In our heated political climate, it’s hard to agree on something as simple as what equals two plus two. Dallas-based filmmaker David Maddox explores this idea quite literally in his film, Alternative Math, which just passed six million views on YouTube.
The short film, directed by Maddox and co-written by himself and Malcolm Morrison, follows elementary teacher Mrs. Wells, played by Allyn Carrell, as she navigates a growing controversy about a student’s indisputably wrong answer. The film runs about 8 minutes, so wait for your boss to take his or her morning nap and give it a watch (the language is NSFW). The satirical deconstruction of fact-spinning is a timely commentary on the nation’s discourse, even though Maddox came up with the idea nearly two years ago.
“It’s probably an idea that was stirring around for a while,” Maddox says. “It came out of the frustration of trying to have a conversation with somebody when you can’t agree on basic facts anymore. Used to be, as they’d say, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but now it’s like everyone’s entitled to their own facts.”
After seeing President Donald Trump's counselor Kellyanne Conway first use the term “alternative facts,” Maddox saw an opportunity to have fun. Initially he felt rushed to finish the film, fearing no one would remember the phrase by the time he released the short. The fears turned out to be unfounded, as the short remains relevant through persistent shares on social media from high profiles like Silicon Valley guru Guy Kawasaki, actor Kevin Sorbo and websites such as boredteachers.com.
The frequent sharing of the video stems from the evenhanded presentation of the absurd story, never clearly alluding to a stance on any one particular issue. By doing so, each viewer seems to walk away feeling their cause has been particularly vindicated, and their opposing side obviously eviscerated. The comments section of the YouTube post are littered with victorious posts regarding religion, politics and science — from supporters on both sides of each issue.
After a first draft that was more clearly pointed with a specific agenda, Maddox and Morrison retooled the script to allow the more universal appeal reflected in the finished product.
“We made it sort of politically neutral, or a little bit more vague about what it’s talking about,” Maddox says. “So yeah, if you want to interpret it about the school system and how kids can’t be wrong, or if you want to say it’s Trump and alternative facts, or if you want to say it’s about political correctness gone crazy, or about the media, and how the media blows things out of proportion, it’s about all of that stuff.”
Alternative Math went on to have a successful film festival run, winning awards such as Best in Show for Shorts at the 2017 Austin Revolution Film Festival. Maddox was reluctant to post the short to YouTube, but the repeated requests from festival attendees wanting to share it with others spurred the director to finally upload it.
All in all the short has lost no steam in the time it’s been out, an amazing surprise for a film designed as a side project for Maddox’s production company, IdeaMan Studios. The Dallas studio, founded in 2003, shoots and produces commercials and corporate work in DFW, and assisting with production for indie features such as David Lowery’s A Ghost Story and Augustine Frizzell’s Never Goin’ Back.
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After working on projects headed by others, Maddox is looking forward to his own upcoming project. Still in the early production stages, Maddox is developing a feature length comedy, also co-written with Morrison, that falls within the same vein as Alternative Math. The feature should serve as another showcase for the Dallas talent in front of, and behind, the camera.
“There’s a lot of talent in Dallas,” Maddox says. “Dallas doesn’t get credit for—it’s funny, (Alternative Math) showed at the SAG showcase in LA, and the guy goes, ‘Where’d you get these actors?’ and I’m ‘Oh they’re all Dallas actors,’ and he’s (like) ‘Really?’ People think that like, you gotta get people from LA, and I’m like no no no, there's plenty of talent here in Dallas.”
Watch the film below: