Huzzah! A fortnight (or so) ago, thou hast received a scroll (e-mail) inviting me for an early look at Knights of Badassdom. Of course, I couldn't pass up such an invite, since I have been following the movie on Twitter (@badassdom_movie) for awhile now and it has such an amazing cast, with Ryan Kwanten, Summer Glau, Steve Zahn, Margarita Levieva, Danny Pudi, Joshua Malina, and the incomparable Peter Dinklage.
For those who aren't too familiar with Knights of Badassdom, the movie centers on a group of live-action roleplayers (a.k.a. LARPers) who inadvertently summon a powerful demon from the depths of hell. They must then try to use their LARP fighting skills to try and contain the demon. When I arrived at this Hollywood event, I and the other press members were greeted by director Joe Lynch, screenwriter/producer Matt Wall, and producer Mark Burton. First off, they showed us a clip exclusively for our press group, which won't even be shown at Comic-Con. It's too bad because the fans would surely get a kick out of this clip, which was entiteld "SuccuBeth Rising."
The Beth in question is played by Margarita Levieva, and she is not the girl this group of friends once knew. The scene opens up with Beth literally eating one of their friends, after Eric (Steve Zahn) read a random passage from this ancient book. As Beth starts creeping towards Joe (Ryan Kwanten), Eric, and Gwen (Summer Glau), Ronnie (Jimmi Simpson) runs in and drops some nerd knowledge on the group. The random passage that Eric read actually summoned a succubus up from hell, a demon which took residence in their once-lovely friend, Beth. Joe, Eric, Gwen, and Ronnie are actually in this wooded area to take part in thei major LARPing event Battle of Evermore, and the clip ends with a touching-esque speech by Joe to his buddy Eric. It is quite a hilarious clip which sets up this LARPing world and this group of friends.
After the clip, the filmmakers opened it up to questions. Take a look at our roundtable interview with director Joe Lynch, screenwriter/producer Matt Wall, and producer Mark Burton, which is just as funny (if not funnier) than the clip. It's also worth noting that the table we were all sitting at had all sorts of props like LARPing swords, axes, and the entire, intricate book which Steve Zahn's Eric reads from.
Director Joe Lynch, Screenwriter/Producer Matt Wall, and Producer Mark Burton
These props are amazing.
Joe Lynch: The amount of detail and the amount of love that we've gotten from different departments, whether it was North by Northwest in Spokane, Washington, the same production company which did John Carpenter's The Ward. They were awesome. They, and Spokane completely embraced us, as well as the LARPing community. One of the things that we strove for from the beginning was, when I read the script, the first thing I said was, 'This is an adventure movie and we really want to embrace the LARPing culture.' We don't want to poke too much fun at it. I mean, look, we're putting modern guys in medieval clothing. You can't not have a little fun with it, but also completely embrace it by shooting it in a certain way that evokes a real adventure film. You're taking a serious approach to something that has humor in it, but it's organic. It's coming from the characters. One of the examples I said to the actors is, if you took An American Werewolf in London and turned the volume off, you'd have a gothic horror movie. If you turn the volume up, it's two guys having a blast talking about ex-girlfriends in the Moors. That's kind of the same approach we wanted to take with the visuals. When the word got out, the LARP alliance, Rick and Adrian found out about us and we just started this relationship. The entire LARPing community just went, 'Let's go!' Lo and behold, all of the sudden, we started getting all these requests. The casting people put a notice out saying we needed LARPing extras. People from Florida, Georgia, every walk of life, people using their vacations, showed up. It was insane. It was like, 'OK guys, we'll need you for the crowd scene this day, and we'll need you for the Battle of Evermore.' They just kept coming back, to the point where it's like, 'We don't need you today.' They'd say, 'Doesn't matter, we're here.' It was awesome. They were in full regalia, and there was this little samurai guy walking around. It was the most surreal set I've ever been on. They saw in the amount of care and trust, because the LARPing community is very sacred about the way they're perceived. They don't want to be considered a joke, and we didn't want to do that at all. The theme of the movie is wish fulfillment. Whether it's paintball and you picture you're in Iraq shooting up dudes, or if you're in Excalibur. One of the things that Matt and I did a couple of times is we went on LARPs. Aside from the fact that LARPing is amazing cardio (Laughs), no, I'm dead serious. These guys are in really good shape. Well, not all of them. Once you put on a helmet and you grab a sword and some armor, you're in goddamn Braveheart. You're in Excalibur. To me, that was the moment where I said, 'OK, I know exactly how to approach the movie, with absolute reverence and respect to the culture at hand. We still have a little fun with it, of course, but the more we make it seem like fun, but, at the same time, cathartic and exciting, if somebody goes after the movie, 'I want to LARP,' then we've done our job. Everybody came to the table saying, 'How can we make this better, faster, and more authentic.' When we were on the set, Rick and Adrian actually came up for the duration of the shoot, to be our technical advisers. It was great, but there were a couple of times where they went, 'This sword would only be allowed at a German LARP.' I'm sitting there going, 'Am I Michael Mann in Ali going, 'That belt's not right,' from 500 yards away. There were a couple of times where I had to say, 'But the axe looks so cool. I've got to let it go.' Having those guys on set was so great, because then we were allowed to really feel like we were doing a service. As much as I enjoy Role Models, and I do, I think it's hilarious, we wanted to go the extra step and show how fun and exciting this can be. It just so happens that there are monsters on the field too.
How many monsters are there?
Joe Lynch: I can't give that away yet. It's under 10. There you go. One of the things that was really exciting for me was, when I was reading it and going, 'Oh my God, there are monsters in this.' The movie starts out very realistic and grounded. It's almost a situational comedy, but it's a grounded about guys who are at the crossroads of their lives. That's a testament to the script, and also the casting. When you get to page 30 or 40, you go, 'Monsters? Sweet.' Then you go, 'Monsters? Shit.' You can go either way. You can go practical, and we all kind of grew up in the Rick Baker era where, if it's in camera, it's awesome. If it's in CG, it's like, 'How much render time did you have?' We wanted to go old-school with this and, shockingly, I had Guillermo del Toro call Spectral Motion on our behalf, and said, 'These guys are f&%$ing great. You have to work with them.' Lo and behold, they read the script and they said, 'We're so in.' Once I started talking to them about how amazing it is to see it happen before your eyes, the fact that we wanted to embrace the artistry of making a monster, they really ran with it. They saw how much passion and authenticity went into every department, that fueled their fire as well. Having Spectral Motion work on this movie, not only in the monster realm, but also doing all the gore effects, was awesome. We were just sitting there going, 'Look at the blood! Look at the blood!'
How much blood did you use?
Joe Lynch: 425 gallons, or something like that. Not to give too much away, but there was one night where we just had an absolute massacre on the playing field. Going back to my old horror roots, where I would have a bucket of blood at my director's chair, I would start throwing blood everywhere.
Were you self-censoring yourself on set, since you're trying to reach a wider audience with this one?
Joe Lynch: Absolutely. We approached this not as a horror movie, to me, this is an adventure film. This is the true epitome of what I remember an adventure film being, like Romancing the Stone, The Goonies, or Excalibur. There are thrills and chills and laughs and drama. Adventure films, to me, are the ultimate mash-up, because you can get away with doing big bloody battle scenes and scary wizard scenes and comedy scenes and real drama. I remember watching The Goonies and going, 'This is scary as shit!' What Amblin movie starts out where you hang Robert Davi? I've been begging my wife to show my kid The Goonies, and she's like, 'Absolutely not! It's terrifying.' I shouldn't have shown him A Serbian Film. That was a wrong move on my part. The Goonies is one of those true examples of an adventure film. We wanted to use that same model for this, where you can have fun, but there are stakes involved. That was so important for us. We had a lot of fun, there are a lot of laughs in the film, but, when shit gets real, it gets real. People die and things happen that we want to make you feel. That, to me, is what an adventure film is all about.
Matt Wall: It has characters that, we think, you'll care about. That's one of the reasons why we have such a strong cast, because the characters are so strong and they resonate with people.
Joe Lynch: This is a testament to our producers and our approach. We could have cast this with 20-year-olds. It could have been a bunch of CW fresh faces, and shit like that. All of us are in the same age range and we all thought that this was about what happens when your 20s are over and you're going, 'Where am I in my life?' In a way, this is an origin story for a lot of these guys. That's what the actors saw right from the beginning, that it's more than just going out there with swords and hitting shit. You get to see these characters evolve.
Can you talk about the extent that the advisers were involved? Did they design weapons or put the actors through a boot camp?
Joe Lynch: Oh yeah, absolutely. That's one of the things they loved. When they actors came up to Spokane, everybody is coming in and the first thing they said was, 'When are we LARPing?' Adrian and Rick were very instrumental, right from the beginning, of giving us really good points on the script. In the LARPing culture, there are different parameters for different guilds. Every guild has different rules. The rules that are in this are sort of an amalgam of a bunch of different guilds, and they said that was totally fine. They wanted to be sure that we weren't doing anything that is so 'out of game.'
Mark Burton: They had fencing lessons.
Joe Lynch:Peter Dinklage? Holy f*%k! That was one of the first days of training where we had Adrian and Rick go over LARP points for everybody, literally being very slavish about technical aspects of what you can and cannot do in LARP. It felt like gym class, and then everyone just started free-forming. Peter Dinklage schooled everybody. I don't know if it was just because he was coming from Narnia and from Game of Thrones beforehand, but it was hilarious. Everybody really embraced the training period and even the smaller elements. Like with Steve, as a wizard, he wanted to make sure he was saying it right. Danny Pudi is a cleric and he wanted to make sure that everything he was doing was true to form. Joe, Ryan Kwanten's character, is kind of us. He's our catalyst, and he was lucky enough to just say, 'OK, what kind of metal do I need to listen to?' (Composer) Bear McCreary was instrumental in helping us make an ultimate Knights of Badassdom mix, which will probably be on iTunes in about a year. It's awesome. He just wanted to completely ingrain himself in metal as much as possible, but everybody went above and beyond to make sure they were doing everything right. Again, having Rick and Adrian on the set was kind of like having Dale Dye on the set of Saving Private Ryan.
Mark Burton: I have to say that Summer, in terms of the battle training, she was phenomenal. I guess she's had plenty though.
Joe Lynch: She has a scene in the film where, a bunch of us on set went, 'Did John Woo come by? Where are the index cards and the doves flying?' She just did this entire scene that we had designed kind of Kurosawa-esque. Thankfully we have one of the best DP's in the world, Sam McCurdy, and we wanted to make sure we had an adventure film look. I didn't want to shoot it like a comedy, so having it shot in scope and having someone like Sam shoot it and light it in a way that it really was an adventure film, was very integral. We had this looming mist and Summer just walked up and everyone just went, 'Holy shit.' Everyone really embraced that whole idea and, with the whole wish fulfillment thing, they were having fun to. How often to you get to say modern dialect but be completely clothed in medieval clothing, running around with swords? I was wearing chain mail most of the time on set. It was hard hearing the audio, but there was just something... I hasten to say it, but there was a 'magic' looming over the entire production. We were having fun. It was like summer camp, like medieval summer camp.
Peter Dinklage must have been a no-brainer to cast.
Joe Lynch: He was one of the first to be attached, because Peter had worked with Matt, and Mark on Saint John of Las Vegas. I have to give this story away. Originally, the character was written for a very tall Asian guy. A tall, somewhat girthy, Asian guy, and his character's name is Hung. Now the connotation is completely different (Laughs). I remember one night Matt called and said, 'We've got a great idea. Are you sitting down? What about Dinklage for Hung?' It just immediately clicked. That was one thing, we never wanted to make fun of the culture, but you take someone like Peter, who is one of the most amazing actors working today, he just brings such a gravitas to everything he does, no matter what it is. It was a no-brainer, absolutely a no-brainer. He just fit and, when he read it, he just said, 'I'm in. Totally.' It's a domino effect as well. When one actor signs on, others go, 'Oh, lets do it.' It just kind of spiraled from there. It was a snowball effect. We met with Steve Zahn in New Orleans, because he was there doing Treme, and I was so nervous because we had to do a hard pitch. We sat down and he's like, 'I'm in. Let's do this.' He's like, 'I get to be a wizard. This is awesome.' At the end, we're walking away and he goes, 'Hey guys, lightning bolt!' We were like, 'Oh, he's so in!' They also got it too. We wanted to be sure that they knew we weren't making fun of it and that they weren't winking at the camera the whole time. Everybody got that tone right off the bat.
It seems nowadays in comedies, people have the expectation there will be a lot of improvising. It sounds like here you guys really stuck to the script.
Joe Lynch: Absolutely. No offense to the Judd Apatow family, but we said right off the bat, if we cast some of that troupe, there might be that expectation. This is not that type of film. We're serving a story and the characters are ingrained in that story. It's not about the characters and how they weave themselves into a plot which is revealed at the end. This is us telling a tale, a bard's tale, if you will. Also, with the dialect in it, they were having fun with the fact that they could say things like, 'Merrily go f&%k yourself.' Everybody couldn't stop saying 'Huzzah' and 'Zounds.' Thats' the thing, they loved that, so to deviate away from that, almost felt weird.
You mentioned Ryan's character is a catalyst. Is he not a LARPer? Did they rope him in?
Joe Lynch: Yeah, exactly. These guys have been buddies since grade school, and they all played D&D. Eric and Hung, they just kept going, they leveled up to LARP from there. Joe kind of went his own route. He wanted to be a heavy metal rock star and that's his wish fulfillment. It kind of doesn't work out so well, which you find out in the beginning of the film. It's one of those things where it's like, 'Dude, you can either sit at home and watch porn all day, or you can come with us and be on an adventure.' Having Joe being this ordinary guy was a great way for the audience follow him. Even just midway through the film, he's going, 'This is cool. This is fun. I like this.' That's the whole point, that halfway through the film, and people are having fun with it, it makes for a more enjoyable experience for the audience, and it segues into, 'Holy shit, now I have to save people's lives and my own.'
I don't suppose you have a medieval narrator, by chance, do you?
Joe Lynch: Well, we're not finished with post yet... You never know.
After that, they showed us the fantastic trailer that will debut at Comic-Con this week. The filmmakers also told us that they were aiming for a Spring 2012 release date for Knights of Badassdom, although nothing has been set in stone yet. That about wraps up my day with the filmmakers behind Knights of Badassdom. You can CLICK HERE to watch the first trailer for Knights of Badassdom, which debuted at Comic-Con last week. Huzzah!