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Interview: Team Bondi’s Brendan McNamara on “L.A. Noire,” Part 3

Interview: Team Bondi’s Brendan McNamara on “L.A. Noire,” Part 3 (photo)

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[Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.]

Back to making the game, you guys were in development starting in 2004. Console transition happened from PS2 and Xbox 1 to Ps3 and Xbox 360 around 2006. At what point did you have the whole hardware epiphany, in terms of what the upcoming systems could do? Or is that something that didn’t even come into play with the way your process worked?

When we first started out, we were with Sony, and we had a lot of access to what the early PS3 hardware was. To a certain extent, the early hardware was touted to be a lot more powerful than what it ended up being. Having said that, it’s still a powerful console and there’s plenty of processing room in it, too. So to a certain extent, we went for a lot more than we should have. I think that’s kind of a good thing in a way. Because, now, the game still holds up even though we’ve been working on it for a long time.

I remember one milestone in particular in terms of the tech stuff really coming together. We’d been working on this case which is for another beat desk in the precinct house, where we had a case where someone was cashing bad checks. You could go to jail for that in those days. The player has to interview a bank manager and that was the first time we ever had someone go and speak to any one character with a MotionScan head. He was talking to you and he was thinking about what you were saying. And we had your partner there, too.

And when we first got that working, we showed that to all the people at Rockstar in New York. The producer, Jeronimo Barrera, he asked us to put a camera in so you could move the camera around the scene in 3D, so you could see that it was actually the game’s real graphics engine and that you weren’t just actually looking at a video.

And what year would that have been?

Oh, probably around late 2007, early 2008. The other thing you got to remember about our development on “L.A. Noire” is that it was written almost like a text adventure in a way. The character would say things and they’d say things back to you. It’s slightly different than making the usual game because the logic of it says, I’ve talked to you but I haven’t talked to Bruce, so I have to talk to somebody else. So I have one part of the information, but I don’t have another. I haven’t picked up a clue. So I do that.

So there’s millions of logic bombs that you could possibly have in the script depending on who you talk to, and what order they talked to you, and what you found. But to a certain extent, the game had to go through all of that, and to go through all that QA testing before we could start recording. Because once you start recording in MotionScan, then you have all the usual problems of a film, in terms of continuity. We recorded Aaron, and Aaron was in there for a long time recording.

But, if we recorded him six months later again, he might have got fatter, skinnier, or changed his hair. So the whole process is slightly different to a conventional game where you can go back in and keep recording audio all the time. You need to arrange for a lot more actor availability and factor in that they might have actually changed.

Right. That’s an interesting point. Because you are using actual talent for visuals and not just voice, you’re dependent on their whole performance in a much more important way than traditional mo-cap.

Yeah. You could have a scene because we screwed up on QA’ing the dialogue. And we go in and shoot the scene again, and his sideburns are like a couple centimeters shorter. And when you’re talking to him you see that part of his hair go up and down. That’s the price of the fidelity we achieve with MotionScan.

That’s pretty awesome. But you of course can fix some of that stuff in post-production, I imagine?

No, it’s really difficult to fix. Because you’d have to go in there and change lots and lots of frames. There was a sequence which we were trying to find for ages, where he sneezed in the rig, Aaron Staton. I mean, it’s not the kind of thing you’ll use over and over again in the game, where he’s sneezing constantly. Where are we going to put that? But when he does sneeze, you can actually see his face go red for a few frames as his skin goes red. Then you can see it calm back down again. It’s pretty amazing, but that kind of thing makes it so we have to nail specific takes on the initial performance capture.

That’s intense. So talk about Aaron Staton and the casting. How did you get involved with him? Rockstar started working with celebrities–Ray Liotta in “GTA: Vice City,” for example–and then they moved away from that. What were the choices that were made about who to get for what particular roles?

Well, the idea was, we didn’t think that we needed particularly anybody who was like a huge name. We just wanted quality actors. Obviously, Hollywood is a great place for that. So we used a casting agency called Schiff/Audino. And Laura Schiff, she cast the “Mad Men” TV series. And it was just kind of by a lucky accident. Like, I didn’t even really know “Mad Men.” It had been out here but I didn’t know the series very well.

And [Rockstar exec] Dan Houser, who’s in New York, he’s a fan of the series and a fan of the writing. And he said, “There’s this guy Aaron Staton on the show. I think he could really do it and he’d be great.” And we didn’t think we could get him at the start because he was doing the show. Laura approached him and, of course, he had to read through the material. It was just the outline because the game’s got 2200 pages of script. But, he liked it and he came down to have dinner and a chat with us. And we just thought that we’d get on.

And once Aaron signed up to do it, loads of people from “Mad Men” kept ringing us up, saying, “Oh, I want to be in it. I want to be in it. Can I be in it?” Because they just heard that it was this kind of new type of video game and going to be done in an interesting way. So, we were really lucky there. We got Kartheiser and all sorts of people from “Mad Men” in the show.

That’s a pretty great package deal to get.

Yeah. We got all sorts of people who have done many different things in Hollywood. And we got John Noble as well. And John’s kind of a different story. Because John is obviously Australian. He does “Fringe.” We talked to him maybe as far back as 2005 about it and he came into Sydney and we showed him what we were trying to do.

And he thought it was kind of wild and crazy and didn’t know if we could do it or not. We stayed in touch. Whenever we were doing a test, if he was home for Christmas or something, he’d come in and do a test for us which was amazingly kind of him. And then when we finally got down to the show, he just took some days off, took a weekend off from Fringe and came down and did all his stuff in two days for us which is amazing.


So, now that you guys are kind of in the homestretch. And you’re probably eagerly waiting what the reception is going to be. Have you thought about that much?

Yeah. We are eagerly awaiting with all fingers and toes crossed. Because it is radically different to what anyone else would have played, I think. If cop show is really familiar, I think your frame of reference in terms of games is zero.

Exactly. That’s an interesting point. This is the kind of thing that we always talk about when we talk about video games as a medium. What’s the give and take between a video game and other mediums? It seems that when other mediums try to pull from video games, they get the most broad, nuance-free ideas from video games about shooting lots of dudes, and cool camera angles, and stuff.

But when video games pull from other mediums, sometimes, it’s like very basic plot structure or character motivation, and not anything a little more sophisticated. So it seem like you guys are trying to be a little bit more shaded.

Oh, yeah. And we’re trying to take games to places they haven’t been. Like I said, in this game, asking questions is as important as pulling the trigger. And who has ever done that before? It’s a totally new experience for video game audience. But if the future of games is just drive somewhere and shoot somebody, it’s not a very interesting future.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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