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
Thousand Yard Stare explores the painful and personal consequences of war
According to a statistic provided at the start of Thousand Yard Stare – winner of the 2018 Rosie Award for Best Dramatic Feature or Made-For-TV Movie – an average of 20 combat veterans take their lives every day in the United States. That number translates to 7,300 per year, more than the number of soldiers that had died in the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Aaron Kurmey, director of Thousand Yard Stare, said being made aware of those statistics was part of the reason why the team decided to focus their film around post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We met a guy through a friend who had served in the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan and he had really bad PTSD,” Kurmey said. “(He told us about) his experiences coming back home and how that messed him up, so there’s a lot of him and a lot of that in the movie. That was an angle and a message and a story that we wanted to tell.”
Thousand Yard Stare follows Roland Rothach, a sergeant with the United States army in February 1943. Stationed in Tunisia, Rothach and his squad suffer a defeat at the hands of the German forces, which leads to Rothach losing everyone in his squad.
“The movie deals with him losing everybody and then the repercussions of that, dealing with PTSD when he goes back home, reliving these things and then how that has an impact on his family life as well,” Kurmey said.
Produced on a limited budget, the filmmakers had to get creative in order to depict war on a large scale. Kurmey said the film was written in December 2012 and took four to five years to complete, largely due to the complicated nature of the visual effects.
“It’s a war movie, so you’re competing against other war movies and action movies that do have a lot of big special effects. When you look at the credits of those movies you’ll see hundreds of names scroll by,” Kurmey said. “And then this movie there’s like five people. We have like 300 or 400 visual effects shots and there were a handful of us that were working on them.”
Kurmey recalled shooting a battle scene in Drumheller, Alta., that spoke to the demanding nature of the genre. The scene, set during the Battle of Kasserine Pass, saw the American troops lose the battle to the Germans.
“The battle (involved) thousands of people, and we have 30 people in Drumheller trying to make this happen. One of the things we did was, using visual effects, we’d turn those 30 people – 10 or 15 on screen – and multiply them,” Kurmey said. “We’d double them up and triple them up in post so all of a sudden you’ve got a shot that has three or four hundred people running through it, when it’s really just the same 10 or 15 people just in slightly different costumes. That stuff takes time to do.”
Without access to actual World War 2 machinery, the filmmakers used miniatures and utilized green screen to depict the tanks involved in the battle. Kurmey said the team also brought in members of the First Special Service Force Living History Association to participate in certain scenes.
“A bunch of them volunteered their time and equipment and guns and uniforms. I think we had an anti-tank gun out at one point,” Kurmey said. “A lot of people came out and were really excited about seeing a World War 2 movie being made in Alberta.”
Though the film’s production was lengthy and at times arduous, it eventually paid off, with the filmmakers taking home both the Best Dramatic Feature and the Best Screenwriter awards at the Rosie Awards in Calgary May 12.
Currently released in Korea and England, filmmakers are currently negotiating in order to secure a North American release. Kurmey said he hopes that release comes in Summer 2018.
Check out the trailer below.
Indian Horse cracks $1 million at box office
Indian Horse, the feature film based on the classic book by Canadian author Richard Wagamese, has crossed $1 million at the Canadian box office. Originally shot as a feature for Super Channel, the film instead went on to release at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and was distributed by Elevation Pictures.
The film follows Saul Indian Horse, a First Nations boy and survivor of the residential school system in the 1970s. Saul’s experience in the residential school system is fraught with tragedy and horror, though he eventually finds himself drawn to the sport of hockey.
Directed by Stephen Campanelli, Indian Horse won the audience award at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival and premiered in theatres across Canada on April 13.
Check out the trailer below.
Alberta-shot thriller Ice Blue hits Landmark Cinemas
Fresh off winning Best Filmmaker in the annual Best of Calgary awards, Ice Blue director Sandi Somers has had a big year. Her film opened to its biggest audience yet May 4, opening in Landmark Cinema locations across Canada.
“(Opening in theatres) is great, because it’s a completely different group of people. It’s a different population – it’s the non-festival-goers. How great for that to happen?” Somers said. “I am so happy and pleased and proud of everyone that worked on the project and that we get a theatrical release.”
Ice Blue premiered at the Calgary International Film Festival in 2017. With a filmography of more than 70 short films already to her name, Somers said the film began its life as a sort of ghost story focused on secrets, family ties and repressed memories.
“Sometimes, I just get hit by the muse and I just start writing,” Somers said. “I’ve always had a huge interest in particular in how trauma gets passed down in families and onto the children – when the children really weren’t the cause of it, they were the recipients of their parents’ trauma.”
Somers approached Calgary-based writer Jason Long (Chokeslam, Turning Paige), who helped to develop the story into its current form – what Somers considers a psychological drama and what others call a thriller.
The film follows Arielle (Sophia Lauchlin Hirt), a 16-year-old girl attempting to unravel the mystery surrounding what happened to her absent mother. Though Somers had never tackled such a large project, she said the project was a “beautiful experience” largely due to the efforts of the film’s cast and crew.
“I’m not going to say it was roses every day, but in a way in kind of was – even the obstacles that came forward through the shoot were obstacles that should come forward,” Somers said. “(They were obstacles) that should be challenging to make something better.”
Once Ice Blue completes the festival circuit, it will move on to a video-on-demand service.
“We have a Canadian thriller with amazing Canadian actors and it’s an exciting film,” Somers said. “I would say come (to Landmark) and support Canadian talent. I think everyone has been able to pull together a kick-ass film and people should come see a kick-ass film.”
Check out the trailer below.