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‘Video Games: The Movie’ director on the cocktail conversations fueling his documentary

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Ever since The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters found mainstream success in the movie world, video games and gaming culture have become popular subject matter for documentarians. However, while recent films like Indie Game and Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters chose to focus on a particular game franchise, genre, or business model, the upcoming, crowd-funded documentary Video Games: The Movie aims to take a far broader look at the past, present, and future of gaming.

Directed by Mediajuice Studios president and creative director Jeremy Snead, Video Games: The Movie launched its Kickstarter funding campaign only a few weeks ago, and has already hit its initial goal of $60,000. With several weeks still to go and more than 750 backers already supporting the project, Snead recently announced that additional funding will go toward securing a well-known narrator and license songs, with contributors playing a role in the selection process.

Digital Trends spoke with Snead about the project, which he hopes to bring to audiences before the end of the year.

Jeremy Snead, director of Video Games: The Movie

Jeremy Snead, director of Video Games: The Movie

I think it’s safe to say that this is an ambitious project, given the scope of what you’re trying to capture here and the myriad of topics you’ll need to address about video games, gamers, and such. Why did you choose to take such a broad approach to gaming with this film?

Any kind of how-to narrative for documentary filmmaking tells you that you need to find the niche group you’re telling your story to and tailor it around that. But I just really felt from the beginning that I’ve worked in the industry and been in and around big game companies and small game companies for a long time, and always been fascinated with what’s happening behind the scenes. I never thought, “I really like competitive gaming. We should do a film about that.” I just felt like if someone could get a snapshot in a two-hour film that really dipped them into the gaming world and all of its elements – publishing, marketing, development, culture, and everything else – it would not only be entertaining, but it would also be informative and hopefully tear down some of the misconceptions that have always plagued the industry and the culture.

What type of misconceptions are you most concerned with addressing?

I call it “the cocktail conversation.” I’ll be at a party with some people I don’t know, and when it comes to what I do – as a filmmaker who works with the games industry – inevitably there’s someone who responds with something along the lines of, “Oh, my nephew plays games and I wish he didn’t, because games are violent and he needs to get outside. Kids need to stop playing games and go outside.” There’s always that soccer-mom reaction.

“They need to find a real hobby” and things like that…

Exactly. As if gaming isn’t a legitimate pastime. As far as we’ve come as an industry and a community group, there are still those people in every cocktail conversation. And I know that represents a large amount of people, even if they don’t speak up and say so. So that’s the idea in going broad and wide with this film. It’s a film that gamers will enjoy and also my mom can watch and enjoy.

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Well, it’s easy to say you want to appeal to that mainstream crowd, but how do you actually attract them to a movie like this? You know the gamers will certainly check it out, but what about people like your mom? How do you get the average person interested in a film like this?

That’s the challenge: creating a message that’s understandable and broad enough, but also intriguing on all levels. Personally, I feel like anyone who’s been in the industry or knows anything about the history of games and gamer culture, they’ll enjoy it, nodding their heads the whole time. It’s intended to be more of an affirming experience for the gaming community. We may not deep-dive into competitive gaming, but it will be covered. We’ll cover the broad strokes: why the industry is great, why the community is great, and all those sort of things we’ll try to touch on. Hopefully, that’s what will bring the broader audience in: that it won’t look intimidating.

The press for the project mentions a pretty impressive list of gaming celebrities and creators featured in the film. Who were some of the highlight interviews for you?

Probably at the top of the list for me was Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari back in the day. I’ve always been a game history nut. I’ve devoured every book that’s come out on gaming history. Even though Ralph Baer is known as the first commercial creator of video games with the Magnavox Odyssey, Nolan Bushnell is widely considered the father of games because he brought it to the masses in an accessible way. He’s at the top of the list for me.

What about from the modern era of gaming?

Every other interview we had – walking into Blizzard to talk to Rob Pardo, or going into Naughty Dog to talk to those guys – all of those are just amazing to me. But at the same time, I needed to keep the story we’re trying to tell out front. So I know there’s going to be a lot of film on the cutting room floor, because at the end of the day it’s a two-hour movie.

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How are you planning to structure the film? Will it mostly be interviews?

I want this story to be told by the people, without a lot of voiceover. I want the majority to come from the industry and the fans.

Looking back on all of the interviews you’ve conducted and footage you’ve produced, what is it that you’ve learned from the film thus far? You already know a lot about games, so what has making this film taught you?

As a filmmaker, I’ve learned a lot about the documentary process. Narrative movies have much more control. You have a shooting schedule and for the most part, you know what you’re doing every day when you go on set. Even though we had a schedule of people we were interviewing, it’s still sort of guerilla-style filmmaking. You don’t know what the light is going to be at a location or any other details, and you have to figure things out as you go. It takes away the element of being able to go in a corner and angst for 30 minutes about the lighting. You have to bring your “A” game every day.

You told me what you learned about filmmaking during the production of this movie, but what did you learn about gaming?

It’s been kind of a blur, but honestly, a big thing I’ve learned – which didn’t surprise me at all – was how tightly-knit a community game developers and publishers are. They’ve all been very supportive. It’s been encouraging. It wasn’t surprising, but it was so very encouraging.

E3 2013 Preview header

So what’s the tally so far for footage and interviews and such that you’ve collected?

We’ve got over 100 interviews that we’ve shot. We feel like that’s a really good cross-section of people that represent all of the different sections of the film: history, culture, development, and future. Having said that, we still have a handful of interviews lined up at E3, like talking to Microsoft and Sony about the next generation of consoles, as well as a handful of European and Asian game developers.

If all goes as planned, when can we expect to see the finished film?

The goal is to have a finished film by September of this year.

The funding campaign for “Video Games: The Movie” ends June 18, 2013. You can find out more about the film on its Kickstarter campaign site.