Cellphones are everywhere these days. No matter where you go, you will find people preoccupied with some kind of mobile device for whatever reason. Whether on public transit or at a local café, the loud sounds of one-sided conversations or the quiet activity of texting and surfing is a commonplace activity in today’s society. When they were first brought into the market, cellphones were touted as a way to keep us all connected no matter where we were. With a push of a few buttons, we could get access to unlimited amounts of music, movies, and information. We could keep in touch with friends and family without actually being in their presence. Problems began to become apparent, however, with increased cellphone use. Road deaths caused by texting and driving, along with increasing security hacks are just a couple. Perhaps another issue that is not often discussed about is the possibility that cellphones could actually be creating more distance between people than bringing them together. Is it possible in today’s society to connect with one another without the use of a cellphone?
The short film, I Phub You (2017), sets out to see if it could happen. Running over 10 minutes, I Phub You was produced by Justin Kueber and Sam Reid, directed by Shannon Hunt, and written by Justin Kueber in Edmonton, AB. In the film, we find Kurtis (played by Andrew Joseph Pahlke) on a date with Tabatha (played by Skylar Radzion). Tabatha’s constant talking with a friend over her cellphone doesn’t impress Kurtis very much, as he longs to enjoy his date. While excusing himself to the washroom, he passes by Janet (played by Heidi Ellen) who is also unimpressed with her date’s absorption by his cellphone. While in the washroom, Kurtis falls down, hits his head on the floor and soon wakes up in the silent film world. Looking for refuge from a society saturated with cellphone technology, Kurtis becomes acquainted with Janet, who leaves her boyfriend after being ignored by his constant cellphone use. Instead of taking things as they are, Kurtis and Janet fight back. To see what happens, watch the entire film below:
Short Film Fan reached out Justin Kueber to learn more about I Phub You, including why silent films were so central to the story.
Short Film Fan: What does the word ‘phub’ mean in I Phub You?
Justin Kueber: A phub is simply a phone snub: to snub someone for your cellphone or electronic device. Snub + phone = phub.
SFF: What motivated or influenced you to make this film?
JK: I wanted to make a love story that was also a love story to silent cinema and have a contemporary message. I was out for a coffee with my girlfriend and I noticed a group of young people all sitting together at a table, not communicating but rather, playing on their phones. There was a piercing silence between them. Super awkward! My girlfriend thought it was hilarious and I joked to her that if she ever did that to me I would make a movie about it!
It was such a vivid image that stuck in my head well into the next day. It kind of just dawned on me: that needed to be the opening scene of a movie.
The more I thought, the more I realized you see this consumption with technology (specifically phones) pretty much everywhere. What you see in the film are the things I have witnessed first-hand in real life (yes, even the urinal scene and yes, it was equally as awkward). Inspiration came from all these observations that I wanted to address in a unique and fun way.
SFF: Why did you choose to go back to the silent film era in your story?
JK: Those young people at the table were silent; when people “phub” they are silent. I realized the film should be silent to drive home that parallel. Yes, my personal love for silent film and my burning desire to make one may have come into play just a bit, too.
Ultimately, it is a modern take on the silent film. Our setting is present day and it is addressing present day issues, just told silently.
It works because the main character, Kurtis, is trying to discover what it means to communicate in a world obsessed by technology. Literally everyone in this world communicates by phone and is so consumed by it. So in a sense, they are silent already. Kurtis can’t communicate with anyone; they won’t listen to him unless it is by cellphone. He yearns to find someone who he can go for a walk with and communicate face to face.
I really wanted Phub to hold onto those feelings of nostalgia while also being important and relevant. And, at the same time, be light-hearted and full of modern takes on fun gags that you would find in a silent film (Chaplin, Keaton, etc.)
I Phub You is about technology and the evolution of technology, so there are tons of references to silent films that helped evolve filmmaking as a medium and pushed it to where it is today, such as A Trip to the Moon, Battleship Potemkin, 2001: A Space Odyssey (Odyssey is not silent but the utmost important film about technology) And they are, of course, some of my favorites too. It’s a movie about movies.
SFF: What particular challenge did you face when making this short?
JK: Initially, we thought our biggest challenge would be working with the actors on bringing out that theatrical “silent film” style acting. But, Shannon (the director) did a great job at bringing out the best performance in our actors. She is theatrically trained so it was quite a benefit to the film.
Our biggest challenge ended up being the final day of shooting because it started to snow and it was extremely cold. The first two days were also exteriors, but it was sunny and warm so it was quite the polar opposite when we shot on that final day. I felt really bad for our actors because their wardrobe was meant for the warm days. But, they were troopers; didn’t complain just did what they had to do and then ran to the nearest warm vehicle when the scene was done. Everyone was so positive and incredibly fun to be around. It was really a dream cast and crew.
SFF: Was there a particular message or call to action that you hope to pass on to the audience through I Phub You?
JK: When I wrote it, I wanted to call attention to the overuse of technology. There’s a time and place (for technology) and I understand that’s the way the world is heading. I mean me, for instance, I’m on my phone constantly for work and social media promotion. But, when I am face to face with someone I want to have that human interaction. Too many times you’re out for dinner at restaurants and people have their phones out at the table. I guess I’m a bit like Kurtis in that sense – I long for human interaction and taking time to enjoy the world around me and all the beauty it has to offer.
Short Film Fan Review: I Phub You was definitely a hilarious and chilling social commentary on today’s over consumption of communication technology. The slavish and hypnotic behaviour by the background characters to their cellphones was practically realistic. The scene with the unused playground equipment was perhaps a warning to what could possibly happen if kids and their parents are too caught up with cellphones. The references to films like A Trip to the Moon and 2001: A Space Odyssey were clever and will easily put a smile on any movie buff’s face. In a way, there is another movie reference: Kurtis and Janet almost parallel the characters Winston and Julia in 1984. The salute to the silent film era was very enjoyable and certainly underlined the eerie silence that is starting to permeate our daily lives, in part, from society’s love of the cellphone. This Valentine’s Day, though, don’t ‘phub’ your partner at dinner; show your love instead!