411mania.com Interviews: Matthew Davis Walker and 2K Games' Kelly Miller Talk The Art of the Game Documentary
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 05.13.2014
411mania.com speaks with Senior Product Manager at 2K Games, Kelly Miller, and filmmaker Matthew Davis Walker for exclusive interview on the new video game-themed documentary The Art of the Game. The new film recently premiered on Xbox Live and Machinima and follows a program revolving around students to compete to work on Borderlands 2 as well as the cultural entertainment shift toward the gaming industry. Walker and Miller talk about the project, 2K Games' approach to the release, and more.
Recently 411mania.com got the chance to catch up with documentary filmmaker Matthew Davis Walker, director of the new documentary film The Art of the Game, and Kelly Miller, Senior Product Manager at powerhouse video game publisher 2K Games. 2K Games recently collaborated with the production company Story Developing to create the new feature-length documentary film, The Art of the Game. The film documents a recent program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, where students compete for a job to work on the Borderlands franchise. The new project focuses on the cultural shift in the entertainment industry toward gaming as well as the stories of the students and their passion for interactive entertainment.
Jeffrey Harris: How did The Art of Game project get started? Kelly, was this something you sought out Matthew to do?
Kelly Miller: Yeah, we contacted Story Developing. So after we launched Borderlands 2, we were looking for ways to engage the community and come up with unique and interesting things to do with the brand. We came up with this idea of working with the Academy of Art University and the students there and created this project called the Borderlands Cooperative, which is basically – we came into the university and we wanted to do a partnership with them where we gave students access to in-game assets from Borderlands 2 to create a series of short films. So after we started at the Academy of Art, we were just really impressed with the students and their passion and how much they loved games and Borderlands, and we realized there was more to it with the partnership than we initially thought. And we wanted to actually document it. So that's when we reached out to Story Developing. They really helped us figure out what we were trying to tell and what the format should and all of that.
Matthew Davis Walker: Yeah. When Kelly and Scott reached out and we started working with them and dove right into the project with the students, we decided early on we were going to spend our time with the students, covering first the competition and then into the production of the short films. And were going to let that be the guide for what we wanted to talk about. And there was no age, and we really just wanted to make something really genuine. The last thing we wanted to make was a reality show. We wanted to show these students getting the opportunity of a lifetime to work in their chosen field. And to also show the state of the industry they were trying to get that contact with. So that's why we shot all these other facets of the industry and tried to incorporate that into the story with the students.
Jeffrey Harris: How much footage would you say you shot total for this project?
Matthew Davis Walker: Man. Honestly, I'd say we have at least 300 or 400 hours of footage where we shot a lot ourselves, traveled all around the country to meet all these different kind of people, but then we spent countless hours with the students and gave the students their own cameras to record themselves when we couldn't be there with him because as filmmakers, my partner and I, Ryan Rich, we know that those great moments happen when no one is there. So we were hoping to capture some of those, so the students could tell their own stories through their own cameras. And a lot of that footage turned out really well, and there's a fair amount of it in the film.
Jeffrey Harris: So over 400 hours over how long of a period, would you say?
Matthew Davis Walker: We started shooting in late February of last year, and basically I think we stopped really shooting in October or November. And we were editing throughout. So it was just one of those projects where it was quick. As soon as we would shoot, we would come back and digest the footage and then we would figure out what was the story we wanted to tell. So it was a short amount of time.
Jeffrey Harris: And for Kelly what was it like to see this project evolve from start to finish and see the passion revolving around Borderlands 2 and seeing young people gravitate toward this? Bordlerlands 2 is sort of a phenomenon in itself.
Kelly Miller: Yeah, I think when we – we knew when it came out that it was doing well and that it got amazing reviews and we'd seen the community at PAX really rally around the game. So we knew that people loved the game and loved the content and the world of Borderlands. But even when we reached out to the students and the Academy of Arts, it's an art school. We knew there'd be people who are interested in it, but we put up posters and had this brief meeting that is portrayed in the film in the auditorium. I don't think we expected people to be lining up hours beforehand for the chance to work on this project. So, we were really thrilled with how excited and enthusiastic the students were. And then, we went through the project and all that excitement and energy turned into these amazing storyboards. And then when we really saw all the talent that was there behind this passion. I think even though we already started recording it, we knew that there is something really interesting going on here. That's how talented these kids are, how passionate they are about games. There was that, and I think we saw that as an opportunity to tell kind of a bigger story about the games industry through these kids. So yeah, I think for us it was just really exciting to be around that and inspiring. We were inspired by them. It's kind of a cool cycle of they're inspired by our products, but we're really inspired by their talent and energy. So we hope that kind of enthusiasm and inspiration comes through and that message reaches out to a larger audience and get people who don't understand the industry that much to understand it and understand people's passion about games. But also serve as an inspiration for people who want to get into the industry to really go after their dreams and their passion and pursue that.
Jeffrey Harris: Matthew, how big of a gamer were you before making this film?
Matthew Davis Walker: I wasn't. I'm not a gamer. I played my uncle's old Atari system, but then I moved into Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and Sega (Genesis). And then when I went to college, I hadn't been involved in the industry in a long time, and I actually think that gave me a great perspective, frankly, because I renewed my interest in this industry from jumping and learning about these students. I think it gave me and Ryan, the producer on the film, a great way for us to be curious about the industry and to not be influenced by a – we were able to approach it in a unique way. After the project, I have started playing much more, and I do have a lot more love for than I had previously.
Jeffrey Harris: For Kelly, things like the internet and digital media have really taken off for outlets for content such as this through Machinima and Twitch.tv. How have they been as partners for this project?
Kelly Miller: When we started talking about the distribution plan for this film, we wanted to basically make this film available to as many people who wanted to see it as possible. We started going through which outlets would be a good match for that. Machinima immediately came to mind, both kind of philosophically because they create content from video games, which is basically what these students were doing. So that just lined up really nicely in terms of contents. They also have this huge reach to a gaming audience that is unmatched on YouTube. So they just seemed like a really natural fit to us. And then, when we started talking to them, they were excited about. And we started getting down into the details of, "We know we want a partner. How can we make as big a splash as possible in the beginning?" And that's when we started thinking about Twitch because they're really experts at creating these moments with premieres. And we really liked the idea of premiering the film online, since we're not having a physical release of it in a theater. So that seemed like a really cool way where we could have that premiere moment and then roll it over to working with Machinima. We have the weekend on the Machinima App on Xbox Live, which is kind of an exclusive for that audience. And then it goes wide globally on the 12 on Machinima's website online. It felt like a good way to create some buzz around this moment for the launch and really get it out to as many people as possible. We're definitely thinking about how do we create content around our games, and we think that is an interesting and effective way to reach people who are interested in games.
Jeffrey Harris: Matthew, as a filmmaker what do you think of new media and having the internet as a tool to launch and distribute your film rather than going through the more traditional grind of the film festivals and getting the project sold to distributors? Now it's done and you send it out into cyberspace.
Matthew Davis Walker: Yeah. I think it's the future. I've been involved in several projects going the film festival route and going through traditional distribution models to share the films that we've worked on together. It's an old model, and it doesn't reach the amount of people that it should. And there are so many things coming up that so many people should watch, but are ignored because of the old distribution model. So right from the get go, working with 2K, we decided early on that this is something that wanted the greatest amount of people to see. We found these great partners to do this: Machinima; and Xbox; and YouTube. We couldn't be more pleased with how its rolling out.
Jeffrey Harris: Kelly, 2K works on such tremendous projects and as a company it appears you really take the time and effort needed on the big titles be it Mafia, Bioshock, or Borderlands. In terms of your role, can you speak of the time and effort 2K with the developers on the big titles and 2K is publishing the best product possible?
Kelly Miller: I have to give credit to our development studios because I think they do amazing work. Philosophically, 2K as a publisher really likes to put out good quality products that push the envelope. I think we did that with Borderlands, with the genre blending that had never really been done before. And because it was such a great product and Gearbox did such a great job on it, the fans found it and made it their own, which is a really fun thing to work on from a marketing point-of-view. But again, Bioshock and the amazing storytelling in that game and X-COM and all the work Firaxis is doing on that brand, I think 2K is just really lucky and fortunate to partner with these great developers. But I think they also make it a priority to put out good, creative, innovative games. It's a great place.
The Art of the Game documentary is now available to be viewed in full at Machinima's YouTube channel HERE. It can also be viewed at Machinima's Twitch Channel, twich.tv/machinima. The film is also available on Xbox Live through Machinima's app on Xbox One and Xbox 360 dashboards.