Behold The “World’s Greatest Dungeon Master” in “Zero Charisma”

on Friday, May. 20th

Geek culture made huge inroads in the past decade; the evidence is all over the cineplex this summer if you weren’t aware. Not all geeks are happy about this. Part of being a nerd means being an outsider, and an outcast who is socially acceptable is a paradox that even The Doctor couldn’t solve. (WARNING: if you got that, you still might not be a real geek. Doctor Who is now cool. Yes, something is rotten in Denmark, Horatio.)

A squad of Austin based filmmakers are taking this rift in the geek community head on in their soon to be in-production comedy, Zero Charisma, which tells the story of the “world’s greatest Dungeon Master” who gets pushed over the line when a suave hipster joins his Dungeons and Dragons game.

Writer and co-director Andrew Matthews, talked to us about the film, which is campaigning for funding on IndieGoGo, and what he and his directing partner Katie Graham learned while working on the cult hit Best Worst Movie.

TURNSTYLE: As the teaser puts it, the central conflict of Zero Charisma is between the “world’s greatest Dungeon Master” and his “neo-nerd hipster” foil. How did you zero in on that as a dynamic?

Andrew Matthews: We really started with Scott.  He’s our main character and the movie is about him.  The question was what kind of person would make a good nemesis–what kind of person would threaten him, infuriate him, drive him to extreme lengths.  Originally the idea was to have two Type A personality “nerds” battling for alpha status, but we realized that Scott’s insecurity and outrage would be heightened by someone he perceived as essentially an impostor.  Someone who unfairly got to have it both ways.  Also, despite their common interests, they’re psychologically such opposites:  Nerds take things too seriously, and hipsters don’t seem to take anything seriously.  Maybe that’s why nerds have accomplished so much more in this world.  (To be fair, hipsters haven’t been around as long.  Let’s see what they do.)

TS: If you’ve been a gamer- a real gamer with the dice calluses to prove it- you’ve probably known someone like Scott, or even been him at some point.  How did the character take shape in your writing process– is he a comic type, or drawn from personal experience?

AM: I started playing with a group of guys that were older than me and had been playing together for a while, so even though I wanted badly to be a DM, I didn’t really have that seniority.  So, I turned around and forced my little brother and his friends to play my campaigns.  Later, as a proper DM, I had very strong opinions about what made a good adventure, and bristled when players didn’t have the integrity of the story as their primary concern.  So I guess Scott is kind of like me, but without the self-awareness to reign in the obsessive need to always be right.

Speaking of which, a lack of self-awareness is one of our favorite traits in a comic character.  Pretty much everyone wants to be respected and admired, but most of us have the wherewithal to keep it under wraps.  Take away that self-awareness, and you’ve got someone who telegraphs all his desires and insecurities without knowing it.  That’s fun to watch.  It was also important for Scott to be highly passionate.  I’ve heard it said that comedic characters have to be more passionate and more driven than dramatic characters because they must go to absurd lengths for what they want, and I agree with that wholeheartedly.

TS: The teaser is pretty accomplished. Will that footage wind up in the final film, or is everything we see there just proof of concept?

AM: It’s all proof of concept.  We shot it in three or four days, in between jobs and other responsibilities, with less professional equipment than we would have liked, so we expect the finished film to look much better.  We’ve had a lot of people say that it looks like the film’s done already, and I think you can chalk that up to the amazing skill of the actors (some of whom had not even had a chance to read the script), the immense generosity of the people who granted us the locations, and the value of intense preparation.

TS: What lessons have you taken from your experiences on Best Worst Movie?

AM: It’s all about the main character.  Tell his story first.  High concept ideas are great for 3 minute video clips, but if you want to hold an audience’s attention for 90 minutes, you’ve got to be telling someone’s story.  So, we’re thinking of this much less as a movie about D&D, than a movie about a guy who happens to care a lot about D&D.

TS: What drew you to IndieGoGo (as opposed to Kickstarter)?

AM: It was close.  Obviously, IndieGoGo offers the benefit of letting you keep the money even if you don’t reach your goal.  Wouldn’t that be awful?  To come close and then lose it all because you couldn’t get that last few hundred? And it’s a bit smaller and maybe a better fit for what we were doing–it seemed to have more strange and funky projects going on.  Also, we had recently heard of a few success stories that came from there.  Overall, we couldn’t be happier with how IndieGoGo treated us, and will highly recommend the site, and crowdfunding in general.

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