An In-Depth Interview with Steve

This is a much more in-depth interview than the previous one, but definitely worth the read.

Why did you choose the subject of gaming?

Well one day I was at a board meeting for Texas Student Publications at the University of Texas at Austin Union Building, and I noticed scheduled for the board room after us, was a group called the “Austin Celestial LARPers”. Not having much of a life at the time (this was before I met my new bride Tiffany), I decided to wait around and see what this group was. Soon, a bunch of 20-somethings showed up and started putting on suits and dresses and interesting make-up. I asked them who they were, and they got very defensive at first. After talking to them a while, they explained that LARP stood for Live Action Role Playing, and that they were about to play a game where they acted out the parts of their individual characters. Learning my background (Radio-TV-Film), they started a conversation on how gamers of all sorts were always horribly misrepresented in the media, and then they started listing examples. I asked them if anyone had ever done an accurate portrayal of game rs, and they said no. So, having access to cameras, I decided to make a documentary on gamers and get “the real story” out there.

Did you intend to take an objective look at gaming or gamers or was your purpose to bring some understanding about gaming to those who are offended by it or ignorant of it?

A little of both. The primary motivation was to give some real data to all those out there with opinions based on a bad book and a worse movie that came out 30+ years ago. I think a lot of it was to help people who don’t do it understand what it is all about, so that whatever opinions non-gamers form, it is based more on reality. Also probably to counter some of the negative media attention gamers are historically given.

How did you feel when you found this film being favorably accepted and winning awards?

I was very pleased, obviously. It made me feel like I’d done something for an underdog group that had been picked on a little too much.

How long did it take you to make it? (I think I read a year on your site – is that accurate?)

Well, we started shooting in November of 2002 I believe. We were “done shooting” several times and kept going back for “just one more interview.” The main editing was done in spring of 2004, but then we had to convert it to DVD, and that took a while as well.

How many hours of footage?

I believe the final count came out to be about 50 hours, give or take.

What was your budget?

About $24,000 I think, all straight out of my life savings… Heh, so, feel free to direct your newsroom to buy a copy online… 🙂

Will you say what you have grossed on it? Are you a rich soldier now?

I’ve grossed probably about $12,000 or so, which puts me about half way to breaking even. Part of that is because we started DVD sales right away, and I got deployed just as things started to pick up, and it never got a big theater run. The Angelika screenings I think will be a big turning point for the film.

What were the locations used?

We shot in Austin, Round Rock, Dallas (for the sillouetted police officer), Little Rock Arkansas (to get Bob Larson), Lake Geneva WI (for Gary Gygax), Columbus Ohio (for the Origins Convention), and sunny Cleburne Texas.

Were there any problems to overcome, foilbles, accidents, unusual events that occured in connection with this film?

Oh of course… 🙂 Let’s see, on the way to Little Rock Arkansas I learned that my cinematographer can’t drive a stick shift, and so I had to drive the whole way there and back. I kept falling asleep on the way back, so, to keep me awake, he kept trying to, his words, “fill me with rage,” to keep me awake. So, whenever he’d notice I’d start to doze off, he say things like “You know, now that I think about it, I’m not sure I had the sound turned on during that last couple of questions…” stuff like that. Also, at the Origins convention, after shooting a Vampire game, all the vampire players wanted us to come back the next night after that. We said we’d try, and they wanted us to promise. SO, one of the female vampire players (this is before, just days before, in fact, I met my wife) challenged me, in game terms, to a “seduction challenge.” Basically, she was saying she was using the vampire power of seduction to make us come back. I had no idea exactly what this mean t, until the other gamers explained to me that if I wanted to resist her vampiric charms, I’d have to beat her in a game of rock-scissors-paper. It was confusing at the time, but she was basically Live Action Role-Playing with me. SO, I agreed, and I threw out scissors and she threw out rock, so, she won, and I had to come back the next night because I’d been “seduced” to do so. It was all in fun, but very surreal at the time, and later they told me all “newbies” always throw scissors first, so, they all knew she was going to win…

What about interesting or unusual people?

Oh just about everyone we met was unusual or interesting, or both. Cleburnite Patrick Barkman, of course, fits both those categories, but I’d already known him. The amazing thing was how friendly all the groups were, and how excited they were to invite someone knew into their ranks, even if only to watch. They were ALL very accomidating and thrilled to be a part of the film.

Patrick already outed you as a gamer, so I wondered if gaming had any correlation with you becoming a film maker – considering that you write scenarios and develop characters in gaming? And the role playing aspect as well?

D’oh! Well, there is certainly a creative aspect to both, and the love of creation is in both as well. Becoming a gamer is more about tailoring creativity to individual people and making something interactive, while films are obviously much more focused on a wider audience and less participatory. They are related though, no doubt.

What about soldiering? Has all that experience with strategy (I’m guessing) and battle influenced your wanting to be a soldier or has it helped you to be a better soldier?

Hurm, maybe a little. Strategy and tactics are ALWAYS much more fun when it is imaginary and no actual lives are relying on it. The Army is far more about time management and solving crisis and, really, a whole lot of prep work — planning, training, planning training, that sort of thing.

Do you have sand in your ears?

Not so much, but I did for sure in Desert Storm. I’m more indoors now, and right next to the Tigris river. Oh, it will get worse in the summer though, and I’ve certainly found sand in places sand should never be.

are you using any of your film skills where you are now?

Yes, but only because I’m trying to film another documentary about this deployment. I used some Uber Goober money to buy a small but high quality video camera, and I’ve taken it with me everywhere. I also used to be in the branch of the Army called Public Affairs, where soldiers do print and broadcast media. Knowing film and TV really helped then too, but that was more the Bosnian deployment.

Do you look at the world differently as a film maker? If so, how?

It depends. I do occasionally find myself looking at something and saying, “wow, that would be a great shot,” or “I have GOT to get that on film.” More often than not, I find myself cursing myself for not having a camera running 24/7, and missing that one critical moment… I hate missing those critical moments… Nearby explosions, great dialogue from the shy guy who never speaks, that sort of thing. Every time I miss one of those, it bugs me for days afterwards…

What compells you to make a film?

Well, the love of creating things is the biggest, but there is a huge amount of satisfaction in knowing that you improved someones day, or inspired them if even a little bit. All I’ve wanted to do really career wise for the last 20 years is be good enough at it I can do it as a full time job and really focus on it. It is a hard profession though, so, I’ll settle for breaking even in my spare time, provided I can make something people like and want to watch…

It is said that in every writer there is one great novel. What message will your one great film have?

Wow you ask tough questions… 🙂 Assuming I ever get that one great film out there, I’m hoping it will have a message about not judging people or organizations, particularly without doing the research into what they are really about. Few things bug me as much as this. That was a lot of Uber Goober, and I suspect you’ll see it again in this Army documentary.

What location would be your dream filming location?

It depends what I was going to film, really. There are several narrative films I’ve written that I’d like to make, and I’m not sure how many more documentary opportunities I’m going to have after this one. I think my dream filming location might be Japan, just because they have such extremes there of insane urban mixed with mountains and oceans and an endless supply of surreal personal situations. However, I’d also take Italy, just for a chance to go there with my wife…

What was it like winning the film awards you have won? Good to get some recognition, although, I was disappointed in a lot of the things that didn’t happen. Film festivals are always hit and miss, but I was hoping for a lot more hits with the ones I knew, and a lot fewer hits in places overseas, like Iceland and Germany, for example.

What will the your next film be about (the miles of footage of your new baby are a given – I mean after that)?

I’m hoping to give a personal look at the operations overseas in Iraq. Less focus on people getting blown up, more of the view of what it is really like to be pulled out of your regular life and sent to a warzone, separated from your family for 18 months. I think it is something everyone sort of wants to know, but maybe they’ve been too desensitized by all the explosion footage to be able to focus on it. And, cleverly, if I do it right, I can integrate some baby footage in there too… 🙂

What would you like to say to your old Cleburne cronies or nemeses?

Sorry I’m going to miss my 20th High School reunion. That makes two for two I’ve missed. Someone send me a group photo overseas if you get a chance… Oh, and of course, “Hi Mom!”

What about to any kids thinking of film school?

A lot of filmmakers I’ve talked to (Robert Rodriguez, Spike Lee, Kevin Smith) all told me the same thing, “If you want to be a filmmaker, go out and make a film.” Which, worked for the three of them. I’ve been making films, and realized that technique only works for the naturally gifted. For those of us who not quite to talented, practive with small stuff, stuff you are passionate about, something you know something about, and expect a whole lot more work than you’d think. Also, when you’re out there making something, picture the person who has criticized your efforts most harshly (in my case, it was Steve Jackson, but that is a whole other story), and repeat their criticism over and over in your mind as you work. This will spur you on to do extra stuff far beyond what you would otherwise, and make an average film signficantly better.

In the grand scheme of things, what great moral lesson or proverb have you learned from gaming?

Interesting question. Mostly that everyone has secret dreams and fantasies and things they would like to do. Sharing those dreams with them, no matter how brilliant or silly they are, even if you are just sitting around a table pretending to enact them, will always bring you closer together. Gamers are some of the closest knit people I’ve ever known.

What is your life’s philosophy or motto or theme song?

I have two. “Do not go gentle,” from Dylan Thomas poem, although, I mean it in the sense of not going gentle anywhere not just into that good night. The second is “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Put together, examine where you’re going and adjust it regularly, and challenge yourself.

Has there every been a study coorelating gamers and tattoos? 

Hurm, not that I know of. I’ve never noticed one. I don’t have any tattoos…

Tell me more about the people singing Amazing Grace – what was that about?

I take that song from its overall impression, rather than its literal religious meaning. It is about once being lost and now having a purpose, from whatever source of inspiration. It just seemed to fit the self-affirmation of everyone who proudly stood up and declared their geekdom at the end of the film. I’ve always loved that song.

Did your sagacity increase with the experience of making this film? If so, along what lines?

{{Quickly looks up “sagacity” on an online dictionary}} I think documentaries for sure help you develop an insight and way of looking at people, cause the whole time you shoot you have to be asking yourself what is it other people will want to know, and what will they be asking? What would help them understand what is going on? Narratives that I’ve made have a similar function, but are much more narrow, in the sense you focus more on the individual characters insights.

Any statement you’d like to make about filming or gaming or anything else that I forgot or did not know to ask?

Only that I’d like to thank all my family and friends who’ve supported me not only during my film-making, but also in my military jaunts overseas. The amount of encouragement, packages, letters, and personal help from people in both areas has been amazing. So many people will be at the opening at the Angelika, for example, even though I can’t be there. If you can, please let them know how much I appreciate all of them. It really makes a difference.

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