Minding the time in a nondescript cafe a few minutes away from the IFC Center, “Indie Game: The Movie” co-directors Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky and composer/indie rocker Jim Guthrie share an easygoing parlance that showcases the spirit of effective collaboration. Of course, one of the notable ways to spot excellent craftsmanship is seeing something difficult made to look easy. “Indie Game: The Movie” manages that trick, and we fell in love with the film at Sundance, calling it “the most mature look at video games yet, and a fine documentary in its own right,” that served “as a powerful document for why games deserve consideration as a legitimate artform.” High praise for a documentary that was but a seed on Kickstarter almost two years ago.
“What we thought would take a year, probably six months,” says Swirsky, adding “Basically our thinking as, we own all the equipment, we can kind of do everything our selves, all we really need is kind of enough money for food, gas, lodging, and the will to say no to our corporate commercial gigs, hit the road, get the footage, take it back and make a movie. And it just kind of evolved from there and just kind-of kept on going.” Both directors have a background in commercials, with Pajot joining CBC straight out of journalism school, moving into news, lifestyle programming and finally documentary, where she crossed paths with Swirsky. The two joined forces, doing commercial and corporate work, selling their projects back to CBC.
“If you were a big company in Canada that wanted a documentary for hire, that’s what we did, we made those,” says Pajot. “We never intended to become commercial producers, but that’s just how we were able to get better. We produced a lot of content, that’s ten years of work and now…we’re making a film.”
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Adds Swirsky, “You start off as a filmmaker and you find a career doing commercial stuff, but all throughout we were kind of doing fun little things on the side, little narrative, little documentaries on the side, and we knew at some point we wanted to do something bigger.” Pajot chips in, “We just didn’t know when.”
When the story presented itself, Swirsky and Pajot knew going in what they wanted to avoid. Having crafted videos largely for an internet audience, the duo knew how to do slick and stylish. With “Indie Game: The Movie,” the key was to avoid stylizing the human story at the film’s core. “We were really hesitant of falling into video game tropes in this movie — we didn’t want to start it off with like ‘Press Start’ or have weird sound effects,” says Swirsky. “We wanted it to be kind of reminiscent of video games, but have a more contemporary, organic and handcrafted feel. We wanted it to be competent but not slick.”
The initial approach would have involved a mosaic of game creators and their journeys. Says Swirsky, “The original vision of the movie was to have this narrative arc of someone making and releasing a game and in the end we told that through four people and three games, but through this narrative arc we always wanted to bring in other voices, have these discussion pieces and kind of make this hybrid of narrative film and an essay film.” The directors eventually chose to focus on the sagas of programmers/creators Tommy Refenes (Super Meat Boy) and Phil Fish (FEZ) — as a result, “Black Wednesday” took place, with Pajot and Swirsky making a dreaded series of calls to other subjects to let them know their content would be left on the cutting room floor.
But not for long. With the longest cut clocking in at three hours, the DVD will have a plethora of supplements. Pajot hopes to include 80 minutes of new content, with new original music by Guthrie, who the directors came across playing Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, an enormously successful iOS game with music by the composer. Once on board, Guthrie came through with an original score in five weeks, with more music left over for the additional scenes. “I was really hoping I could speak to the emotional side of it, kind of be the emotional wallpaper in the room,” says the musician.
What’s next for Pajot and Swirsky? With Scott Rudin and HBO picking up “Indie Game” at Sundance and hoping to develop it into a series, the directors may have something to do with the project going forward, but for now, they are readying the DVD/Blu-ray release and hoping to get started on a new doc come early 2013. What will it be about? The two are keeping mum, but looking at their current output, it is certainly a project we will keep a close eye and look forward to.
“Indie Game: The Movie” is available on digital outlets today. Click here for more details.