Arts campus arts

Inmost Thoughts, a cautionary tale

Radical Rat Studios’ 2.5 year production endeavor

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Cathleen E. Nalezyty ’16 operating the camera while filming Inmost Thoughts.
Jacob Gunter
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Sarah A. Coe ‘16 and Carolyn Vasko working behind the scenes of Inmost Thoughts.
Jacob Gunter
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Ari D. Smith ‘14 and Carolyn Vasko as Daniel and Melanie.
Jacob Gunter
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Sally Guthrie ‘14 and Carolyn Vasko star as Vivian and Melanie.
Jacob Gunter

This summer, the MIT Student Cable Club (Radical Rat Studios) put out an 11-part web series called Inmost Thoughts. The series was filmed on MIT’s campus and the setting has a sort of hackathon-project-presentation feel to it. The story revolves around a mind reading device, and the qualms privacy advocates have with such a technology. The story follows Vivian (Sally Guthrie ’14), Melanie (Carolyn Vasko), Daniel (Ari Smith ’14), and Wendy (Nicole Dalton). Vivian spends a good deal of the series trying to convince Melanie that the mind reading device will help humanity, and conversely, Melanie spends most of the time trying to convince Vivian that such a device is a huge breach of privacy (although Melanie’s feelings towards the device do seem to fluctuate between revulsion and mild interest). Overall, the series is a thought-provoking and humorous reminder of the morally gray areas that accompany cutting-edge technologies.

The plot includes several good examples of using mind reading with good intentions, and producing only mixed or negative results. For example, Vivian employs her device to help push along the romantic interests of her friends — while some parties appreciate the information gleaned from the mind reader, others are not so thrilled. The show also points out that a mind reading device isn’t the only way people can divulge too much information — gossiping already does a good job of this. One of the main take-home messages is that just because we have access to information, or the ability to share it, it isn’t always a good idea to take advantage of the opportunity to do so.

I was curious about the web series when its release was announced on Facebook this summer. I vaguely remembered hearing about Radical Rat Studios during my freshman year, but hadn’t heard a lot since then — it turns out that creating a web series from scratch is a long and arduous task, and the group certainly seemed to have their hands full. Still, I was curious about how the Inmost Thoughts project came into being, and had the opportunity to interview Sarah Coe ’16 who spearheaded the project.

MIT Student Cable had been around for decades, but Radical Rat Studios was started by Coe in 2012 as an unofficial club, but then merged with MIT Student Cable and the group began to focus less on cable and more on creating content for YouTube and the internet.

Coe was inspired to take a stab at making a web series since she had been watching The Lizzie Bennett Diaries (a YouTube web series retelling Pride and Prejudice in a modern setting) and reading about the behind-the-scenes work that went into its production. She revealed that, looking back, she had no idea what she was getting herself into. She had no filmmaking experience starting out, but has since learned how to prep gear, edit film, sync sound, direct actors, and much more. Initially, the group had the lofty goal of a 50-part series, but reconsidered after getting a more realistic idea of the work that would go into the project.

In order to get filmmaking experience, the group wrote and shot a short film called Prototype and entered it into the Comparative Media Studies Media Spectacle. The film won Best Narrative and Audience Favorite awards. Coe noted that making Prototype was an immense help for the group as far as giving them an idea of what to expect and how to make filming Inmost Thoughts a smoother experience.

Even while filming Prototype, Radical Rat Studios continued to think about their ideas for a science fiction web series. The group brainstormed for a premise — their ideas ranged from Harry Potter to hacking to conspiracy theories, but they ultimately settled on mind reading. “We wanted the show to be enriched by the culture of MIT, and a big part of that is thinking about invention, and discussing the ethics of technology and changing the world. We decided to tell the story of a socially awkward girl who, with good intentions, invents a mind reading device to try to help her navigate the world,” revealed Coe. The group hoped to inspire discussion and reflection on the repercussions of such a technology, and after the first showing of Inmost Thoughts, people began to talk about it.

Even though the project took over two and a half years to complete, Coe mentioned that at times it felt like they were rushing through the project trying to complete everything (though I’ll add that this didn’t appear to affect the quality of the webseries).

Soon after deciding that the show would be centered around mind reading, the club’s writers got to work crafting a plot and casted the show by the end of IAP 2014. The entire series was shot over a densely packed sequence of six day-long shoots, and the scenes were sometimes shot out of order (episode 9 was the first episode they filmed). Coe said that shooting for the first time “felt like when you’re telling a story with your friends, remembering a shared experience, and people take turns jumping in and adding details,” since the team had already been meticulously pouring over the script.

Over the course of the 2014-2015 school year, the team took to editing the footage, adding special effects, and completing all other post-production work. During this phase of the project, Radical Rat Studios got a little bit of intercollegiate action in on the production when a group of Berklee students helped out with sound and music. The group was in the final editing round by February 2015, and later that spring, Inmost Thoughts premiered to a group of MIT students.

“[I]t was 964 days total from my first written record of the idea to the day the show was live on YouTube. It was a huge part of my MIT experience,” said Coe, who added that the premiere was a culmination of the hard work and dedication of around 60 current student and alumni..

While Coe will be taking a break from filmmaking next year, MIT Student Cable (Radical Rat Studios) will moving on to new projects including a few short films.