SXSW-Bound ‘The Heart Machine’ Appropriately Wants You to Love It Sight Unseen

By  · Published on February 8th, 2014

Nearly a year ago, I devoted the Fund This Film column to an indie feature called Funny Bunny in part because it was to star Kate Lyn Sheil, one of the most interesting young actresses working today. You should know her from such movies as The Comedy, The Color Wheel, V/H/S, Sun Don’t Shine, Somebody Up There Likes Me and maybe Listen Up Philip if you were at Sundance this year. Unfortunately, she had to drop out of Funny Bunny (which was funded and then made, and we’re still looking forward to it), and now here I am to spotlight another Kickstarter project with Sheil’s name attached. I can guarantee she’ll be in this one, as it’s already been shot and is set to debut in competition at SXSW next month. It’s called The Heart Machine.

Co-starring with Sheil in this romance thriller is Short Term 12’s John Gallagher, Jr. They play a couple who falls in love via the Internet, without ever meeting in person because they’re separated by the Atlantic Ocean. He’s in New York City and she’s in Berlin. Or maybe she’s not? Like a dark indie dramatization of a Catfish episode, there’s possibly some serious lies at the base of this relationship, and Gallagher’s character apparently becomes obsessed with investigating whether or not his online girlfriend has been in New York City the whole time. I find it appropriate – or maybe it’s ironic? – that a movie about not knowing what you’re getting on the other side of the web is asking us to donate money for something before we get to see it, too. But I’ll be the first to admit I’m already in love with this thing without having actually “met” it yet.

My only fear is that this campaign trailer and synopsis have given too much away. Hopefully it really ends up being something totally unexpected – like an online girlfriend who turns out to be an older woman with an imagination or whatever. But I do like the idea of the mystery. We need more indie mysteries. That go all the way. Not like Cold Weather, which is fine but not as conventional for the genre as I was hoping for. Maybe this won’t be either. As far as I know about projects Sheil involves herself in, The Heart Machine should be anything but conventional anything.

The movie was written and directed by Zachary Wigon. You may know him as a film critic (Village Voice/Indiewire/Filmmaker magazine – where, interestingly enough, he included Cold Weather on his list of 20 best movies of 2011), but he’s also obviously a filmmaker. This is his feature debut, following up his short Someone Else’s Heart, which was the co-winner of the Hammer to Nail Short Film Contest in December 2012. And that short is obviously the basis for The Heart Machine. Not that I’ve seen the whole thing, but it deals with the exact same scenario. Also making the move from the short to the feature are producers Alex Scharfman and Lucas Joaquin, the latter of whom just had a hit at Sundance with Ira Sachs’s Love Is Strange.

As for the Kickstarter, the goal is $25K, and it’s for the usual finishing costs. And as for incentives, there’s the usual DVD copy, invitation to the premiere and associate producer credit stuff. There’s also a copy of Someone Else’s Heart, which is a good get since I don’t see it available anywhere else. Strangely they call it the “award-winning short film based on The Heart Machine,” which either means the feature’s script was written beforehand or the wording is a little confused. I’d like to see a few more fun perks, like the one where DP Rob Leitzell (Glory at Sea) will take your portrait. One of the incentives for Funny Bunny was an original drawing by Sheil. I don’t know if that actually happened since she left that production, but either way it should be a perk here now as well.

According to the perk delivery estimates, after SXSW, The Heart Machine is expected to be out by December of this year. Watch the campaign video, which has a mini trailer inside, below:

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.