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Indie Game: The Movie Shows The Secret Lives of Game Developers

Filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky show the world a glimpse into the creative lives of the developers behind Super Meat Boy, Fez, and Braid in the heartfelt and revealing documentary called Indie Game: The Movie. With near universal praise, the film has won the awards at the Sundance Film Festival and is being turned into a fictional series on HBO by Scott Rudin.

So I should probably start out by saying that I love the movie. I’m sure you guys have got this comment a lot, but I want to show this movie to my parents to help them understand the video game world.

Lisanne Pajot: That’s so great, we have gotten that before! It’s almost as if we need to give a parent edition or something with appendices.

James Swirsky: Yeah, a glossary.

Can you talk about gaining the trust of the developers and how much you feel like they opened up along the course of the filming?

LP: Yeah! All of the guys in this film were incredibly open and we feel really lucky that they were so generous with their emotions and their lives.

JS: And they also kind of felt like we were all in this together, like their story was our story and I think they saw some of themselves in us. And that made it easier because it wasn’t just two people filming two people making something, it was four people making things.
 
Do you want to talk about working with [creator of Braid and the upcoming game The Witness] Jonathan Blow? He kind of plays the role of the wise old man, the Obi-Wan.

LP: Yeah, we were just super pleased that Jon would be part of our interview because Jon doesn't do really much of anything for television or films.

JS: He doesn’t want to be edited.

LP: And we hope that the film sheds a little bit of light to his vulnerability and [helps] crack that shell a little bit. I think people have certain visions of who they think Jonathan Blow is and our hope is that through our film people have a slightly different light of him.

JS: And the same could be said for Phil [co-creator of Fez] and Tommy [co-creator of Super Meat Boy].

LP: And by the end of it, [Jonathan Blow] shares a lot, and of course he doesn’t share the meaning behind Braid because he doesn’t share that with anybody. And I asked him several different ways but every time his answer was pretty good... (laughs)

So do you want to talk about showing the developers the film for the first time?

JS: Those were the most nerve-wracking experiences ever, because it’s an extremely personal and intimate film. You want to do justice to their story... It was one of those screenings where you are watching them out of the corner of your eye the entire time and you are reading into every time they shift. Then the lights came up and Edmund and Tommy [Team Meat] had tears in their eyes and they said it was really, really good and then we talked about it for hours after... And then with Phil, we were particularly worried about Phil, and the lights came up and he started crying... and to just have him say that he was proud of it was huge for us, and that he saw the value in sharing his story. And obviously he is uncomfortable watching himself go through that stuff because it must be the most surreal home video ever, right? Take the most stressful moment of your life, and then film it, with not just one but two cameras, and then edit it together and augment it with graphics and give it a Jim Guthrie [Sword and Sworcery EP] soundtrack. It was just, yeah, one of the most rewarding things ever. It was more rewarding than Sundance.

Do you want to talk about some of the most impactful feedback that you got?

LP: [At Sundance] there was always this middle-aged woman in every audience that would raise their hand and say, “So, what you’re trying to say is that, like, game developers are kind of like artists?”

JS: It's a revelation!

LP: It's a revelation to some people that games require this many decisions and this much heart and sacrifice.

So you two aren’t burned out on the concept of video games?


JS: Oh no. We have ideas that go outside of games, for sure. But I think there’s so many stories left to tell. We are just scraping the surface of indie games, nevermind all of the other subsections of video games out there.

Alright, if you could be a fly on the wall, a fly on the wall holding a video camera, which game throughout all of history would you like to make a documentary about?

LP: Oh, through all of history? Maybe Prince of Persia?

JS: Well, Prince of Persia would be cool too... but if you had that opportunity, you would have to do mankind and history a favor by documenting Super Mario. You’d have to. That sets the basis for so much of the industry and has a really compelling story behind it as well.

Well hopefully Shigeru Miyamoto has some archival footage out there and would let you take a crack at it.

LP: Our next movie!

JS: There needs to be a Miyamoto documentary.

I’m wondering if you guys have any simple advice for aspiring filmmakers out there.

JS: The most practical information is don’t wait for things to be perfect, just get out there and do something. Even if it’s crap and you know it’s crap, at least you know it’s crap and you are getting better.

It’s like if Phil Fish had stopped after [his first game] Cyber Vision...
 
JS: Yeah! If he meant to make Zelda and he ended up making Cyber Vision and didn’t keep on going. That’s kind of my main advice, just to say that you’re bad now and you are supposed to be. You’ll get better, just keep on going.

 

Indie Game: The Movie is available today on iTunes, Steam, and the documentary's official website. To learn more about the creation of the documentary and the team's plans for the future, here's a link to the extended version of this interview.

This interview originally appeared in Game Informer issue 230.

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