward several viewings.”

So why space aliens?

“That's a good question. It could just as easily have been robots or something like that. But I'm a big fan of sci-fi, especially old school sci-fi films with monsters that are very laughable and what have you, or where the military comes in and tries to solve some sort of alien problem. I love those movies like that giant ants thing [Gordon Douglas’ 1951 hit Them]. It could have just put these animated people together like, ‘Here's 5,000 people, ‘ but giving it a scI-fi spin, I think, gives it a whole other level for people to identify with the characters they're seeing.

“A lot of the words in the film come from public domain sources, books that were scanned in and are on the Wikimedia Commons or And a lot of the words come from a circa 1920 or so textbook on the history of philosophy. You get a lot of stuff in there about free will and things like that. Because of the space aliens thing, I also managed to throw in a number of little two or three word phrases from HG Wells, which were a lot of fun to work in. It helps to give the movie yet another level. In a way, they're just there as visual filler to help make a good, balanced screen, but they also will speak to the viewers and maybe give them some ideas.

“My hope was that I was making a film that people could watch in a group, whether that was in a theatre or just a bunch of friends hanging out in their living room watching this on a Friday night or something, just to relax and see something crazy and weird and different, but also a lot of fun. I think it's really well suited for sitting with a couple of friends. ‘Did you just see that?’ ‘Wait, what was that? I missed it.’ So that was my intention, making the film. And I've seen it with crowds a few times now, and it does seem to work that way.

5000 Space Aliens
5000 Space Aliens

“Sometimes people have recognised people in the film. There are a few people one might recognise in the film. I don't go into too much detail there because that's kind of the fun of watching it also. That's another thing. Like, maybe you didn't see that person the first time through, but then you're like, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Is that...?’ And that's what's a lot of fun.”

Some people looked like they were popping up more than once, I note.

“Yes. There are some people who are in there much more than once. Basically, what I did to make this film was to find a lot of found footage. A lot of it is public domain – not all of it, but I'm assured that I'm okay under certain rules so that's going to be fine legally. A lot of is old home movies or old TV commercials and things like that. Also old photographs that are used in more collage-like settings. Those were from old photo studio treasure troves from foreign countries that are on the Flickr Commons, which are an amazing resource also. And the books that I use are also public domain.

“Editing is always my favourite part of making a film. It's just always fascinating to me how one shot works with another shot or doesn't. And why doesn't that work? I could really have spent years trying to figure out an exactly perfect order for all of these 5,000 one second shots, but what I ended up doing was randomly assigning the shots to the different pieces of music in the film, about ten or eleven pieces of music. And then from there, assigning things that seem to go together really well or reacted well with the music or reacted to each other.

“SometImes it feels like a person in one frame is doing something and the next person is reacting to it. Or sometimes you get similar color or the same sort of gesture over several shots. That's really fun to do, and it helps with the flow, I think.”

Something that fascinated me about it was that when the music slowed down in places, it really felt as if the images were moving more slowly, but I timed them and they're weren’t.

“No, not at all. And in fact, the music does mostly travel at 120 beats per minute. There are parts where the drums drop out, so it does feel like it's going at a slower rate. Yeah, I think I've noticed that too, actually. It's really interesting. Human perception is something I'm really fascinated by, and to hear something like that just makes me, again, marvel at the human brain and how it all perceives things that are similar but different.

5000 Space Aliens
5000 Space Aliens

“Like you said, there's so much going on that it's almost like two people could sit and watch the film together and have a different experience because they saw different things. It's a very unique movie that way. It's a bit of a roller coaster ride. You just try to catch as much as you can, and it's a lot of fun to do that, I think. But yeah, if you know someone else who's watched it, comparing notes is a lot of fun.”

It also intrigued me because over the past few years, social media and video have been getting shorter and shorter. It made me wonder if, in the future, people are only going to be happy to watch one second clips.

“I might be a trailblazer here!” He laughs. “It's hard to say, but one of the reasons I chose that one second thing was I'd been playing with some editing and I just found that one second rhythm to be really hypnotic. I thought it could be interesting to do an entire film this way. You can't really do that with a story so it has to be this completely visual and musical thing – more like an art project, but a really fun art project. Experimental, but the kind of experimental that's really entertaining. And I'm just really grateful my hunches about this all worked out. It could have been a disaster.”

I explain that I set aside the whole time to watch it without any distractions because I wanted to be able to connect with it properly, but I was surprised by how easy that was to do.

“Thank you,” he says. “That's really good to hear. And I think the music helps with that. The music is there to hold on to. The visuals are always crazy. The music is always there to keep you going straight.”

It struck me that it must have been difficult to compose from that point of view, because when you're working on something like that all the time, with the amount of work involved in the editing, it's very difficult to get a clear view of how other people are likely to see it.

“Yeah, I never really know how other people are going to accept what I do. You can't really know. I've been creating stuff for a long time in my life. I started out drawing cartoons and comic strips and stuff, and went into animation and then film, and I've written stuff also. I just know that if I like something, there are other people out there who also like what I like. The tricky part is always finding that group of people. “

It's a great way to create art, but these days it's not easy to sell art like that and to get other people to back it. How did he handle that side of things?

5000 Space Aliens
5000 Space Aliens

“Well, I tried to delay running a Kickstarter on it until it was basically done, because I want people to not have to wait long for rewards, and people appreciated that. It was basically just raising money to finish the film up and then to have some money for film festival submissions, which add up very quickly in this world. But basically I came into it thinking ‘Okay, I want to make a movie, but I have very little money. How can I do something that is basically me by myself making a movie?’ It’s not a common thing that a single person makes an entire feature film. It just worked out really well.”

One might thing that a project like this would tire a person out, but he hasn’t slowed down.

“I just finished a short film, about six minutes. It's called Can We Really Know Anything About Carrots? I made it all with artificial intelligence. The art is from an AI called Midjourney, an earlier version than what is in use now. I wrote the chat with prompts to ChatGPT and the music is AI generated, and then the narration is just a voice from my computer. When I started making it last year, AI was just goofy technology which gave people three arms and seven fingers per hand and stuff. And so I thought it'd be really fun to make a film with that kind of art. And then by the time I finished it earlier this year, suddenly AI was like this evil thing that was going to steal everybody's creative jobs, and was stealing everyone's art.

“That was a strange journey. But I got the film done, and it's going out to film festivals. It has its world première in December, in Corpus Christi at the South Texas Underground Film Festival.”

Share this with others on...

Holding on to the magic Thomas von Steinaecker on Werner Herzog – Radical Dreamer

A bygone era Jeff Zimbalist on Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, Susan Sontag, Gloria Steinem, Gore Vidal and How To Come Alive With Norman Mailer

Fit for a spy The new James Bond Scalextric set for those who don't like to be taken for a ride

You see it and feel it Liv Ullmann on Ingmar Bergman, Tove Ditlevsen, Laurence Olivier and Faithless

In the service of the story Matteo Garrone on fairy tales and Italy’s Oscar submission, Io Capitano

Speaking out Joachim Lafosse on power and shame in A Silence

Bridging the divide Amy Nicholson on DOC NYC highlight Happy Campers

More news and features


More competitions coming soon.