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In the world of live action role-playing, or LARPing, there are a few simple rules. Rule No. 1, Joe Lynch says, is never pick a fight with actor Peter Dinklage.
“Dinklage schooled everybody!” the Knights of Badassdom director laughed as he, co-screenwriter Matt Wall and producer Mark Burton sat down with Spinoff Online and other members of the press to speak about the upcoming independent comedy-adventure.
Describing the first day of the film’s fencing and fight training, Lynch and Wall told reporters that after the actors were given the basics rules of LARPing they and the crew engaged in a practice melee. The result?
“Peter Dinklage was the last man standing!” Wall laughed.
“I don’t know if it was just because he was coming from Narnia and Game of Thrones beforehand, but he was literally like, pop-pop-pop-pop-pop!” Lynch added, mimicking Dinklage’s fencing motions. “And then he would just walk away!”
LARPing, as you may have figured out, involves players acting out their characters’ actions – it’s basically Dungeons & Dragons, but outside and with costumes and fake weapons. This role-playing subculture is at the heart of Knights of Badassdom, the film from IndieVest Pictures and North By Northwest Entertainment that focuses on a group of players that accidentally summons a demon during a large-scale LARP event.
Dinklage, nominated for an Emmy for his performance as the diminutive Tyrion Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones, plays a serious LARPer named Hung. The film also stars True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten as Joe, the protagonist and only non-LARPer. The main cast is rounded out by Firefly’s Summer Glau as the LARPer Gwen and Treme’s Steve Zahn as Eric, Joe’s friend who role-plays as a wizard.
While the subculture has been parodied before in movies such as the 2008 comedy Role Models, Lynch told reporters he wanted to approach LARPing with a sense of respect as well as fun.
“When I read the script that Matt and Kevin Dreyfuss had written, 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 make it where its poking too much fun at the culture,” Lynch said. Pointing to films like Shaun of the Dead and The Goonies as his template, he said he tried to take a serious approach to directing the film, even the comedic bits.
“One of the examples I said to the actors was if you take An American Werewolf in London and you turn the volume off it’s a gothic-horror movie,” Lynch said. “Turn the volume up, and it’s two guys having a blast talking about ex-girlfriends on the moors. That’s the approach we wanted to take.”
However, Lynch and his production team were in for a surprise when word about the film got out to the LARP Alliance, a nonprofit organization that helps promote and run LARPing events in the United States.
“When word got out, the LARP Alliance [President] Rick McCoy and his partner Adrianne [Grady] found out about us and we just started this relationship — and the entire LARPing community just went, ‘Let’s go!’” Lynch said. Bringing the two onboard as consultants, Lynch and his team were overwhelmed yet again when real LARPers began pouring into the film’s Spokane, Washington, location to be extras.
“Lo and behold, all of a sudden we just started getting requests. When we got up there the casting lady put a notice out, ‘We need LARPing extras,’ and people from Florida, Georgia, every walk of life were just showing up!” Lynch laughed. “It was like, ‘OK, guys, we’re going to need you for the crowd scene this day and the Battle of Evermore’ –and they just kept coming back to the point we were like, ‘We don’t need you today!’ And they’d say, ‘Doesn’t matter, we’re here!’”
Lynch said the glut of extras was warmly welcomed, and that the enthusiasm the LARPers showed for the film thrilled Wall and himself. “The LARPing community is very sacred about the way they are perceived,” he said. “They don’t want to be considered a joke, and we didn’t want to do that at all because the theme of the movie is wish fulfillment. Everybody does it, whether you’re paint-balling and pretending you’re in Iraq shooting up dudes, or you’re in Excalibur.”
Delving into the story more, Lynch told reporters Knights revolves around some friends in their thirties who are “at a crossroads in their life.”
“These guys are buddies since grade school, and they all played D&D … and then everyone just grows up,” he said. “For Eric and Hung, they kept going and they sort of leveled up to LARPing from there.” However, Kwanten’s character Joe puts role-playing behind him to pursue other dreams. “Joe kind of went his own route,” the director added. “He wanted to be a heavy-metal rock star, and that’s his wish fulfillment. And it kind of didn’t work out so well.”
After a disastrous breakup with his girlfriend Beth (Margarita Levieva), Eric persuades Joe to participate in the Battle of Evermore, a large-scale LARPing event. But when Eric casts a spell out of a “fake” spell book he bought on eBay, he accidentally summons a real demon — a succubus that takes over Beth’s body and begins to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting LARPers. Despite the horror elements, Lynch and Wall don’t consider Knights a horror film.
“To me, this is an adventure film,” Lynch said. “This was the true epitome of what I remember an adventure film being, like Romancing the Stone or Goonies or Excalibur, where you have thrills and chills and laughs and drama — adventures 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 and real catharsis.”
To that end, the director tried to make Knights look as close as possible to those adventure films of his youth, including using practical effects and monster puppets wherever possible.
“We all kind of grew up in the Rick Baker era of, if it’s in camera it’s awesome, if it’s CG how much render time did you have? Which, CG is an art form, but we wanted to go old school with this,” Lynch said. The director also revealed he had some high-powered help in locking in Spectral Motion Inc, the effects company behind Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy movies.
“I actually shockingly had Guillermo del Toro call Spectral Motion on our behalf and say, ‘These guys are fucking crazy, you got to work with these fucking guys!’ laughed Lynch, doing his best del Toro impersonation.
Revealing that, overall, they used about 425 gallons of fake blood in the movie, Burton, Wall and Lynch couldn’t stop grinning as they described the amount of carnage that occurs onscreen.
“It was a nice pastiche of different blood and body parts all over, which made the 12-year-old inside of me go, ‘This is great!’” Lynch said.
That adolescent energy was evident as Burton and Lynch passed around the film’s LARP-regulation swords and battle axes, encouraging reporters to fiddle with the weapons as they screened a clip from the unfinished film. Showing the first time Joe and his friends run into the succubus, Lynch pointed out where the practical effects switched over to CG, saying that for the most part he used computers to erase rigs and wires from scenes.
“For me, it’s more about the illusion and sleight-of-hand stuff,” Lynch said. “The more that we could have the gore, the blood, the monsters, the stuff that’s more supernatural on set the more the actors were thrilled because they aren’t just looking at a tennis ball.”
This brought Lynch to the cast, and specifically back to Dinklage.
“Dinklage was one of the first guys who was attached because Peter had worked with Matt and Mark on St. John of Las Vegas,” Lynch said. Although the role of Hung was originally intended to be a “very large, girthy Asian guy,” he said that when it came time to cast, Wall and Burton called Lynch with Dinklage in mind.
“It just immediately clicked,” Lynch said. “Again, we never wanted to make fun of the culture, but at the same time if 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 that it was a no-brainer.”
From there, the creative team said the casting was a “spiral effect” as more actors signed on the more they heard other actors were interested. And while Burton, Wall and Lynch were quick to praise Dinklage’s “badassery,” they were also blown away by Glau’s dance-inspired fight choreography.
“[Glau’s] got a scene in the film where all of us who were on set that night were like, ‘Did John Woo come by? Where are the index cards and the doves flying?’” Lynch laughed.
“It’s very balletic!” Burton added.
After screening the Knights trailer – it was made by Yer Dead Productions Inc, the creative group behind Hobo With a Shotgun — Lynch told reporters that as much fun as the movie was, what drew him to the project wasn’t the comedy or the gore but the real-life drama.
“We could have cast this as 20-year-olds, we could have had a bunch of CW faces, but all of us are in kind of the same age range and all of us were reading the script and going, ‘This is more about when the twenties are over and you’re asking, ‘Where am I in my life?’” Lynch said. Singling out Joe’s character as an example of this, he continued, “Real life dulls us: bills, work, responsibilities. All that magic of being a 12-year-old just goes away.”
Touching the cloth-and-wood LARP sword on the table, the director smiled. “So that was the thing I loved about the script from the beginning … [Joe’s] the ordinary guy thrown into an absolutely extraordinary situation, then an even more extraordinary situation. The fake heroes are forced to become real heroes!”
Knights of Badassdom is tentatively set for release in spring 2012.