Taking a peek into the trials of indie video game production has led to some fascinating documentaries, such as Indie Game: The Movie (2012) and Branching Paths (2016). But those films, and others like them, never had to navigate the much more secretive world of AAA gaming, complete with non-disclosure agreements, ballooning budgets and the external pressures of public relations reps and corporate executives.
Enter Playing Hard, the first feature documentary from Jean-Simon Chartier, a look into the four-year development process of For Honor, a 2017 release for Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Microsoft Windows. The game, which sees players assuming the roles of knights, vikings and samurais in order to wage battle online, won the People’s Choice Award for Best Fighting Game in IGN’s Best of 2017 Awards.
“Playing Hard is four years in the creation of For Honor. (We witness) as the production team grows from 40 to 500 people,” Chartier said. “We witness the pressure creating and launching a major video game. It’s more about the personal quest of characters within this whole process.”
Chartier and his team gained access to the studio largely due to proximity. Chartier’s company, MC2 Communication Media, is located three blocks away from Ubisoft Montreal, which meant Chartier often saw programmers from the studio around the neighbourhood. In less than a decade, Chartier watched as the staff at Ubisoft grew from a few hundred people to more than 3000.
“Video games became the biggest industry. So I thought I would go and knock on Ubisoft’s door and try to find a story,” he said. “My pitch was, I’m not a gamer, but I see you guys around and I want to know about who you are. I was looking for a story with passion, with conflict, with joy, and it took me a few meetings before I fully convinced them.”
As development progressed, the team behind For Honor grew from 40 to 500. The documentary follows creative director Jason VandenBerghe, producer Stéphane Cardin and brand manager Luc Duchaine.
In VandenBerghe, Cardin and Duchaine, Chartier said he found the compelling characters he had initially set out looking for. VandenBerghe, who had the concept for the game in his head for 12 years, was a creative dreamer whose idea is chronicled from inception to realization – with all the bumps along the way that come in working with 400 other individuals.
“When you add in those ingredients, you know you’re going to be able to find a story. You’ll never know what the story will be because you can’t expect all the drama that’s going to be coming out in the four year process,” he said. “After a few months in the beginning of my shooting, I knew there would be something happening so I had to carry on, no matter what.”
Part of that drama emerged from the stress that accompanied a ticking clock and constant milestones for deliverables. During the process, the game evolved from VandenBerghe’s original idea – a natural process that evolves from working with such a large team, but still one that saw the creative director losing a bit of his essence on the project.
Chartier said he hoped the film would reach a broad audience, and not just those interested in video gaming.
“I hope people will relate to a character-driven story made out of passion and joy and conflict – we all have to go through those emotions,” he said. “And I hope it will create a discussion within the gaming industry about the pressure and the kind of environment they work in, and I think that is true for Hollywood as well, and a lot of other creative industries. If this creates a discussion within the industry and also touches a broad audience, then I would be very happy.”
Check out the trailer below.
Playing Hard plays at Hot Docs in Toronto from May 2 to 4. For more information, visit playinghardthemovie.com
22 Chaser is an ‘urban western’ staged in Toronto’s underbelly
Whether it be an office tower or old-of-control train, hardened cop or reluctant ex-military officer, many thrillers lean hard on familiar settings and characters, opting to get to the action quick and deal with character-building later. But 22 Chaser, the directorial debut from Rafal Sokolowski, aims for a unique target – setting its central conflict in the world of tow truck “chasers” and developing the film’s conflict as a complement to its characters.
“I have heard so many opinions (of the film) like, ‘I had no idea about this subculture, about this world, and I will never, ever look at tow truck drivers in the same way,’” Sokolowski said. “For myself, now, my eyes go – I see them everywhere. They were really tucked away. Now, I’m sensitive to this, so I see them and I say, ‘I know what you’re doing.’”
“Chasers” refer to those tow truck drivers that race to the scenes of accidents, looking to offer services or refer those involved in accidents to repair shops, often getting confused or distressed individuals to agree to inflated prices. Sokolowski said that in order to understand the subculture properly, he spent time with chasers near Toronto, sitting with them in their trucks and waiting for accidents to happen.
“There is an accident, and then it becomes really dynamic and very traumatic. You arrive on the scene of the accident and you never know what you are going to encounter,” he said. “You’ll encounter broken cars and broken people. Amidst the panic and the trauma and blood and very often death, there are these people who negotiate their jobs, trying to make a buck by pulling a wreck out of that.”
Produced at the Canadian Film Centre, 22 Chaser follows Ben (Brian J. Smith), a man from a small town working long hours as a tow truck driver to support his family. But when he is pulled into the world of tow truck chasers, he finds himself facing up against some major moral challenges.
“We see someone who gets corrupted and kind of sells himself. It’s upsetting, but I’ve always found this really interesting thematically. In order to get ahead, you kind of need to sell yourself,” Sokolowski said. “I found it fascinating that dreamers, they need to learn how to be assholes to move ahead. That’s the reality of the modern world. I’m generalizing, obviously, but I see a lot of examples of that.”
Though Sokolowski sought to develop a consistent sense of tension throughout 22 Chaser, he also wanted to ensure the world he had witnessed first-hand was depicted authentically on-screen.
“With that excitement comes responsibility. This is the first film that portrays this subculture,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re not exploiting this freaky thing – it’s rooted in reality.”
The film is set to open July 6 in Toronto before moving on to a Video on Demand release. Sokolowski said he hoped moviegoers would come out to see a “character-driven story set in this unique, fascinating world.”
“We don’t know about (this world) because it hides in the underbelly of our own Toronto. That’s the super exciting thing – it’s very much a Toronto film,” he said. “It’s not this American big urban centre. No, it’s Toronto, we’re shooting Toronto. I’m actually super thrilled how Toronto came out in this film. It’s beautiful and ugly, it’s punk rock, it’s western and slick, but also has a very filthy underbelly.”
22 Chaser plays at Imagine Cinemas Carlton starting July 6. For more information, click here.
Paper Year is a modern take on love and its maturation
Paper Year, the first feature from writer-director Rebecca Addelman, begins where many romantic comedies might end: Franny (Eve Hewson) and Dan (Avan Jogia), both young and in love, decide to commit to what seems to be the ultimate romantic gesture – marriage. It’s only after that seminal moment that the realities of life begin to crystallize: bills, conflict, temptation, all while Franny and Dan’s love moves out of one stage and evolves into another.
Addelman, who most recently wrote for New Girl (Fox) and LOVE (Netflix), said the story for Paper Year emerged out of her own divorce in her mid-20s, at a time when she said she had many “big feelings” she needed to get out onto paper.
“The funny/ironic thing is that I thought I was doing this big, rebellious, crazy thing. Getting married young wasn’t what people around me were doing at the time – everyone was waiting and waiting and hemming and hawing,” she said in an email to The Mutt. “I felt by taking the plunge I was being different. A real renegade! Which is hilarious since there’s nothing more mainstream than marriage.”
Hailing originally from Ottawa, Addelman moved to Toronto to attend the University of Toronto after completing high school. She moved to Los Angeles in 2008 and eventually became a featured member of the Upright Citizens’ Brigade Theatre.
“I didn’t have a job in LA, any friends in LA, or a legal visa to work in LA. It was a perfect plan!” she said. “Ten years later, things have worked out alright, but let me tell you, those first few years were pretty shaky.”
While working on the script for Paper Year, Addelman made a conscious decision to distance herself from the characters in the story, focusing on developing the characters and moving away from what she had initially penned in the first draft.
“I was hoping to capture a more modern take on young marriage — one that casts marriage as a fun, sexy, impulsive decision,” she said. “A byproduct of this impulsive marriage is that the young couple in the movie then has to figure out how to grow and grow up together AFTER making a monumentally huge decision.”
Though Addelman had previously completed a short film, 2016’s The Smoke, directing a character-based drama like Paper Year meant the authenticity of the film’s two leads was paramount. Addelman said she began casting the role of Franny first, as she said the role was “near and dear to” her heart.
“As I had my first Skype meeting with (Hewson), she basically leapt out of the screen and grabbed me by the throat with her humour, vivaciousness, razor-sharp intelligence and emotional honesty,” Addelman said. “She was the whole package! And then I met Avan and, like half of the planet, fell in love with him.”
Throughout the production process, Addelman found herself following the scenes where they took her, which sometimes took the film to places typically untouched by the conventions of the standard romantic comedy genre.
“Some scenes took on a life of their own. Sometimes a scene worked best when it veered more into the drama and sometimes we found unexpected comedy,” Addelman said. “I always tried to stay open to the fact that a scene had to be what it wanted to be – and not necessarily what I wanted it to be.”
Paper Year is currently available on Video On Demand. For more information, click here.
“A poem for the planet”: Metamorphosis’ visual meditation on climate change
Metamorphosis, a feature-length documentary from filmmakers Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper, takes a notably different approach in its examination of climate change when compared to features such as An Inconvenient Truth (2006) or Time To Choose (2015). Ami and Ripper sought to make a cinematic, “almost experimental” documentary, favouring sound and image over more conventional documentary components like talking heads.
“We aren’t putting a lot of tags or text on it. It gives you more stories and ideas,” Ripper said. “The solutions are intended to be design principles, and they’re all very visual as well. And then there’s a soundtrack that is very involved and layered. We make good use of the 7.1 audio space as well as it’s shot in 4K – so visually, it’s really punchy.”
Metamorphosis weaves the work of artists using ecological themes to further illustrate a sort of “visual language,” Ami said, that combined with drone shots and time-lapse footage helps to create a poetic feeling throughout the work.
“(That visual language) allowed us to explore some of those themes that are more conceptual. Like art, the film asks questions and (doesn’t) necessarily spell it out for you – there is room for your own interpretations and your own understanding to come into play,” Ripper said. “It’s a very reflective journey and we hope people will find it a transformative journey – and we are seeing that happen.”
Directors Nova Ami (left) and Velcrow Ripper (right) began developing Metamorphosis after witnessing the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. Photo courtesy Grant Baldwin.
Ami and Ripper began developing the film just more than four years ago, around when Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, killing at least 6,300.
“We were talking about making a film together and I had spent a lot of time in the Philippines and my family is from the Philippines, so that really weighed heavily on us. We talked about how an event like that could change a person,” Ami said. “That led to further conversations about how we deal with change in a time of climate crisis, how we resist change, how we move through change. That led to conversations about metamorphosis – the title came up and we decided to explore that theme and how that relates to us at this point in time.”
Four months before Ami and Ripper went into production, they had a child. Ripper said that experience further informed the development of Metamorphosis.
“I think choosing to have a child in this era is in itself a statement of hope. I think it really made us think, ‘What can we do to help create a world that is thriving as he comes of age?’” Ripper said. “So the hope we have is not so much optimistic based on the facts – I think the facts are very, very dire and we are in a time of emergency – it’s based on a kind of heroic hope that we want to do everything we can and making the film was one of our gestures.”
Making the film as two Canadians, Ami and Ripper found themselves approaching the content in a specific context when compared to major American features done on similar topics. Though the United States has received significant criticism for its recent action on climate – such as withdrawing from the Paris Agreement – Ripper said Canada was still “not that well-regarded” on the international stage.
“I think it’s in our culture to want to be on the right side of history, but we’re not there yet. We have a big transition to make,” he said. “We have to do this in a way that protects workers and we shouldn’t be pitting jobs against the environment. That’s a false dichotomy. We have to transcend that dichotomy. We need to respect those fears and address those fears but we also have to create a future – literally.”
The film was co-produced by and distributed by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB)’s Edmonton studio, the North West Studio. Thanks to the footage used and the way the film employs sound and music, Ami said Metamorphosis was an experience best suited to see in the theatre, on a big screen.
“It’s a really cinematic experience,” she said. “It’s a film that sparks the imagination in terms of what’s possible. It’s a climate change film you can go on a date with.”
Metamorphosis plays at the Globe Cinema in Calgary until July 5. The film will screen in Saskatoon and Regina on July 13, followed by international festivals and other Canadian screenings. For more information, click here.