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Found 4 results

  1. One of the most critically acclaimed titles of 2013, The Last of Us served as the PlayStation 3's swan song. Pushing the system to its limits, Naughty Dog's foray into a grim, apocalyptic vision of the future became a title that would be talked about for years to come for its presentation, pacing, characters, and gripping story. A film adaptation was announced following the massive success of The Last of Us. At the tail end of 2016, Sony unveiled a sequel. This week we take a look at the infected ruins of America as experienced by Joel and Ellie on their road trip through a world where a human life is as cheap as a bullet. Is The Last of Us one of the best games period? Outro music: The Last of Us 'Sarah' by nckmusic (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02995) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! A Patreon has been created for those looking to support the show. You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  2. One of the most critically acclaimed titles of 2013, The Last of Us served as the PlayStation 3's swan song. Pushing the system to its limits, Naughty Dog's foray into a grim, apocalyptic vision of the future became a title that would be talked about for years to come for its presentation, pacing, characters, and gripping story. A film adaptation was announced following the massive success of The Last of Us. At the tail end of 2016, Sony unveiled a sequel. This week we take a look at the infected ruins of America as experienced by Joel and Ellie on their road trip through a world where a human life is as cheap as a bullet. Is The Last of Us one of the best games period? Outro music: The Last of Us 'Sarah' by nckmusic (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02995) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! A Patreon has been created for those looking to support the show. You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  3. I had the opportunity to talk with Malika Zouhali-Worrall and David Osit, the two filmmakers behind the upcoming documentary ‘Thank You for Playing’ which follows the development of That Dragon, Cancer and the lives of the Green family as they fight with hope and love against the cancer that slowly took their son, Joel, from them too soon. I was able to see the film prior to the interview. While I can’t say a whole lot about it right now, I will say that it is a gorgeous film that brings out the joy and light that exists even in the depths of sorrow and loss. Malika and David are currently in the final days of a Kickstarter seeking funding to distribute the film. Success would mean ‘Thank You for Playing’ could be shown in theaters across the country as well as enabling the two documentarians to publicly screen the film at events that present people with the opportunity to play the game and see the movie. Check it out and if you feel like it’s a worthy project, toss a few bucks their way or share it with friends and family. ~~~ Jack Gardner: Thanks for talking with me today, I know you two are busy what with the movie coming out. I looked at your history of work and it didn’t seem like you two had worked together before, so what brought you together for Thank You for Playing? David Osit: We met at a film festival a couple years ago, a film festival called True/False Film Festival in Missouri. Malika was there with her last movie, Call Me Kuchu, and I was there with my last movie called Building Babel. It’s a film festival and just a great way to meet people and we became friends really quickly. We were collaborating on a different project when I read this brief blurb on Kill Screen Daily, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, and it had this two sentence description of That Dragon, Cancer. This was way early on when it was still under production. Ryan [Green] had only really demoed one scene of the game at the GDC at that point. I think just reading that brief blurb about That Dragon, Cancer that early on was very intriguing right away. It seemed almost like a movie synopsis, just right off the bat; this idea of somebody making a video game about their son who has terminal cancer. I think it just sparked a lot of thoughts in both of our brains about what would that game look like? What would the experience be of making a game like that? I think we both wanted to know more and wanted to follow up the story so we went out for just a four day shoot with the Green family in Colorado, we are based in New York, and that was really the beginning of the film. A lot of the footage from that first shoot is in the movie and that was the beginning of approximately a year and a half of filming. Jack: That kinda blows my mind. How did you- how did you approach them with the idea of making something like this in the first place? David: Yeah, well, early on I just found Ryan’s contact info. I think by that point he had already gotten a little bit of press, certainly not as much as he has been getting since the game has come out – since everyone has been talking about it, since the release. I just said to him, you know, hey we are documentary filmmakers we’re really interested in the story of what you’re doing. It sounds great. It sounds like you are kind of doing something very similar to what we like in storytelling; which is thinking about what is the personal story of what you are trying to say. We both love autobiographical documentaries - there are some of them that are exceptional. And to us, we didn’t know how true this would eventually be, but we realized that it wasn’t terribly dissimilar from making a documentary - what the team behind That Dragon, Cancer was doing. They were essentially pointing the camera into their own lives only in video game form. We were really intrigued by that and I thought that what would be super fascinating was to add a layer of documentation to that and make a film about the creation of this documentary but in a different medium than we are used to. I think they were really receptive to that because they were already in the process of documenting their own lives just in video game form. So, we talked for about an hour and a half the bunch of us. Over Skype we talked about our favorite movies and what we were interested in doing. Ryan and Amy and Josh, the co-creator of That Dragon, Cancer, were just always so open and incredibly generous with their time to let us film in the first place and so trusting to let us film in the first place. We just really appreciated how much they were willing to give us of their time and their energy. I’d like to think that they also really appreciate what we were able to create out of our time with them. Jack: Oh yeah, I had the pleasure of watching it last night. One of your PR people sent it to me. There is a part near the end where Ryan is talking about trying to frantically grab all this footage as they can because time is limited and time is short. I imagine they are super grateful for having you guys around just for all the extra footage you captured of Joel and their family together. David: Yeah. Absolutely. Malika Zouhali-Worrall: I think in, you know like David was saying, in many ways we were an extension of the same effort they were involved in. So, I think they really saw everything we were involved in as part of the same mission. Really part of this process of going against these taboos that really seem to exist around death and illness in our societies. They are just kind of not really talked about so openly. They are working on the game and blogging about their experience and allowing us to film with them really was part of the same process and the same goal. There was something else I was going to say about that… Oh yeah, and as a part of that process they actually never asked us to stop filming. They kind of allowed us to continue filming and as you can see in the film they really allowed us to continue filming at times that, um, to be honest both of us in some ways felt very uncomfortable with our presence- like, with the fact that we were in some situations with our cameras because they felt so intimate and private. On the other hand we recognized, by that point we had been filming with them for more than a year and we recognized that we had committed to complete this process and that we owed it to them in some ways and their story with Joel to actually keep filming in order to really document the aspects of the process and experience that they believed were important to be included even though typically those might be moments when one would turn off the camera. I think that was a very difficult process for the both of us, but we realized it was very necessary and in many ways made us really think about what our role and responsibilities were as documentary filmmakers. Jack: I’ve played both the game and now I’ve seen the movie. In your Kickstarter video you guys talk about the two being complementary and they really do complement each other very well. I played the game first and one of the big questions that was of the questions was how. How could a game like this be made? That’s such a big question at least to me because most people don’t go through such a candid grieving process. David: I think the thing, though, is that people al do go through a grieving process like it, but it is so hard to go through it with a degree of consciousness, you know? To grieve not just consciously, but publicly in a certain way. And that is something that we were both really taken by which is that this- what we were watching happen over the course of our filming was that there was kind of this window into their grief through the process of making this video game. That window was there, we were just there to film it. That window was brought on by Ryan and Amy and their whole production team behind That Dragon, Cancer getting together and saying how can we paint our grief in a way that is not just a portrait of grief or a por6trait of caring for a child, but in a way that is actually experienceable by other people and in a medium that has not ever been known for such an interaction for such a window into empathy. So that I think is what was very interesting for us. What they went through is what many, many people go through, you know? Like thousands and millions of people go through this. But the way in which they dealt with it and the poise in which they dealt with it and the invitation that they provided for other people to play through that experience, to be a part of that experience in a way; that was what was really special and profound. Jack: Where do you two come in, gaming-wise? Are either of you gamers? Do either of you have a lot of experience with the general culture? David: Yeah, we are now. We’re definitely into it now, in part because we’ve seen how exciting the world is in terms of its artistic innovation and how many exciting things are happening within the space of gaming – especially independent gaming. I think, I mean, we both played Mario for sure as kids. I came in with a little bit more knowledge and my friend sent m me this article on Killscreen and I heard a little bit about independent gaming prior to this. I’d watched Indie Game: The Movie and things like that. But it has definitely been an exciting world to learn more about and I think being aware of the artistic side- honestly the parallels between indie film making, indie documentary filmmaking, and indie game development are pretty amazing to us. It didn’t take us long to realize that it’s very similar [laughs] like, you have to freelance on your own time and work on your passion projects whenever you have the time to. It takes X amount of money and you gotta crowd fund occasionally. You have to get distribution or get people to really back your vision and believe in you. You have to hire a team of people who want to work with you, you know? It’s not terribly dissimilar. Also in a sense that it has only been, at least as far as we can tell, within the last decade or so that independent gaming has been able to flourish because technology like Twine and Unity has actually made it viable to create games on a smaller budget on a smaller scale. And that’s also true within documentary film. Twenty years ago you pretty much needed to rely on having film and that’s expensive. Now with digital cameras within the last ten, fifteen years and being able to edit on your laptop these are all innovations that have enabled art to trickle down to us plebeians in a certain sense and that has been pretty cool to see. Malika: I think one thing that has been particularly exciting in the gaming world is that while film was a lot more expensive and laborious to work with before digital media […] there still have always been artful, independent filmmakers for decades, right? But in gaming it is really interesting how this technological change really does seem to have revolutionized developers’ access to the creation process of games to the extent that now people have access to making games who just previously weren’t a part of gaming culture. The result is games like That Dragon, Cancer as well as Depression Quest or Neverending Nightmares or Dys4ia or, you know there are so many within the last five or ten years, games and developers that are emerging that there just wasn’t room for before. I think one thing we both found particularly exciting was this idea that that has created room not only to explore new topics and areas and concepts and approaches to video games, but also to let more people in and create more diversity in the gaming world in general. It really feels like a turning point for the industry. Jack: I 100% agree. I think it is also super important that the technology to distribute games like this is in place now, whereas ten years ago where were you going to put an indie game if you didn’t go through a big name publisher? Malika: Of course, for us that means that Thank You for Playing - while we are focused on one particular game and one particular team - it feels like Thank You for Playing is about this larger shift that is happening in this industry and this approach that most people in the mainstream entertainment world just didn’t think was possible in video games, but really is starting to happen now. Jack: I think the documentary and the game work together in interesting ways. Thank You for Playing is a good entry point for people who aren’t as involved in the game industry whereas people are already involved can take that with them to the documentary. It’s kind of like two worlds overlapping. There’s nothing else really like it. Malika: Yeah, on top of that there was also an interesting process working on the film, which neither David nor I had ever actually experienced, which is that we were in the process of creating this documentary work that was also about Ryan and Amy and Josh and their team being simultaneously in the process of creating their documentary work in video game form. The result was really interesting because it meant we were all going through these creative processes at different points and all involved in documenting slightly different things, but then there were interesting ways in which those ended up overlapping. So there were points at which we were actually kind of mutually having conversations about how we were going to be representing certain aspects of the experience. Or even to a certain extent collaborating on some things - even though we all worked on the film and the game with the understanding that they were independent of each other and each team had independent control over each thing of course. But there were some moments, like we shot a scene of the family by a lake feeding the ducks. We shot that, I think, slightly before the game team had fully started to build their lake scene which you also see in the film. So, one day they gave us a call while we were back in New York between shoots and asked if we could share the audio from that footage with them so they could use it as temp audio while they were building that scene in the game. There are a whole bunch of examples like that of moments when either we documented something and shared it with them in order to help them create their game or they documented something in the game and shared it with us in order to help us think about how to kind of show that in real life and show how that was part of their real life as well as in the game world. Jack: How often were you involved in the Green’s lives? It seems like over a year and a half or so you got to know them pretty well. David: Yeah, yeah, I think over a year and a half was essentially the duration. We did about six or seven shoots over that period of time and each shoot was probably a week or so long. When we weren’t filming we were in close touch, obviously, just kind of chatting with them. We became friends. We see each other relatively frequently as part of the game and the film coming out and being released, but we have become very close with the Green family and with Josh and John and Ryan, the other Ryan, all these different people that were involved with the game’s creation as part of Numinous Games. So, yeah, we spent a lot of time with them, but I think also that intimacy that we had with them was part and parcel to making a documentary, you need to be able to be close with the people you are filming, especially if it is a personal matter, but it is also a by-product of the fact that we grew close to the family. The one time that we didn’t film was when we attended Joel’s funeral. That was very much as guests to be there to mourn with them, not to be filming. That was kind of again as Malika was saying before, that was our own line that we drew in terms of what we wanted to film and not film. We had consistently taken our page from the game team in terms of what we wanted to film what we wanted to include. Ryan and Amy and Josh were always focused on this idea of showing the beauty of their experience and the beauty that shines through in the midst of tragedy. That’s what we wanted our film to embody as well. It made sense for us to be there as guests because we were guests in their lives in the first place. Jack: You mention beauty in the midst of grief. I think that’s part of what makes the grieving process in this country seemingly so private is that people imagine it to be this wall of sadness when it is really a spectrum of emotion there is joy and love there, too. David: Absolutely, yeah. Neither Malika nor myself are particularly religious, but I know that in Jewish tradition when a loved one dies you sit Shiva for seven days and it’s joyful. You regale each other with stories; you eat lots of food. It is kind of this sharing and overflow of joy and talking about the loved one’s past. I think that that seems a little bit out of place within the context of a lot of what Western culture is about when it comes to grief which is since it is so difficult to talk about and when we have trouble talking about things we put them away. We put them in corners. It comes out inevitably, but it is hard to access sometimes. I think that’s something that we really, really noticed very strongly within the course of making the film and just looking at our own lives. It is something that we don’t talk about and it’s something that we have trouble dealing with, but that’s exactly what was so interesting about watching That Dragon, Cancer being made. It was really just pulling the curtains back and letting all the light shine through in terms of what this experience is like for a family and people aren’t necessarily ready to go there ever, but especially in the format of a video game. I think the main thing that surprised us wasn’t that people reacted as strongly as they did, it’s just how much it made them want to share more; how much it made them want to talk to Ryan and share their experiences with Ryan as well. It definitely belied a lack of the conversation happening. As much as people want to talk about it as much as they did, it definitely showed that there was – it opened the door and a lot came through for many people who played the game. Jack: It comes through the movie, too. The film stands as a bit of a repudiation of keeping all of that bottled up and private. There were several lines of Ryan Green talking and one that stood out was him saying, “I think we’ve been told a lie that it’s safer to escape.” And then he says something along the lines of “I see people saying that they use games as a form of escape, but what are we escaping from? This is who we are; these things make us who we are.” That’s important to acknowledge at the very least and I think you guys did a good job getting that point across. David: Thank you. Malika: Thank you. Jack: Have you two sat down and played the game? David: Over the last two years we’ve been playing various incarnations of it for sure. Have we played the very final, final build? Malika: I have not played the final one all the way through. I think there are still even some scenes that we’ve realized are in there that we haven’t yet played completely, so yeah. [Laughs] I think in both our cases we’ve been waiting for like, a two or three hour period to be able sit down and do it properly in one sitting. David: It feels important to do it properly, that’s the funny thing. We could, I think, find time to play, but there is something about the experience being crystalized into a virtual experience now that’s actually playable from end to end. I think we both want to be emotionally available for that moment. Malika: And then on top of that we are also just bizarrely intimate with a bunch of scenes in the game that we edited to put in the film. Again, I think that’s another reason we need to sit down and experience the game from beginning to end for however long it takes. Otherwise dipping in and out will feel very similar to the relationship we’ve had up until now with the game, which is editing a screen capture of it, which isn’t what it is, ultimately. Jack: You raise another good point. A lot of games in modern sensibility, the bigger the better. But that dragon cancer crystalizes it down to something you can experience in one sitting. That’s rare. Most games are a bare minimum of six hours. I did sit down and finished it and it blew me away, just eviscerated my heart. Then the movie did it all over again. I can’t imagine trying to experience the game and the movie back to back, let alone living through it. It must have been hard for you to be there, too. David: Yeah. It was hard for us. It was hard for us in a specific way of us being in this moment and being as powerless as anyone else who cared about Joel and the Green family. Watching this happen to them and becoming close to them and becoming close to Joel and having that experience of being present for these moments. Grief is hard for everybody. You don’t know the Green family personally, but you play their game and you watch the film and you are along on this journey with them in some small capacity. I mean, that’s what art is capable of doing, and it has always been capable of doing that. That’s, I think, one of the things we found so powerful about the story that we saw being told and that we wanted to tell. This is what art can do and here is this medium that’s capable of showing you this emotional experience in such a profound way but also in a way that transcends the despair that often accompanies our approach to grief in Western society. It’s not about despair; it’s about beauty; it’s about hope. That was a very special thing for us to be observing as the Green family went through what they went through. That’s something that we wanted to show. So, yeah, obviously many parts of the film were difficult for us to make and to film, but ultimately we do feel like the film depicts our mean experience of creating the film, which was watching this family triumph and persevere through very, very difficult circumstances to be able to come out the other side with a beautiful outlook on life that was simultaneously hopeful, but also very aware of the fact that this does in fact happen. This is what life is built on. Life is built on loss; life is built on grief. To be able to stand aside from that and to continue living with grace and with compassion, that was what was so exceptional to see. Malika: I think ultimately that they were able to do all of that through creating this work of art. As a result, it feels like in the film we were able to explore this even more universal idea of the role that art plays in our lives and in human society which is this way of processing and exploring and sharing some of the hardest experiences that human beings go through. I think it was kind of particularly exciting to see and be reminded that art has this – that is at least one of the key roles of art in our lives: to shed light on what we go through and what we experience and the ways in which those are shared. All human beings have in some ways similar experiences and in some ways very different experiences. I think it was very special to see that and to see that from the point of view of not the elite art world so to speak, but to see people doing that and realizing that in a very organic and ultimately in a medium that is certainly not usually associated with that. Jack: That was a really beautiful way of putting it. What are some of the important takeaways for the two of you from creating this film? Filmmaking-wise, game development-wise, life-wise, emotionally – what are your big lessons for lack of a better word? David: Gosh, I feel like everything we have just been talking about could be thrown again in answer to that question. I mean, there is obviously so much that we felt in terms of making the film. I don’t think we would be able to articulate it again as well as we might have done in answering your last few questions, but essentially just this idea of we really wanted to create this portrait of what it looks like to use art not only in an innovative way in the context of making a video game out of an emotional experience, an emotional, personal experience, but how that art can transcend its medium to be something that can really reach other people in a profound way and open up a dialogue with people who either have gone through a similar experience or who have never gone through a similar experience, but to break down the barriers that we throw up around ourselves in times of duress, in times of pain, and really transcend what happens when we are stuck within the well of grief and the well of sadness and feeling like we can’t connect to anybody. It’s true not just with a game about losing a family member to cancer; it’s true about many experiences. [Technical difficulties ensued, but David resumed several minutes later] We both as filmmakers and as human beings became close with the Green family and with the team behind That Dragon, Cancer. We’re just really amazed to be party to the creation that they made and to see this video game that they created, like any exceptional piece of art, was capable of doing so much as it went out into the world and impacted people who had either experienced grief of losing a family member or have not experienced anything of the sort. The fact that this game was able to start so many conversations with people and open doors for the Green family to experience what they went through and to be able to digest it and deal with it in such a beautiful way. That was really special for us to see. We became very close to the family and just for us to be witnesses to their evolution throughout the process of making this game; their evolution not only as game developers, but more importantly as human beings, as parents, as a couple. Ryan and Amy, just seeing their strength that grew around them while going through this experience of making the game while caring for Joel. It was really special to be a part of that and I definitely know that what we filmed what we captured with them, for us transcended simply just making a film. We know – we have gained close friends in the Greens. We really appreciated being let into their lives and we are so glad that the product that we made as it stands is able to even sit in the same room as That Dragon, Cancer because we think it is just such a beautiful experience in game form we are so glad that we could contribute even more to that experience through making a film about it. Malika: I think also one other kind of slightly more mundane takeaway in some ways was also coming to an understanding and a respect for the interactive media as a totally separate artistic medium in the same way that painting and sculpture and film and whatever separate artistic mediums. I think, specifically, that this is maybe more relevant to the film world, but in the film world there’s so many examples of filmmakers kind of experimenting with interactive work, which is really exciting, but I think there can sometimes be a bit of attitude as seeing it as an add on or extension that can be made to film. I think working on this film and working so closely with a team that was making an interactive artwork, in this case a video game, was really eye-opening in helping us realize the significant differences between the mediums, between film and interactive media, for example. And really respecting it as its own artistic medium. [Laughs] Just to give you an example, I see it as a very different – it has a very different set of narrative challenges compared to filmmaking. Coming from the film world, we were taking that seriously, but I think in the film world that’s maybe not taken quite or hasn’t been taken quite as seriously as it could be. So working on this film really opened out eyes to that. In some cases we were faced with really interesting challenges with how do we represent this interactive artwork in out film? How do you represent something where inherent to it is the concept of interacting with it, but obviously we want to begin to show people what the experience of playing it is like in a film and I think things like that really brought us face to face with the idea of these being very different mediums and figuring out how to creatively show that in film form was fascinating, a really interesting challenge. And then also simultaneously making a film about other artists who are also telling their own story and really focusing on telling the story of those artists while not exploiting the incredible storytelling that they were creating themselves too much. One thing we realized would be important was that however we made the film ultimately we hoped that it would encourage people to want play the game rather than feeling like they had seen the whole story, the whole game in the film itself. Jack: Can you go a bit more into how you overcame those challenges of displaying interactivity? Malika: There was an example, can you remember what it was? It was that one thing we figured it out in order to represent… David: I think- do you know what it is? Malika: I’ve just remembered that thing, but if you have a point- David: No- Malika: [Laughs] I think we realized it was sound design. We realized that we needed to use the sound design of interaction, like mouse clicks and so on. So we worked with a sound designer to really- and we actually worked with a sound designer who works on video games in order to develop the sound for the gaming sections of the film in a way that really emphasized that you are not just watching a screen capture, you’re watching a screen capture of someone playing the game. I think maybe that was a really crucial thing when we realized that the sound of the interaction, not just the game, was an important way of conveying that. David: There were degrees to which, at certain points of the film depending of what you were watching of the video game we wanted you to either feel like you were A.) watching the creation of the video game B.) watching a scene from the video game and C.) like in the video game. That was accomplished primarily through either easing back or pulling forward on some of the things that Malika was just talking about. In terms of are we going to immerse you in everything that the game sounds like? Are we going to make you feel like you are hearing the click of the mouse as you are moving forward in the game world? Or are you just going to be essentially watching an animated film for a moment? That was kind of a decision as to how much do we want to insert people based on where we are because everything that you are seeing in the film is not the final version of That Dragon, Cancer. That was footage of various incarnations of various scenes some of which aren’t even in That Dragon, Cancer anymore. Throughout the creation of the video game. It was neat to show the evolution of the video game itself because within the evolution of That Dragon, Cancer is also the evolution of Ryan and Amy and how they began to process the experience of transmuting their reality into this virtual space. Certain scenes that were removed from the game were removed because they didn’t really match how they felt anymore or vice versa scenes that were added because they needed to be there because they reflected more accurately and more precisely how they felt since their son passed away. Those are specifics to the game and the film so we don’t want to talk explicitly about them. It was very much trying to walk this line, which hopefully we succeeded in because we didn’t really have much precedent for walking that line, of how do we involve people in different ways as feeling that they are part of this world and giving them the perspective and permission to look at it from a detached perspective. Jack: Yeah, and you mentioned that you played through several different incarnations of That Dragon, Cancer. What was it like to play through those as the Green’s story progressed? David: Early on for about the first half of filming, there were really just one or two scenes that were available to play through. The first scene is the first scene that the team created at all, which was a scene that takes place in a hospital room that came from a real life experience of Ryan trying to calm Joel down when he was dehydrated and couldn’t stop crying. It’s the scene that they took to the Game Developers Conference which was afterwards written up in the blurb we read about That Dragon, Cancer. That was the first thing we played and that was the last thing that they ever changed. As a creative, as a filmmaker, I remember thinking it was interesting that that’s the last thing they went back and changed because that’s how I would have done it too. Like, if it was the first thing that I had ever cut and felt strongly about I would definitely wait until the end to do anything with it because I know from there sparked five thousand other ideas and ten thousand other ways to approach them, you know? So seeing the game being built was less of a gradual thing than you might expect because toward the end of our filming our focus became much more about the family’s experience than about the production of the game because their own experience echoed that. Towards the end of our filming it was much more so about caring for Joel and less about creating the game. There was sort of a pause that came over the situation. We definitely followed these various incarnations, but in terms of individual scenes changing that happened more so once we had finished. Malika: Well, I think one thing that we were lucky enough to start filming early enough to capture were a number of initial concept brainstorming sessions, both between Ryan and Josh, but especially between Ryan and Amy. I think what was really special was actually being able to see in our footage the way in which ideas that had come up in a very organic way through Ryan and Amy just sitting down at the kitchen table and sharing scripts that they had written. The moment you particularly see in the film is Amy sharing a script with Ryan that she’s written for a scene. And then kind of seeing, whether or not we included it in the film, but seeing those moments play out and seeing those ideas play out in the game. Especially in Amy’s case because she was writing with Ryan, but she wasn’t involved in creating the artwork or coding the game in any way. I think it was an especially special thing to see how Amy’s writing played out in the final game and the ways in which these ideas she was able to bring to the table really ended up being very strong in the final product. Jack: Let’s turn to Kickstarter. Why Kickstarter? Why not Go Fund Me or something else? David: Sure, well, That Dragon, Cancer did a great, successful Kickstarter campaign and it made sense to be able to tell that network of people who were so generous and donated to That Dragon, Cancer’s Kickstarter campaign that, you know, if you liked that game, then here is a film about the creation of it. So it was pretty simple and Kickstarter is a great organization and we are happy to be working with them. Jack: The money is to get a theatrical release, right? David: A theatrical release and also a community screening campaign wherein we are very, very excited about doing a situation where we could have the film and the game in one room one evening as an experience for people. You suggested that you’re not sure if you could do both at the same time, but I have a feeling that, and we have done this a couple times with folks, that doing both at the same time is a very powerful experience and we are really excited to see what that opens up for people. We did it in Toronto at the hospital for sick children; we had a screening with a bunch of medical staff, medical students, medical staff, oncology, social workers. They watched the film and they could play the game right afterwards and the reception was fantastic. We want to be able to emulate that experience as much as possible because there was something really special, not just in the sense of experiencing that story, but even just if you are interested in art and the potential for art and the different mediums of art and how it manifests itself. To be able to see the same story told in two completely different mediums, you don’t really see that frequently. We’re really excited to see what that looks like and present it to people. Jack: It sounds like it would have been really interesting to be there for that screening. David: Yeah, and that is what the Kickstarter is for, you know? To do that in as many cities as there are people who are interested in having that experience. Malika: The cool thing about the Kickstarter which you have probably already gathered by looking at it, but isn’t always typical of film Kickstarters so we want to emphasize it, but it is the kind of crowdfunding where the goal is to have people help fund everything that David just described but they can do that through essentially pre-ordering. So often Kickstarter is more about donations and so on, in the case of ours, you can actually crowdsource the distribution process, too, because you can just commit now rather than later and enable us to have then have the cash available in order to fulfill this distribution properly. In some cases we’ve actually been, in the course of the Kickstarter, we’ve already booked a whole bunch of screenings at universities and churches and gaming organizations and so on. There is actually a deal on there that which is that all the community screening booking opportunities are all at a steep discount. So anyone booking at that level, if you want to book a film screening for your community, it’s actually at a much discounted rate than usual. There are a whole bunch of ways that we are not just asking for donations, but asking people to commit to a film that they are already interested in screening. Jack: Like you said you are Kickstarting the distribution process, too. I mean, it is $25 for the film and that’s pretty reasonable. Ideally what would you like to see from this crowdsourcing campaign? David: I guess besides the obvious that we would like to see it funded. [Laughs] We are kind of interested in posing a soft challenge to the community. Will you support the idea of gaming like this becoming available to the masses? Are you behind the idea that the definition of what a game can be is not only malleable, but becoming more interesting to way more different kinds of people than would have been calling themselves gamers ten years ago, fifteen years ago. People’s grandmothers are gamers now because people have mobile phones with… with… whatever those- I forget what they’re called, let’s just call it Farmville even though I don’t know what actually is popular now. [Laughs] But this is now the reality and the gaming world is now not just defined by a teenage boy at home in his basement playing games after school. So it is a lot more exciting a lot more interesting. We are humbling putting this film before the gaming community and asking, “Are you interested in exploring how far the definition of a game goes?” We would like to be able to bring this film to people and have them see this isn’t niche, that this is as exciting as the gaming world can be in terms of artistic expression. The challenge as a crowdfunding campaign the onus and the challenge is now on the people who are passionate about their world of gaming to be able to support projects like this. Jack: Obviously right now you are very focused on the Kickstarter and if it succeeds everything that comes with success of the crowdfunding campaign. Do you have any plans for after that? Malika: [Laughs] We are also working on a short film which will hopefully be out in about a month that’s actually about a number of developers, about three different games that we think are part of this pretty revolutionary new direction that is happening in gaming. That will also be another thing to look forward to down the road. ~~~ Thank you to David and Malika for taking time out of their busy schedule to talk with me in such candid detail about their film. It was a definite pleasure. If this captured your attention, be sure to check out the Kickstarter page for ‘Thank You for Playing’ before the campaign ends in the next couple days.
  4. I had the opportunity to talk with Malika Zouhali-Worrall and David Osit, the two filmmakers behind the upcoming documentary ‘Thank You for Playing’ which follows the development of That Dragon, Cancer and the lives of the Green family as they fight with hope and love against the cancer that slowly took their son, Joel, from them too soon. I was able to see the film prior to the interview. While I can’t say a whole lot about it right now, I will say that it is a gorgeous film that brings out the joy and light that exists even in the depths of sorrow and loss. Malika and David are currently in the final days of a Kickstarter seeking funding to distribute the film. Success would mean ‘Thank You for Playing’ could be shown in theaters across the country as well as enabling the two documentarians to publicly screen the film at events that present people with the opportunity to play the game and see the movie. Check it out and if you feel like it’s a worthy project, toss a few bucks their way or share it with friends and family. ~~~ Jack Gardner: Thanks for talking with me today, I know you two are busy what with the movie coming out. I looked at your history of work and it didn’t seem like you two had worked together before, so what brought you together for Thank You for Playing? David Osit: We met at a film festival a couple years ago, a film festival called True/False Film Festival in Missouri. Malika was there with her last movie, Call Me Kuchu, and I was there with my last movie called Building Babel. It’s a film festival and just a great way to meet people and we became friends really quickly. We were collaborating on a different project when I read this brief blurb on Kill Screen Daily, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, and it had this two sentence description of That Dragon, Cancer. This was way early on when it was still under production. Ryan [Green] had only really demoed one scene of the game at the GDC at that point. I think just reading that brief blurb about That Dragon, Cancer that early on was very intriguing right away. It seemed almost like a movie synopsis, just right off the bat; this idea of somebody making a video game about their son who has terminal cancer. I think it just sparked a lot of thoughts in both of our brains about what would that game look like? What would the experience be of making a game like that? I think we both wanted to know more and wanted to follow up the story so we went out for just a four day shoot with the Green family in Colorado, we are based in New York, and that was really the beginning of the film. A lot of the footage from that first shoot is in the movie and that was the beginning of approximately a year and a half of filming. Jack: That kinda blows my mind. How did you- how did you approach them with the idea of making something like this in the first place? David: Yeah, well, early on I just found Ryan’s contact info. I think by that point he had already gotten a little bit of press, certainly not as much as he has been getting since the game has come out – since everyone has been talking about it, since the release. I just said to him, you know, hey we are documentary filmmakers we’re really interested in the story of what you’re doing. It sounds great. It sounds like you are kind of doing something very similar to what we like in storytelling; which is thinking about what is the personal story of what you are trying to say. We both love autobiographical documentaries - there are some of them that are exceptional. And to us, we didn’t know how true this would eventually be, but we realized that it wasn’t terribly dissimilar from making a documentary - what the team behind That Dragon, Cancer was doing. They were essentially pointing the camera into their own lives only in video game form. We were really intrigued by that and I thought that what would be super fascinating was to add a layer of documentation to that and make a film about the creation of this documentary but in a different medium than we are used to. I think they were really receptive to that because they were already in the process of documenting their own lives just in video game form. So, we talked for about an hour and a half the bunch of us. Over Skype we talked about our favorite movies and what we were interested in doing. Ryan and Amy and Josh, the co-creator of That Dragon, Cancer, were just always so open and incredibly generous with their time to let us film in the first place and so trusting to let us film in the first place. We just really appreciated how much they were willing to give us of their time and their energy. I’d like to think that they also really appreciate what we were able to create out of our time with them. Jack: Oh yeah, I had the pleasure of watching it last night. One of your PR people sent it to me. There is a part near the end where Ryan is talking about trying to frantically grab all this footage as they can because time is limited and time is short. I imagine they are super grateful for having you guys around just for all the extra footage you captured of Joel and their family together. David: Yeah. Absolutely. Malika Zouhali-Worrall: I think in, you know like David was saying, in many ways we were an extension of the same effort they were involved in. So, I think they really saw everything we were involved in as part of the same mission. Really part of this process of going against these taboos that really seem to exist around death and illness in our societies. They are just kind of not really talked about so openly. They are working on the game and blogging about their experience and allowing us to film with them really was part of the same process and the same goal. There was something else I was going to say about that… Oh yeah, and as a part of that process they actually never asked us to stop filming. They kind of allowed us to continue filming and as you can see in the film they really allowed us to continue filming at times that, um, to be honest both of us in some ways felt very uncomfortable with our presence- like, with the fact that we were in some situations with our cameras because they felt so intimate and private. On the other hand we recognized, by that point we had been filming with them for more than a year and we recognized that we had committed to complete this process and that we owed it to them in some ways and their story with Joel to actually keep filming in order to really document the aspects of the process and experience that they believed were important to be included even though typically those might be moments when one would turn off the camera. I think that was a very difficult process for the both of us, but we realized it was very necessary and in many ways made us really think about what our role and responsibilities were as documentary filmmakers. Jack: I’ve played both the game and now I’ve seen the movie. In your Kickstarter video you guys talk about the two being complementary and they really do complement each other very well. I played the game first and one of the big questions that was of the questions was how. How could a game like this be made? That’s such a big question at least to me because most people don’t go through such a candid grieving process. David: I think the thing, though, is that people al do go through a grieving process like it, but it is so hard to go through it with a degree of consciousness, you know? To grieve not just consciously, but publicly in a certain way. And that is something that we were both really taken by which is that this- what we were watching happen over the course of our filming was that there was kind of this window into their grief through the process of making this video game. That window was there, we were just there to film it. That window was brought on by Ryan and Amy and their whole production team behind That Dragon, Cancer getting together and saying how can we paint our grief in a way that is not just a portrait of grief or a por6trait of caring for a child, but in a way that is actually experienceable by other people and in a medium that has not ever been known for such an interaction for such a window into empathy. So that I think is what was very interesting for us. What they went through is what many, many people go through, you know? Like thousands and millions of people go through this. But the way in which they dealt with it and the poise in which they dealt with it and the invitation that they provided for other people to play through that experience, to be a part of that experience in a way; that was what was really special and profound. Jack: Where do you two come in, gaming-wise? Are either of you gamers? Do either of you have a lot of experience with the general culture? David: Yeah, we are now. We’re definitely into it now, in part because we’ve seen how exciting the world is in terms of its artistic innovation and how many exciting things are happening within the space of gaming – especially independent gaming. I think, I mean, we both played Mario for sure as kids. I came in with a little bit more knowledge and my friend sent m me this article on Killscreen and I heard a little bit about independent gaming prior to this. I’d watched Indie Game: The Movie and things like that. But it has definitely been an exciting world to learn more about and I think being aware of the artistic side- honestly the parallels between indie film making, indie documentary filmmaking, and indie game development are pretty amazing to us. It didn’t take us long to realize that it’s very similar [laughs] like, you have to freelance on your own time and work on your passion projects whenever you have the time to. It takes X amount of money and you gotta crowd fund occasionally. You have to get distribution or get people to really back your vision and believe in you. You have to hire a team of people who want to work with you, you know? It’s not terribly dissimilar. Also in a sense that it has only been, at least as far as we can tell, within the last decade or so that independent gaming has been able to flourish because technology like Twine and Unity has actually made it viable to create games on a smaller budget on a smaller scale. And that’s also true within documentary film. Twenty years ago you pretty much needed to rely on having film and that’s expensive. Now with digital cameras within the last ten, fifteen years and being able to edit on your laptop these are all innovations that have enabled art to trickle down to us plebeians in a certain sense and that has been pretty cool to see. Malika: I think one thing that has been particularly exciting in the gaming world is that while film was a lot more expensive and laborious to work with before digital media […] there still have always been artful, independent filmmakers for decades, right? But in gaming it is really interesting how this technological change really does seem to have revolutionized developers’ access to the creation process of games to the extent that now people have access to making games who just previously weren’t a part of gaming culture. The result is games like That Dragon, Cancer as well as Depression Quest or Neverending Nightmares or Dys4ia or, you know there are so many within the last five or ten years, games and developers that are emerging that there just wasn’t room for before. I think one thing we both found particularly exciting was this idea that that has created room not only to explore new topics and areas and concepts and approaches to video games, but also to let more people in and create more diversity in the gaming world in general. It really feels like a turning point for the industry. Jack: I 100% agree. I think it is also super important that the technology to distribute games like this is in place now, whereas ten years ago where were you going to put an indie game if you didn’t go through a big name publisher? Malika: Of course, for us that means that Thank You for Playing - while we are focused on one particular game and one particular team - it feels like Thank You for Playing is about this larger shift that is happening in this industry and this approach that most people in the mainstream entertainment world just didn’t think was possible in video games, but really is starting to happen now. Jack: I think the documentary and the game work together in interesting ways. Thank You for Playing is a good entry point for people who aren’t as involved in the game industry whereas people are already involved can take that with them to the documentary. It’s kind of like two worlds overlapping. There’s nothing else really like it. Malika: Yeah, on top of that there was also an interesting process working on the film, which neither David nor I had ever actually experienced, which is that we were in the process of creating this documentary work that was also about Ryan and Amy and Josh and their team being simultaneously in the process of creating their documentary work in video game form. The result was really interesting because it meant we were all going through these creative processes at different points and all involved in documenting slightly different things, but then there were interesting ways in which those ended up overlapping. So there were points at which we were actually kind of mutually having conversations about how we were going to be representing certain aspects of the experience. Or even to a certain extent collaborating on some things - even though we all worked on the film and the game with the understanding that they were independent of each other and each team had independent control over each thing of course. But there were some moments, like we shot a scene of the family by a lake feeding the ducks. We shot that, I think, slightly before the game team had fully started to build their lake scene which you also see in the film. So, one day they gave us a call while we were back in New York between shoots and asked if we could share the audio from that footage with them so they could use it as temp audio while they were building that scene in the game. There are a whole bunch of examples like that of moments when either we documented something and shared it with them in order to help them create their game or they documented something in the game and shared it with us in order to help us think about how to kind of show that in real life and show how that was part of their real life as well as in the game world. Jack: How often were you involved in the Green’s lives? It seems like over a year and a half or so you got to know them pretty well. David: Yeah, yeah, I think over a year and a half was essentially the duration. We did about six or seven shoots over that period of time and each shoot was probably a week or so long. When we weren’t filming we were in close touch, obviously, just kind of chatting with them. We became friends. We see each other relatively frequently as part of the game and the film coming out and being released, but we have become very close with the Green family and with Josh and John and Ryan, the other Ryan, all these different people that were involved with the game’s creation as part of Numinous Games. So, yeah, we spent a lot of time with them, but I think also that intimacy that we had with them was part and parcel to making a documentary, you need to be able to be close with the people you are filming, especially if it is a personal matter, but it is also a by-product of the fact that we grew close to the family. The one time that we didn’t film was when we attended Joel’s funeral. That was very much as guests to be there to mourn with them, not to be filming. That was kind of again as Malika was saying before, that was our own line that we drew in terms of what we wanted to film and not film. We had consistently taken our page from the game team in terms of what we wanted to film what we wanted to include. Ryan and Amy and Josh were always focused on this idea of showing the beauty of their experience and the beauty that shines through in the midst of tragedy. That’s what we wanted our film to embody as well. It made sense for us to be there as guests because we were guests in their lives in the first place. Jack: You mention beauty in the midst of grief. I think that’s part of what makes the grieving process in this country seemingly so private is that people imagine it to be this wall of sadness when it is really a spectrum of emotion there is joy and love there, too. David: Absolutely, yeah. Neither Malika nor myself are particularly religious, but I know that in Jewish tradition when a loved one dies you sit Shiva for seven days and it’s joyful. You regale each other with stories; you eat lots of food. It is kind of this sharing and overflow of joy and talking about the loved one’s past. I think that that seems a little bit out of place within the context of a lot of what Western culture is about when it comes to grief which is since it is so difficult to talk about and when we have trouble talking about things we put them away. We put them in corners. It comes out inevitably, but it is hard to access sometimes. I think that’s something that we really, really noticed very strongly within the course of making the film and just looking at our own lives. It is something that we don’t talk about and it’s something that we have trouble dealing with, but that’s exactly what was so interesting about watching That Dragon, Cancer being made. It was really just pulling the curtains back and letting all the light shine through in terms of what this experience is like for a family and people aren’t necessarily ready to go there ever, but especially in the format of a video game. I think the main thing that surprised us wasn’t that people reacted as strongly as they did, it’s just how much it made them want to share more; how much it made them want to talk to Ryan and share their experiences with Ryan as well. It definitely belied a lack of the conversation happening. As much as people want to talk about it as much as they did, it definitely showed that there was – it opened the door and a lot came through for many people who played the game. Jack: It comes through the movie, too. The film stands as a bit of a repudiation of keeping all of that bottled up and private. There were several lines of Ryan Green talking and one that stood out was him saying, “I think we’ve been told a lie that it’s safer to escape.” And then he says something along the lines of “I see people saying that they use games as a form of escape, but what are we escaping from? This is who we are; these things make us who we are.” That’s important to acknowledge at the very least and I think you guys did a good job getting that point across. David: Thank you. Malika: Thank you. Jack: Have you two sat down and played the game? David: Over the last two years we’ve been playing various incarnations of it for sure. Have we played the very final, final build? Malika: I have not played the final one all the way through. I think there are still even some scenes that we’ve realized are in there that we haven’t yet played completely, so yeah. [Laughs] I think in both our cases we’ve been waiting for like, a two or three hour period to be able sit down and do it properly in one sitting. David: It feels important to do it properly, that’s the funny thing. We could, I think, find time to play, but there is something about the experience being crystalized into a virtual experience now that’s actually playable from end to end. I think we both want to be emotionally available for that moment. Malika: And then on top of that we are also just bizarrely intimate with a bunch of scenes in the game that we edited to put in the film. Again, I think that’s another reason we need to sit down and experience the game from beginning to end for however long it takes. Otherwise dipping in and out will feel very similar to the relationship we’ve had up until now with the game, which is editing a screen capture of it, which isn’t what it is, ultimately. Jack: You raise another good point. A lot of games in modern sensibility, the bigger the better. But that dragon cancer crystalizes it down to something you can experience in one sitting. That’s rare. Most games are a bare minimum of six hours. I did sit down and finished it and it blew me away, just eviscerated my heart. Then the movie did it all over again. I can’t imagine trying to experience the game and the movie back to back, let alone living through it. It must have been hard for you to be there, too. David: Yeah. It was hard for us. It was hard for us in a specific way of us being in this moment and being as powerless as anyone else who cared about Joel and the Green family. Watching this happen to them and becoming close to them and becoming close to Joel and having that experience of being present for these moments. Grief is hard for everybody. You don’t know the Green family personally, but you play their game and you watch the film and you are along on this journey with them in some small capacity. I mean, that’s what art is capable of doing, and it has always been capable of doing that. That’s, I think, one of the things we found so powerful about the story that we saw being told and that we wanted to tell. This is what art can do and here is this medium that’s capable of showing you this emotional experience in such a profound way but also in a way that transcends the despair that often accompanies our approach to grief in Western society. It’s not about despair; it’s about beauty; it’s about hope. That was a very special thing for us to be observing as the Green family went through what they went through. That’s something that we wanted to show. So, yeah, obviously many parts of the film were difficult for us to make and to film, but ultimately we do feel like the film depicts our mean experience of creating the film, which was watching this family triumph and persevere through very, very difficult circumstances to be able to come out the other side with a beautiful outlook on life that was simultaneously hopeful, but also very aware of the fact that this does in fact happen. This is what life is built on. Life is built on loss; life is built on grief. To be able to stand aside from that and to continue living with grace and with compassion, that was what was so exceptional to see. Malika: I think ultimately that they were able to do all of that through creating this work of art. As a result, it feels like in the film we were able to explore this even more universal idea of the role that art plays in our lives and in human society which is this way of processing and exploring and sharing some of the hardest experiences that human beings go through. I think it was kind of particularly exciting to see and be reminded that art has this – that is at least one of the key roles of art in our lives: to shed light on what we go through and what we experience and the ways in which those are shared. All human beings have in some ways similar experiences and in some ways very different experiences. I think it was very special to see that and to see that from the point of view of not the elite art world so to speak, but to see people doing that and realizing that in a very organic and ultimately in a medium that is certainly not usually associated with that. Jack: That was a really beautiful way of putting it. What are some of the important takeaways for the two of you from creating this film? Filmmaking-wise, game development-wise, life-wise, emotionally – what are your big lessons for lack of a better word? David: Gosh, I feel like everything we have just been talking about could be thrown again in answer to that question. I mean, there is obviously so much that we felt in terms of making the film. I don’t think we would be able to articulate it again as well as we might have done in answering your last few questions, but essentially just this idea of we really wanted to create this portrait of what it looks like to use art not only in an innovative way in the context of making a video game out of an emotional experience, an emotional, personal experience, but how that art can transcend its medium to be something that can really reach other people in a profound way and open up a dialogue with people who either have gone through a similar experience or who have never gone through a similar experience, but to break down the barriers that we throw up around ourselves in times of duress, in times of pain, and really transcend what happens when we are stuck within the well of grief and the well of sadness and feeling like we can’t connect to anybody. It’s true not just with a game about losing a family member to cancer; it’s true about many experiences. [Technical difficulties ensued, but David resumed several minutes later] We both as filmmakers and as human beings became close with the Green family and with the team behind That Dragon, Cancer. We’re just really amazed to be party to the creation that they made and to see this video game that they created, like any exceptional piece of art, was capable of doing so much as it went out into the world and impacted people who had either experienced grief of losing a family member or have not experienced anything of the sort. The fact that this game was able to start so many conversations with people and open doors for the Green family to experience what they went through and to be able to digest it and deal with it in such a beautiful way. That was really special for us to see. We became very close to the family and just for us to be witnesses to their evolution throughout the process of making this game; their evolution not only as game developers, but more importantly as human beings, as parents, as a couple. Ryan and Amy, just seeing their strength that grew around them while going through this experience of making the game while caring for Joel. It was really special to be a part of that and I definitely know that what we filmed what we captured with them, for us transcended simply just making a film. We know – we have gained close friends in the Greens. We really appreciated being let into their lives and we are so glad that the product that we made as it stands is able to even sit in the same room as That Dragon, Cancer because we think it is just such a beautiful experience in game form we are so glad that we could contribute even more to that experience through making a film about it. Malika: I think also one other kind of slightly more mundane takeaway in some ways was also coming to an understanding and a respect for the interactive media as a totally separate artistic medium in the same way that painting and sculpture and film and whatever separate artistic mediums. I think, specifically, that this is maybe more relevant to the film world, but in the film world there’s so many examples of filmmakers kind of experimenting with interactive work, which is really exciting, but I think there can sometimes be a bit of attitude as seeing it as an add on or extension that can be made to film. I think working on this film and working so closely with a team that was making an interactive artwork, in this case a video game, was really eye-opening in helping us realize the significant differences between the mediums, between film and interactive media, for example. And really respecting it as its own artistic medium. [Laughs] Just to give you an example, I see it as a very different – it has a very different set of narrative challenges compared to filmmaking. Coming from the film world, we were taking that seriously, but I think in the film world that’s maybe not taken quite or hasn’t been taken quite as seriously as it could be. So working on this film really opened out eyes to that. In some cases we were faced with really interesting challenges with how do we represent this interactive artwork in out film? How do you represent something where inherent to it is the concept of interacting with it, but obviously we want to begin to show people what the experience of playing it is like in a film and I think things like that really brought us face to face with the idea of these being very different mediums and figuring out how to creatively show that in film form was fascinating, a really interesting challenge. And then also simultaneously making a film about other artists who are also telling their own story and really focusing on telling the story of those artists while not exploiting the incredible storytelling that they were creating themselves too much. One thing we realized would be important was that however we made the film ultimately we hoped that it would encourage people to want play the game rather than feeling like they had seen the whole story, the whole game in the film itself. Jack: Can you go a bit more into how you overcame those challenges of displaying interactivity? Malika: There was an example, can you remember what it was? It was that one thing we figured it out in order to represent… David: I think- do you know what it is? Malika: I’ve just remembered that thing, but if you have a point- David: No- Malika: [Laughs] I think we realized it was sound design. We realized that we needed to use the sound design of interaction, like mouse clicks and so on. So we worked with a sound designer to really- and we actually worked with a sound designer who works on video games in order to develop the sound for the gaming sections of the film in a way that really emphasized that you are not just watching a screen capture, you’re watching a screen capture of someone playing the game. I think maybe that was a really crucial thing when we realized that the sound of the interaction, not just the game, was an important way of conveying that. David: There were degrees to which, at certain points of the film depending of what you were watching of the video game we wanted you to either feel like you were A.) watching the creation of the video game B.) watching a scene from the video game and C.) like in the video game. That was accomplished primarily through either easing back or pulling forward on some of the things that Malika was just talking about. In terms of are we going to immerse you in everything that the game sounds like? Are we going to make you feel like you are hearing the click of the mouse as you are moving forward in the game world? Or are you just going to be essentially watching an animated film for a moment? That was kind of a decision as to how much do we want to insert people based on where we are because everything that you are seeing in the film is not the final version of That Dragon, Cancer. That was footage of various incarnations of various scenes some of which aren’t even in That Dragon, Cancer anymore. Throughout the creation of the video game. It was neat to show the evolution of the video game itself because within the evolution of That Dragon, Cancer is also the evolution of Ryan and Amy and how they began to process the experience of transmuting their reality into this virtual space. Certain scenes that were removed from the game were removed because they didn’t really match how they felt anymore or vice versa scenes that were added because they needed to be there because they reflected more accurately and more precisely how they felt since their son passed away. Those are specifics to the game and the film so we don’t want to talk explicitly about them. It was very much trying to walk this line, which hopefully we succeeded in because we didn’t really have much precedent for walking that line, of how do we involve people in different ways as feeling that they are part of this world and giving them the perspective and permission to look at it from a detached perspective. Jack: Yeah, and you mentioned that you played through several different incarnations of That Dragon, Cancer. What was it like to play through those as the Green’s story progressed? David: Early on for about the first half of filming, there were really just one or two scenes that were available to play through. The first scene is the first scene that the team created at all, which was a scene that takes place in a hospital room that came from a real life experience of Ryan trying to calm Joel down when he was dehydrated and couldn’t stop crying. It’s the scene that they took to the Game Developers Conference which was afterwards written up in the blurb we read about That Dragon, Cancer. That was the first thing we played and that was the last thing that they ever changed. As a creative, as a filmmaker, I remember thinking it was interesting that that’s the last thing they went back and changed because that’s how I would have done it too. Like, if it was the first thing that I had ever cut and felt strongly about I would definitely wait until the end to do anything with it because I know from there sparked five thousand other ideas and ten thousand other ways to approach them, you know? So seeing the game being built was less of a gradual thing than you might expect because toward the end of our filming our focus became much more about the family’s experience than about the production of the game because their own experience echoed that. Towards the end of our filming it was much more so about caring for Joel and less about creating the game. There was sort of a pause that came over the situation. We definitely followed these various incarnations, but in terms of individual scenes changing that happened more so once we had finished. Malika: Well, I think one thing that we were lucky enough to start filming early enough to capture were a number of initial concept brainstorming sessions, both between Ryan and Josh, but especially between Ryan and Amy. I think what was really special was actually being able to see in our footage the way in which ideas that had come up in a very organic way through Ryan and Amy just sitting down at the kitchen table and sharing scripts that they had written. The moment you particularly see in the film is Amy sharing a script with Ryan that she’s written for a scene. And then kind of seeing, whether or not we included it in the film, but seeing those moments play out and seeing those ideas play out in the game. Especially in Amy’s case because she was writing with Ryan, but she wasn’t involved in creating the artwork or coding the game in any way. I think it was an especially special thing to see how Amy’s writing played out in the final game and the ways in which these ideas she was able to bring to the table really ended up being very strong in the final product. Jack: Let’s turn to Kickstarter. Why Kickstarter? Why not Go Fund Me or something else? David: Sure, well, That Dragon, Cancer did a great, successful Kickstarter campaign and it made sense to be able to tell that network of people who were so generous and donated to That Dragon, Cancer’s Kickstarter campaign that, you know, if you liked that game, then here is a film about the creation of it. So it was pretty simple and Kickstarter is a great organization and we are happy to be working with them. Jack: The money is to get a theatrical release, right? David: A theatrical release and also a community screening campaign wherein we are very, very excited about doing a situation where we could have the film and the game in one room one evening as an experience for people. You suggested that you’re not sure if you could do both at the same time, but I have a feeling that, and we have done this a couple times with folks, that doing both at the same time is a very powerful experience and we are really excited to see what that opens up for people. We did it in Toronto at the hospital for sick children; we had a screening with a bunch of medical staff, medical students, medical staff, oncology, social workers. They watched the film and they could play the game right afterwards and the reception was fantastic. We want to be able to emulate that experience as much as possible because there was something really special, not just in the sense of experiencing that story, but even just if you are interested in art and the potential for art and the different mediums of art and how it manifests itself. To be able to see the same story told in two completely different mediums, you don’t really see that frequently. We’re really excited to see what that looks like and present it to people. Jack: It sounds like it would have been really interesting to be there for that screening. David: Yeah, and that is what the Kickstarter is for, you know? To do that in as many cities as there are people who are interested in having that experience. Malika: The cool thing about the Kickstarter which you have probably already gathered by looking at it, but isn’t always typical of film Kickstarters so we want to emphasize it, but it is the kind of crowdfunding where the goal is to have people help fund everything that David just described but they can do that through essentially pre-ordering. So often Kickstarter is more about donations and so on, in the case of ours, you can actually crowdsource the distribution process, too, because you can just commit now rather than later and enable us to have then have the cash available in order to fulfill this distribution properly. In some cases we’ve actually been, in the course of the Kickstarter, we’ve already booked a whole bunch of screenings at universities and churches and gaming organizations and so on. There is actually a deal on there that which is that all the community screening booking opportunities are all at a steep discount. So anyone booking at that level, if you want to book a film screening for your community, it’s actually at a much discounted rate than usual. There are a whole bunch of ways that we are not just asking for donations, but asking people to commit to a film that they are already interested in screening. Jack: Like you said you are Kickstarting the distribution process, too. I mean, it is $25 for the film and that’s pretty reasonable. Ideally what would you like to see from this crowdsourcing campaign? David: I guess besides the obvious that we would like to see it funded. [Laughs] We are kind of interested in posing a soft challenge to the community. Will you support the idea of gaming like this becoming available to the masses? Are you behind the idea that the definition of what a game can be is not only malleable, but becoming more interesting to way more different kinds of people than would have been calling themselves gamers ten years ago, fifteen years ago. People’s grandmothers are gamers now because people have mobile phones with… with… whatever those- I forget what they’re called, let’s just call it Farmville even though I don’t know what actually is popular now. [Laughs] But this is now the reality and the gaming world is now not just defined by a teenage boy at home in his basement playing games after school. So it is a lot more exciting a lot more interesting. We are humbling putting this film before the gaming community and asking, “Are you interested in exploring how far the definition of a game goes?” We would like to be able to bring this film to people and have them see this isn’t niche, that this is as exciting as the gaming world can be in terms of artistic expression. The challenge as a crowdfunding campaign the onus and the challenge is now on the people who are passionate about their world of gaming to be able to support projects like this. Jack: Obviously right now you are very focused on the Kickstarter and if it succeeds everything that comes with success of the crowdfunding campaign. Do you have any plans for after that? Malika: [Laughs] We are also working on a short film which will hopefully be out in about a month that’s actually about a number of developers, about three different games that we think are part of this pretty revolutionary new direction that is happening in gaming. That will also be another thing to look forward to down the road. ~~~ Thank you to David and Malika for taking time out of their busy schedule to talk with me in such candid detail about their film. It was a definite pleasure. If this captured your attention, be sure to check out the Kickstarter page for ‘Thank You for Playing’ before the campaign ends in the next couple days. View full article