The story of three individuals who have built their lives around the role-playing game, “Dungeons And Dragons,” director Keven McAlester’s documentary “The Dungeon Masters” is being released on Amazon VOD. The film, which premiered at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival, follows its protagonists as their baroque fantasies clash with mundane real lives and they find it increasingly difficult to reconcile their fear, loneliness, and disappointment with the game’s imaginary triumphs.
Keven McAlester on his background and how the idea for “The Dungeon Masters” evolved…
“The Dungeon Masters” is my second feature; my first, “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” was about the cult rock musician Roky Erickson and his mother, Evelyn.
The producers of “The Dungeon Masters” and I are longtime friends, and they had all played D&D to varying degrees throughout their lives. I had never played before. As a very young kid, I was too uncool for D&D. My dad is professor of geology, so I was always doing things like bird-watching, collecting insects, labeling wood samples. Stuff like this did not, you might imagine, attract many companions. My brother played it, though, and it’s obviously been one of the major cultural touchstones of the past what, 35 years. Which is nice, but what really appealed to us about making the film was the idea of these great storytellers, who really gain no recognition for it outside this community, and the intersection between their fantasy lives and their real ones. And once we interviewed Scott, Richard, and Elizabeth, we knew that they would make the film great.
McAlester bringing his idea to the big screen, and what he hopes audiences will get from it…
“You’re Gonna Miss Me” was very much a shoot-now, edit-later affair. It ended up working out – mostly thanks to the experience of my (excellent) cinematographer, Lee Daniel – but it’s no way to make good movies consistently; the experience made me an ardent believer in Werner Herzog’s assertion that cinema verite “confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones,” that without style and imagination, you create “a superficial truth, the truth of accountants.” With this film, I wanted to concentrate on making a coherent artistic statement from start to finish, really triangulate the narratives and keep the visual approach and style consistent. So we’d shoot for a month, edit for three, then shoot some more, and so on. It’s an infinitely better way to do things.
Despite its title, it’s not a film about games or gaming, per se; it’s about three fascinating people.
Can he point to any influences? And going forward?
Yeah: anything by Mike Leigh. He’s brilliant at taking small moments in people’s lives and investing them with meaning and emotion. With “The Dungeon Masters,” we knew that some of the film would be whimsical, because of the nature of gaming, and because of the subjects’ senses of humor. But when we got into their real lives, we wanted to move beyond that into the more universal emotions in each of their stories: the creative struggle, the difficulties and pleasures of romantic relationships, the search for someplace where you feel like you belong. And because those moments are, for all of us, inevitably less grandiose than we may have imagined or played out in our heads, I was always thinking of the masterful tone of something like “Secrets and Lies” or “Life is Sweet.”
After I completed “The Dungeon Masters,” I got commissioned to create a video installation for the Akademie Der Kunste in Berlin; I produced a documentary for HBO, “The Fence,” that just premiered at Sundance; and I’ve got two feature scripts and a couple of docs in development. As an aside, if none of those pans out, I would probably choose gaming over bird-watching this time around.