Spolight on – Lorien Green and Going Cardboard, A Board Game Documentary

In case you haven’t heard, Lorien Green is making a documentary about our favourite hobby!

It’s entitled – Going Cardboard, A Board Game Documentary. It will hopefully be ready during the first quarter of 2011 and from the look of Lorien’s website, this is going to be a wonderful advertisement for board gaming.

From the website –

Going Cardboard is a film about the new board gaming, a phenomenon going on right under your nose, probably in your very community! This film will take you into that world to meet the players and designers responsible for this radical departure from technology. And you just might discover it’s the hobby for you.

So let’s talk to Lorien and find out something about her and the coo documentary about our world!

So Lorien you’ve been a gamer for a few years. Tell us about how you got into board games and your progression as a gamer since the day you caught the bug.

My husband introduced me to designer board games after he fell in with a local game group.  Not that I was critical of his growing collection, but I was curious.  He was a tournament-level Magic: the Gathering player years before that, good at explaining and retaining rules, and with a very competitive streak.  We’re sort of opposites that way, I’m not as good at retaining rules, and mostly play for fun vs. winning, but I still manage to win a good amount of the time when we game.

What was your gateway game?

It’s really hard to remember, but I don’t think it was Catan, really.  For group games, I think Bohnanza captured my attention with its goofy art, and I remember playing Lost Cities and Balloon Cup early-on.  San Juan was also one I liked a lot.

Any particularly memorable gaming moments?

There was one time playing Battlestar Galactica with my husband (Adam), his good friend, Chris, and Chris’ wife, Mindy.  Nobody had been revealed to be a cylon, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t Mindy.  Adam and Chris got into such an animated and heated bout of accusing one another, and did it so well, that they had me completely freaked out, and I just threw up my hands in frustration and exclaimed, “I can’t trust either one of you!”  And I didn’t, I really felt a hint of how it would feel to be in the BSG world.  That was truly awesome, that a game could elicit that.

And then there was my first time playing Small World where I crushed everyone with my Pillaging Tritons.  I’ll always have fond memories of those little guys…

What are your favorite games?

I’ve enjoyed every single game of Goa and Power Grid we ever played.  I’ve only played Munchkin once, but I loved it.  Oh, and Ticket to Ride Europe.  I would say for the most part, I lean very much toward the casual side of the spectrum, but there are still some more complex ones that I like.  If I could go home tonight and play any game at all, I would probably pick Goa or Puerto Rico.  I’m not sure why. J  Puerto Rico, maybe because there is coffee involved.  Like that one Bohnanza expansion… uh… coffee may have something to do with it.

Tell us about your personal game collection

We don’t have a ton of games at the moment, say 100 or so probably, but I’m certainly not opposed to amassing a larger collection, and I suspect we will when we start playing more frequently again.  We’re fairly behind, and a lot of recent releases haven’t found their way to our collection yet.  And need to.

Who do you play games with?

Mainly I game with my husband and another couple we’re friends with right now.  I’ve played some Catan recently with some friends from work, and that was a lot of fun.  There is a game group we play with in Concord, NH, but haven’t been up there for a good game session in a while.  For the most part, we sneak in 2-player games when we can.

Do you have much time to game nowadays?

Before our kids came along, we played a lot more.  Then it got harder to work game nights in (2 couples we normally game with also had kids around then).  And once I decided to do the documentary, my gaming went down to almost nothing.   I have a one-track mind, and if I’m around games right now, I constantly feel like I should be filming, not playing, like playing them would be slacking in some way.  It’s been that way for a couple years now, but I have been able to get some gaming, especially on the iPhone.  When my free time is my own again, though, I expect to start playing more again, and it’s only a matter of time before the kids get old enough to give us a full in-house set of 4 players every single night.

Tell us about your background as a filmmaker. Where did you develop your craft? What have you worked on previously?

My entire film background consists of being a fan of documentaries (and my brother having gone to film school).  It started with stuff like the Ken Burns Civil War set, but a turning point came when I saw The King of Kong.  I have always loved classic arcade gaming, so this film really hit me.  I started digging into the world of “geekumentaries” and finding loads of them.  In the course of doing this, I came across a documentary filmmaker, Jason Scott, who lived nearby.  I had sort of started toying with the idea of making my own indie documentary by then, so I emailed him for advice.  From there on, he was my mentor in this endeavor.

I for one am VERY excited to see your upcoming documentary about board gaming. Tell us the story about Going Cardboard: a Board Game Documentary . How did you come up with the idea? Tell us about how you got started, the ups and downs, the challenges, the surprises. Anyone working with you? How long have you been working on it?

I just thought that there were so many hobbies that had documentaries about them, but none to be found about designer gaming.  And the more I found out about how big it really is outside the US, the more alluring it seemed as a documentary subject. The movie talks about the hobby, the players, and the designers.  It covers all the events from having a couple friends over for game night to the Spiel fair at Essen, with over 150,000 attendees.  I feel like it’s a decent cross-section of the hobby and many of the elements that make people love designer board gaming so much.

Actual filming really started at Unity Games in February of 2009.  That’s a local gaming event with a few hundred attendees.  I met a good number of people there, including Derk from boardgamegeek.com, he was one of my first interviews (I must have seemed like quite the noob!).  Plans started to coalesce from there, and it was sounding like I should go to the Gathering of Friends, and Essen.  I figured I’d do one that year, and one the following year.  My mentor, Jason, said, “Do whatever you have to do to make them both happen this year.  Trust me.  Just do it.”  I thought he was CRAZY, that there was no way I could, but I made it happen, and I see now why he was right about that.  Because the filming is probably the easiest part of it all.  The hard part is putting it together…

Ups and downs of the whole thing, well, when Klaus Teuber, designer of The Settlers of Catan, agreed to an interview, I was ecstatic.  All the wonderful people I’ve met, and the things I’ve discovered make it a ridiculously enriching experience all around.  It’s been almost completely “up” moments, but there are a couple distinct moments of panic I can remember.  First was at the Gathering of Friends, when I couldn’t find a place I was really happy with for my interviews.  The hotel staff were wonderful and showed me every open conference room they had, but they were all empty an echoey, and had completely bare white walls.  I was by myself, first big trip for the film, loads of very important interviews about to happen, and I just sat down on the bed in my hotel room and almost cried.  Then I told myself to suck it up and figure it out.  I ended up filming about half the interviews in my hotel room, and about half in the big room where everyone was gaming.  I was SO paranoid about background noise, but those interviews are fine.

The second time was at Essen, when I was setting up to film Reiner Knizia’s interview, in my hotel room about two hours after having gotten off the plane.  I plugged the lighting equipment in… and immediately blew out all the power in the room.  Even though I’d brought power conversion adapters, it was just too much juice I guess.  This time I only panicked for a few seconds, though, and after apologizing and asking the hotel staff to restore power to our hotel room, I just used the lights available in the room.  Not ideal, but I’d learned by then that these situations very rarely are; you just have to adapt, constantly.

Can you take us through the steps you have had to take to produce the documentary?

First step was, get a camera, which I didn’t have before this.  The prosumer HD cameras they have now are great.  I was able to borrow a lot of the other gear for most of the time I was filming.  My formal education consisted of two books, “The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide” by Anthony Q. Artis, and “Documentary Storytelling” by Sheila Curran Bernard.

Even though it’s a documentary, you still need to tell a story, and that second book was great about explaining the traditional 3 Act format, story trains, and so forth.   I filled many pages of my notebook with different outlines of the film.  The more people I talked to, the more I learned, and the more the story surfaced.  It’s really organic in that way.  Before I started filming, I had very little notion of what “Essen” even WAS, and that was as somebody somewhat familiar with designer board games.

As the interviews progressed, I was loading the footage onto a couple 1TB external hard drives, and editing with Sony Vegas.  I’m in the editing phase right now, of course, and have been doing that hard-core, 20 – 30 hours/month for a couple months.  It seems like a never-ending process, but after each session it gets a little closer to being a completed story.  The intro and the closing are pretty complete.

Who are the principle interviewees? Tell us about what you found particularly interesting and/or surprising.  What have you learned about the industry? Gamers?

One of the most principle interviewees is Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande games, partly because I think I ended up interviewing him on 3 separate occasions, he knows the history of this industry very well, and also happened to be the producer and publisher for Dominion, the game that won Game of the Year the year I went to Essen.  I was lucky enough to get interviews with a lot of very well-known participants in the designer board gaming scene; Reiner Knizia, Klaus and Guido Teuber, Alan Moon, Donald X. Vaccarino, Friedemann Friese, Derk Solko, Eric Martin, and Tom Vasel, but there are a great many more than I can list, and the designers I didn’t know about before starting this are some of the most interesting.  There were a few interviews I did with two people at once, and I think that is a fun dynamic.  Both the Geek Nights podcasters, Rym and Scott, and the Lamont brothers had me laughing out loud with their discussions.  Cutting the film DOWN is a real challenge, and thank GOODNESS for DVD Bonus Material!

One big thing I’ve learned about the industry is how accessible it is to a first-time designer.  In most entertainment industries, it’s very hard to break in.  At this point in time, at least, it is very possible for someone with a game design (a good game design, of course) to connect with a publisher and actually see their game get published.  Or, just to publish it themselves, the micro-publisher option seems to be quite viable right now.

A lot of these designers, and even the publishers, are passionate gamers themselves.  The down-side to this is that sometimes these enterprises are being powered more by heart and a love of the hobby than business experience.  There are certainly pitfalls to that approach.  It’s kind of a wild west of game design right now, though, and that’s exciting!

What is your own view of the hobby and where its going?

I have the impression that this hobby is in its infancy in many countries, including the United States, the UK, Scotland, Australia, and China (from what I recall of my interviews), but possibly maturing in other parts of the world such as Germany, where this has been going on for 30 years or so.  It was the opinion of several of my interview subjects that there are simply too many games coming out, and that it just can’t continue like this, that there will be kind of a market fatigue point.  But for a lot of people, we’re still in the age of discovery, so it’s bound to grow from here for a while yet.

What would you like to see done which could help board gaming become more mainstream amongst the public?

One of my interviewees, Nick Kellet, designer of GiftTRAP, made a very good point when he asked, “When is Oprah going to talk about these games?”  It’s a matter of waiting impatiently for the mainstream media to decide this stuff has a wide enough reach that it deserves coverage.  It will happen, but for those of us already immersed in the hobby, I mean everyone wants to have the things they care about acknowledged and validated, it can’t happen soon enough.

OK so what needs to be done before the dvd release?

At this point, I need to finish pulling together the rough cut of the story, and determine which parts that don’t fit into the main film are still just too good to skip, and put them in the bonus section.  I’ve got an animator and a composer on the project, so their stuff is also being integrated at this point.

Once the rough cut is done to my liking, I’m hoping to hand it off to a professional production facility to do all the polish and audio/video correction that will need to be done.  This will be the biggest single cost, so I plan to do a Kickstarter fundraiser in the near future to try and cover that.  So far, this project’s been entirely self-funded, but there’s only so much I can convince my husband to put up with, and really the film deserves professional treatment at this stage.  If I tried to do this last part myself, it’d probably add another year to the timeline!

When are you planning to release and where will it be available? Downloadable on itunes?

I have been really fighting to finish by the end of the year, but I don’t see that happening.  I’ve been moving pretty fast, mind you, but it’s already mid-October.  More likely we’re looking now at Q1 2011.  I would rather keep working on it until it’s something I’m proud of, and not release it too soon just because of the idea of a deadline.  That being said, I want it done ASAP.

The film will absolutely be available on DVD.  Most likely, I will self-publish, but there are some great options available for that, so it should be easy to get, and I do intend to put it on iTunes, yes.

Any words of advice for others interested in producing documentaries?

The average documentary takes 4 years to complete.  Don’t underestimate that, it’s a real number, and a huge commitment.  The other thing is, start editing as soon as you have footage.  Editing is the hardest part, and the sooner you dive in, the better an idea you’ll have of the direction you want to go, and therefore, questions you’ll want to ask.

Don’t let a lack of experience stop you, though.  If you have a story to tell, and you’re passionate about it, you can make it happen.  And people seem to be very willing to help each other in the indie film community.

What are your plans for professional life after this project?

I have 2 or 3 other ideas for things that would make good documentaries, but we’ll see.  I can’t say I see indie documentary as a job that would pay the bills in most cases, and certainly money isn’t the reason I’m doing this one.  The whole experience has been a wonderful adventure, though, and I’ll probably miss it the moment it’s done!  Maybe after a bit of a break and a couple board game nights…

Tell us where we can meet you this year. Attending any upcoming conventions like ESSEN?

I wish I could get back to Essen this year, and I will go back there again sometime.  Until then, I will likely pop in at the next Unity Games event in Massachusetts, and PAX East, for sure!  Beyond that, whatever travel my schedule will allow, I would love to get out to GenCon next year with the GameSalute.com team, and BGGCon would be fantastic.

For more information about Lorien Green and Going Cardboard, A Board Game Documentary, go to http://www.boardgamemovie.com/

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