Let the games begin...

The cast and crew of GamerZ dice with roleplay.

by Stephen McMorland

Cinematographer/producer Paul Gavin, James Young (Lennie), Johnny Austin (Davy), Danielle Stewart (Maryln) and writer/director Robbie Fraser. Photographs: Max Blinkhorn

Cinematographer/producer Paul Gavin, James Young (Lennie), Johnny Austin (Davy), Danielle Stewart (Maryln) and writer/director Robbie Fraser.
Photographs: Max Blinkhorn

GamerZ is a new film written and directed by Robbie Fraser, with a cast largely unknown to the world of feature films, who have previously worked in various dramas for Scottish Television or Scottish Theatre.

The film is about role players, those strange people who pretend to be elves, dwarves and other such creatures from fantasy settings and throw polyhedral dice around. As I am a gamer myself, it fell to me to try to find out a bit more about this film. Prior to the interview itself Robbie and I enjoyed the sort of conversation all us Old Skool gamers get into, bemoaning the rise of modern gaming and the loss of the glory days.

Naturally I was most interested in the gaming aspects of the film and one of my first questions was to do with the title given to the person who runs the game – Game Keeper. I was concerned that its use meant that Pure Magic Films would have encountered problems with copyright from Wizards of the Coast (the owners of the Dungeons and Dragons license). I was assured by Robbie that full permission had been given and, in fact, they had been trying for a unique name to stamp their own individuality on the game that Ralph (Ross Finbow) creates in the film. I imagine they were a little crestfallen when I informed them the term existed in a very obscure old game, but as none of us can remember which one it doesn’t really matter.

When I asked if any of the cast had been bitten by the fantasy role playing bug since being in the film there was a general response of no. Although the cast and several of the crew had played a game during rehearsals in order to get them into the proper mind set none of them felt any great desire to continue. Danielle Stewart (Marlyn) felt it was fun and was a lot like acting and Johnny Austen (Davy) remarked that he had played Heroquest when younger. The point was raised by Paul Gavin and Robbie Fraser that they were keen to bring gaming to the world, catering to a market they knew was out there.

Eye For Film interview picture with Gamerz
Stephen McMorland chats to the GamerZ crew
Curious about the characters in the film I asked whether they were based on real people or stereotypes. Johnny, laughing, said his character was based on James, but the general view was that as actors they had taken bits and pieces of different people to create the personas on screen.

Robbie said he tried to walk a line between “recognisability and litigitability”. I decided to pursue this a little further and, playing Devil’s Advocate, asked how they might respond to anyone who accused them of perpetuating a negative perception of gamers as weird, psychotic freaks with no grip on reality. As expected this got a few perplexed glares; however it should be pointed out that this is not my opinion at all and once I made that clear the glares settled down.

Robbie and Paul were both very keen to point out that their intention was to paint an affectionate portrait of gamers - they were meant to be funny characters but not a joke. It became clear during the interview that everyone involved had a great love and affection for the hobby and the eccentric people who love it. Robbie himself was once a gamer. Their intention was to try hard to get a balance.

GamerZ is actually rather complex. It blends a variety of visual and musical styles in order to create a tension between the ordinary world and the hyper-reality of the game. I asked about this and how important it was to the overall feel of the film.

Johnny Austin and James Young
James and Johnny looking elfy
Both Robbie Fraser and Paul Gavin commented on this, saying that this approach was very important as it helped to create the feel of there being one foot in gritty reality and another foot in high fantasy. To depict the game reality itself a unique visual graphical approach was used, utilising the skills of Shadowplay and using technology based on the famous Ralph Bakshi Lord Of The Rings movie from the early Eighties. There was also the use of hand held cameras during the real world sequences to create a distinct sense of difference. Audially the decision to use the band Aberfeldy was key, as they blended a variety of styles from heavy metal (the gamer’s choice of music) to more Celtic traditional music and everything in between. Robbie and I got into a rather technical discussion of the use of non exegetic orchestral scores during which I must confess to getting rather confused but essentially it comes down to the use of music that was without an apparent source and music which apparently was coming from an on screen source - again this helps create atmosphere.

Gamerz makes considerable use of cutting edge digital technology which will make it easier to distribute and edit. Paul Gavin was keen to discuss this and indeed it sounds very encouraging for the future of independent film that it is now possible to make a film entirely digitally that can be transferred to 35mm standard but can be transported as easily as downloading from one hard drive to another via the internet.

Gamerz is released at Cineworld and other cinemas from February 22. This gamer has no hesitation in recommending it to both role players and non role players. It is funny, warm and charming, and there may even be a sequel.

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