Interviewed by Kathryn Soter | THE GFDA

Award-winning documentary filmmakers, Bayou Bennett and her husband, Daniel Lir, have worked with some top talent in entertainment. In past years the talented duo has turned their focus on using their celebrity for social change, including a film to end oil drilling in Los Angeles, with Mark Ruffalo, and a film about poverty in the Philippines called Tombstone Pillow that sheds light on the thousands of poor people who make their home in a graveyard.

Lir met our friends at Urban Machine (the inventors of AI Robotic technology that removes metal from old lumber to make it reusable) at a GFDA event in Los Angeles and was so inspired by what they are doing to reduce landfill waste (a huge contributor to climate change) that soon thereafter, Urban Machine hired Dream Team to produce a film about the company and its three founders. It was initially targeted at the investor community, but as the perpetually enthusiastic Lir will tell you, the film became much more than that to all of them.

This husband and wife team are known for picking out films that focus on social change. Photo: Mathew Cali


Bayou Bennett and Daniel Lir, of DREAM TEAM DIRECTORS


Why did you want to do this project? How did you get connected to the people at Urban Machine?

Daniel Lir 

We met Urban Machine at an inspiring GFDA panel that truly opened our mind to this exciting new world of sustainable design and construction. The resulting feeling from the panel is that we want to be part of this group of passionate change-makers. Hearing Eric talk about robotic innovation and seeing his brief presentation sparked a cinematic question: what could this story be and how can these fascinating machines be filmed in an elevated visual way. 

What first hit you (metaphorically speaking) when you finally saw The Machine at work?

The combination of how the machines help save our environment, transform the built environment and their “Personalities” at work sparked the thought: we just have to tell this story. This was science fiction in a down to earth positive way we really related to.

Come on, can you really make a robot in a glass box sexy and appealing?

What is fascinating is the relationship between the Creators and the machines. A symbiosis and technological development with the theme of man plus machine not man vs. machine, giving birth to exciting new possibilities. 

It was unique angles, details like fasteners falling in slow motion and extreme closeups that would make the robots cinematic and bring their identities to life. We wanted the filmmaking to show layered aspects such as the creators bringing the robots to life through deep computer and technological knowledge. Then the complexity of the operation such as over 20 motors to animate one element of the robot then the AI and computer vision element-how does a robot see the psychical world and act accordingly was captivating to us. And finally the fact that the assembly line was powered all by solar was a detail we just had to hit home in this act of sustainable brilliance. 

Who’s the intended audience of the film?

The intended audience was initially investors, engineers and press but in seeing the final film it’s clear how abundantly relatable it is for much wider audiences. 

Photo: Eric Curtis

What did you want to specifically highlight in the film that would be surprising, or was key to the arc of your storytelling?

The key arc for us was Eric Law’s deep motivation which came from the fact that he wanted his children to experience a better, cleaner, greener future on Earth. And then how that impulse to create a greener world had to go through such an advanced, complex technical process with the help of other Founders. Entrepreneurs have to not only have a vision and execute on it but to somehow make it all profitable, marketable and it’s just a quality we admire so much and relate to as Filmmakers. With most it would just be an idea, but Eric and his team made it a functioning reality which is awe inspiring.  

Tell us something fun that you learned about each founder? How are they alike or different from each other?

Each founder is uniquely individual and brilliant. Their ingenuity is reflected in the genius design, capabilities and functionality of the robots.

We loved how Alex described the robots coming to life and the childlike spark in his eyes. You can tell that this was his whole childhood passion to this very day. With Andrew it’s his next level comprehensive knowledge of AI, Robotics, engineering and so much more that translated Eric’s inspirational vision and potential into initial bold reality. The interaction of the three founders is a division of labor, but is also godlike to us, as they have created and animated new life driven by environmental purpose across all obstacles. Unlike Frankenstein they evolved, developed the technology and succeeded for the betterment of our Earth.

What drives you to do purpose driven documentaries?

Our purpose is to use filmmaking mixed with entertainment and education to create positive global change in the world we live in. We believe documentaries have the power to open eyes, create understanding and make popular organizations and activities that need to be championed. Working with top Creators like Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Pfeiffer and Coldplay, who all believe in storytelling, film and changing the world and now Urban Machine is an empowering reality to participate in.

Do you feel films like yours can make people care more about the impact we humans have on our planet?

This is main reason we wake up everyday and do our jobs. We know that with filmmaking and collaboration we can change the world. ♻️

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