Not too long ago we featured a review of the dead-on movie The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. I love this movie and I think if you’ve ever gamed seriously during any period of your life, you’ll love it too. I enjoyed it so much I decided to get in touch with some folks at the Dead Gentlemen Productions – the group responsible for the movie.
Matt Vancil and Don Early were kind enough to respond to my questions. Matt wrote and directed the movie (he also appears in the film as Mitch) and Don Produced the film (and appears as Mort Agrippa).
TC: From start to finish – writing the script through the final release of the movie, how long did this project take?
Don: 5 effing long years. We started in 2003 with paying Matt some bones to write a script, and it was 2008 when we landed our distributor with Anthem Pictures.
Matt: I finished a rough — but far from final — draft of the screenplay in the fall of 2003. We shot in January, April, and May of 2005, and then spent the next two years in post. We landed our distributor, Anthem Pictures, last year for an August 2008 release. So … five years. Damn.
TC: Making a movie to me always seemed like an amazingly fun adventure. Am I completely misguided on this thought? What was it like to make this film in terms of enjoyment, stress and general cool factor?
Don: We always say that if you’re not having fun making a movie, that’s the freakin’ point? But it is very stressful. From the filmmaking side, and for me on the producing side, just making sure all the locations are secured, that we have all the props we need, the crew is taken care of, there’s food for everyone… it’s a lot to manage. Not to mention, that’s AFTER you get the money to make the film. The whole process of raising money is hard, time consuming, and usually full of disappointment. Once you have the money though, it’s awesome to start the process and do things you love. And it also means you get to work with people you like working with too. At least that’s how I try to handle the production.
Matt: No, you’re not misguided. It was fun. It isn’t always. You’re spending ten to fourteen hours a day with the same people for weeks at a time, and you’re time’s always pressed. It can be hell if you don’t get along with some folks because you’re in such a pressure cooker. But when you have friends there, people you generally get on well with, it feels more like play than work. Well, less like work. I mean, you never forget that it’s work. But it’s much more pleasant when you generally enjoy the people you’re trapped in those unending hours with.
Stress-wise, this was a difficult shoot. We had a larger cast and crew than we’d ever worked with before, we ran out of money at one point, we went through four caterers, and there was that whole fire thing. But we made it through unscathed. Apart from the fire thing. The cool factor was high. Matt’s sets and Chris’s lighting brought the fantasy world to life, and the actors were their characters, always experimenting and improvising. A script really is a living document, a guideline than a blueprint, and it’s going to change due to the vicissitudes of the shoot. But whenever we rolled the dice, they came up sevens, and that was pretty cool. Except for the fire thing.
TC: I will hazard a guess that you are all or have one time been active gamers. What system(s) do you play and what got you into gaming in the first place?
Don: I’ve played D&D since 2nd Edition, but some of the other guys have been gaming since 1st. I ran the 007 James Bond RPG for something like 6 years, which was a blast. In college, we played a lot of the White Wolf systems too, tabletop and LARP. We LOVED playing Shadowrun too. Also, Matt Vancil had his own homebrew we ran for several years, which was awesome. Currently we’re playing D&D 4th edition, and Pathfinder. Seems like we don’t get together enough to get a regular game going anymore. Need to fix that. Nathan Rice got me into gaming in the first place. It’s all his fault.
Matt: I’d reference Don’s list of games. It’s pretty accurate. And I may have done a homebrew game or two, but Matt DeMille’s actually got about twenty years of self-published games and adventures he’s created, and that he sells. You should review them; I’m sure he’d hook you up.
What got me into gaming really were the Choose Your Own Adventure style gamebooks of the 80s. I liked the CYOA books fine, but it was when I discovered Lone Wolf and Sorcery! and Grail Quest and Fighting Fantasy with their complicated rules that I really got into it. My uber-conservative grandparents bought me a copy of the 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook for Christmas when I was 12 — I still puzzle about that — and from then on I gamed regularly.
TC: Many film franchises have gone the route of the musical. Legally blonde, Titanic, Spamalot, Schindler’s List. Have any of you given thought to a Broadway adaptation of Dorkness Rising?
Don: I don’t do musicals. But Matt does. I’ll leave that to him.
Matt: That would be pretty awesome. A Gamers musical? I’d be all over that.
TC: Are all of the members of the cast also members of The Dead Gentlemen? If not, did you go through a traditional casting agency or pull from friends, family and associates? There is a certain chemistry amongst the characters in this film that really works. What was needed to achieve this?
Don: The thing about the Dead Gentlemen, is that there’s the company, and there’s the group of people who identify themselves as Dead Gents. Not all Dead Gents are “owners” in the company. It’s a pain in the ass process to do all that, and all it really does is complicate your taxes. :) That said, we did do a lot of traditional style casting. We did casting calls, and did our best to get actors into the film. The reason there is chemistry is because we had great actors who are professional and work well together.
Matt: We had open auditions. There are plenty of Dead Gentlemen members in the cast, but most of the principals we hadn’t worked with before. I chalk the chemistry up to their general talent and amenability. Also, due to a scheduling fluke, we cast most of the parts about eight months before we shot, so everyone got a real chance to settle into their roles and contribute to the characters. I can’t say enough good stuff about the cast. They’re wonderful people, and we all enjoyed spending time together. Sometimes I watch the movie just to feel like I’m spending time with my friends. And that sounded pretty sad.
TC: Where was this filmed and what went into the construction of the sets? Were props found, purchased, constructed, all of the above? Did you all keep a few things from the production?
Don: I’ll let Mr. DeMille tackle most of this question. But the movie was shot in Western Washington State. Props were found, constructed, stolen, anything we could do to get the shot. :) Some of the props were generously donated by gaming companies and folks like Edhellen Armory, who had those really cool looking foam weapons.
Matt: We filmed in western Washington state, in Tacoma, Edmonds, and on Marrowstone Island. Props we made or borrowed from ren faire or SCA folk — there’s quite a population of them in the Pacific Northwest. For set construction, talk to Matt DeMille. I still don’t know how he pulled off some of those looks.
TC: At some future point after Dorkness Rising closes, do Kevin and and Joanna end up an item? My wife who’s a big Danielle Steele fan wanted me to ask. I am asking this personally for strictly academic reasons.
Don: Guess you’ll have to wait until the next movie to find out!
Matt: Actually, in the original cut of the film, they do become an item. Or at least we hinted that they do. One of the deleted scenes took place after the montage when Lodge writes the module at the end of the campaign. Night fades to day, and day finds Lodge face-down asleep on his keyboard. Joanna wakes him up — she spent the night — and he excitedly tells her how he finished. The problem was that as it was shot, it suggested that they got Biblical, which wasn’t my intent. I wanted to give the impression that she spent the night in a role of support and encouragement, and that Lodge wrote all night. What test audiences took from it was “they f#@ked.” So I cut the scene. I chalk it up to my inexperience as a director — this was my first feature.
And before you ask, yes, if we do a director’s cut, that scene — and several deleted or extended scenes — will be in the special features.
TC: Is The Mask of Death published by Goodman Games still available at all? Any idea where interested fans can score a copy? And was the title in any way influenced by the 2004 Lorenzo Lamas film of the same name?
Don: No idea. No idea. No idea. If you find it, let m know, I’d like a copy. :)
Matt: It should be. I’ve seen copies. And I’ve never heard of the Lorenzo Lamas film. Did you know he played the quarterback in Grease? It’s true. Give it a look. (Editors Note: Lorenzo also appeared on six episodes of The Love Boat. That man rocks.)
TC: Christian Doyle looks surprisingly good in Luster’s red outfit. Has anyone told him this?
Don: I’ll pass that along. You wanna hook up with him? j/k. Yeah, he’s a tasty number in that dress. (Editor’s Note: I do not want to hook up with Christian. Unless he’s still wearing that outfit.)
Matt: Honestly, I was too distracted by Jen in Luster’s red outfit to notice.
TC: What’s in the future for The Dead Gentlemen? Do you have any other projects you are considering? Would you ever do another film?
Don: It all comes down to the money, my friend. We don’t have it. We all have day jobs and can’t depart from them anymore to do a movie for free and the fun. So we definitely have several projects in the works. We are looking for investors and sponsors to fund the projects and get them made. To name a few projects we’re working on: there are three different projects for The Gamers franchise, so The Gamers 3 will be whichever gets funded first. There are Demon Hunters projects also ready to go. More insanity with the Syphilitic Ninja Vampires is on the ticket. We also have our first foray into Reality TV that will be launching soon with the new website. Got a project that pays homage to the 1980’s sword and sandal movies, which is totally awesome. And that’s just scratching the surface. So if anyone wants to take part in making our next project happen, please contact me. I’d be happy to go over it in more detail.
Matt: I don’t know. I’d love to keep making this sort of movie, but like Don says, we’ve all got adult jobs now. Well, the others do — I’m terminally unemployed. But I did go to film school — and finished it between when Dorkness wrapped and came out on DVD; how sad is that? — and am making a go of it in Hollywood. I’ve optioned a few projects and have shot a few web pilots. Heck, last year I pitched a show at Sci-Fi and the Cartoon Network. So there are glimmers of hope, though I haven’t landed anything major yet.
You can follow my misadventures on my blog, invancible.blogspot.com.
I hope to return with more interview responses from a few other Dead Gentlemen and from Jen Page (who played the female Luster in the movie) in the near future. A big, huge thanks to Matt and Don for taking the time out of their day to type at me for a while. And again, if you have not seen The Gamers: Dorkness Rising do so now. NOW!
[tags]role playing games, gamers, dorkness rising, movies, interview[/tags]