I've seen ZERO CHARISMA a few times now, and I'd be very surprised if it doesn't end up on my top 10 of 2013. Now before everyone thinks I'm being hyperbolic, know that when a movie hits me on a personal level like ZERO CHARISMA did, I'm not being so much analytical about my selections in my top 10 list so much as emotional. Like RUSHMORE before it, it feels like the filmmakers took a peek into aspects of my life. It feels like the filmmakers knew me personally. I feel that way about RUSHMORE and I feel that way about ZERO CHARISMA. These may be universal experiences for many people, but for me it felt like andinside look at my life.
I'm proud to support this movie. At the time during this interview (during SXSW), ZERO CHARISMA hadn't picked up distribution yet, and it just seems like a natural fit that Nerdist chose it to be their first foray into film distribution. I hope it does crazy well.
And, if you live in Houston, you can see ZERO CHARISMA very early indeed. On Sunday August 11, I'm co-hosting an event, along with Robert Saucedo and 8th Dimension Comics and Games, called DUNGEONS AND DRAFTHOUSES. We'll be screening ZERO CHARISMA, along with three other sword and sorcery classics to be announced at the event. The directors of ZERO CHARISMA, Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews, will be in attendance, along with Sam Eidson, and we'll have a Q&A after the screening. In between movies, you'll watch me and a few others, including Sam, get their nerd on as we play a few quick rounds of D&D Second Edition combat. Right now, tickets are only $12, but they go up on August 1st to $20, and we already have seats going fast. It's going to be a ton of fun and I hope to see you there.
Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews have crafted a funny, touching, and true film about nerddom, and Sam Eidson does seriously great work as Scott. It's one of those performances that in a better world could be considered for some awards consideration. There are some performances that don't feel so much acted as lived in, and Eidson really gets into the very marrow of Scott, and into what it really means to be a nerd. It's not cliché when it feels so genuine. I was able to sit down with Katie, Andrew, and Sam at SXSW earlier this year, and I hope you get to see ZERO CHARISMA when it hits theaters and VOD in October, or at the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park on August 11.
Nordling: First off, I want to congratulate you all for your movie; it was so good. Obviously the buzz with the crowd last night was really amped.
Sam Eidson: Yeah, it was exciting.
N: And it was such a really great experience to watch it. (To Sam) You were wonderful, man.
SE: Thanks man.
N: You kicked ass. I have to tell you, Sam’s character, Scott – he could be an archetype of so many types of games, but that character in particular, I know a guy just like that. You probably get that from everybody – “I know that guy!” So was there a particular person that was an inspiration for you all?
Andrew Matthews: There was a few, maybe some in real life, some online personalities, some other characters from other TV shows, and some a little bit of myself. It’s like your darkest, most insecure feelings that you tap into.
N: But you did tap into something universal, though, and with your performance as well, Sam. Seriously, everybody who is into games, there’s somebody who is like that. There are some aspects of their world that they can’t control, but they can control this. This is theirs. And when that’s taken away they can go apeshit.
AM: Yeah it was important that the other players had their things. Wayne’s got this girl he’s courting; Leonard and Martin have their webseries they’re doing. But Scott-
Katie Graham: Scott’s got the game.
AM: Just the one thing.
KG: That’s his priority.
N: Sam what did you draw for this role? Did you draw from anybody in life?
SE: They gave me some references to people, online, and mostly, just from watching, because I do know that kind of guy too. And just watching, thinking about myself too. You got to get stuff from your own self, though. But I had to find that asshole inside me.
KG: He has to dig deep for that one.
SE: Yeah, it was tough.
KG: That’s not Sam at all. (laughs)
AM: As far as we know.
SE: You know you love me.
N: It’s important to find a character like that with some sympathy; he can’t be a complete asshole, otherwise the audience is going to abandon you. But there’s something about Scott, you feel, when you’re watching him, there’s a nugget of sympathy – he’s not totally to blame; he’s had a shitty road. But he takes it out on other people too. But he can’t help it. How did the genesis of the story start for you all? I watched the film and I’m thinking, “God, these are so many of our commenters online. It’s like you pulled somebody straight out of the Ain’t It Cool Talkbacks.”
So how did the genesis for the project start?
KG: I guess it’s really the character. We wanted a know-it-all nerd character, to have an archetype, and to dig deeper into who that person is, and really show a more vulnerable side of someone like that. That’s really where it all began, that’s what we want. And the D&D thing, I don’t know why…
AM: I had another D&D script that I was working on; this was years ago, that would have been a much more expensive film out of our range to make. And the lead character was a character like this. But it was a little more… bigger locations and an adventure type thing, and then when we wanted to make a low budget movie…
KG: And then we came to SXSW, and we saw these indie movies, we saw a movie like HUMPDAY, and we said, “Let’s do a small version with a guy like this.”
AM: We love that character so much, that you don’t necessarily have to have a big production to enjoy that character. We can do something just small, just a few locations…
KG: Just a dialogue driven, small film about one of those dudes.
N: As a nerd and a geek both – and they are two different things, there’s an interesting dichotomy going between Sam’s character, who is an old-school nerd, and then you’ve got Miles (Garrett Graham), who manages to be socially functional but he still likes the things that he likes. And obviously Scott’s like, “Well, you’re not real.” Did that come organically from the story? It’s weird, it’s there, but it’s not really talked about much, but you all managed to key in on that really closely.
AM: That’s great that it all worked out because as we were doing it, we were like, “This is kinda dangerous, there’s a lot of people who will go, that’s not me, or it’s him,” or you know there are people who hate hipsters, or other people are saying it’s a different type of geek… it’s dangerous water, it feels like. And we had different versions of the script where the Miles character was much more of a villain. Just coming in, and being awful for no reason.
N: I think this is a more realistic way.
KG: Yeah, yeah.
AM: And a lot of it came from working on BEST WORST MOVIE in 2008, 2009, where there was a lot of discussion about what’s the right way to like something – do people genuinely like TROLL 2, or do they like it because they’re making fun of it? And that always interested us, and I think we just came down to the thought that if people like things then they like them, and that you can’t really judge them for that. If there is something about Miles that’s different from Scott it’s that there’s probably more commitment on Scott’s side. Miles is more like a cultural-
KG: A sampler.
AM: Yeah. Miles takes a little bit of this, a little bit of that… it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t like those things…
KG: Yeah, it’s just kind of a fad, sampling, not a life’s mission.
N: Sam, I know there was an audition process, and you all did that thing for Kickstarter, tell me a little bit about how you got involved.
SE: Andrew and Katie had seen me in “Man from Orlando,” this very local film, and they liked me in it, so they asked me to come and just do the IndieGoGo thing, and it was fun. It was a blast. I got to go to Ren Faire, and mess around. It was just like little instances, so you know, it’s not like we were just shooting the stuff we needed for the trailer. That was a totally different shoot. And when that did well, they asked me to come on to the feature, so yeah. Like a year later we shot the movie. So it’s been like, two years.
N: How long did it take to shoot?
KG: We shot it in 18 days.
AM: And we really didn’t have the money to lose a day. And we could not add a day. So we were like, if we don’t get it, I don’t know what we were going to do.
N: Well it feels like a very polished film.
KG: Thank you.
N: The humor comes from a really great place; it comes from the characters. Speaking for myself, but the audience really comes to love Scott. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but the way the film ends, you know he’s going to be okay. At least that’s how I got it. He’s making progress – it’s inch by inch, but at least he’s moving forward. It’s not a natural 20 this time – he’s willing to go to 19.
KG: He’s growing.
N: (To Sam) Obviously the character has a lot of rage in him; what did you pull from that for your performance, do you think?
SE: Like they were trying to get me to be this great hoarder; that was… I tried to get from that and I tried to take my own little comedic – because I usually do comedy so I’d take some of that, and then the real sadder parts, you gotta go to that deep, dark place. Scott’s got a great range.
KG: We actually told him to watch John Bender in THE BREAKFAST CLUB.
N: I could totally see that.
KG: There’s a little bit of that, just because I’ve always loved that character.
AM: Tough guy posturing.
KG: He’s just such a tough guy, angry, but he’s vulnerable too.
AM: And Scott has fingerless gloves too.
KG: It’s true! And a denim jacket. Sleeveless, too, I think?
SE: That’s right.
N: He could have done that fist pump in the air, except he’s holding dice.
KG: There’s a little bit of that John Bender, but not as cool, I guess. I don’t know, Scott’s kind of cool to me.
N: No, he’s very cool. He’s a cool character, he’s just difficult to get along with. Were there any subplots that didn’t fit or make it into the film that you thought, “Well, this is probably too on point?”
AM: We have some deleted scenes that we’ll have on the DVD. The biggest one of which, without going into too much detail, there is sort of a fantasy sequence where we go out of reality for a bit, and Scott gets to meet one of his fantasy characters. Which we shot, and it went well, and the actors were great in it, but it just was the only moment that was not literal.
KG: It was such a departure.
AM: It was tonally very different, so we decided to back out of that one, and then we’re like, “Well this is a really good deleted scene.” That one’s for the Blu-Ray.
KG: This is a surprise.
N: Scott’s had a rough family life – and we don’t even know what happened to Scott’s dad – was that put into the background because you didn’t want to use that as excuse for the kind of person he was? Or was it overt originally?
KG: There is actually a scene where you find out more about Barbara (Cyndi Williams)…
AM: A little more.
N: She’s wonderful by the way. I actually saw her in two movies yesterday (COMPUTER CHESS).
AM: I guess also from a tonal point of view, if we get too much into that, then this is just depressing now.
N: Yeah, it’s a fine line. There’s comedy and then there’s total depression.
KG: We just wanted to leave it up to the audience.
SE: Scott’s a Disney character, like all those orphan kids…
N: Exactly! Instead of glass slippers, he’s got glass dice.
KG: Disney could make an animated movie out of this.
N: Tell me about Anne Gee Byrd, the actress that plays Scott’s grandmother.
AM: She was one of the only two actors we brought from out of town. I’ve known her for a really long time. My family has a background in theater and stage and so they’ve been doing that in LA for years, and I’ve done plays with her when I was younger, and she saw BEST WORST MOVIE and she was a big fan of it. We were actually going to cast someone here in town for it, and it didn’t work out. And we ere like, “Oh my gosh, we have no time…”
KG: We had no time at all, and do you think Anne Gee will do it...
AM: We have to fly her out, and she’s SAG, and all these other things, and we just gave her a call, and she was like, “Sure.” And that was tough too, because she had a very limited amount of time to be here. It was like 4 days for her. And we had to structure the whole shoot around her four days, which is hard for other actors who are now doing it way out of sequence. The retirement home scene was like at the beginning of the shoot.
N: It’s not readily apparent at first, but Scott and she have quite a few things in common. They have the same outlook at the world a little bit.
KG: She’s a good character. You start to understand that’s where Scott gets it from.
AM: I also think that these are two characters that think that they would be fine on their own. They don’t need anybody else. And seeing where they end up, it’s like they kinda do need each other.
N: The gaming scenes in the film are pulled from all sorts of places. Did you all get any input from anyone in the gaming community? Just talking to gamers in stores, or anything like that.
AM: I’ve played with a number of different groups here in town, and I’ve been playing for a long time, so I felt like I had enough background in it to be able to write the scenes.
KG: And then I’d look at a scene and I’d go, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Now I’m lost.”
AM: Katie doesn’t have a gaming background and she’d be able to go, “This is too much technobabble.”
N: You’ve tapped into something quite universal among gamers, though. If you’ve ever been around gamers, you’ve all tapped into those real people. I’ve played D&D like everybody, but when I did it, I’d have these elaborate stories that you’re building up in your mind, like Scott does in the film, and it feels like it’s his outlet or creativity, and at some point you feel like Scott’s going to actually get all this down on paper and make that leap from gaming to being an even more creative person.
AM: In an earlier draft of the script, Scott was working on a book.
KG: He mentions it in the movie.
N: I have to tell you, one scene that really hit close to home; there’s a scene in the film where Scott is telling Miles and the group, “Well, I wrote THE MATRIX.” You have no idea how many geeks out there who say shit like that.
KG: (laughs) Well, Andrew kinda felt that way when he was in high school…
AM: (laughs) I never submitted the story to anybody, but I did write that story.
SE: I never knew that.
AM: And then a couple of years later, when I actually saw THE MATRIX, and I was like, “What the…” Because you don’t know what’s going on, there’s that great scene in THE MATRIX where he actually takes the pill, and all that stuff is happening, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I know exactly what’s happening right now!”
KG: So that was pretty much based on that.
N: That awkwardness between Miles and everyone else where everyone’s got their heads down, and that’s totally true, because when you talk to people - when geeks get into their bullshit sessions, and they go, “Well, I wrote that story years ago!” and everyone else is like, “Uhh…” you all got that total awkwardness perfectly.
AM: And most of the time you humor somebody who’s saying something like that.
N: And you don’t want to call them on it. Miles actually calls Scott on it a bit. One of my favorite aspects of the film is that it’s not making fun of gamers. It’s making fun of Scott a bit, because of his personality, and the movie makes a point – it is about fun, but don’t dive so deeply into it.
AM: Obsession of any type is probably not the best thing, but then again, if you’re going to make an independent film, it becomes your life for a couple of years, so I could sympathize with that. You feel like you’re obsessed with this film you’re working on, and it becomes very scary, because it feels like you don’t have anything else to fall back on mentally. So if this gets taken away from you, or if this is a failure, it’s a crash and burn…
N: Well, it is about obsession – it’s about obsession for something that isn’t actually going anywhere, and it’s okay to be obsessed if it goes somewhere. At the end of the film, Scott still loves the game, but you get the idea that he’s going to break through, that it’s going to go somewhere and he’s going to use it.
KG: Things do get just a little bit better.
Thanks to Katie, Andrew, and Sam for sitting down with me and talking about their wonderful film. I think audiences will dig it too. If you're in Houston on August 11, come to the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park and enjoy ZERO CHARISMA, along with some classic sword and sorcery movies.