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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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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