Actor-Writer-Gamer Mark Krupa on The Wild Hunt, LARPs, and Role-Play

Intense. Mark Anthony Krupa is intense in The Wild Hunt which he wrote and co-stars in, but he’s also equally intense over the phone. I spent 68 minutes talking with Krupa back on May 22 about The Wild Hunt, LARPing, and role-play and got him to indulge me with a beginning cry of “Mjolnir, Hammer of Thunder!” both before and after the mini-marathon interview. If you haven’t seen The Wild Hunt, you really should. We both tried to avoid any spoilers in the interview and you can read my review of The Wild Hunt here.

Krupa’s Start in Role-Playing Games

Actor Mark Krupa dressed in fur and leather wielding Mjolnir hammer in the Wild Hunt as Bjorn Magnusson

Krupa as Bjorn Magnusson

CG: Can you tell me more about your Dungeons & Dragons games?
MAK: Yeah, well the director Alexandre Franchi actually played Dungeons & Dragons way back when we were in school, when we were 16-17. So that’s how we kind of met. I played Dungeons & Dragons with friends and we kind of kept in contact and we ended up realizing that we used Dungeons & Dragons a lot as an escape, but we had wild games and our GM was like super. It really stuck with us throughout the majority of our lives and we still play D&D actually. He does. I have less time now so I’m doing this fiction stuff, which kind of sucks a lot of time, but we really started there. Really it waited like a seed, like the more I started getting into fiction, the more I realized, you know, it would be really nice to create this story where fantasy and reality can collide, because I realized how much we would use D&D as an escape and to have super fun as well, but I just wanted to create, kind of a Lord of the Rings/Lord of the Flies story and see where that could go, so when I came upon this great location at Bicolline, although I played Dungeons & Dragons a lot of my life and other role-playing games, I never was much into LARPing because being an actor, you tend to act enough. You never get that out of your system, once you go to many meaningless auditions and – thank God! – a couple of meaningful ones. But when I came across this location in Quebec which is really wild, this Bicolline, in the beautiful Mauricie mountains about two and a half hours north of Montreal, I thought “Oooh, this could be a crazy location.” When I really got into it, met the organizer, we talked to them, I had some friends. I really thought that this would be a great location in terms of production value as well, so things started piecing together and then that’s sort of how the idea of The Wild Hunt was born.
CG: But going back to your youth, so what other role-playing games did you try?
MAK: We played I.C.E. a lot, we played Battletech a little bit, a bit of kind of Jedi stuff, but D&D really like the old edition, like the old Monster Manuals with the bad drawings, like Monster Manual 1!
CG: So the very original ones.
MAK: Yeah, yeah, for sure! And it was just good, I really like the role-playing. I’m not a video game guy. I’m not kind of an avatar first person shooter guy, but you know, meeting in a moldy basement was very charming and kind of just a good way of hashing out mythology and fucking having fun in a way that was not always-, in those days they used to smoke in bars, you know?
CG: Were you more of a player than a GM?
MAK: Um, I did both. I really had, we had a great GM who was, he studied Political Science and he had great plots. We loved that. And he was excellent! He was also a master wargamer. So he would really get all the World War II stuff. So he would integrate all this panzer and World War II in to sort of enhance the D&D system and make for incredible battle systems. Like we got into heavy battle systems as well, but it would always be about role-playing too. He was very very strict. I kind of liked that, it was kind of like a discipline thing of, almost like a bit of a mini-concert would really make for cultivating, I find, imagination and having fun. So basically we were a D&D type crowd, but he would, for example, take a system called Hero, you know? 3 dice 6?
CG: Yes, oh yeah.
MAK: So he would mix D&D with that, the Hero System as well, so that was kind of interesting. So he would really always keep it fresh. Of course, I did as GM as well. I was a bit less organized and more into the role-playing stuff, but I also did the one where, I really enjoyed the campaign, I’m trying to remember one of the worlds in D&D where it was kind of a desert.
CG: Oh, Dark Sun.
MAK: Dark Sun, yes yes yes Dark Sun! I used to GM Dark Sun quite a bit. I thought that was really innovative because it’s kind of like the technology was more raw and that kind of stuff, but I used to GM that. One of the later ones that I DM’ed and of course I did the original D&D stuff as well. But mainly I was the player.
CG: When is the last time that you’ve actually played an RPG then?
MAK: Two weeks ago? No, I would say… two months ago to be fair and it would be D&D.
CG: Now have you played with Alex?
MAK: Yes! A lot, yes! Up until two months ago. Alex is still playing. I’m not now, because I’m so many fucking fiction stuff-doing that I’m kind of like really trying to get as many projects off the ground. It’s really time-sucking. I also find that it puts a lot of my creative energy there and so it’s just really a question about time economy, I think.

The Value of Role-Playing

CG: But you still after all these years and you’ve been in all these movies and other things, you still find some value in role-playing?
MAK: One hundred percent! I am a D&D geek, correct. Correct. Yeah, I do find value in it. I find value in cultivating the imagination because I don’t find that we can do it. Basically it all stems from if you have a good group of players, you find a good friend, sometimes that’s really the only time we would meet and it was kind of like a routine in our lives as well. Ritual more than anything actually. A fun ritual where it’s good to get together otherwise you lose touch and stuff. In terms of cultivating imagination, I think there’s probably less and less places where one can do that rather than more and more which is sort of a concern of mine. I also finished my Masters recently and that’s one of the reasons I couldn’t play too much D&D. I just finished my Masters in Dramatherapy from a trained group therapist – that’s pretty scary. And so I work a lot with at-risk youth, so I really am conscious about how much the more one can get connected in terms of the technology that’s out there, in terms of the means, the more I find that a lot of youth are disconnected. It kind of seems like a paradox to me, the faster your internet gets and the more Facebook you can do (and Timeline is evil), the more-, just because you have more at your disposal doesn’t mean that you’re more connected with your roots, where you come from, and your right to imagination and your quest for personal myths can sometimes be suffocated by the myths of others and that’s also kind of a re-ocurring theme as well.

Krupa’s Origins, Eastern European Roles, Youth and Getting Into Acting

Eastern European-featured Mark Krupa posing in leather jacket for casting photoCG: Now what about your own roots? Where does Mark Krupa come from?
MAK: Montreal? Is that a geographical question?
CG: Also a historical one. Are you Polish? Are you some kind of Eastern European?
MAK: I definitely have Slavic Eastern European roots for sure. In fact I come from that part of Poland which was Ukraine, so that area where basically the Rus would have colonized, you know as the Rus being that Swedish tribe of Norse which became Russia and that kind of thing. So there maybe is a bit of that in Bjorn as well, but I was born here in Montreal and so was my mom, but my father was born in that part of Poland, so definitely Eastern European/Slavic and I end up playing, for TV and film, I end up playing a lot of Germans and Russians, basically the people who killed most of my family.
CG: Yeah, I’ve noticed that. So do you feel typecast or is that actually just a strength?
MAK: I think being typecast is a problem because it’s tough for everyone in general. But I think being typecast is good to start, but do I think that after a while it gets boring and it’s unfortunate, because then casting directors do tend to see you only in that role, because the nature of the casting focus tends to be narrow-minded because how that it is, like the pinpoint. So a lot of people say that I look like Conan O’Brien and I have that British or kind of crazy Irish kind of look possibly, but [Switches to Russian accent] definitely when you do the Russian accent all time then they think you only can do Russian. You know what I am saying? It’s hard. Hard to break mold, no? [Switches back] So basically yeah, it’s unfortunate. The most unfortunate thing about Canada, English Canada anyway, is that there’s no real star system, so anybody who gets anywhere better run and move to the States, better run and not even to New York, but probably L.A. or at least get strong representation there in terms of agent/manager or forget it! In French Canada, in Quebec, it’s a different story. I do some work in French as well. For getting enough work to stay here and I love Canada, I also like fishing a lot. I was an outdoor writer and photographer for 20 years and so I kind of like Canada so knowing what I know now, I probably would have gone to the States at 16, 17 or at least 18 and tried to get some contacts from there, but I’m a bit too old and old dragons they die hard, you know.

CG: So jumping back to when you were 16 or 17, were you playing hockey and other Canadian sports or what were you like?
MAK: Yes! Absolutely. Hockey was my main one. But my main passion I’d say, that kept me sane and which is also a fond attachment to nature would have been fishing. Since I was young, since I was 8 years old, I was really passionate about fishing. When it comes to sports, I’d say baseball, for sure I enjoyed when I was younger, then it became hockey. So baseball, hockey, with a bit of soccer would have been the three sports, but definitely the long lasting passion which continues to this day is fishing.
CG: Is it safe to say that you kind of don’t fit the stereotype of the D&D player that was picked on in high school and was a recluse?
MAK: Not at all, I don’t think so. Not at all. That’s the thing. I kind of noticed that. Like the fear of the geek factor seems to be in some of the more, the American LARPs, I’ve seen that, but certainly there’s a geek factor in all Dungeons and Dragons and all role-playing games. But in LARPs, like the Bicolline LARP, there’s more of a-, of course there’s a geek factor, but it’s not as obvious. There’s people from all walks of life, families, and a lot of guys with really cool jobs and cool creative game designers and kind of a funky bunch, you know, so yeah, I hope I wouldn’t fit the mold as more of a geek type. I’m just more of an extroverted type who enjoys a creative, highly imaginative outlet basically, so I tended to gravitate towards that. Plus I was an escapist; growing up, I had a bit of a rough childhood, so that was also the thing. Escapist things tended to attract me as well.

CG: How did you get into acting?
MAK: I was teaching drama at a young age. Since high school I started doing theater, I went to a French private school, College Marie-de-France, which also Alex Franchi attended and I did a lot of theater. And then I started teaching drama to kids, 6 to 8 years old and then 6-12 in summer camps and then I started performing with a Montreal troupe called Montreal Surrime and did some anti-realist theater with them. I really enjoyed it. Then I wanted to get into it more. Then I started auditioning [with] kind of casting directors and I took more classes and I was klind of not bad at it, enjoyed it a lot. Then I started auditioning. I went to these commercials. I think in my first commercial I had to hug an imaginary cow for dairy products or something. And I thought “This is really not that fun.” Then I did some extra work and I go “Yeah, I don’t think so.” So I just continued to push with the writing/photography. I was manager for Atlantic Salmon Camps in the Kola Peninsula in Russia. But I kept my CVs kind of kicking around and then when I was 26, which is a bit late for a guy, for actors in general, but a casting director called because they really needed Russian mafia for a French series called Police 10-07 out of Quebec. And since I had been in Russia and I had machine guns pointed to my head whilst managing those salmon camps, I thought, you know what? That’s not much of a stretch, I think I can do that and so I auditioned and I got that role. The director really liked me and he was casting an English series and I auditioned and I got that role. I kind of got into the unions and kept getting a lot of small parts and eventually I had the opportunity to get some bigger ones, so I would say my most normal role in an Emmy-award winning series or a series that really splashed across North America and the rest of the world was Human Trafficking, which is a mini-series with Donald Sutherland, Mira Sorvino, and David Carlisle, where I played a Russian human trafficker, a rapist killer murderer which is always sweet. And that was that. I also did Shake Hands with the Devil which was a film in Rwanda. Here in Canada they shoot a lot of movies a week for these cable, for these channels that basically do a lot of these pretty bad M.O.W.’s, but I play a lot of crook characters in those films.
Once I played a German in a cute Christmas movie that plays every Christmas Eve pretty much, it’s called Silent Night with Linda Hamilton. I got to have lunch with Linda Hamilton for like three weeks a long time ago.
CG: Did you geek out?
MAK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, no she was very cool, very intense. I really enjoyed her. She had great stories about James Cameron which was fun. And then I got to play, sometimes you get these good roles, where even though you’re a small role, you get edited out, but you get to meet cool people. I went to Halifax to shoot K-19: The Widowmaker even though almost 30 percent of the cast got cut out of it, but I got to hang out with Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, and shoot the shit. Kind of fun, you know, on occasion.

Dramatherapy and the Role of Role-Playing

CG: Jumping back to your dramatherapy, what role does role-playing play in dramatherapy? Does it?
MAK: It does, but it’s a completely different situation. Because when you’re role-playing, where in gaming when you are role-playing to explore basically certain roles, certain heroic archetypes, in dramatherapy, we do use a lot of actually role-reversing and role-playing scenework to focus on specific real scenes in individuals’ lives, in real conflicts which challenge them and we use role-play in dramatherapy to basically see your conflict or issue in a new light. For example, my Masters thesis was in psychodrama where we do a lot of role reversals where for example if you had a conflict with your brother over a girl that you were interested in and it’s always him over you and you’re always fighting over something that leads back to childhood, we tend to do the last scene or a scene which pissed both of you off where you really bothered by it, and you’ll role-reverse, and play your brother or someone else in a group that you feel comfortable with will play [him], give you a role-reverse, and you’ll basically try to see your behavior patterns. It’s all about making you recognize your behavior patterns and what’s interesting about a group dynamic is that rather than it being an individual therapist-patient relationship, a good facilitator or good group therapist, gets other group members to help point out issues and ways where you may modify your behavior to improve your quality of life. So to answer your question, I would say, role-play is used to reflect real life incidents in dramatherapy, whereas in LARP or D&D it’s just to explore fantasy to its utmost or parts of you that you don’t get to choose, that you don’t get to explore in the real world. But it’s interesting that you mention them both, because drama and therapy have been related since the beginning of time, since Dionysus, and there’s a lot of stuff that I’m sure goes on in LARPs where it’s borderline. I wouldn’t say thereapeutic, but I’d say it’s very cathartic, let’s say, which is kind of different. Therapists often will try to achieve catharsis, but do so in very contained, nurturing therapeutic environments, whereas LARP it’s not that, even though the expression of that can be cathartic or could be not cathartic depending on your role and situation and if booze is involved. Or other alternative agents which may be involved more in LARP, but we hope are not invovled and usually should not be involved in therapy.
CG: Now do you think there are an equal number of delusional people in role-playing as there are in the film industry for example? People who escape into fantasy of like “I’m going to be a Hollywood star now,” and it’s like you just had three lines, buddy.
MAK: Yeah, in that sense. You do get that. You do get that among-, it’s true. I’ve heard conversations with extras that yeah, I’ve been in this production, I’ve been in this. Yeah, there is a bit of delusional sense of grandeur, I think, in general. In the end, if you’re really into acting for-, I mean a lot of people are into acting to fill this incredible void and they need to be kind of the center of attention. I think really working good actors, they do what they do because they love it and if they become famous or whatever, it’s almost like a by-product of it. Because it’s such a pain in the ass, this industry, and the real good working actors kind of recognize that in general. Of course, there are some. I would say there’s an equal amount. I would say there’s an equal amount in all walks of life who have delusions of grandeur or who are mythomaniacs a bit in that they see where they are is bigger because they need to see it. In fact, to be honest, I would say the LARPers I hang out with more, the ones who are more in Bicolline, more of the Quebec thing, I would think are a lot more together because they LARP.
CG: They’re more rooted?
MAK: Yeah, I would say. What’s interesting about LARP, I find, to be honest, is that rather than getting together in the moldy basement deal, what’s nice about there, is that it’s really a wonderful escape and a connection with nature that you don’t get in RPGing, you don’t get in the moldy basement. Like these guys, they have fun. They go to the river together, they eat together, they tell stories together. It’s fire. It’s elements. It’s nature constantly. So in terms of role-playing, like Bicolline, the whole fucking, long, big battle, there’s a core group, yeah, that role-play, but the vast majority do not give a flying fuck about role-playing. Decorum is important. They go up there to get disconnected from their fucking Blackberries and their bullshit computers and all the shit that distracts them all the time and they connect with nature, connect with their friends, they have a good time. You see little kids with elven ears, they’re damn cute and some of those barbarians, like little Bam-Bams. Everyone seems to have a good time and to be honest, if I had to be caught up in a dark forest with 2,000 people, I’d much rather they be LARPers than like first-person shooter video game guys or 2,000 lawyers or 2,000 Base Street (that’s a Canadian reference) or I’ll say Wall Street brokers who are out to fucking loot God-knows-what, they’re trying to cut throats and go up the corporate ladder, like 2,000 maniacal corporate bankers going up the corporate ladder, I’d really not want to spend two weeks in a forest with them. I’d take LARPers any day, man!
CG: Sure, but don’t you think some of those corporate ladder types are also fishing types and so on?
MAK: Oh, for sure, for sure, for sure! It’s really-, any time you actually use the word type it’s super dangerous to start classifying people into types. I mean I really do not like to generalize that way. I can generalize in terms of the direction society’s going and I think a lot of the direction is suffocating people’s desire to find the personal niche that works best for them, so indeed there might be archetypal hero-type quests and certain role-playing aspects of it connect you with your archetypal path. It’s really important to explore roles and a lot of times, society, or your family, or your friends, or your self, you force yourself, because you’re comfortable in real life to only explore a limited amount of roles, [thinking] “this is how I am,” but you are free to do it in a free environment in role-playing games, so corporate types also would benefit. A lot of people hate Lord of the Rings and hate all this fantasy shit and make-believe magic bullshit, but they really need to commune with nature, canoeing, fishing, some people golf, but I think that’s a delusion myself [Laughter] I hate golf. But for some that’s a connection with nature basically, but for me it’s just like long bow anyway. Your question raises the concern about connection ultimately and what do you need to do. In dramatherapy for example, it’s very important to, what therapists say, to enlarge your role repertoire we call it. Because we can get suffocated, but we get into patterns because we only explore limited amount of roles and yet our potential as human beings is much larger or wider and yet we’re not usually allowed. We sabotage ourselves or we feel like we can’t explore those roles in our everyday lives so we tend to do so either in gaming or in our minds, et cetera. We look for that connection when we can’t get it elsewhere.

LARPing and RPing as Creative Outlets vs. Creation

CG: Have you still not LARPed for LARPing’s sake? Just to go out and LARP.
MAK: I would never be a LARPer I don’t think because I’ve played so much D&D. I still think I prefer D&D and I do so much of my acting, you see, because if I were a more corporate type I probably would LARP, but because in my everyday life I’m dealing with fictitious characters all the time especially now as I writer-, that’s one of the reasons that I play D&D less, because I’m always dealing with let’s say fiction.
CG: OK, that was kind of my next question. So there’s that conflict of should you be working on a comic book or creative project of your own or should you be playing a role-playing game for a creative outlet?
MAK: OK. Good point, but then you’re raising questions about personality and introversion versus extroversion. So if you’re an introverted type-, remember, for some people a group setting is anxiety-provoking and getting up in front of people and doing shit is stressful or anxiety-provoking. So then I would argue that it might be in their interest to enlargen their comfort zones and do that, but if they don’t want to… I think you ultimately feel like a clothing designer if he or she can be creative and yet make money from it, well, wow! A video game designer, I know a lot of guys on Facebook who are video game designers and they’re fucking amazing. They’re a lot of creative types: they draw, they do these great 3D animations, and they make money from it, well, fuck, that’s great. So if you’re an artist that’s fine. The question of RPGs, it’s just a pastime, there’s no money involved, there’s no financial reward at the end of the tunnel there.
CG: You’re saying though that you find it more worthwhile right now to work on your own writing rather than working on a D&D campaign?
MAK: I wouldn’t say more worthwhile. If my line of work would not involve fiction or fantasy, I definitely would feel the need to go play D&D or have that in my life. In some compartment of my life I need that, because I feel that I wouldn’t be getting it. Now because I’m doing a lot of projects in development, and because they’re frustrating – I’m never raising enough cash or it’s never happening fast enough – at least, I’m living as a writer at least so much in a fantasy/fictional world that the need for me to play D&D right now, because of my time situation is a lot less than it is when, for example, if I’m just doing dramatherapy or I’m even working as an author/writer/photographer [for a] magazine I’m forced to sell articles about how to do this, how to do that, or I’m teaching, I don’t feel that creatively, that that muscle is not being exercised so to speak. So therefore for me, I would tend to want to play D&D or role-playing games to get that muscle going.

Krupa’s Current Projects

CG: Speaking of that, what are some of the things that you have been writing recently?
MAK: I just finished my second screenplay. My genre, or my forte, or my feeling is that I really like to get to drama. I really believe in the personal myth quest of individuals and how much they can be suffocated by the myths of others or society at large. So I believe in mythic drama and The Wild Hunt is very present, it takes place in the present, but in doing the research for The Wild Hunt, I’ve always wanted to write a Norse Last of the Mohicans kind of epic saga, the first ever American saga, the first boat that crashes onto the North American shore circa the year 1000, just prior to the Erik the Red/Leif Erikson days and so I just finished that screenplay and I’m really excited about it. So it’s in development now and it’ll be a huge, huge North American epic feature.
CG: So this is the one you’ve mentioned in an interview with Vegas Outsider, the epic action adventure set at the turn of the millennium”?
MAK: That is correct.
CG: So you’ve actually finished it. Have you started pitching it around?
MAK: Yes, yes, yes. It’s in development with development financing. We’re going into production, so I’m um, I’m a bit sort of hush-hush secretive about it with my fingers crossed as well. But it is very strong. I feel that we’ve had really good response so far. We’re trying to do it not on a tentpole. I find that film-making in general, the frustrating thing about is that in terms of the film industry as a business is ever since Jaws and the concept of bringing films to the masses quicker and faster, ever since Jaws or the concept of an opening weekend where films had to open in as many cinemas across the world as quickly and as fast as possible and therefore make as much money and get them out to get another film in, that kind of has killed a lot of the middle range of storytelling I find. And young filmmakers, especially in the States as well, and all over the world are finding it harder to get those midrange films financed. It tends to be those big blockbuster, sell-lunchboxes-in-Japan. What are we seeing? We’re seeing the tentpole [films], Thor, Avengers, Iron Man, big, big hundreds of millions of dollars! John Carter! Which tanked. And then we’re seeing these independant films, but less and less we’re seeing the midrange films, because there was – once upon a time – before Jaws, you would open 2010 Space Odyssey, you would open in a few cinemas in New York or LA. Journalists would write about them and word of mouth would spread. A good film would stay almost a year in cinema. Now, whoa, if you’re there for three or four weeks, you’re doing good, buddy. So that’s a bit sad. We’re kind of in a void in mythology where it has to be this big thing or be kind of independent.
CG: What’s its working title?
MAK: Oh! I’m scared to even say that one. I so don’t want to curse it. It’s an amazing title. I’ll try to pass that question, just to not curse it, but I can tell you a few other projects if you’d like. I just think a Norse Last of the Mohicans would be a good way to say it, but I do have a title for it, a working title. I just don’t want to curse it so much.
CG: Now, you’ve seen both Pathfinder and Valhalla Rising?
MAK: Yes, of course. I have seen both. In fact, Valhalla Rising was just the year that we won with The Wild Hunt so actually we were at the awards for actor? I met the producers. Valhalla Rising was beautifully shot. I thought it was gorgeous. I thought that in terms of story that there was none. [Laughs] And the sound, oh my God! Those mammoth trunks that, those low winding, oh my God, they were really wow. And the fog scenes were great, but I didn’t really get involved in the story. Pathfinder, I thought, was a complete disaster. I like more Icelandic sagas.
CG: Now will we have Christianity versus pagan beliefs?
MAK: You could not be right more on the ball. What it is, it’s really about five characters: two pagan Norse, two Christian Norse, and one – God forbid! caught in between! Oh my God! To be an atheist at that time, can you imagine the horror? And they’re basically, all five of them, they’re sworn enemies that are forced to work together in order to survive in a new world. It’s really intense.
CG: Jumping back to Marvel’s Thor, what were your thoughts?
MAK: Um, yeah, I liked it. I loved the Bifrost Bridge. Yeah, it was OK for a comic thing. In terms of the comic stuff, I prefer X-Men, especially the first, I thought that was really good. The Avengers. I liked Iron Man 2. In terms of storyline, I gravitated towards that. Thor was a bit all over. When heroes are too powerful, because of course once he loses it and then once he gets Mjolnir then he’s like impossible to stop. I mean it tends to make it… At the end it was interesting what they did with the mythology, but the giants I thought were great and it was so wow! These special effects in films are so wow! Loki looked cool. I had mixed feelings.

The Original Intent of The Wild Hunt

CG: In terms of special effects, from interviews on the internet, I gather your original script for The Wild Hunt was for a more nature-oriented original movie, but it was also for a more action-oriented film. How do those two-
MAK: Yeah, definitely more action.
CG: And more nature, right?
MAK: I would have liked more nature, that’s more of a director thing. The action was just a budget thing, yes, correct.
CG: So how did you see those two intersecting and what are some examples of where you wanted to go with The Wild Hunt that it didn’t go in?
MAK: To be careful not to give it away for those who haven’t seen it, so we have to be careful. Let’s just say when the shit hits the fan, when reality and fantasy finally collide, I thought it would be on a bigger scale? And what we would have done is that one of the ideas that we were mulling around was to have – and certainly the original idea – was to have this fantasy and reality colliding part, if you know what I’m talking about, spill over. In other words, not be contained in the LARP, but spill over into the small village that surrounded it.
CG: The one that’s actually outside the decorum world?
MAK: Exactly, because there is a little village that you see at the end of the film and you’d see the LARP and the delusions of the characters inside. It was a bit more of a magic, paranormal element and that came together. It’s interesting in that respect, but at the same time, it requires much more budget. I don’t think in the end it would have made for-, because you gotta be careful. Everytime you make it bigger, the more you fuck with the suspension of disbelief as well. Here it’s a very real, contained love triangle story that people get and it could take place at a paintball or a this or in anything, you know, and we’re good with it. You know, the bigger it is, the more you’ve got to watch that.
CG: Also thematically then, the fantasy would become uncompartmentalized, it would leave its little spot.
MAK: The concept of a fight would have spilled over and that would have been interesting because you had people pressure cooked and it would have made a very surreal, strong component where basically the shadow of the human psyche will catch up to you where you least expect it or cannot be contained unless you allow it to channel properly. If you keep suffocating something it will swallow you over, which by the way, the old myth of the Wild Hunt is a beautiful, beautiful myth. Very much a rebirth myth that existed in Norse mythology, you know, Odin through the skies as well as it did in Celtic mythology in Northern Europe through the forests. So it’s really a rebirth myth that’s important and the symbol itself of the Huntmaster comes from this painting, or at least anthropologists bring it back to this painting, of the Horned Shaman, the Cernunnos, 10,000 years ago in Ariège, France, this symbol of this composite man-beast that became eventually Dionysus, devils and demons, and this kind of thing. It’s merging of man and beast, it’s right on something in that if you suffocate others for too long, they’ll come back. You can only push people so far and yeah, we need to be connected with nature. If you disconnect us too much or if you suffocate people too much they will tend to get very ritualistic and animalistic.

Improvisation in The Wild Hunt

CG: Which is what we definitely saw. What scenes in the movie do you recall as being improvised?
MAK: I like to script, but I really believe in improv. So once you make a choice and you’re comfortable with the actor, you give them the chance, if there’s a bad line, we know where the beginning and the end is, and I sort of agree with that. You give a choice to theatric improv. Some actors are comfortable with that and others don’t like improvving at all. Ricky Mabe, when Murtagh comes in the boat, the ship, that was improvved there, that we kept. Other stuff we improvved, but we didn’t keep so much of it. That whole scene with Spiro in the bathrooms was just improvved on the scene and that was never in the script and it was hilarious. We thought it was so funny that we kept it.
CG: Did you guys have to tell him to tone it down or did you just say roll with it for him?
MAK: No, no for him there’s no toning anything down. He had it. But you mention tone, tone was a huge concern in the beginning. Nevermind action and nature stuff, the tone of the film is very difficult, because remember, we’re actors playing not-so-good actors, you know, that’s a fucking, fucking hard thing to do right. So we had to find somewhere-, everyone couldn’t have been the same, hoping they’d be different. Bjorn’s over the top, King Argyle’s more Shakespearean, othere are bad role-players. So we tried to find that balance of tone, because we also had to have that tone balance between comedy and drama, because in a dark comedy, you can’t fuck with the audience too much. You can fuck with them a bit and surprise them, that’s a good thing. But we really respect our audience and we really respect gamers and we really respect people who’d also be non-gamers, which by the way, the majority of non-gamers really loved the film. Of course, gamers – I don’t know if you know – a lot of us gamers, of course, were scared at first, thinking “Oh my god, people are going to think LARPers are all crazy and duh duh duh.”
CG: Yeah, well I definitely picked that up in all your other interviews. It’s not really a concern of mine.
MAK: Yeah, well, it’s funny, because you mention that exactly. A lot of LARPers are not concerned at all. Basically, coming back to your question about the geek factor, of course if you’re kind of a guy who joins a LARP just to get a girlfriend and then he gets a girlfriend, well, he’ll probably be scared about that. In anything in life, if you embrace your passion and I think that people who see this film kind of fucking get it. I mean our partners were LARPers and it’s an interesting story, Lord of the Rings meets Lord of the Flies. This is a fictional story set in a fictional LARP, no way a LARP’s like this. There’s a lot more people that are killed in soccer riots than in our fictional film. Reality is a lot more dark and disturbing than our film, so don’t worry, good LARPer guys. There’s a lot of more people dying in Columbine than in our film. Mass hysteria, it’s a thing that if given the right circumstances, it will take effect whether it’s in anything, whether it’s a soccer game, a high school, a LARP, anywhere. When the social contract breaks down though, people kind of have free reign to do things. If there’s tension in the air, it will be actualized.

CG: Now that you’re talking about that, I was just thinking about part of the movie where really Bjorn’s cowardice has suddenly appeared and Tamara makes a speech encouraging him to go out and fight. Is it right that sometimes you maybe want to be barricaded in there, that it’d be safer?
MAK: Well, exactly, because remember: Bjorn’s world is a clearly fictitious world that he’s all-encompassingly embraced. He is master and king of this imaginary world. What fucks Bjorn up is when reality comes crashing into his face. He can’t deal with it; he’s flooded. He can’t deal with it at first. By the way, that’s another scene that was improvised: Tamara screaming at Bjorn, very good scene that you pointed out. It’s too much for him. He’s escaped reality all his life and now the reality is biting him in the ass, in the last of all places, where it should ever be allowed to enter, oh my god! So he’s paralyzed. Bjorn’s paralyzed. And what’s interesting, is that at the end, once he sees the consequences of this paralysis and seeing fair Lynn, and then there’s the dad, then that’s interesting. It’s almost like “Wow, look at Bjorn.” He is literally fused between reality and fantasy, how will he lead his life, still having lived so much by real Norse values. And that’s what’s interesting about The Wild Hunt, it’s kind of like a modern Norse saga. In the Norse sagas, when you do harm to your family… you take matters into your own hands and you dispense justice in an honorable way and you don’t fuck with people and your family. People fuck with your family and your honor, there are repercussions. So, he’s not the kind of guy who’s going to let the law deal with it, because he’s now fused. Of course, at the time, he’s so engaged in the fantasy that when reality slaps him in the face, he’s stunned. And I think that that’s real. You get characters who you think might be heroes, but you never know really. When the shit hits the fan, the guy who blabs and blah-blahs and talks about being the hero, might not be the hero anymore. Who’d jump into a burning fire to get the kid out? Not everybody would do it and sometimes it’s the least likely person that you’d think would do it, will do it.
CG: Yeah, like you mentioned the Zimbardo experiment in another interview and you can be sitting there in a sociology class and people can say “Oh, I would never do that.” I watched it and I was like “Yeah, I’d probably be one of those guards.”
MAK: Exactly. It’s hard to say. Do you really know yourself to know what you would do in a Zimbardo-type situation? Exactly, it’s a great example. But I was really interested by the Zimbardo effect and the film Das Experiment also which was a German film that they did. And where is the balance? Bjorn was not balanced. He was lost in the fantasy world and his younger brother was not balanced. He was lost in the real world all the time. It’s beautiful. These two distant ships that are destined to cross and when their worlds collide you get real transformation and change. You get this lineage of two brothers, Bjorn wanting to say, “I love you and I miss you. But I never could know how to say it…” And he kind of brought Lynn up there going “Maybe I’ll get Erik to come to my world.” And Erik wanted Bjorn to get the fuck back home and take care of Dad and get the fuck back into my world. We can’t. We’re too distant. So we force ourselves to collide and it’s interesting, sometimes when you force things to happen, you get real change. People also only change when they hit rock bottom like they have destructive lifestyles and oh! all of a sudden they get cancer and now they’re living virtuously. You have to be diagnosed with cancer to change your life? It’s sad but true. Alcoholics, they have to hit rock bottom before they change. It’s just human nature. Sad, but true. It happens everyday all around us. You know people, I know people; this is what happens.

CG: Now Lynn. Bjorn is caught and he’s paralzyed and so is Lynn, where she’s almost catatonic, did you see her as having an abusive past?
MAK: Oh definitely. She’s one of the really group-home, kind of one of the squeegee school-, we gave her a chance also as being more likeable, but at the same point, she’s that girl that she likes to keep her options open. But the wonderful thing that we opened with Lynn – and one of the things I would have liked is for her have had more of an environenmentalist theme and that kind of come in – but the point is with her, her dysfunction is keeping her options open and that she gravitates towards the myths of others, like Murtagh’s myth. She wants to be worshipped by as many men as possible, keeping her options open, without ever realizing, “No, this is exactly what I want.” So there’s a danger there. Her conflict embodies that just because you’re beautiful and you’re attractive or you’re charismatic, or you have money, or you have something that lots of people want, by keeping your options open to everyone and never choosing what you really want, you open yourself up to a lot of dysfunction basically.

Getting Into Character for The Wild Hunt, Writing for Yourself, and The Lodge

CG: What research did you see Tilo Horn or Ricky or Trevor do for their parts?
MAK: Well, what we did is that we didn’t fuck around. A lot of them didn’t know what the fuck a LARP was. I did. Others had no fucking clue, so we brought them up there. And we brought them up there just before, so we had an immersion where we went to the LARP 100%. Alex and I, to know what it’s like, we
spent the night with our girlfriends at this fictitious inn. Talk about do not do this on a first date, buddy. They have this fictitious inn with plywood walls and Alex brought his girlfriend and I’d been not too long with mine and we spent the night during the big battle weekend in this inn on the third floor with fucking 500 drunken barbarians screaming “GOR-GOR BAY!” and pounding beer and the whole walls were shaking until four in the morning. So we got into it. Kind of just looking at it to get a sense of the imagination, of the place itself. And then good actors, you don’t have to tell them anything. Nicholas Wright, you don’t have to tell him anything. We just said “Look, this is the tone.” And he really got into the Shakespearean part, which distinguished that role-playing from others, because he’s that law firm, the junior lawyer that never gets to be king of anything and he wants to be king and so he connives. It’s interesting.
CG: Now is that his real fictional background?
MAK: Yes, it’s the fictional background of Argyle and that was developed in other scripts more that he was the lawyer. I thought also in earlier versions that we would see Tamara in her little Wicca factory, because she’s almost-, the real dudes who were more in tune were most balanced and Argyle, you know you’d see David doing his little thing, you’d see Argyle being bitched out by the law firm, being bitched out by superior lawyers, and doing basically fuck-all but pushing papers. And he’s this big king in the LARP. It’s good to remember at the same point, there’s so many characters and so much, that this script and story could have turned into an immediate disaster also.
CG: About the script, did you write Bjorn for yourself?
MAK: Um, no, I try to avoid that. Obviously when I write a script I have a knowledge that I’ll be playing it. Eventually the character which was more-, there were two characters and it was not sure, at first, that it’s the two brother relationship, more a guy steeped in reality and fantasy. We were both unclear on the brothers. Me and Alex liked finding the brothers both. We agreed on that in being a more interesting way to portray that. So the first was a character called Loramir and I was more possibly thinking of that and that became younger Erik. So Bjorn, it’s kind of like one of those things that I wrote, there was a big Mark Krupa role-playing that was there and I try to not stick myself too much to one character, like the main character for my next screenplay is actually Freydís Eiríksdóttir, the daughter of Erik the Red and she has epilepsy.
CG: Wait. You’re going to play an epileptic girl?
MAK: No, no no! [Laughs] I’m saying that’s the main character, so in other words, I wrote the main character obviously without me in mind, in that case. There’s a danger, I find if I write too much for knowing who’ll I be, I’ll tend to maybe hold back for fear of maybe not wanting to give yourself too much, but then you underwrite for yourself and that’s bad too. It’s good, of course, also to have another director. That can help out. It’s true that I find that in English Canada there’s so little scripts that are juicy, you can sink your teeth into, which is unfortunate. I love to act in other people’s writing. Unfortunately I so don’t get that opportunity that of course, you tend to write yourself decent roles. I think that people agreed when they saw Bjorn that it was played in a manner that was acceptable.
CG: Yeah, that’s very modest! Yeah, it was awesome.
MAK: I’m trying to keep in that vein, which is not easy. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue doing that. My next screenplay is actually a pre-Apocalyptic saga set in the very near future. It’s called The Extractor and we have: the US is not a world power anymore, China’s struggling to maintain power and basically the first ice sheet of Greenland has melted and sea levels have risen and there’s debt crisis. So basically you have all these-, you have militant groups called sects more and more gaining influence. Nobody believes in banks and government any more. Canada’s one of the last bastions of democracy that’s sort of staying afloat. [Laughs]. It’s kind of an interesting pre-Apocalyptic saga where things aren’t totally hopeless, but it’s almost there. And then I have two other TV series I’m working on, a medic one about paramedics and a comedy called The Lodge, which is basically about a dysfunctional lodge owner catering to an even more motley crew of dysfunctional guests as they arrive for a week.
CG: A fishing lodge?
MAK: Yeah, a fishing lodge.
CG: So, drawing on your own experiences in Russia.
MAK: Yes, absolutely. I did stuff in Canada at fishing lodges too. It’s interesting because I think a lot of it is great, because you have a wonderful mix of Americans, Canadians all over. It’s like a mid-range lodge. People go to fishing lodges kind of similar to LARPs, to escape a lot of their problems and are not worried and tend to show their true colors a lot as well when they’re up there, which is interesting as well, so I think it makes for good comedic development. The Lodge is more of a comedy, the paramedic one is more of a drama obviously. I’ve been doing research. I’d go on runs with paramedics. Jesus, fuck, man! These guys! Jesus. Always charging into the lives of people at their most vulnerable. Totally, what the fuck? I can also just tell you, a little bit of a lot of fun for me, I just directed my first short film, oh my god! And it’s called Blue Violin and it features Dr. Draw, one of the world’s leading electric violinists and we just got accepted at the Fantasia Film Festival here in Montreal. We’ll be submitting hopefully to some of those American festivals, like Slamdance. I love Slamdance! I love the independents. They’re some people-, I love festival directors like Dan Mirvish of Slamdance, they really love the spirit of film. I love Anchorage Film Fest. The guys in the States, man, they’re such cool guys in the States, so many of them, truly wonderful people.

More Details on The Wild Hunt

Image displaying horned skull Murtagh on cover of The Wild HuntCG: Going back to The Wild Hunt, what speaking roles, if any, were not trained actors, but they were Bicolline warriors?
MAK: Yeah, we had to use as much as possible extras to get there. For union reasons, we had to use actors as much as possible. We did have the situation where basically to be very clear: we had so little money and we got so fucked budget-wise. This was made-, The Wild Hunt was made for less than the average 30 second beer commercial. So that means… Blue Violin, my 10-minute short film was made for less than half a second of John Carter. [Laughs] Anyways, but basically the scenes where we-, we had a lot of people willing to do extra work, but we also wanted to play at night which was difficult. And we couldn’t even have money to feed them, so we actually in the day-. You know those scenes in the film where I just meet Erik, “Erik, my little brother!” and I embrace him? Well, that took place during a real LARP big battle. The film crew had to get dressed in costume, hide the fucking camera with furs and fucking tarps and hides and shit and we filmed the scene within the LARP. Of course, they were aware that a film’s being done, but we – under no circumstances – were allowed to fuck with their decorum. Of course, then we went back in the fall and then controlled all of that, so some of the extras like Claude, like some of my viking guys, like the big burly guys, they’re all LARPers. So the guys in the Magnusson clan, they’re all LARPers. All of the extras were LARPers. We did so much with them, we didn’t even call them extras in the film, if you notice, we call them warriors, because they set the tone that they were half-naked in the fucking -10, huddled by the fire and had endless, boundless energy, but of course, it was hard for continuity to keep them, so that the summer part, where you see guys, you know the gypsy, you know the scene inside where everyone’s drunk on the tables.

CG: Now in terms of your camera being covered with the furs and the hides, did you ever find yourselves… people getting distracted, people coming up and making conversation with the crew in the middle of shooting or was it clear that you were actually making a movie?
MAK: No, we had no buffer. We knew that before, nobody had told them, but these guys came and didn’t always read [the announcement on the message board that there was a film crew, I think]. When they were really pissed off, where we got fucked up, because of course, there’s only one scene where we had to film that is the scene where you see Erik going through the crowd, Ricky Mabe, goes through not dressed in decorum. Well he did that in the fucking real LARP. Well, that was a real fucking no-no. We did get shit about it, because they didn’t know, we didn’t kind of tell the organizers. We just kind of forgot to tell them that that scene was going to be a non-decorum scene, because of the agreement we had. Which is true, all of the other scenes are decorum and we fit in, there’s no problem. This scene we just kind of forgot. And so that really pissed off players, because they didn’t know what was going on.
CG: The guy who leers in his face and the Scotsmen-
MAK: The guy who’s got the teeth and all that? He was totally a LARPer that just by surprise did that and we kept it!
CG: And the Scotsmen in their kilts?
MAK: They were LARPers who were there. We didn’t know who would be there. We had to go and pay people in fake coins. I had to go role-play to corral the extras to come in our scenes to shoot. The only thing I couldn’t do is when you talk about beer, to get them to drink, I had to pay them in real beer. They don’t accept fucking fake, bullshit beer, it better be real. And so we did that. We had to corral, yeah, we role-played to get the extras to do our film.
CG: To actually harass him [Ricky Mabe/Erik]?
MAK: To do that, yeah. And to be in the background. Like those guys playing music were the gypsy clan. They were there. I had to role-play. I had to get in, speaking French, a lot of the guys there are French, so I did it in French.

A Sequel to The Wild Hunt?!

CG: Is it safe to say that Bjorn has been your favorite role on-screen?
MAK: Favorite, I would say. With the most range, I would say to this date, yeah I did some interesting ones for theater, but in terms of on-screen, I would say yes, because I really enjoyed the directing even though maybe a little too much of him is over the top [Laughs]. We might want to press the mute button on him a little bit, but I think in all when you see the arc and the change and the transformation and the range, it offers insights in a manner and a way that was meaningful for me to play and I hope it’s meaningful to the audience to absorb.
CG: Yeah. In your interview with Northern Stars in Canada, while your film was being distributed, I gather, you mentioned a sequel which really puzzled me. Who would that be following if you did a sequel?
MAK: Well, I think we did it half in jest. I mean at that time we’re not really serious of seeing a sequel, because you got to be careful about sequels. But the thing which is interesting is that, well, who would it follow? It would follow the people who are alive and not dead.
CG: Haha!
MAK: I think you have an interesting situation where Bjorn is a fucked up character and you still got these survivors, you got Tamara, you got Bernie and Dave. Remember, the whole LARP. The good people, like the real heroes were Tamara, David, Bernie in the end. So these guys, what happens when-, originally it was along the lines of we had a paranormal thing happen and so that would be the case, where basically it was all fun and games, but what if they actually raised the Wild Hunt for real? But then you also got to watch that it doesn’t turn into this big hokey-pokey kind of thing. And you know what? Sometimes a film is best left as is. You don’t want to fuck with things and give it a bad stink by doing remakes and Wild Hunt 3! And flying pirahnas and stupid shit, you know? Sometimes it’s good to leave shit as it is and what I mean by sequels, I would say, let’s say if I had a trilogy in mind, I would prefer to work on a mythic saga trilogy where I use the same facts and fanbase. Ok, I’m going to tell you the name of this Norse film, but you can’t repeat it or jinx it.

More on Upcoming Projects: Vinland, The Extractor, and the Paramedic TV Show

CG: Yeah, ok. [I successfully twisted Bjorn’s arm on this, besides the fact that it’s already been mentioned in a couple of places on the internet.]
MAK: The working title’s Vinland. How’s that for original? [Laughs] It’s not that original. Vinland and The Extractor is like my trilogy of past, present, and future with The Wild Hunt being the present, Vinland the past, and The Extractor the future. It also evokes the dangers of suffocating ritual, of not allowing personal myths to grow, and a society that promotes disconnection. When it’s all about whoever dies with the most wins, well no, I’m sorry, that’s not what it’s about.
CG: What’s on your plate for the coming weeks?
MAK: Right now I’m reviewing pieces for my three TV series. The Extractor is the one I really want to push. I really want to hit that as a franchise, because I believe that the Occupy movement that we’re seeing now-. So I’m trying to find a way in terms of funding and I’m really struggling. Should I start with a film? Up in Canada the funding options are different. You know, there’s this interesting, innovative stream, it’s called the Experimental Shoot for Web series? It can actually galvanize a lot of our forces to get a following and then the film would be more successful. I’m really trying to work on that Extractor project. I know that the feature film, Vinland, it will go, because we’re asking for-, in terms of an American budget, it’s pussywinks, it’s going to be less than 10 million, but still, 10 million dollars in Canada is like “Are you fucking kidding me?!” So it’s going to take two or three years for that, so Vinland we’re pushing through the process in Canada. I’m hoping to get Extractor moving. At the same time I’m doing two TV series, the medic one and The Lodge which would be nice just to get who’s interested, because you’ve always got to keep working, because what contact will lead to the right broadcaster being interested. You’re on their slate, the time is right, blah blah blah, you know? So there’s that and then I also want to direct another short film about a needlestick, about a paramedic.
CG: Is that what they call themselves, needlesticks?
MAK: No, a needlestick isn’t a first responder, but they refer to things around them like that, like a meetwagon and all that type of shit. At one point they used to be just ambulance drivers. Not the EMTs, but the real paramedics are actually like doctors, people who are running around and charging into people’s lives under fucked-up circumstances and have all this liability and not much support. Suicide rate actually in Quebec is pretty high. I read interesting books about American paramedics and it’s kind of fucked up too, good books. I’m doing a short film about a needlestick which is what a first responder, you know, if there’s a drug addict and they get stuck with a needle.
CG: Ohhhh. Ok.
MAK: It’s about that. How basically five minutes on what should be a routine call can end up changing your entire life.
CG: Yeah, that’s a really good premise right there.
MAK: Extractor I’d really like to get a franchise. In other words, I’d like to offer viewers, basically I’d like to offer viewers before I expire in this small time that we’ve been given on this wonderful planet, I’d like to give audiences and viewers intelligent, epic drama, [because] they deserve to be entertained in an intelligent fashion. So I believe that you can be commercial and have good scripts at the same time. That you don’t have to forsake one for the other and that’s getting, I find, harder and harder.
CG: Would this be more of a thriller?
MAK: Extractor would be a sci-fi thriller, yeah. In terms of films that really inspire me, I loved Blade Runner. I understand that Ridley Scott, he’s thinking of doing the sequel for that. So God knows… That’s one of those that maybe I’m like “Maybe, we should have stuck with that,” but then again, it’s a sequel I’d be very interested in seeing, like what happens with that, but I love Blade Runner, so I’d basically make Extractor like that. I’d like it to really tap into the angst of the times, where we’re constantly living in debt crisis and where basically the whole Occupy movement, you get the feeling that the game’s rigged, that the game is fixed, that no matter how hard you work for a living, it’s rigged. You’re not going to get rich by working hard, so get that out of your head. The majority of people think that and that’s sad.

CG: Is there anything else you’d like to get out there?
MAK: I’d say, guys, you know, active role-players, active LARPers, active gamers, just keep the spirit and imagination alive because the spirit and imagination never die.

Monster Camp: The World of Seattle NERO

Line art of gaming nerds on the cover of Monster CampWhen I first saw Monster Camp years ago, I think I paused it and quickly Googled for more information about NERO, because I wanted to do what the NERO Seattle players do in the 2007 film. They run around tossing birdseed packets and wielding foam boffer weapons, laughing and enjoying themselves. On screen, friendships are formed and existing relationships reinforced. Director Cullen Hoback and his crew have given us an excellent, entertaining foray into LARPing, capturing the camraderie and storytelling potential of NERO, but ultimately Monster Camp leaves me wanting much, much more.

Questions and Questions

Monster Camp is frustratingly informative. The documentary uses text occasionally to explain the most basic of concepts, such as that D&D is short for Dungeons & Dragons, that WOW stands for World of Warcraft, and that WOW at only $14.99 a month is a “pretty sweet deal”. Any gamer watching should need no introduction to the terms of D&D and WoW, but from these explanations, it is clear that Monster Camp is targeting a wider audience. Boffers are explained as are the use of birdseed packets to represent spells like Fireballs and Lightning Bolts. Holds, pauses in the the game, “happen anytime there is a dangerous situation” the Master of Plot explains; in the example shown, it is when his glasses have fallen off. There are terms like phys-rep, short for physical representation and slain NPC monsters give up loot to their attackers. Hoback offers the most basic, tantalizing amounts of information in an entertaining package, but it’s just not enough.

Lipstick-wearing feather-eyebrowed Shane Macomber in a ruffled shirt costume

Monster Camp “Star” Shane Macomber in Costume

“This is Shane”, white text on a black screen informs the viewers. Shane is Shane Macomber, the owner of the Seattle NERO franchise at the time of filming and an employee at Office Depot. His involvement in NERO began in March of 1998. Much of Monster Camp revolves around Shane, but Shane’s fondness for eyebrow decoration is never explained, though it is shared by other LARPers. When Shane has a sudden medical emergency in a battle later, no explanation is provided. Perhaps he was famished, had low blood sugar, and needs the cold pasta that someone inexplicably hands to him. While Shane’s thoughts on various aspects of NERO are recorded, ultimately the film’s main character remains a mystery. What does Shane feel when a PC “dies”? What are his plans for the future? Where did he see NERO taking him? Unlike other participants, such as the Vorvicks from Portland, Oregon or Fern Zimmerman, Shane’s home life goes largely unseen.

The Strega is introduced early on, a monster played by Becca one year prior. “She killed every player who fought her”, the viewer is informed. There is continued build up through the rest of Monster Camp and then there she is! Strega! Text reminds the viewer that “The Strega is the toughest creature most of them will ever face.” As she battles PCs, a Hold is called. Dave the Master of Plot is apprised by J.P. about the 480 damage he has dealt to her personally and Dave calls Becca over, where there is a mild confrontation with Becca getting upset. And then? Then, there is no resolution captured on screen. Shane has his medical emergency, so the camera follows him in for the odd pasta scene. The viewer has to imagine that outside the PCs killed the Strega, because Becca reveals that she is dead now. How many PCs did the Strega kill this time? What did Becca think of the battle? How did it compare to the last one? Was there actual cheating involved?

Girl with blue skin and odd headwrap from Monster Camp portraying a Sea Elf

Pearl the Last of the Sea Elves

To the right is the last of the Sea Elves played by Cassandra Pearl. Through a powerful ritual, her race has been wiped out. She is quite shaken by this, but there is no commentary from any of the other LARPers. As a GM, I also wonder what Shane was doing in the first place casting the spell that magically destroyed her entire race. Was he taking on the roll of an NPC/monster sorceror? They make a point each time that Shane actually plays the game (instead of running it) when he is portraying an NPC, but his performance of the magical ritual gets little explanation.

A feathered-eyebrow LARPer warrior shows off off his vials and potions on the back of his shield.

Many Vials and Interesting Eyebrows

I could go on and on, but where I think Hoback could have really illuminated NERO’s proceedings is by sticking with an entire encounter or fight from start to finish. Instead there are only glimpses. A monster is killed and turns over loot, but what the loot actually is remains a mystery. Was the fight worthwhile to the PCs? How many potions are players going through? Is this guy with a shield full of vials reasonable or is he even excessive by NERO LARP standards? What do non-Seattle LARPers think of Shane Macomber’s operation?

IC Politics Absent, OOC Politics Slightly Unexplored

Compared to Darkon or even the fictional The Wild Hunt, Monster Camp’s lack of in-character politics on screen is refreshing. The closest thing to politics between characters seems to be the in-game romantic relationships which occasionally spill out of game. The viewer meets J.P. and Holly, as well as Becca and Damien. The former pair met in game and have been together for 5 years, while Becca and Damien went out for over 2 years, at least as far as Damien sees it. From Becca’s and Hoback’s telling though, the pair were engaged. In what might be one of the most pointed moments in the documentary, another player questions Damien’s account of his relationship, “Weren’t you engaged? Briefly?” Damien considers, looking away and says, “No.” While Becca acknowledges that there’s “all kind of hostility there”, the viewer fortunately does not have to endure too much of it, either from their characters or out of character with the players. The topic of in game relationships could make for a documentary in of itself, but this is also another example of Monster Camp scratching the surface of a possibly deep subject.

Out of character though, there are more political battles between the staff. The latter third of the movie hinges on Shane’s surprise announcement that he will be taking a hiatus from Seattle NERO. Ultimately he sells the company to Dave, but there is conflict between the two arising in part from Dave’s no-show at the final event that Shane runs. There are undercurrents of discontent and politics that run through the behind-the-scenes talk on NERO, but they also remain unexplored. The transition in the NERO Seattle franchise ownership is also the closest that the documentary comes to having a narrative and anything approaching a climax. Hoback focuses on documenting rather than storytelling, which is fine, but again, I just wish he had documented more of the LARPers whether behind the scenes or at the events.

Capturing Gamers’ Good and Bad Sides

Two LARPers dressed up in green costumes as either lizardmen or finfolk

Monsters: Carter Taylor (L) and Matthew Green (R)

Monster Camp does do a great job in capturing the oftentimes dysfunctional and interesting lives of gamers. Something is amiss in many of the film’s subjects’ lives. Dave acknowledges that World of Warcraft can be addictive, but never quite admits that he has an addiction himself. As his eyes tear up and he explains that his (8 year old) daughter came to him about his problem, he explains his solution, that he will be putting together a PC for her use, so she can join him in Azeroth. Then there are the two friends, Carter and Brandon. Both play NPCs/monsters at NERO Seattle and both are still high school seniors. They spend their time playing World of Warcraft and LARPing. This leaves them little time for their studies. As a result, this is Carter’s fifth year as a high school senior and Brandon’s fourth! Both seem like nice guys and remind me of friends and gamer acquaintances, but there is no way that their lifestyle can be described as healthy. It would be wrong to think though that Monster Camp paints its LARPers in a negative light. Instead, they come across as decidedly human, despite some of their bizarre monster costumes.

Father and son enjoy a laugh while in costumes at a LARPing event in Monster Camp

Father and Son LARPers: Steve and Paul Vorvick

The father and son duo, Steve and Paul Vorvick, seem better adjusted, while J.P. who plays Sir Trevor has clearly benefited from LARPing. Formerly shy and reserved, the make-believe world of LARPing allowed him to develop a more outgoing, flirtatious personality which he has taken with him out into the real world. Likewise, Val Anderson, another LARPer is confined to her wheelchair and has a caregiver, Eric, who joins her in game. Monster Camp does not dwell on her or her disability, but it also doesn’t shy away from the opportunities that LARPing gives her. As she says, “it’s a chance to ignore this for a little while, where in the reality world I can’t.” Above all, LARPing is about the community for NERO’s players, who oftentimes only connect with each other at the special events once each month, traveling from afar to do so.

Bonus Feature: Dragons are Real

One of the extras offered on the DVD is the short film Dragons Are Real which Hoback filmed at his first exposure to the Seattle LARP group at their summer event in July. It is the formative version of Monster Camp and actually has a number of more in-depth explanations not offered in the main film, while still featuring many of the same players. Indeed, probably a quarter of its footage or more made its way into Monster Camp. The importance of energy drinks in fueling the players and monsters is mentioned to explain the propensity for Plot to stage night time attacks on sleeping players. While Dragons are Real ends abruptly it does answer a few more questions I had about NERO and is definitely worth watching.

A “Monster Camp” of My Own

As I write this, in my 20 years of gaming, I have LARPed once and even that was without boffers or combat. However I feel comfortable in saying that Monster Camp is probably a must-see movie for those intrigued by the possibilities of live action role-playing. I know as I try to get some LARPing experience under my belt I will be referring back to what I have seen on screen. I also look forward to answering all of the questions I had while watching Monster Camp.

All images copyright and courtesy Hyrax Productions.

The Wild Hunt – The Game is Over

The Wild Hunt has been on Netflix Instant for some time now, but is also available for purchase, which I highly recommend.

Image displaying horned skull Murtagh on cover of The Wild HuntThe Wild Hunt builds slowly, alternating from Erik Magnusson’s drab existence in urban Montreal with his dying father to the vivid colors and energy of the LARP camp filmed at Billicone in Quebec, Canada. In most respects, the LARP event is any gamer’s dream. It definitely is for Erik’s older brother Bjorn, who channels his Icelandic ancestry into his Viking character. Erik’s girlfriend, Lyn, departs for a weekend at the camp, but Erik is tormented by dreams in which he hears her whimpering and crying out for help. These premonitions prompt Erik to check up on Lyn. Once Erik leaves the cold grey city and enters the Canadian wilderness, the pace quickens and the drama rises again and again until it reaches a very bloody peak.

All of the technical aspects of the movie are well done under the helm of Alexandre Franchi. The music adds to the mood, Claudine Sauve’s shots serve the plot well, and nothing about the film stands out as being low budget. In fact, much of the movie takes place at night, but none of the action is obscured by poor lighting as can often be the case in many Hollywood productions. The Wild Hunt is one of the better movies I have seen in the last few years, outshining other Viking fare such as Valhalla Rising and the Pathfinder remake, but also many other mainstream films.

The Acting in The Wild Hunt

Actress Tiio Horn in furs as Princess Evlynia

Tiio Horn as Princess Evlynia of the Ice Wind

The acting and casting in The Wild Hunt is consistently strong. The movie does err on the handsome and slender side of things though, unless I’m horribly unaware of how many fit LARPers there are. Mark Krupa is brilliant as Bjorn while Nicolas Wright plays the hipster douche King Argyle quite well. The awkward David, played by Kyle Gatehouse, was well cast too. He is one of the most comical characters, but Spiro Malandrakis as the melodramatic, pixie referee Oliver, is hilarious in many of his scenes. Trevor Hayes is utterly convincing as the powerful villain Murtagh. When he is in character as Murtagh, he is primal and commanding. Out of character, his charisma remains with a strong manipulative streak. Everyone from the Elven Queen to Tiio Horn as Lyn/Princess Evlynia is perfect for their parts.

Comedy and Dark Turns

There is ample comic relief to help build the story, but be warned. If you have seen The Foot Fist Way, Observe & Report, or Super, they are good indications of the direction The Wild Hunt takes, blending humor with some pretty grim reality. Two much less humorous films I’d compare it to are Falling Down and Taxi Driver. Non-gamers who enjoy the sort of movie typified by these five other films, where the psychological walls between two realities are caving in, will probably also enjoy The Wild Hunt. For a player of RPGs or a LARPer though, The Wild Hunt is a must see. The movie leaves a deep impression, much like a sledgehammer to the head, and I have found myself watching it over and over again, wrestling with some of its themes.

The Wild Hunt’s Themes

Why Does My Son Have Somber Dreams?

Horned Skull Murtagh Leads the Wild Hunt with Savage Kelts Behind Him

An example of the excellent lighting in The Wild Hunt

I think if you are a gamer you will identify with Bjorn or even Murtagh, but perhaps a non-gamer friend would identify with Erik (Ricky Mabe), who is thrust into the crazy irresponsible world of the LARP. However Erik is also weak-willed and a wuss. He is losing his girlfriend to Murtagh, but he makes the same sort of needy pleas for sympathy characteristic of so many nice guys. Trying to talk her into accepting him back, he promises, “I will follow you forever”. Evlynia doesn’t want to be followed around by puppy-eyed, vanilla Erik. She wants an equal partner or even to be led on a Wild Hunt of fun and adventures herself. Bad boy Murtagh or even crazy Bjorn are more likely to do so than weak Erik.

I think this underlying theme is an incredibly important one for gamers. The greatest trope of gaming, for male gamers at least, is “I played D&D until I got a girlfriend”. Many gamers become Erik Magnussons, denying their interests, passions, and identities, in order to fit in and try to attract a mate. These efforts may work in the short run, but in the long run, such gamers are leading somber unfulfilled lives. Eric’s father questions “Why does my son have somber dreams?” By denying himself, his ancestry, and his potential, Eric is a failure and ironically can’t maintain his relationship with his girlfriend, or in Bjorn’s words which he swears “I have lost my warrior pride and because of that, I have lost my woman to another.” In contrast, Bjorn embraces his Viking roots, the call of the elements, and at least a vague sense of a destiny. This is not to say that Bjorn is popular or without problems of his own. In fact, he spends a good deal of the movie by himself. As the plot builds, he must confront his own fears and faces his own tests, however painful they end up being.

Decorum and Escapism: “Don’t Mess with Decorum”

Actor Trevor Hayes with skull makeup as a shaman in the Wild Hunt

Trevor Hayes as Murtagh the Celt Shaman

The other theme of The Wild Hunt that has really captivated me is the battle between fantasy and reality. Straddling the line between the two is decorum, remaining in character during the game, but also recognizing that it is a game. As Murtagh demands of Lyn, “When you speak to me, you speak in character.” However, that in of itself is a breach of decorum. The movie is full of these little inconsistencies which seem to be particular to role-playing, and LARPing in particular. Wargamers might occasionally invoke the Emperor’s protection on a dice roll or give a cry of “Waaaaghhh!”, but you never have to ask “Is that you asking the question or your character?”

Further complicating The Wild Hunt and its characters’ pursuit of decorum is that many of them are role-playing as themselves. Murtagh, Bjorn, Argyle, and Lyn are arguably playing characters based on an ideal version of themselves. Bjorn uses his real name, while Lyn goes with Princess Evlynia. Murtagh is never even referred to by another name. While they break decorum for other reasons, almost any verbal attack against these LARPers is very personal and against their own identities. Rejection is very real and crushing to most of the LARPers. In contrast, the gangly David is anything but a fierce and bloodthirsty Viking warrior. Though he’s a comical character, he’s actually one of the closest to being a real role-player in the movie. The other ironically is Erik, who despite his somber dreams, does not view himself as an actual Viking warrior, or any sort of warrior for that matter. His role-playing to take back Lyn is not an escape for him, but instead is personally empowering.

For Bjorn, Evlynia, and Murtagh though decorum is an escape. For Bjorn, it’s a move away from his ailing father. For Lyn, it’s freedom, “fresh air”, and and an escape from real life and its consequences. While we never learn what it is that Murtagh is escaping, it’s obvious that he enjoys the power of leading his Celtic faction. However much they enjoy LARPing though, it does not empower them. There’s a larger question here about the role of entertainment and recreation in life that The Wild Hunt asks, going beyond LARPing and tabletop gaming to any sort of game or hobby. How should we spend our free time? Based on the fates of Bjorn, Lyn, and Murtagh, The Wild Hunt argues strongly against any sort of answer involving attempting to escape reality.

All images copyright Arc Light Films, used with permission.