Interview: Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky on “Indie Game the Movie”

Interview: Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky on “Indie Game the Movie” (photo)

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For all the talk of how much money the modern video game business makes or how creative the games themselves are, there’s still not a lot of visibility for the folks who actually craft the experiences. Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky of BlinkWorks Media want to change that with “Indie Game the Movie.” They’ve been rolling out digital shorts spun out from the work-in-progress on the film’s website and are currently looking for distribution partners. Swirsky and Pajot took took some time between shoots to answer a few questions about the production.

The official website says that your attendance at GDC 2009 inspired the project? What brought BlinkWorks to GDC and what did you know previously about video game creation and development?

JAMES: We were at GDC09, covering the event for an industry association (New Media Manitoba) that we do a lot of work with back home. We were mainly gathering interviews and cover talks for the association’s use, but we kept on being drawn to the Indie Game Summit.

LISANNE: Prior to this, we had a cursory knowledge of indie games – we knew they existed, but very little beyond that. What really surprised us about the experience was not only the astounding success indie games were having, but also how personal the games were, in terms of expression, and in terms of the journey made towards their creation. In these talks, it became quite clear, quite quickly that many of these people weren’t just talking about their games – they were talking about their lives.

JAMES: But going into GDC09, I grew up with games, and was a gamer for a good portion of my life. I had even worked at Electronic Arts as a lowly games tester for two years (a job that looks great on paper, but is soul-crushing in practice). I was also involved in setting up a video game government/industry initiative out of Winnipeg. So the industry is not completely foreign to us.

You’ve been previewing a lot of the footage on the web before the theatrical release. What’s the thinking behind that?

JAMES: We have been putting out a lot of material, however we should definitely point out that none of the footage that we’ve put out so far is part of the film. It is all complimentary, promotional material that is not going into the final film at all. I think what is surprising people, and why many think these are sneak peaks of the film, is the amount of production we’re putting into the teasers.

Our primary thinking behind this is promotional in nature. Most (non-star driven) documentaries seem to succeed through strong word of mouth and long-tail mechanics. Our basic thinking with the clips and relatively open film-making process we’ve adopted is ‘Why not start our word of mouth campaign earlier? Why wait until the film is released?’.

As of this writing, we have released 88 minutes of fully produced supplementary content. To put that in perspective, the target length for the film is 80 minutes, so in a way, we’ve already put out one movie in promotion of another. We figure that by the time the film is ready for release, we will have a fan base that has already spent hours watching our content. And presuming they are liking what they’re seeing, they’ll certainly be joining us for the theatrical and/or DVD release.

LISANNE: But this method is also hugely beneficial in other ways. Putting out high quality pieces as we go has gone a long way towards communicating the tone, quality and treatment of the film’s subject to not only potential audience members, but also (possibly) skeptical interview subjects and promotional partners. In general, video games have gotten pretty lousy treatment from film & television. Most projects that attempt to seriously discuss games are either well-intentioned ventures with poor production values, or they are high-gloss projects that don’t go deeper than ‘back-of-the-box’ gameplay features. So, to tell people you want give legitimate treatment to developer stories and the craft of game design, people can be somewhat hesitant. The preview pieces definitely help in that regard.

A third reason is that producing these pieces while filming (most work is done from hotel rooms), keeps us engaged creatively with the project. In many ways its like work-shopping various treatments and ideas. Not only do we get to put our ideas into practice, but our fan base provides a great feedback loop that ensures that the final film will indeed be something they’re interested in.

Filming people playing video games doesn’t capture really capture the medium. Ultimately, the best way to experience what a game designer’s creativity is to play their games. How did you get around this conceptual, experiential hurdle?

1232010_IGTMJamesLisannecAtFirstSight.jpgJAMES: There is certainly a fundamental experience disconnect between playing a game and watching someone play that same game. In this film what we (think?) we’re going to do is take one step back in the process, and concentrate not so much on the gameplay experience (although we will definitely discuss that), but rather on the decisions and journey that led to the game. So, while we can’t honestly expect to replicate the gameplay experience, we can definitely look to augment it or convey the feeling/goal that the designer was going for. We think that once people see this film, they will be looking to either go out and get the games featured or revisit them if they already have them on the shelf.

What do you feel are the biggest misconceptions the public has about big-budget video games and about indie video games?

LISANNE: I think the biggest misconception people have about indie games is that they think its a hobby for most, or that the designers aren’t serious about the industry/craft – that its an industry of flaky basement dwellers that one day will get a real job. While I’m sure that’s the case for some people, the real success stories in the industry are deadly serious about their games and their artistic career.

JAMES: Making a game is a hard, long process, and the argument for being a full-time indie developer isn’t a very convincing one (limited audience, zero guarantee of sales, long dev times, etc.). So, to be a serious indie developer you must be passionate and driven.

HEADCRABBED from IndieGame: The Movie on Vimeo.

Did you get a sense of the supposed tension between people who work on big-budget AAA video games and on indie video games?

JAMES: I think a tension does exist between indie developers and AAA corporations (not AAA people, but corporations) to a point. But, in most cases, indie developers are big fans of many AAA titles. Which I suppose isn’t that surprising (though it kind of was), all of these people grew up on AAA games. A large part of their inspiration and formative experiences came from 90’s consoles.

LISANNE: I think most indie developers are independent because they are independent. Full stop. They don’t work well in traditional structured organization – I think mostly because they’re insanely intelligent people, intelligent to a point that isn’t compatible with most bureaucratic situations. Combined that with a pronounced drive to express, or articulate a certain creative vision, and you’ll likely have an independent game designer. Because they couldn’t have it any other way.

You’re profiling five indie developers for the film. Why did you pick these particular ones?

JAMES: We’re actually talking to a lot more people than that (like 20 or so), but there will likely be 2-4 main profiles/story arcs that the film will follow. The decision process behind who we chose, basically went through a filter of: The personal/story – how captivating is it? The developer’s game – how noteworthy and how relevant is it? And timing – does their development process line up with our production window?

Indie Game: The Movie – Growing Up Edmund from IndieGame: The Movie on Vimeo.

Did any of the developers surprise you with their process or with emotional revelations?

LISANNE: Yes. Very much so. I think people will be legitimately surprised when they see how deep, personal and emotional a discussion about making a videogame can get. I do think people will view games in a slightly different, slightly warmer perspective after seeing this movie.

Were there any common threads between either the games or the creators?

JAMES: Everybody we’ve talked to that has experienced significant success, and has done so at a price. Developing games is a long, arduous process that consumes you. Everyone talks about not being able to have conversations without thinking about the game, not being able to close their eyes at night without seeing level design structures projected on their eyelids. More often than not, this all consuming process occurs at great costs – to personal relationships, physical health, mental well-being – making games is not pretty, not easy and definitely not fun. But these developers have a compulsion to create. It’s something that they have to do.

What were your game-playing habits before the project? Has working on the movie changed them at all?

JAMES: Long before this film, I was a hard core gamer. I have since turned into a casual player with a strong appreciation for the field. In preparation for the film, we’ve been playing a ton of games. But since starting production, its grinded down to short little bursts of gameplay in cars & airplanes… except for the iPhone title “Game Dev Story” that friggin’ game had my number for about 6 days straight!

LISANNE: I was not a gamer before the film. I played games when I was young (spent evenings fighting over the Game Boy with my brother). But, when I got older, I sort of lost games in my life, but through this project, I found them again. I think, the first games that I’ve ever played to completion have been indie games.

What have been your favorite indie games this year?

JAMES: Aside from evil time-suck that is “Game Dev Story”, I loved “Super Meat Boy,” but I may be a little biased because of all the time we’ve spent with those guys (though with a Metacritic of 90+, I don’t think I’m clouded by bias). But, I’ve really been intrigued by “Minecraft” and “Monaco.” I’ve dipped my toe into those games, but I haven’t been able to play them as long as I would like to.

LISANNE: Since we’ve been on the road, I’ve enjoyed iPhone games – “Osmos,” “Canabalt,” “Eliss,” and “Spider – The Secret of Bryce Manor.” I’m also intrigued by “SpyParty” from Chris Hecker. Secrets missions, espionage, cocktail parties, lying!

Which indie games do you feel that everyone should play to get a sense of the work happening in this field?

JAMES: Oh, this is a tough one that is bound to get us into trouble. But here goes:

“Braid” is a great example of taking the language and conventions of a well-worn genre (2D platformer) and giving you something you’ve never experienced – despite 30 years worth of platformer history.

“Passage” is a beautiful exercise in simplicity and emotion.

“World of Goo” has a lot of layers beneath its gorgeous style and physics gameplay. And its an independent title that you can hand to anyone, and they would never suspect that it came from two guys working from coffeeshops.

And anything by Cactus and/or Messof …anything.

…This list is woefully incomplete, but it’s a start.

If you guys were to make a game, what would it be about?

JAMES: A movie adaptation that doesn’t suck – “Indie Game: The Movie: The Game”…but with space marines.

LISANNE: And tap-dancing.

JAMES: Tap-dancing space marines.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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