Grantland’s Davy Rothbart spoke with Indie Game filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky. Their film chronicles the painstaking working of independent video-game designers. For more with the filmmakers, click here.
What is your earliest memory of playing video games?
James Swirsky: I remember I had a Nintendo 64 and my mom would bring these disks home from school from the computer teacher, and each disk would have four mystery games — no instruction manuals, no nothing. So my mom would just pop in the disk and I’d have to discover each game and figure out what it was and how it worked.
Lisanne Pajot: You didn’t realize that they were bootlegged?
Swirsky: I had no idea that all these games were pirated. It was just disk after disk of these mystery games. It really aroused my sense of discovery, experiencing each game, having never seen it before, and learning how to navigate it. I think I never had that same magical feeling of discovery again until the past few years when I began playing this new crop of indie games. Sword and Sworcery reintroduced me to that magic. It was just such a beautiful experience.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while making the film? Were there any low points where you were like, “What the hell are we doing?”
Pajot: Of course! We were on the road for about four months straight, shooting everything. A lot of our friends with traditional jobs would be like, “Wow, you get to travel the world and make your movie!” But it’s not that glamorous. You wake up, get in a car, drive 12 hours, wind up someplace, shoot for a little while, then go to sleep and do it again. Sometimes I wish I would’ve enjoyed that phase of it a little bit more, but we were just running so hard, it was completely exhausting.
Swirsky: It’s really, really hard work with no clear guarantee that the project will be successful. But we believed in it. And we had a lot of people online that believed in it as well. So we knew we stood a good chance of reaching an audience if we got what we hoped to get on film. Still, on a 12-hour drive, you have plenty of time to question yourself. Now, though, I can look back and feel like everything worked out all right.
Has the work you’ve put into this film felt worth it?
Swirsky: Yeah. It’s very strange finally putting it out into the world, but the movie seems to be connecting with audiences, which is a thrill. People are reacting in the ways we really hoped they might and saying wonderful things. So it’s feeling worth it, but I find myself relating a lot to what Tommy [Refenes] goes through in our movie. After he and Edmund [McMillen] finished Super Meat Boy, the game was successful way beyond what they ever could’ve dreamed — they got glowing reviews and sold over a million copies. But still Tommy felt odd and a little bit lost. Because there was this thing he’d been working on relentlessly that had come to define his existence, and now all of a sudden it was out of his hands. And that’s how it was always meant to be — out of his hands at some point and out into the world. But when that happens, this all-consuming thing that’s gotten you out of bed every morning is no longer with you. How do you make that change and figure out what to do with your life now that you’re not bound to shuffle over to your computer and strap yourself in?
Pajot: There’s a sense of separation anxiety. You might watch the film and still see things you want to tweak, but you have to let it go at some point.