From cult comedies like Grandma’s Boy to critically praised documentaries like The King of Kong and Indie Game, the gaming scene has increased its profile in Hollywood over the last few years and made some big steps toward becoming as ubiquitous on the big screen as it is in our everyday lives. Noobz, the new film from writer, director, and former competitive gamer Blake Freeman offers up yet another spin on the gaming world by introducing audiences to Clan Reign, a motley group of friends who set off on a cross-country trip to compete in the fictional Cyberbowl Video Game Championship.
Jason Mewes (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) stars in the film alongside Freeman, Matt Shively (Paranormal Activity 4), and Moises Arias (Ender’s Game) as the members of the ragtag clan who each have their own reasons for competing in the tournament. Along the way, they’re joined by Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) as an aging arcade champion, and Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers) as, well… Casper Van Dien.
We spoke with Freeman about the film ahead of its impending release on VOD and DVD later this month, and got his take on the perilously fine line a filmmaker needs to walk when bringing the competitive gaming scene to the big screen.
First off, let’s talk about your background in gaming. You’ve been pretty vocal about being a former competitive gamer yourself.
I grew up gaming. I played every system you could imagine, from Channel F through Atari and Intellivision. I owned them all. I started playing competitively when SOCOM first came out. SOCOM was my introduction to console online gaming. I really loved SOCOM, and my clan ended up winning one of the first big tournaments for it. We ended up winning a lot of those things, but after SOCOM 2, I felt the series fell off like crazy. It just seemed like cheaters and all of these other things got involved, and it was disappointing. So I stopped playing competitively after that game. But I’m really looking for another game to get into competitively.
So what was it that finally pushed you to make a movie about competitive gaming? Given your background, you had to know it was going to be difficult to appeal to gamers and mainstream audiences alike.
As a filmmaker, I thought it would be cool to make something about competitive gaming. And once we got the script out there, we received some great feedback from gaming companies. But you’re right – that was the toughest part of making the movie. It used to be that the only way to really get to know competitive gamers was to go to gaming forums, but gamer forums are so negative and such a toxic place these days that they’re starting to lose their credibility. You used to be able to go there and learn about games, but now it’s just a place people go to be negative about everything. So you have to pick and choose your battles when it comes to certain things.
I saw some responses to clips online that complained about product placement in the film. Well, that came from me wanting to make a realistic world. I hate watching a movie and seeing a can that says “Soda” on the side of it. Nobody drinks “Soda.” If you’ve ever seen pictures of gaming competitions, there’s product placement everywhere. It’s all over the place. And in that way, I think we stayed realistic to the gaming world without jumping overboard. For example, Jason Mewes’ character has a lot of products you can see at his house, but he’s just that guy at the game store who takes everything home. He’s one of those guys who, when he loves a game, buys the shirt, the hat, and everything else. That’s actually the reality for some people, and he’s that guy.
Your character felt a little familiar to me, too. He’s the guy who’s always annoyed at everyone else he’s playing with. I feel like I know this guy.
[Laughs] My character is just a total dick, because anyone who has played games online knows that guy. My character is 99% of the gaming world. There’s a guy on every team who hates everything. He doesn’t live in the same state as you, so you have no idea what his life is like outside of gaming. I’ve met so many of those guys while gaming, I had to play that guy.
Why did you decide to make Gears Of War 3 the game they compete in? What went into that decision?
We basically decided on the game based on which one looks best on camera. We narrowed that down to third-person shooters, because you can see the character moving around on the screen. Those games looked better than any first-person games as they appear on camera. And it also depended on who would give us the most support on the console, Xbox. It was a no-brainer for us at that point, and we got a lot of product support. They didn’t pay us money to use the game or the console, but they gave us support because they believed in the project and the movie wasn’t too outrageous. It stayed faithful to the gaming community.
We picked Gears of War 3 because it was one of the better-performing games that was a third-person shooter, and because of how it looked on camera. The movie has nothing to do with that game, though. We don’t talk about strategy for that game at all, really. It could’ve been any game on camera. I’m telling you that because I know everyone who doesn’t like that game is going to complain about it. [Laughs]
You mentioned Jason Mewes earlier, and I couldn’t help feeling like this is the most subdued character I’ve seen him play so far. He’s still pretty wild compared to the rest of the cast, but this definitely feels like a more grounded character for him. Was that an intentional bit of casting on your part?
It was, and I know that his craziness is funny, but for this movie I wanted to keep things a little more realistic. I know it’s a comedy and all, but at the same time, I didn’t want to overstep and insult gamers’ intelligence by saying a bunch of idiots can run around and make it to a gaming championship like this. So I tried to keep them a little more grounded in reality. I wanted them to be people who could actually make it that far into a tournament.
And what about Casper Van Dien? His cameo is pretty fantastic.
I knew Casper from a celebrity basketball league, and he’s never been put in comedy. I know this guy, and Casper is one of the most likable, funny guys you’ll ever meet in your life. He’s awesome. He’s in the upcoming movie Mucho Dinero with me, and it’s his first main role in a comedy. Lyn Shaye is another great one, too. When I saw her in Something About Mary and Kingpin, I knew she had to be in this movie.
Oh, and Jon Gries – everybody knows him from Napoleon Dynamite, but he’s just pure talent. He’s great.
I’m glad you mentioned him, because I wanted to ask you about his character. He shares a lot of similarities with a certain real-life gaming champion…
[Laughs] All people in the film are fictitious. I’m going to give you that line.
So Billy Mitchell hasn’t given the film his seal of approval?
[Laughs] We know guys who travel around and still play in those coin-operated game tournaments, and we wanted to pull from that world and bring a guy into the movie who does that. I got to meet Billy and the guys from Twin Galaxies a while back, and those guys were awesome. They came to the E3 sneak peek we had this past year, and they’re just good guys. I’m a huge fan of The King of Kong. I don’t think Billy has seen the film, though. I need to send him a copy.
Well, I play FIFA daily. I got sucked into it and I can’t stop playing the damn game.
Are you playing it as much as you played SOCOM back in the day?
No, that was like 14 hours a day. Actually, there’s a scene in the movie where my character’s wife leaves him for playing too many games. That happened to a buddy of ours who was part of our SOCOM clan. He got served divorce papers, and it said on the papers that the reason he was getting a divorce was “Too much SOCOM.” All of that happened – and yes, the things you would hear over open mic were hysterical.
What’s next for you?
I have a movie coming out after this one called Gawd Bless America. It’s a comedy/documentary where I debunk aliens, psychics, and all sorts of paranormal stuff. We have high hopes for that movie. Shortly after that one, I have Mucho Dinero with Eddie Griffin, Casper Van Dien, and Danny Trejo. It’s a comedy.
Noobz arrives on DVD and VOD January 29, and stars Jason Mewes, Blake Freeman, Matt Shively, Moises Arias, and Jon Gries.