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A Short Film Speculates on Just How Pervasive Gaming Culture Might Become

A Short Film Speculates on Just How Pervasive Gaming Culture Might Become (photo)

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We’re never actually in the real world in “PLAY,” a 20-minute short film that’s part of the FutureStates series, which asks filmmakers to postulate on aspects of life in the coming decades. Instead, viewers glide through a series of verisimilitudes, peeling away layer after layer of virtuality. “PLAY,” which was directed by David Kaplan, who co-wrote the film with Eric Zimmerman, takes the viewer through some of the most commonly-held tropes of modern video games, but turns them on their ear. So, it’s the cute Japanese schoolgirl who’s playing the violent urban mayhem game reminiscent of the “Grand Theft Auto” series.

Lots of criticism has cropped up around video games. The medium’s been portrayed as a dangerously addictive habit, a seed for societal irresponsibility or the domain of pervy weirdos. It’s also been looked as a social connector and as a generator of ethereal interactive landscapes full of possibility. With an indie filmmaker and an indie gamemaker at the helm, “PLAY” looks at all of those ideas without judging. You can watch the film below — in the interview that follows, Kaplan and Zimmerman talk about the differences and similarities between games and movies and why Roger Ebert just may not get it.

04232010_play2.jpgHow did this project get started? Were you approached by FutureStates or did you bring the idea to them?

David Kaplan: ITVS suggested I submit a proposal for a science-fiction short. A few people had recommended me based on my past work, particularly my fairy tale short films. I came up with the basic idea for “PLAY” and was happy to receive the initial development grant. At that point, I invited Eric to become involved in the project.

Eric Zimmerman: When David contacted me, he had the core idea of a film set in a future where games are indistinguishable from reality, and that the film followed a character through a series of games within games within games. David and I fleshed things out from there.

Did the two of you have a relationship before this project?

DK: We had never worked together before but we’ve known each other for almost nine years.

EZ: We’ve been admirers of each others’ work from afar. The tipping point was when I got David to playtest my board game “The Unfinished Tale.” There’s a lot of writing in the board game that connects with some of the fairy tale themes of David’s films.

Eric, you’ve made games and now a film. What were the biggest similarities and divergences between the two mediums?

EZ: This project reinforced for me the idea that games are not films, and that all of the big budget 3D games motivated by cinema envy are really barking up the wrong tree. Film is so much a documentary medium — even on a narrative project. Film captures a moment in time: a particular selection of lens and camera angle, a performance, the light on the scene. Games, on the other hand, are synthetic from the ground up. They’re math. They’re simulations. The similarity for me is that as a designer, I’m creating an experience for someone. With a nontraditional film like “PLAY,” you have to really think about how the viewer is led into the experience, step by step, similar to the way that a player comes to learn how to play a game.

04232010_play4.jpgThe first vignette adopts the camera language of certain video games, but that gets dropped. Was that shift making a point about evolution?

DK: We considered returning to the first-person-shooter POV perspective for some of the other segments, but my concern was that it would interfere with the audience’s ability to immerse themselves fully in the film. It’s a gimmick to get the film kick-started in a very visceral way. Plus, there are many video games, such as “World of Warcraft,” which have a more traditional filmic third-person camera perspective.

EZ: It’s much weirder to have a film that is a game in which you don’t have a strict POV. The literal FPS idea keeps the viewer grounded in terms of who is the main character and what their point of view is supposed to be. But as soon as we move away from that, we have room for more ambiguity and misdirection.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.