Data Is Forever: The Engagement Gift I Gave

I wanted to get my partner Daniela a special and valuable engagement present, but we had long agreed that a diamond ring — or other comparably expensive present — didn’t make sense for us. Instead of money, I decided to “spend” a resource more valuable to both of us: time and creative energy.

Specifically, I spent about a year secretly writing, directing, filming, and editing an original feature-length movie, acted out by stuffed animals, just for her. I gave it to her on a USB drive inscribed with the words “Data is Forever.”

(If you back it up in enough places; I have)

The plot is based in about equal parts on (a) her life and our relationship (b) Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of her favorite TV shows. The actors are the ~50 stuffed animals we have in our room and play with more than anyone I know of who’s over the age of 9 (well, aside from her mom). The plot is complicated and dark and full of vampires, because that’s the kind of thing she likes to watch. The filming, editing and special effects might be the worst of any movie ever made, because I don’t know how to do them. The running time is over 100 minutes.

Trailer for the movie — this was the first thing Daniela saw.

To film it, I took advantage of times when Daniela was out of town to turn our room into a studio — I put up cheap studio lights from Amazon, a camera on a tripod, and a green sheet over our curtain rod, and donned green gloves and another green sheet over my head (see pic). My sister Daliya Karnofsky (who visited during these times) filmed me wiggling stuffed animals around:

Boba performs for the camera, under my direction. Other cast members are exhausted from drawing on deep emotional reserves.

I later downloaded or filmed a bunch of backgrounds for the scenes, and used green screen & other effects — plus a soundtrack by Daniela’s favorite bands — to edit the footage into a movie.

Somewhere around the middle of the plot.

Making this was “expensive” (in time) but also a ton of fun. It was really nice to make a piece of entertainment that’s aimed entirely at one person. I didn’t have to make compromises, or worry about clarity or virality or even really intelligibility. I put all considerations aside except for making Daniela’s favorite movie of all time. I am proud to say that Daniela says it is indeed now her favorite movie, displacing the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Excerpt from the “Olio,” a dance number epilogue representing the heroine’s continued adventures.

Thanks to:

  • My friend Karen and her partner Sam, who gave me inspiration with their own alternative engagement gift (he made her a book telling the history of their relationship with pictures+stories+charts);
  • My sister Daliya for all the help with filming, including some excellent voiceovers and the crucial insight that I could put a green sheet over my head;
  • My friends Julian and John for feedback on a draft of the movie, even though the feedback was just “I have no idea how to evaluate this and have absolutely nothing to say”;
  • Mrs. Snoopy for playing the title role and using her star power to help me recruit the rest of the cast;
  • Maura the Polar Bear for her breakthrough performance, playing about 10 roles;
  • Daniela for being the woman of my dreams, sharing my mildly unorthodox approach to romance, and being as excited to get her USB drive as most people would be to get a ring with the Star of Africa in it.