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SXSW '06 Interview: 'Darkon' Directors Andrew Neel & Luke Meyer

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Darkon' Pitch: Everybody wants to be a hero. This documentary takes a good look into the bizarre and fascinating world of Darkon. Darkon is a full-contact medieval fantasy wargaming group, active in the Baltimore/Washington area since 1985. Every other Sunday, between 150 and 300 members gather in costume and armor to fight unchoreographed mock battles with padded weaponry. For most, it is much more than a game.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
Andrew: The film is about a live action role playing (LARP) group called Darkon located in the Baltimore area. In the game people get dressed up and create characters that they ‘act’ out. They fight with foam weapons according to a set of full contact rules. The film follows the story of a small country trying to bring down an evil empire.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
Andrew: I have never been to SXSW. I have been to Sundance, LA Short, NY Film and Video, and Tribeca. It's great to see a bunch of people see your work. Festivals are a really great opportunity to showcase work that is created outside the established Hollywood system. However, I do find the rampant desperation and networking tough to take. There is a lot of role-playing in the film business. I guess it comes with the territory.
Luke: This is going to be my fist time going to SXSW or any other film festival.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what?
Andrew: I wanted to have an 18 wheeler and I wanted to be a scientist. I don’t really believe the ‘I made my first film when I was 11’ thing. I don’t buy it.
Luke: An astronaut. I later found out that they have height restrictions, so it wouldn't have worked out anyway.

Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
Andrew: I made experimental 8mm and 16mm films after my first year of college at The School For The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Then when I was at Columbia in New York I started helping Dan Harris make short films. My senior year I made my own 35mm short film.
Luke: I messed around with some video and once with 16mm when I was in school, and then worked as an intern for a few documentary production companies.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
Andrew: No. It’s really good. I always thought that.
Luke: Not really, I've felt good about it all the way through. But it's going to be good to get to show it to more audiences.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
Andrew: I relate to the two really anal guys that sit there and try to have a conversation. I also relate the guys that run by screaming behind them. I relate to both of them. I’m not trying to be cleaver. I really do.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
Andrew: Of course. Everyone does. I have high hopes for the film.
Luke: Yeah. I think you have to. Even if you don't have to, it's hard not to imagine possible futures for the movie as you're working on it.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
Andrew: I learned about the phenomenon in 2001 and shot some stuff. I made contacts with a bunch of people and stayed in touch with them. In 2003 Luke and I teamed up and started shooting the film.
Luke: Andrew had been interested in LARPing and role-playing for a few years before we got together to start shooting in 2003. We spent all of 2004 and some of 2005 covering Darkon events, shooting interviews, and following people through their day-to-day lives in between events. The rest of 2005 was spent editing the movie.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Andrew: I don’t have patience. But I have to act like I have patience. I have to keep learning. The more you do the more you can do.
Luke: Trust is key to every aspect of good filmmaking.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition? Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
Andrew: When people ask me ‘what is your favorite movie?’, I always say ‘oh, I hate movies’. I like Herzog and lots more.
Luke: I want to say we tried to pull ideas from things like Salesman and Braveheart into certain parts of the movie, but the truth is that it's more patch-worked and confused than that. If you watch enough movies and see the good and bad parts of them all, when you start putting your own movie together, all those influences just become little references or building blocks, like the individual letters in a sentence.

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
Andrew: I don’t think anyone would work.
Luke: I've met people before who basically are him, but I don't think any of them are actors.

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
Andrew: 400 Blows
Luke: Touch of Evil

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
Andrew: He’s not an actor, but I would still say Skip Lipman (aka Bannor).
Luke: Skip Lipman, even though he's not really an actor.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
Luke: A carpenter who watched a lot of movies.

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
Andrew: Hoffman.

Have you “made it” yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say “Yes, wow. I have totally made it!”
Andrew: It’s a never-ending cycle. I want to make more things. If I can continue to make more things and some people see them I’ve made it.
Luke: I don't think I'm ever going to say that. As soon as one thing's done, I'm already thinking about what I want to work on next. That's more the focus, more than making it.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
Andrew: Smart people’s opinions mean something to me. But in the end you just need to try to keep doing what you’re doing.
Luke: Everyone looks for some guidance as to what's good. We want some reference before we step into a new experience, film watching or otherwise.

You’re contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that’s absolutely integral to the film or you’re getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
Andrew: Cut it so that it is R, not NC-17 and see if it still does what it needs to.
Luke: Go the unrated route.

What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
Andrew: I believe in auteurs, but I think that the egomaniacal director thing is out of control today. Jesus Christ had a vision. I have ideas. I think our infatuation with the media is out of control. I read a comic recently that went something like this: Humans used to be great because they conquered a kingdom. Now they are great because they reenacted conquering a kingdom. I think that is funny.
Luke: I do like knowing what director made what film. Learning the body of work that someone has done helps me understand the ideas that they are wrestling with. But to a large degree, a film is the sum of all its contributions. And I don't think it's a good sign for the film when it can't be marketed as the movie that it is, and instead has to be pushed as another such-and-such film.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
Andrew: It’s about how we want to escape our everyday lives. I think most Americans working and living the middle-class existence are acutely familiar with this desire. Also, it's one man trying to take down an empire in a war fought with foam weapons.
Luke: I think the modern world is built around ideas of escapism. Most of us can think of something we do in our lives to get away from it all. Darkon shows some people, who in their day-to-day lives are just like you or me, who LARP as this escape. And the way that they go about doing this is through hard-core foam-weapon battles on soccer-fields in suburbia.


Darkon, directed by Andrew Neel & Luke Meyer, will premiere at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for festival information, and be sure to check out the official Darkon website.

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originally posted: 03/03/06 09:55:00
last updated: 03/03/06 09:56:51
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