Over the years of writing for Short of the Week, I’ve seen a lot of short films make the development jump to longer project. From post-apocalyptic, zombie-filled worlds to cute bobbled-hatted birds, whether it’s a feature film adaptation or a transition to episodic content, the team here at S/W usually has a good eye for spotting the titles with development potential. Originally featured back in 2017, when we initially wrote about Peter Huang’s 5 Films About Technology we were a little surprised to hear the director was working on a feature version of the five-minute film. Not that we didn’t think it was good enough, but with its vignette approach, it just felt like it had prime potential for series treatment. 

Four years after we initially featured it, we finally get to see more of Huang’s vision, as he returns to his dark comedy centred around humankind’s obsession with technology and we weren’t surprised to learn it’s now been expanded into the format that suited it best – an episodic series titled Nine Films About Technology, made for FXX’s Cake.

Described as a “painfully hilarious, and very entertaining” exploration of the dumber side of modern technology, in our original coverageNine Films About Technology is again as uncomfortable as it is funny (although it also has some truly emotional moments). From a wedding reception that’s shocked by a controversial old video to a family vacation rocked by a latrine-based incident. Huang’s series is expertly put together and consistently funny, each episode feeling as if it would work as a standalone short on its own.

Eager to discuss the journey of his project and how he went about getting it made, we spoke to filmmaker Huang to dive deeper into Nine Films About Technology.

Last time you spoke to Short of the Week, with the release of 5 Films about Technology, you mentioned you were “prepping a feature adaptation of this short”, when did the feature turn into a series and how much did you have to cut/rework your original plans?

I was taking meetings to get the last bit of financing, but kept running into a wall with the idea of the movie being an anthology. One distributor in Canada suggested I rework the whole script to make it more like Love Actually.

Then, randomly one day, I got an email from an exec over at Sony Television. He saw the short in front of Colossal, looked me up on Google, and wrote something like, “Hi, is this the Peter Huang who made 5 Films About Technology? If so, would love to chat.”

“You’ve got four TV episodes here. It’s a show, not a movie”

I took a call, he read the feature, and basically said, “Man, you’ve got four TV episodes here. It’s a show, not a movie.” So very quickly we put together a pitch and went out as a half-hour instead.

While all that was happening, FX reached out to chat about their show Cake, which is a collection of short-form comedies, both live-action and animation. They wanted to do more films about technology for that show, but since Sony was taking it out, it didn’t end up working out at the time.

All the streamers eventually passed because anthology (again!) was really not their thing at the time, and we wound up ultimately landing with FX’s Cake a year later. From there, the project took a complete overhaul with mostly brand new material.

The only part of the original script that carried over was Going Vintage (episodes five and six). It was the one short that never really changed much – it was written in the very first draft in 2017, and it stayed mostly as-is with the project across the entire process. At some point the script got truncated into one ten-minute episode, but I have to credit the FX execs I was working with (Kate Lambert, Louie Hayes and John Agbaje) for suggesting a two-parter and keeping the full half-hour script intact. I’m pretty happy they did because it really formed the emotional core of the series.

Ultimately, I think the Cake version wound up being the best iteration of the project and funny enough, the end product is about the length of a feature film. So it feels strangely like a full-circle experience that took about four years from first draft to release.

Nine Films about technology Peter Huang

“It was probably the single most instrumental thing in the series getting made” – Huang on his original short

The episodic format feels perfectly suited to the vignette approach of that original short, can you explain a little about how you went about pitching the series and how influential was having the short film already made in getting the series picked up?

I always described the show as a deeper version of the short, where we explore the “why” of the vignettes. So, we explore the psychological impact of going viral, or why someone would put so much value on followers, etc. One line I used in the Sony pitch was, “Who is the Nigerian prince, really?”

“I’m pretty sure the only reason they greenlit the show was because of the short”

In regards to the short film… It was probably the single most instrumental thing in the series getting made. It perfectly represented the tone and approach and format of the stories/episodes. Doesn’t need explanation, everyone gets it right away. And to be perfectly honest, I revisited the outline I sent FX originally…and it was not good. So, I’m pretty sure the only reason they greenlit the show was because of the short.

Oh and for the record, I’d still like to explore who the Nigerian prince is… One of my close friends grew up with a guy who became a Nigerian prince scammer. I am so curious to hear the full story.

Nine Films about technology Peter Huang

“Learn more about story and arcs. Read more novels, more screenplays” – Huang offers advice for short filmmakers looking to transition to longer projects

At around 10-mins per episode, with each one only connected by the general theme of technology (although there are lots of crossover characters/moments cleverly woven through the series), they each have the feel of a standalone short and would easily work separated from the rest of the series. How much did your experience in the short film world help shape your experience directing episodic content and do you have any advice for filmmakers making this transition?

The short format world gave me all the skills I needed for long format. Not necessarily via short films… I would say music videos were really my training ground. I have done some crazy low-budget music videos, where you have to prep seven different locations, looks, wardrobe changes, etc. All in a two-day shoot. It’s pure insanity, but it taught me how to prep and make references and organize my thoughts quickly for all the different departments, which came in handy because our location/look count was also super high for this project.

I think the music video and commercial world is great when it comes to learning about visuals and craft, but it’s definitely lacking in story and character, which is probably the biggest thing filmmakers need to learn if they want to transition. So, my advice is: learn more about story and arcs. Read more novels, more screenplays, break down their structure and really look at what each scene is doing from an emotional perspective.

I would also recommend trying out an acting class and reading Judith Weston’s books.

Thanks for talking to us Peter, everyone here at S/W was really excited to see the Nine Films About Technology series and really impressed by just how good it is. Before you go, anything you want to tell us about what are you working on next?

I’m directing an episode of Workin’ Moms, which should be a lot of fun.

I have a few things I’m developing. Nothing concrete yet, but hopefully something good to share soon!

Nine Films About Technology aired as the season four anchor program of FXX’s Cake, a carefully curated, half-hour weekly showcase featuring both live-action and animated comedy programs of varied lengths from a diverse array of storytellers. All episodes are currently streaming via FX on Hulu.