Knight Chills – Roleplaying with a Vengeance DVD

DVD cover of Knight Chills Roleplaying with a Vengeance with a knight's great helm in the foregroundIn 2000 at CineVegas I saw the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Its director was also its only star, playing over 40 roles as the screen cut from one camcorder shot to another. Sometimes he conversed with himself and other times he “acted” with a dummy. He also wore a gorilla suit. One by one viewers left the theater. Some swore in disgust. One newcomer came in and got up and left in less than a minute. It became an endurance contest as those of us who remained enjoyed a sort of camaraderie, occasionally looking over at one another with disbelieving looks, grateful to have something else to look at besides that dreadful, dreadful movie. Knight Chills from 2001 may not be as bad, but it is plain awful and ranks among the worst movies I have ever seen. In fact, on IMDB I give it 1 out of 10 stars.

The film centers around a group of roleplayers so unlike one another that my suspension of disbelief snapped within the first five minutes. We have one or two jocks who like to bully a fellow player when not getting drunk, a stoner and his girlfriend, another girl who is overweight and snarky, and the group’s GM, a high school teacher whose wife occasionally plays too. Then there is John, who is pretty intense. It takes over 40 minutes of painful exposition on screen before unlikeable nerd John finally gives in and crashes his car into a tree in an emo fit of rage, sorrow, and rejection. Naturally John mutters a spell-curse as any roleplayer would before he kills himself, “To the land of the shadow I will ride, turning from the cold earth, deep my love, my vengeance. Squire and steed, the quest will be fulfilled by the solstice of Yule; I cross the Veil.” Then his car explodes and he roars demonically in the flames.


If I seem a little apathetic about the nerd tragedy that is John, let me explain that I’m probably not being harsh enough. At the beginning of Knight Chills, when his mother or aunt mentions that Uncle Sal is dying, John storms out of the house and mutters “Sea hag!” under his breath. It comes out that he has lied to her about attending gaming for the night, since she’s religious and against his roleplaying. Maybe she’s still bothered too about John allegedly killing his younger brother (a rumor the GM’s wife is delighted to share). Besides this matter of murder, John constantly hits on the stoner/slacker Zac’s girlfriend, both calling her number 14 times without leaving a message and making overtures to her in person, creeping her out by kneeling and begging, “Please don’t leave, Jahandra. Let me warm you with my pledge of undying affection.” Her boyfriend, the stoner Zac, is played by DJ Perry. And it’s DJ Perry we have to thank for this piece of garbage, since he produced and helped write it. Its production values for normal scenes are actually not that bad (reminiscent of an X-Files episode) but the acting, along with the horrid script, is probably one of the reasons that Knight Chills belongs in the horror section.

That and the whole revenge theme and coming back from the Beyond. John unfortunately doesn’t stay dead and instead returns as the semi-mysterious Black Knight. Does he right wrongs in this new form? No, he continues the lame existence he already had and leaves red roses as an ominous foreshadowing before killing his fellow roleplayers who mocked him in life. Maybe they deserve it too; they also mock him at his own funeral, clowning around until they are shushed. Despite his purported knightly ideals in life, the Black Knight also kills off a random, innocent bystander girl. For a fuller plot summary with many more laughs than the actual Knight Chills, read Something Awful’s review.

Gaming in Knight Chills: “This is a game.”

For all of its many evils, Knight Chills does manage to capture some typical gaming moments in the two gaming sessions at the start of the film, however poorly lit they are. The group plays by candlelight, of course, as all true role-players do, in a basement with cobblestones painted onto the cinderblocks. Wooden shelves loaded with miniatures beckon over the GM’s shoulder. The GM even wears a special Renaissance hat in the second session. The players break down as follows:

  • John – Sir Jonathan Kallio, a Knight of the Rose, High Executioner, Protector of the Golden Flame of the Ancients, who wields a Sword of Righteousness
  • Zac – Morgan who wields a sword (and has the least amount of roleplaying time on screen)
  • Brooke – The enchantress Jahandra who uses “Dagger of Fire” and “Angelic Blast” spell abilities
  • Nancy – The ranger Shanara who uses enchanted arrows
  • Hanee – Teek, who has a Brooch of Illusion which grants invisibility. He also has a Crystal of Penetration.
  • Russell – Aristo the bard, who curiously wields a battle axe (unless he is referring to his guitar as his axe)
  • Laura – Catherine, a priestess, who stands ready with her herbs and magic, serving her “Ultimate God”

The players encounter goblins in the first session before confronting an ice demon with an “icy scourge” on a mountainside. Jack the GM (or Lord of Lore in the film’s fictional RPG) narrates with passion, but the real conflict at the table happens between players John and Hanee, whose characters come to blows after Hanee has Teek attempt to spook Sir Kallio’s horse. The action spills over into real life, despite warnings that “This is a game.” Hanee fumes outside the GM’s house, “I’m going to choke the piss out of that little geek.”

In the second session the characters are in a maze and take turns describing their characters’ actions. The GM pulls Hanee aside into a different room to describe what Teek sees as he scouts ahead. This is a nice touch and perhaps the first and only cinematic capture of roleplaying on the side of a group. The camera circles around the room as the group fights a demon. Throughout both gaming sessions there are sound effects and music, added to heighten the viewer’s tension. I’m on the fence about their inclusion, but since Knight Chills is so bad, it doesn’t really matter anyway. More interestingly, while they play with miniatures, there are also random Woodland Scenics trees on the tabletop in both scenes. I have to imagine that director Katherine Hicks or one of the set directors suggested adding them to create a more visually interesting tabletop, but they are odd and out of place.

While it’s never shown on camera, John also works as a hobby shop clerk where a popular game called Pandemonium is played. When the GM confides that he can’t let his wife know about his spending habits, John is in disbelief, “No way! You can never spend too much on gaming stuff!” John has a point there.

The Redemption Found in Knight Chills

For a brief moment Knight Chills actually gets good. John has died and his funeral’s over. Jack the GM calls to his wife to come downstairs, asking if she’s touched anything. Miniatures have mysteriously been set up on the basement table on a “dungeon floor plan”, which the wife recognizes as the layout of their house! They go to check on their son and his rocking horse is rocking eerily, but he’s “fast asleep” in bed. Creepy! Sadly this doesn’t continue and rather than the survivors needing to roleplay or analyze miniatures to solve the mystery, the Black Knight slowly stalks and kills off his victims. The miniatures scene also features the best actor in the film, Tim Jeffrey, as the GM. His on-screen partner Laura, played by Laura Alexander, is the pits though. Ultimately roleplaying does play a part in dealing with the Black Knight at the climax of the film with the GM using his Ultimate GM Authority, “I command you to hold, for I, and I alone, am the Lord of the Lore. You have done well on your quest. All your enemies are vanquished and you’ve won the love of fair Jahandra with your courage and your bravery. I declare this campaign over. You may cross over now, into the Hall of Heroes where you may eat and drink and sing song until ye be summoned to action once again.” If only I got to make such speeches at the end of every adventure or campaign!

All Those Other Gaming Movies: Not So Bad

Apart from those few scenes, another redeeming quality that Knight Chills has is that it makes other bad movies about roleplaying look brilliant by comparison. I would gladly watch the bizarre Skullduggery over and over again rather than ever lay eyes on Knight Chills again. Geekin’ can be painful to watch, but at least it has some comedic moments. The fairly straight-laced Mazes and Monsters seems better and better every time I’ve watched Knight Chills. Maybe that guy Tom Hanks should have gotten an Oscar for his part.

And What Knight Chills Reveals About IMDB

Knight Chills also revealed something else. It has a number of accurate reviews on IMDB.com for a movie that is on the level of Transylvania 5000, Ishtar, and Batman & Robin; most reviewers try to warn other viewers about what a horrible movie it is and to avoid it at all costs. Their warnings:

  • “the dumbest movie ever made” – angelandthebeast
  • “the worst piece of crap I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of horrible B-movies)” – moovie_expert
  • “Whatever you do, do not waste your time or money on this one!!!!!” – bluebloodraven
  • “I had honestly thought I had seen the worst movies had to offer, until I saw Knight Chills I was wrong.” – JFerenczy

So it stands out when users give it 6, 7, 8 and even 10 stars. I’ll be the first to admit that my Perception can be quite low, but it has taken me all these years to recognize that IMDB can be a great haven for internet trolls, who can rate a bad movie positively just to enjoy their victims’ imagined anguish and grief. Further investigation also reveals that many of the positive reviews were done by reviewers who only have reviewed Knight Chills and no other movies. Knight Shills anyone? In all fairness, most of the negative reviewers from above had also only reviewed Knight Chills and no other movie on IMDB, but I tend to credit that to their humanity and overwhelming desire to save others’ time from the horror that is Knight Chills.

Consider, if you care to, the following review and note the reviewer’s IMDB username. Either it’s a perfect internet trolling or a bit of self-promotion from the film’s producer/writer/stoner.

imdb review with name djperry at top and 10 stars for film Knight Chills

DVD Bonus Features: The Dungeon

If you actually bother to watch Knight Chills despite warnings about how bad it is, at least reward yourself with the Dungeon Tour bonus feature. In it, one of the writers, Jeff Kennedy, takes the viewer on a tour of the basement room or “dungeon” used for the roleplaying sessions. Kennedy also explains that some of the film’s bizarre RPG persecution scenes were based on his own life as a teacher. Besides the aforementioned shelves of miniatures, there are also trophies that Kennedy’s gaming club collected from years of attending Gen Con and a giant Shivan Dragon M:TG card. Kennedy started the dungeon in 1989, but began gaming as a wargamer in the 1970s, and built his own custom, maplewood gaming table as well as an initiative tracker using wooden discs on a rod. Kennedy ends his tour by saying “Gaming inspired my partner DJ Perry and I to write and produce Knight Chills – and possibly Knight Chills – Part 2, we’ll see – and I hope it inspires you to do a bit more gaming. Some of the best times I’ve ever had have been around this table gaming.”

Crokinole – The One Flick You Must See

Black and Red Crokinole Discs on Board

Crokinole: Played by Flicking Wooden Discs Towards Board’s Center

If you’re familiar with the game of crokinole, then odds are that you’re either a hardcore board gamer or a grey-haired white guy from rural Canada as the documentary Crokinole reveals. The epicenter of the crokinole world would seem to be Tavistock, Canada, and it’s there that much of the 2006 documentary takes place, at the 2004 World Crokinole Championship. But what is crokinole? Crokinole is a board game that involves flicking wooden discs towards the center of a round board and knocking your opponents’ discs out into a gutter akin to shuffleboard or its indoor version, table shuffleboard, occasionally encountered at bars in America. It’s a pleasant enough game, involving skill and coordination, and can be quite satisfying, especially when a 20 is scored, the game’s equivalent to a bullseye. Crokinole is also a rather obscure game, with the game’s name unknown to modern computer spell checkers and college-educated professionals alike, so for it to be the subject of a documentary is fascinating in its own right.

Once you’ve understood the basic flicking mechanic of crokinole, the claims of the documentary to be “THE ONE FLICK YOU MUST SEE” will make more sense and seem a good deal less boastful. Crokinole opens by quoting from the 1897 Selected Journals of L.M. Montgomery:

We went over to the party but I can’t say I really enjoyed myself. Alf doesn’t dance – thinks it the unpardonable sin, I believe – and I didn’t like to leave him alone among the strangers with nothing to amuse him. So I didn’t dance much either but played croquinole most of the evening and was bored to the point of tears. I love dancing and I loathe croquinole.

Cover of Crokinole the one flick you must see with sunglassed player in blue shirtFrom that high point, the film slowly and pleasantly meanders. Crokinole lacks the narrative punch of other documentaries about competitive pastimes like Spellbound or Word Wars, but like them though, Crokinole is the authoritative documentary on its subject. While slow, the documentarians have covered all of their bases with the film, which captures multiple viewpoints on competitive crokinole. It’s also well-scored by the Earl Jones Trio. The film’s greatest strength though is its excellent tongue-in-cheek marketing, with the back cover stating “Those who have the adequate endurance to remain in a plastic chair for hours will excel, while those who cannot withstand the rigorous demands of a stationary position will falter.” This attitude towards crokinole seems to be widely shared by its Canadian players and the residents of Tavistock who all have a dry humor about the game and its championship tournament. “How could you miss it?” laughs one resident. A World Crokinole Championship referee sheepishly jokes about his neon safety vest, while another resident smiles and says of crokinole, “I wouldn’t say it’s nail-biting action like other sports, but yeah, it’s alright.” Gillies Lake Productions takes it further on the DVD cover and preemptively forewarns the would-be viewer with a quote from Bob Mader that “… It’s a long long grind.” Yes, yes, it is. While that statement isn’t misleading, the cover of the DVD is. On the copy I watched, the cover is dominated by the concentrating sunglassed Paul Stewart, an American player from Texas. It’s a decent image, but Stewart is in less than 2 of the movie’s 79 minutes. Most of the players are a great deal older and it would be more accurate to think of Crokinole as the Grumpy Old Men of gaming movies.

The Demographics of Crokinole

Fortunately for the viewer, the crokinole players that Crokinole introduces are all charming and congenial. They are also a very homogenous group, all white and predominately male. Two middle-aged or older women are also shown as part of the World Crokinole Committee. If Crokinole is sounding more and more like Cocoon, that’s not far off (though to be accurate, younger female players can be seen in the background of the World Championship footage). Brothers Jason and Raymond Bierling from “up country” are notable for both their red-hair and being “quite young” (someone thinks they are in their mid-20s) and while they appear in Crokinole, they are not the focus of the film. Nor is the similarly-aged, long-haired and bearded Birch Kuch from the Yukon who briefly makes an appearance in the championship.

Grey-haired and with glasses Joe Fulop concentrates over a crokinole board at the 2004 World Crokinole Championship

Three Time World Crokinole Singles Champion Joe Fulop © Bill Gladding / Tavistock Gazette

The Champions

Instead, filmmakers Joshua and Jonathan Steckley focus on four subjects. Farmer Dan Shantz is a previous winner of the 2001 Doubles Crokinole Championship and got a lot of practice as a child when he was ill and housebound, playing each of his fingers against the others. Unfortunately Shantz doesn’t tell us whether his pinky beat out his index finger, but his anecdote speaks volumes about the amount of solo practice championship crokinole requires. Grandfather Bob Mader may or may not be a farmer, but he lives in or near a village, and won $500 for his third place finish in a World Crokinole Championship. Mader played for Canada in the 1962 World Ice Hockey Championships, but sustained a knee injury in the championship game against the USA. The film jacket humorously advises in the rating section that Crokinole contains Canadian accents, but Mader’s speech like many of the others who appear in the film is also quaint and charming. Ringing a bell on his home’s porch, Mader reminisces, “Give it a dingle, that was dinnertime.” Joe Fulop is a part-time teacher, golf enthusiast, and the 2001 & 2002 Crokinole Singles World Champion. Someone says of Fulop, “That’s what he has for breakfast: crokinole. For dinner: crokinole.” It’s probably accurate on some days, because Fulop does play a lot of crokinole against himself. One of the challenges facing Fulop is his escalating Parkinson’s disease. He manages some humor about it. When asked whether it’s the worst disease for a crokinole player, Fulop’s eyes twinkle as he responds, “Well, cancer’s worse.” Al Fuhr is the fourth subject and most athletic, playing on two baseball teams when not fishing or flicking crokinole discs. Comparing himself to the single Fulop, Fuhr points out about himself that he leads an active lifestyle, a lifestyle slightly crimped because of an accident involving a 500-pound shed door which fell on his head.

Bald-headed crokinole player Al Fuhr concentrates during World Crokinole Championships

Crokinole Subject Al Fuhr Concentrating During the WCC © Bill Gladding / Tavistock Gazette

Mr. Crokinole and Other Crokinole Personalities

Besides the four players, the documentary focuses on Wayne Kelly, or as he is more famously known, Mr. Crokinole. Kelly runs crokinole.com and has spent a good deal of time documenting the game’s history, including the origins of the name crokinole, a difficult task given that he consulted “28 to 30” dictionaries and encyclopedias which lacked any mention of the Canadian board game. As an expert on the subject, Kelly provides the real backbone to the documentary and as one might expect, the documentary is also sold on crokinole.com. His inclusion in the documentary would seem to be mandatory. He authored The Crokinole Book which sold out of its first printing of 5,000 copies within the first year of publishing it in 1988, has had over 3,000 different crokinole and carom boards pass through his hands, and sells 5-8 crokinole boards each day.

The other subject that Crokinole frequently cuts back and forth to is Willard Martin as he constructs a crokinole board out of particle board in his workshop. Despite his hopes (and Mr. Crokinole’s) that various flubs will be edited out, they are instead preserved for the viewer to enjoy. Want to watch Martin clean his urethane brush? Joshua and Jonathan Steckley have also captured that. While most of his moments on camera could have been edited out, Willard Martin’s nostalgia as he recalls listening to the radio with his father as a child is quite touching and well worth including. Besides identifying him as Willard Martin though, the directors fail to point out Martin’s significance to crokinole. A quick Google search reveals that Willard Martin is indeed a second-generation crokinole board maker, selling his WILLARD boards through crokinolegame.ca. So great is his skill at board making that his boards have been used at the World Crokinole Championships.

The World Crokinole Committee

The World Crokinole Championships are hosted and organized by the World Crokinole Committee, as one might expect. It’s here, in showing the committee at work, that some of Crokinole’s most heated and dramatic moments can be found. Watch as a number of crokinole board storage boxes fall over! Listen as the committee discusses the “pro-cess” for paperwork. Board 46 is missing! Someone may have taken one of the boards to get some illegal practice in! Sadly, the investigation into the missing board is stopped once it is located. It’s because of scenes like this, the Canadian accents, and the film’s many other ironies that Crokinole also feels like an extended episode of Kids in the Hall from time to time and occasionally made me wonder whether Crokinole is a mockumentary or not. If it is, the humor is so slight and its treatment of its subjects so gentle that it barely registers as such, besides being non-fictional.

No Slam Dunks in Crokinole: The Crokinole World Championship

Just like children and beginners getting strikes in bowling, it is quite possible for newbies to get a 20 in crokinole. Scoring a 20 while also knocking your opponent’s piece into the gutter is even fancier, but there’s no equivalent to slam dunking in crokinole. There’s nothing the “masters” of the game can do that a player at home cannot. Because of this much of the World Crokinole Championship is uninspiring to watch. For about five minutes in Crokinole though, the flicking is fast and furious as 20 after 20 is scored by Joe Fulop and Al Fuhr in the semi-finals. It only escalates from there in the championship as stony-faced Joe Fulop battles the much younger Brian Cook. “The third time is the sweetest,” Fulop says after his victory.

Cameraman films the 2004 World Crokinole Championship between Brian Cook and Joe Fulop as neon-vest wearing referee watches

2004 World Crokinole Championship: Cook vs. Fulop © Bill Gladding / Tavistock Gazette

Strategy in Crokinole?

While the champion and runner-up certainly exhibit great skill, a different moment in Crokinole had me shaking my head. When asked about Al Fuhr and how his crokinole playing compares to his baseball playing, his baseball coach Tom Myers, says “He’s extremely competitive, regardless of which he’s playing and strategic. I mean, crokinole, he’s thinking three plays ahead and in the ball diamond, he’s the same. He’s thinking two or three batters ahead, where I should be putting it on the plate. So [he’s] strategic in both too.” Now unless I’m missing something huge about the game of crokinole, it seems that the goal and strategy never vary: score as many points as you can and prevent your opponent from doing so. Just like picking up a split spare in bowling or playing darts, playing well requires finesse and a lot of practice, but there is no change in strategy.

The Whole Crokinole… Almost

Board level view of Crokinole guards

Crokinole Posts Make the Game Harder But No Change in Strategy

Despite the Steckleys’ thoroughness in documenting the many foibles of crokinole and mining the game’s depths for any humor, the directors missed the easy laugh that is “the one-cheek rule”, instead only covering it in the DVD’s special features. According to the one-cheek rule, crokinole players must keep one butt cheek on the chair at all times. This restricts players’ movements while at the same time preventing any tables from getting flipped. As a reaction to the one-cheek rule, crokinole is sometimes played on a rotating Lazy Susan to aid players in getting that perfect shot. The directors do include crokinole played with cue sticks (which is also a part of the World Crokinole Championships), but it would have been interesting to see or hear about any violations of the one-cheek rule or players’ opinions on rotating crokinole boards. They also include such crokinole slang as a “doogie”, which should never be confused with the “dougie” dance. A doogie is a 20 in the regional slang of Tavistock, Ontario. There is more humor as doogie is misidentified as the German word for twenty (zwanzig).

Photos of Joe Fulop, Al Fuhr, and Championship Match between Brian Cook and Joe Fulop © Bill Gladding / Tavistock Gazette and used with permission and many thanks.

DVD: The Dungeon Masters (2008)

Blue skinned cartoon drow on cover of 2008 DVD Jacket of The Dungeon MastersThe Dungeon Masters is a depressing documentary from 2008 about the depressing lives of three gamers. In form and style, The Dungeon Masters is everything a documentary should be. The visuals are excellent, with good establishing shots, steady camerawork, and zero confusion in transitions. As far as content and its subject matter, The Dungeon Masters is deceptively titled, especially for existing gamers who would imagine that the movie might actually capture what the role of being a Dungeon Master or Game Master is all about. The movie doesn’t go there. There aren’t topics like “Dealing with Problem Players” or “How I Became a DM”. Even if “Dungeon Master” is taken to be about being a master of Dungeons & Dragons, the title is way off and sure to arouse the ire of even casual D&D players.

The only parts of The Dungeon Masters I can recommend are the opening Gen Con sequence and the filming at a LARP in Mississippi for four minutes. Otherwise the movie has little to do with gaming and too much to do with the dysfunctional lives of its three subjects. Even though it is only an hour and 27 minutes, The Dungeon Masters has the emotional impact of Sam and Frodo’s trek through Mordor and seems like a much longer film. At the same time, director Keven McAlester and editor Christine Khalafian vary the shots and cut between the subjects enough that the despair and loneliness never get tedious. Just when you think that you have a handle on each GM’s life and problems, there’s another horrible revelation or another misfortune waiting in the wings. Having seen it multiple times now, I would rather watch Precious or The Human Centipede again before I shoulder the burden of another viewing of The Dungeon Masters. Comic relief is sparse, unless you are laughing at gamers’ expense. By comic relief, I mean that I chuckled when I saw that some school children were following the costumed Scott Corum along outside his son’s school, obviously fascinated by his strange outfit.

Keven McAlester’s film is so unflattering to its subjects and gaming as a whole that I give credence to claims that McAlester may have approached and edited the film with an agenda other than portraying the truth, but that is a subject for another day.

Gen Con

The first 13 minutes of Dungeon Masters is a captivating look at the three GMs in the context of the 2006 Gen Con and manages to capture as much of Gen Con in that brief time as Hobocon does in its entirety. The gloom of the rest of the movie is also absent in the Shangri-La that is Gen Con. Besides introducing the three DMs, there are interviews with many other gamers, gamers who do not appear later in the movie. For the most part, it’s also the most colorful and action-packed part of The Dungeon Masters, as the camera focuses on costumed attendee after costumed attendee, Gen Con’s opening balloons, and Cardhalla in an accurate encapsulation of the Best 4 Days of Gaming.

The LARP Segment

“When you played Cops and Robbers, you were LARPing. When you were playing dress up with your mom’s clothes, you were LARPing. When you were hiding them from your mom after you were done, you were LARPing and learning how to lie, which is a great LARP skill.”

– Jeffrey Ingram

The LARP segment is much briefer at only four minutes or so, but also embodies the sights and sounds of a LARP. Based on the reference to a Celestial column of magic and the called damage, the Live Action Role-Playing sequence seemed like a NERO LARP or an offshoot, which in fact it is. The LARP is Cerroneth, which is part of the SOLAR rules system. LARPer Jeffrey Ingram describes LARPing inclusively: “When you played Cops and Robbers, you were LARPing. When you were playing dress up with your mom’s clothes, you were LARPing. When you were hiding them from your mom after you were done, you were LARPing and learning how to lie, which is a great LARP skill.” In particular, I love how the camera captures the PCs spilling out of the tavern, surging forward as they do battle with the four undead who have come to harass the town. The drow of The Dungeon Masters, Elizabeth Reesman abandons playing her character to serve as a Monster Marshall; it would have been great if she had been asked to compare GMing tabletop games with GMing a LARP, but the closest the movie comes is Reesman’s love interest Jack Penton’s praise for her devotion as a DM.

The Dungeon Masters Themselves

GMing and role-playing are deeply personal and criticisms of one’s RP can be devastating. Players’ creative and intellectual reputations can be on the line. With that said, I have to imagine that any tabletop gamer watching The Dungeon Masters has had more meaningful and entertaining roleplay than the scant bit the film portrays. These are not masters of their craft. I think they would say as much themselves, despite their vanity. Role-playing is ultimately about FUN. D&D didn’t sell millions of copies without being fun, yet none of that is apparent watching the film’s three GMs at work.

Richard Meeks

Seattle-based Richard Meeks has what appears to be the most stable home life, working a 9 to 5 in the King County Waste Water Treatment Division and serving as a US Air Force reservist one weekend a month. His second wife doesn’t share his interest in gaming, much less seem interested by it. Meeks ranges from eccentricity to downright villainy. What will viewers remember him for? His nudist lifestyle, the emotional abandonment of his stepchildren from his first marriage, or for being a self-important party-killing DM? Meeks describes his party’s encounter with a Sphere of Annihilation as, “somebody got stupid and just decided to run through a door.” This is punishment from the DM though because Meeks “was just really mad that they were being so greedy” and therefore put an end to 7 real life years of adventuring for his Florida players. The camera catches Meeks’ journey out to Florida years later as he makes amends with a final game, letting his former players save the world of Greyhawk. Later though he sends a pissy email to his Washington players ending his campaign with them.

“You do not play Dungeons & Dragons to win or lose it in the Monopoly sense… You play the game for the experiences that you’re going to go through, not where it’s going to end up.”

– Scott Corum

I have only encountered Meeks’ brand of GMing once and it came as a shock. For most role-players, Scott Corum’s description of RPGs is accurate: “You do not play Dungeons & Dragons to win or lose it in the Monopoly sense… You play the game for the experiences that you’re going to go through, not where it’s going to end up.” Despite what Meeks says to the contrary about a GM not flaunting his power, for Meeks it is about winning or losing. His gamer friend questions whether he’s going to kill the party as Meeks reviews a Greyhawk module on public transit; he smirks in response. “Because If I don’t kill you by midnight then I haven’t done my job,” Meeks threatens his Washington players. While player death is a great motivator, for Meeks it seems to go much deeper psychologically. “But if I really wanted to, I could kill any of you and I know that,” he has to point out to his players, who admittedly seemed to be enjoying themselves. One of his Florida players finds this style to be fun, saying “Richard is a very entertaining Game Master. He has a real knack for making the player characters feel that they’ve accomplished something in some way.” In character taunts are one thing, but most players I know would have nothing to do with a GM who taunts them out of character.

Scott Corum

Scott Corum overlaps with Richard Meeks in his own grandiosity. The creative and charming Corum is shown working on his modern day fantasy adventure book manuscript throughout the film. He also pursues his own program on the local cable access show in Torrance, CA. Besides a Strategicon DM t-shirt, Corum also has plenty of stories, divulging his teenage nickname “Sherlock”, his $50,000 in educational loan debt, and a background in puppetry. McAlester captures moments of domestic strife between Scott Corum and his more down-to-earth wife. When they’re not disagreeing with each other on camera, Corum has to ask whether the family can afford $20 so he can get new shoes at Payless. This trouble is compounded by his close attachment to one of his player’s wives, which comes to a head on camera when the player confronts his wife about something involving her “best friend” Corum. Corum is vague about what the exact trouble is. These unflattering moments could be studied in a psychology or sociology class and the term “emotional affair” might be used.

Corum is full of hopes and literary dreams, shedding tears when literary agent Denise Dumars telling him that she fell out of her chair after her professional reader read seven page’s of Corum’s book and told her “Buy it! The people who love The Da Vinci Code will love it.” Dumas continues to blow smoke up Corum’s ass, praising the first hundred pages of With a Single Wish Forever as “really, really good.” She goes on to relate a meeting she’s supposedly had with a Del Rey acquisitions editor who is looking for a series of books to buy and how she was thinking “Three book deal!” Consequently Corum praises her as the best agent in the world. In true Dungeon Masters fashion though, she calls and informs Corum that she hates his book. How she couldn’t have realized that from the first 100 pages, if she’d actually read them, is beyond me.

Elizabeth Reesman

It’s easy to forget that Elizabeth Reesman is a Dungeon Master, since only two minutes of her DMing are ever shown in the documentary. Instead McAlester focuses on her drow alter ego and her pillows stained with her black makeup. Living on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, Reesman is recovering from Hurricane Katrina and there’s many shots of her environment to remind us of how far from cleaned up the region was in 2006. Why does Reesman play World of Warcraft in her full drow makeup in a motel room, the viewer may wonder as she does just that on screen. It’s one of the more puzzling scenes in the movie that hints at a fuller untold story. Almost every segment featuring Reesman, in fact, seems to center around her costuming and her putting her makeup on. Despite two boyfriends’ praise of Reesman’s gaming skills, she is never treated as Meeks’ or Corum’s gaming equal, though she shares in their cup of misery. Reesman’s ex-husband was violently abusive and she had a miscarriage the day after her wedding. She also fends off her employer’s sexual harassment and has trouble finding new employment.

The Mirror of The Dungeon Masters

Don’t we all know some fellow gamers like the three in The Dungeon Masters? If your pool of acquaintances is large enough, Meeks, Corum, and Reesman should be vaguely familiar. These are all people I would game with, even PK-happy Meeks. I have questioned when exactly it is that some gamer friends see their wives or children or have been startled to learn that they actually have them in the first place. I’m open to the idea that one of the reasons I might dislike The Dungeon Masters and find it so disheartening is that it hits fairly close to home. Meeks and Corum are both self-important and vain; I share in their egotism. I have ended a D&D campaign angrily, frustrated by competing distractions and I have to admit that in his aspirations, Scott Corum is a kindred spirit. Hell, I love UHF and have even dreamed of my own horrible public access TV shows over the years. Fortunately I just don’t have a documentary film crew capturing me at my worst (I leave that to my own writing).

In the end, I would rather escape and laugh along as fictional characters’ lives fall to pieces in movies like Observe and Report, Super, and Foot Fist Way than watch reality play out on screen as it does in McAlester’s film. The Dungeon Masters is worth visiting once, but then belongs safely below ground, locked away like the Tomb of Horrors that it is.

Geekin’

Morgan Rejoicing on Cover of DVD Geekin'In the first two minutes of the film Geekin’, the love interest Meredith provides ample warning, stating “Alright, this sucks.” Make no mistake about it: Geekin’ sucks. It requires a Fortitude check to make it through to some of the better parts at the end of the movie. Watching it two times was once too many. The framing of shots is bad, the picture quality is inconsistent, and the acting ranges from horrible to merely tolerable. Skullduggery was a pretty awful movie, but is many times more entertaining by comparison. To give Geekin’ some credit, it was in the vanguard of gamer films, released in 2006 by Digitribe Productions, and is most likely a first-time effort for most of the parties involved. Geekin’ bills itself as “Love, Jealousy, and Twenty-Sided Dice”, but the most accurate part is the jealousy. Geekin’ is a romantic comedy without any love and short on the laughs. If you like high school drama though and gamers squabbling, Geekin’ packs it in.

The plot of Geekin’ centers around childhood best friends and current twenty-somethings Morgan and Brown. Gamers Morgan and Brown come to odds over Morgan’s online friend Meredith. Besides his ponytail and leather jacket, Brown is a douche because he immediately starts hitting on his best friend’s love interest shortly after Morgan’s met her in the flesh, as well as putting Morgan down. Morgan is a whiny loser, “timid” in Meredith’s words, and behaves like a jackass during the middle portion of the movie. Despite being the film’s main character, Morgan has no strengths or likable qualities. At one point, he postures himself as though casually reading a book in the dark in a parking lot. His one trait seems to be that he likes soap operas. There are several references to this as the movie develops, but this never goes anywhere because the fantasy soap opera sequence featuring Geekin’s characters was cut. Watching it on the Deleted Scenes is telling because the actors’ humorous melodramatic soap opera acting isn’t far off from their acting in the actual movie. Watching the director and some of the cast explaining why it was cut is also more engaging than the actual movie as well.

Plot B involves the four other guys who round out the group, specifically the relationship breakdown of another set of BFFs, Austin and Mooney. Trench coat wearing Mooney learns that Austin dated his high school girlfriend (but is unaware that Austin is also into his mother). This and several other parts of Geekin’ serve as evidence of director John Morehead’s Kevin Smith fandom. There’s an expletive-laden invective against Morgan delivered by the feisty Penny (Briana Westmoreland) that could have been ripped straight out of Clerks and then when it comes time for the various groups to attempt resolution, Brown denies the possibility of a threesome a la Chasing Amy. What Morgan devises instead is a pretty unique use of role-playing in cinema; Morgan will GM the feuding parties, including Brown and his confirmed girlfriend Meredith through a special adventure in order to reconcile them. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but the climax of the movie basically is a tabletop session spoiled by the character Wes.

The Good in Geekin’

By far the best part of Geekin’ is the earnest character of Wes, played by Jason Von Stein. Wes is something of a munchkin, plays Gump the Gnome, and is ridiculed by his fellow players, who call him Captain Twink and “Gnome Boy”. He also gets the best lines in the movie as the dorky doofus that the rest of his friends have to keep in check. He drifts off in a diner having fantasies of Gump the Gnome and then uses an RPG book to cover his lap in embarrassment when Morgan intrudes. When Morgan is unsure of whether he can trust Wes with some relationship drama, Wes holds up his hand saying “You have my Arwellian Oath of the Gnome Clan,” before Morgan interrupts his nerdy oath. There’s really not enough Wes in Geekin’, but he’s the best reason to see or get the film.

Besides Wes there are a few other laughs in the film. The first party member is introduced as having been trained by a blind swordsman, his parents murdered in a bandit raid. Saurlin the Wizard’s parents were murdered and then there’s “Gump the Gnome, a powerful warrior in his own right, despite his birth race. His parents were murdered.” That got a chuckle from me. There are attempted jabs at X-Files and Jennifer Garner in Elektra. The non-Wes comedic dialogue tops out with “It’s creepy. It’s like kissing Crispin Glover,” though watching it the second time around, the line “Morgan is a great guy,” is also a contender.

One of the few redeeming things Morgan does in the movie and probably the only touching moment is when he makes a stop animation video of lawn gnomes coming to a truce in an effort to win over the girl he wants to sleep with in order to make Brown jealous. The sole romantic gesture in the movie is undercut by Morgan’s attempt to spark Brown’s jealousy. The gnome sequence is also one of the better uses of music in Geekin’, which at times seems like a showcase for local musicians or band member friends of the director. The soundtrack is one of the better parts of Geekin’ with “Everyone Thinks I’m Special” by The Down Ten a notable standout. However the soundtrack is poorly mixed with the dialogue, creating odd contrived moments in the movie.

The Gaming in Geekin’

While there’s two segments involving comic books, most of the geekery in Geekin’ does center around gaming. It’s a surprise then that the gamers fake-play Xbox. While there are multiple tabletop sessions in Geekin’, most of the plot takes place away from the gaming table at Brown’s house. While there though, a Ravenloft poster haunts the wall and Austin wears his Storm of Chaos T-shirt, while another wears a Nosferatu clan shirt. There’s Mountain Dew, junk food, miniatures in the distance, and a bookshelf bursting with sourcebooks. The gamers do their shopping at The Wizard’s Staff store, a huge gaming store with sparsely populated shelves and two store clerks who dismiss Morgan’s exuberant dancing through the store because he’s finally slept with Meredith as “Gay.”

The RPG that the group plays appears to be called “Farmers and Homesteaders” and takes place in the world of Tir Sidaj. In Farmers and Homesteaders, there’s an attribute called Wits and players make opposed rolls to hit enemies in combat. There’s a repeated joke revolving around playing a “healing bind witch”, which seems to an undesirable yet necessary class or role akin to the treatment of clerics in some circles. When new girl Penny shows up looking for Brown, the players leap at the chance that Penny might play one, vetoing her idea of choosing Archer or Merchant for her Class. In the fictional RPG of Geekin’ there is also a Severed Knight class, which is usually restricted, but which Morgan gives to Wes to win him over, also giving him a “Fury Blade”, a +5 weapon with the Ripping effect. There’s also Blood Wizards, Thieves, Monks of the Third Awareness, and Bard/Scholars.

There are also several classic tabletop RPG gaming dilemnas that the film explores, such as players interrupting the GM, the occasional unpopularity of GMing, taking back actions, and the role or roll of attributes and rules in storytelling. Even as Morgan tries to narrate a wizard’s magical infusion of a map into the PCs minds to help them on their task, munchkin Wes is once again stealing the show by trying to resist the magician’s intrusion into his mind, “I’m rolling to save against magic. What?! I don’t want any wizard messing with my brain, I’m rolling.”

As tedious and excruciating as other parts of the movie can be, in its portrayal of role players Geekin’ is spot on. It does capture what life can be like around the playing table, especially when players and GMs argue. As funny as Wes can be though, every single game session I’ve ever played in was much more entertaining and had more laughs than Geekin’ manages to elicit.

Combat Con 2012: Luke Lafontaine’s Role in Role Models

Western Martial Artist Luke Lafontaine with a Sword in Hand in Vendors' Hall at Combat Con

Luke Lafontaine at Combat Con

One person I met Friday night at Combat Con 2012 back in July was Luke Lafontaine. He had my attention when he mentioned his first on-screen performance as a martial artist in the original Karate Kid (1984), in which he was originally scripted to fight against Ralph Macchio’s Daniel. An intervention from a social worker because Lafontaine was 16 at the time delayed his involvement and resulted in his scheduled fight going to another actor. However what really caught my attention was Lafontaine’s role in 2008’s Role Models which is easily the most widely-seen example of LARPing captured on film.

Lafontaine was brought onto Role Models by its stunt coordinator Jeff Imada. The battle scenes at the end of the movie were filmed at Disney Ranch and Lafontaine worked on the film for two weeks. Working with foam weapons was a change for Lafontaine, who grew up surrounded by ancient and medieval weapons through his father’s work for the Met in New York City. As for his own role models, Lafontaine ranks the stunt work of Vic Armstrong, Bob Anderson, and Terry Leonard quite highly. Like many of the other WMA enthusiasts I spoke to before Combat Con, Lafontaine was also fond of The Duellists as far as cinematic duels, pointing to the small sword duel at the beginning of the film as his favorite onscreen duel.

Lafontaine took the time to explain some of the basics of the business side of Hollywood stuntwork to me, specifically how a stunt coordinator can subcontract out stuntwork to other coordinators who might in turn train actors or other stuntmen to choreograph a fight. Watching Deadliest Warrior after Combat Con 2012, I was pleasantly surprised to see Lafontaine appear on the French Musketeer team in the Musketeer vs. Ming Warrior episode, firing the flintlock musket and wielding the rapier and main gauche combination. Speaking about the French Musketeer Lafontaine boasts, “There’s a lot of lace, a lot of velvet, and feathers in your hats. You think rock stars get a lot of women? You have no idea the Musketeers’ reputation for pulling in the ladies and being badasses.” As Deadliest Warrior’s Property/Weapons Foreman David Baker had mentioned before Combat Con, he knows many of the specialists on the show from the world of Western Martial Arts and tries to bring on experienced and knowledgeable experts, but sometimes an “expert” is cast because he happens to be the right ethnicity. In the case of Lafontaine though, despite his French roots being spot on, he is the real deal. Lafontaine’s credits include Iron Man, Beowulf, Green Hornet, and The Adventures of Tintin.

Lafontaine heads War Studios and took the time for me to get some of his thoughts on Role Models, Karate Kid, and LARPing on camera. David Baker makes a special guest appearance at the beginning as well.

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.