Gearing up for its big Comic-con panel, director Joe Lynch prepared a presentation of his latest film Knights of Badassdom, as the film begins hype-building for its Spring 2012 release. Listening to Lynch, you can tell that he’s an enthusiastic fan and motormouth, who’s very excited about this project. The film should have a chance at Comic-con, because the cast is loaded with CC favorites, including Summer Glau, Ryan Kwanten, Peter Dinklage, Danny Pudi and Steve Zahn. Check it out…
How would you describe the movie?
For me this is the true epitome of what an adventure film is. For all of us, an adventure film isn’t just like medieval swords or films like Goonies or Excalibur, you have drama, thrills and chills and laughs, like Army of Darkness. I see that more obviously as the adventure version of what the “Evil Dead” trilogy was. So for us it was like “here’s a rare opportunity to not make a remake or a sequel but at the same time something original that is a little bit of everything that we love.” It’s mostly got a great sense of humor to it and it’s got characters that you want to follow throughout and real stakes. That was very important from the beginning. That was also the fun part about it that I think the cast really got into was that “Oh yeah, we’re just out here with our fake swords and running around.” When sh*t happens, sh*t happens for real. Two of the films that were very influential for this were Shaun of the Dead and An American Werewolf in London. With Shaun of the Dead, you had two schmoes sitting on the couch saying “Ah f*ck, there’s zombies, let’s go get an ice cream bar.” But when people die, when they get to the pub, it’s dark as sh*t. Edgar (Wright) did such a great job building these characters up and then when people are getting dispatched there’s actual emotion involved. And then with American Werewolf, in terms of tone, you could turn the volume off on that and it’s a gothic horror film with the look, the feel. You turn it back up again and they’re talking about ex-girlfriends and things guys talk about when they’re on the road and they’re generally funny. The sense of humor came out naturally and organically with the characters, so that was the hard part about finding a clip that teases, you want to get a little bit of everything. A little bit of humor, a little bit of thrilling stuff, some supernatural stuff as well. This movie is the kitchen sink, it throws it all in.
You mentioned influences, but did you also take from documentaries like Darkon?
When I first got sent the script, full confession, the only LARPing that I knew was when I was working with G4 and we did stuff on LARPing. Still, it was like “Oh those crazy cats. Lightning bolt, lightning bolt!” Just wait, just wait we’ll get to that. That was my perception to what LARPing was and to a lot of people. It was just another wacky thing that people do that’s kind of counter-culture. But when I saw Darkon there’s this one interview of a seventeen-year-old kid and he’s got a foam sword and pizza box armor, stuff like that – obviously homemade. And it really affected me because he’s talking right to the camera and saying “Who I am, my avatar, is the guy who works at Baja Fresh. That’s the fake me. Who I am right here, that’s who I feel like I really am.” That to me was the movie – that struck me because when you read the script you can go any way. You can make it more of a comedy where it’s a comment on LARPing or something like that. We wanted from the beginning to embrace the culture, and respect the culture in a way that makes someone at the end of the movie say “Shit man, I wanna pick up a sword and run out of here.” And that was very important to us right from the get-go. We got in touch with Rick McCoy and his partner Adrian who’s part of the LARP Alliance which is part of the West Coast LARPing community. They came out from the wetworks, they’re everywhere. You’d never believe that there’s LARPing going around everywhere. You always hear like “Oh I was driving down a street and I saw in a park a bunch of guys hitting each other with swords.” When were were up in Spokane prepping, we were just driving around looking for locations and there were a bunch of LARPers there. We had to obviously stop our car, go out and start shooting them, stuff like that, but then they became extras in the movie.
The LARPing community completely embraced this film which was such like so amazing for us. We wanted to respect them and respect the culture and they went above and beyond. Rick and Adrian worked on “Role Models,” and for them this was their leveling up in terms of finding a way to get the LARPing culture and the community out there in a very fun and positive way. Because the whole movie is a wish-fulfillment, whether it’s LARPing, paint balling or something like that, everybody has a dream. Obviously life gets in the way and that’s a testament to Matt (Wall) and Kevin (Dreyfuss)’s script that here are characters who aren’t young twenty-somethings with dreams and hopes, these are thirty-something guys who are getting into the later part of their lives where things didn’t quite work out the way they wanted. And Joe, kind of our Richard Dreyfuss character, our normal everyday guy who gets thrown into an extraordinary situation, this is a guy who’s had a very bad day and his buddies go “Dude, instead of sitting at home feeling bad for yourself, come with us we’re going to have a great time and lose yourself in the culture a little bit. Have fun.” He reluctantly goes and throughout the movie, before the shit hits the fan and obviously when the shit hits the fan, he starts going “This is pretty fun, I like this.” You lose yourself in it, all of us did. Matt (Wall) and I actually did a couple of campaigns and excellent cardio, by the way. No, seriously, you work up a sweat, it’s amazing. We were walking out going “I could do this forever. Oh my God, I’m dying.” But when you put that helmet on, you have that sword in your hand, and they’re like “Guild is over there, guild is over there, now fight!” I swear to God I was in Braveheart. Bills, gone. Responsibilities, poof. All of that stuff that gets in the way of being a twelve year old kid again, you could let go and fall into a fantasy world. Man they hit hard. But that was the thing. I mean, the LARPing community really embracing the script was great, that Rick and Adrian came as technical advisors and also provided us with an unbelievable amount of real weapons but stuff that was absolutely regulation-friendly. And then we ended up having all of our extras real LARPers. Like there was not a fake one in the bunch. Everyone from Georgia to New York to lower California all of a sudden just walk on set and a hundred LARPers and we’re like “Where did they come from?” And that was the thing. We told them we just need a couple of days but ended up sticking around the entire time in Spokane. It only fueled the cast even more because they’re like “Man that guy’s robe is awesome, is it possible I can have one?” (Steve) Zahn came to me and was like “Hey man, I’ve worked on fifty movies, I’ve never seen extras like this in my life. So much so that there was one night where we had a, spoiler alert, a kind of massacre in a way with these extras out there and sh*t like that. All of a sudden, out pops (Steve) Zahn who has a huge bucket of cherries and day off. He could’ve been fishing somewhere, and here he is walking around handing out cherries to all the extras, all the crew members and everything. It’s insane! I was like “Dude, it’s your day off” and he was like “I know, I had to see it!” It was crazy, then he was like (Laughs) and everyone laughs, everybody is great.
Is there a part of the country where LARPing is more popular than others?
Europe is actually, it’s huge in Europe. But they literally came from everywhere and it was so amazing to be out there on the set of a movie and have a hundred extras converged together like in Braveheart. But the fact that everybody was so into it and having such a good time and it was such a family experience, it was like a fellowship. Every night we would just go “Huzzah!” and a hundred people would say the same thing. I’m like “Oh my God, this is insane! This is amazing!” Yeah, it was pretty wild. The crew members were like “Can I have a sword tonight?” And it’s like “No, you have to shoot the movie.” Peter, he was one of our camera operators, and he was like “Come on, put me in!” And I said “Then I’m going to have to shoot it and I’m gonna get in trouble with the union. I can’t touch the camera, you better stay back there!” Actually one of the things that was – every movie that I’ve been blessed to make so far I think is going to be my last one, that I’m never going to get the chance, so I have to infuse this thing with as many of the people that I’ve always wanted to work with, and the influences I’ve always had. When I got the script, I thought when am I going to get the chance to make a movie that is a modern kind of comedy that also has supernatural elements, sword-fighting, monsters, heavy metal. It’s like this big bouillabaisse of every genre that I’ve love in movies.
One day I was reading it going “Holy shit, there’s monsters? Holy sh*t, there’s monsters.” Then the first thing you think of in modern sensibility today is okay, how many pixels it’s going to be or how much render time it’s going to be. Thank God for Weta. A lot of the effects houses make digital creatures look real, but I come from the old school like a lot of us do. If Rick Baker, KNB or Spectral Motion aren’t going out there and making those creatures on set, there’s something so tangible seeing something on set for the crew, for the actors, everybody. I mean you can have people who would visit us on set and go “Holy sh*t, really!?” And that was such a major component of being able to do this movie was to call a lot of the people that I admired in the past, one of them being Spectral Motion. Lucky enough sir (Guillermo) del Toro called them up one day on my behalf and was like “You’ve got to work with this crazy c*cksuckers! I love these guys, they’re f*cking awesome!” And Mike Elizalde from Spectral Motion, they do “X-Men” movies and they do “Hellboy” movies and I’m sitting there going “This is never going to happen.” Then they read the script and said “We are so in on this,” because again it was the chance to make creatures again, be twelve year olds again and be like “You can touch it and this ultra-slime comes off of it!” And that was so important for the actors too, especially a lot of them have worked in big effects-heavy films before so they’re used to both sides of it from practical monsters to CG creatures where they’re like “Look there at that scary tennis ball.” Then you’re like “What is it? What is it? Okay, ah!” But to actually have things on set, even just the gore effects, the blood, we tried to be as practical with everything as possible because it just looks better. It just feels better, it just feels right. Having Spectral be so involved in the film between the creature effects and the gore effects is a dream come true.
Again a big part for me was having those guys on set or having Sam McCurdy as the DP who did The Descent, Doomsday and Centurion. I’m such a DP snob so right when I read the script I was like “Sam McCurdy has to do ths movie!” That was one of the first names that I came to the table with when I pitched these guys, it was two names. It was Sam McCurdy and Bear McCreary, who’s done my previous film and has done a couple of things some people might know about. He read the script and was like “I’m fu*king in!” Again, when do you ever get to have the chance to do something that’s like a heavy metal orchestra kind of thing? And with medieval elements? It was a very Moor-ish type film. Having Sam behind the screen was so integral for us to make the film not feel like a comedy. Because it is, it’s very funny but like I’ve said before it’s coming from an organic kind of way. But when we were LARPing, my viewpoint went into a cutscene from a video game where it went 2:3:5:1. I sat there and thought if we don’t shoot this scope then we’re doing it a disservice. When you’re on that set, you’re looking around and it feels huge and it feels like Braveheart. If I don’t shoot this like John Toll shot Braveheart then I’m not showing you what it’s like to be a LARPer, to literally step in-game and go “I’m in the sh*t now, that’s the opposing team and we’re going to kick some ass.” So if we shot it and designed it and had the actors respectfully perform it in a way that wasn’t like wink wink, nudge nudge, look at me I’m in a wizard suit, they did it with real conviction because that’s how it is on the playing field. Everybody was in game throughout the whole film to the point where you really sit there and you’d have Steve (Zahn), Danny Pudi or Summer (Glau) say “Is this in-game?” And that’s why I liked having Rick or Adrian on there to be able to say if this is authentic to the culture. Cause it never got in the way of the script, that’s the beauty of it. If we’re going to be respectful to the movie or the culture, we wanna make sure all the little elements, all the little spice that goes into it that LARPers will appreciate. It’s like “Oh, they got those hit points right!” But it’s only going to make the general audience who might not have anything to do with LARPing, know about it or say “LARPing, what’s that?” and at the end of the movie go “That sounds like fun.” As long as we’re showing it in a respectful light then we’re doing our job.
The LARPers came and all the actors came like a week or two before when we were heavy in prep. But all the actors started converging in Spokane, Washington and the first thing they said was “When are we LARPing?” Again, having real technical advisors and not just having us making sh*t up, Rick McCoy from LARP Alliance, we had LARPing Boot Camp. So all of us actually learning all the hit points. There’s a really funny scene in the movie where it shows Joe, who’s the guy who really doesn’t know about LARPing and stuff, shows him how to do it. It’s totally true to form, authentic and that’s what they taught us. To watch all of these actors who I admire greatly for years, I’m sitting there thinking “Oh my God, are these guys actually hitting each other with f*cking swords? What have we done? This is awesome!” But (Peter) Dinklage schooled them all. It made them feel so much more comfortable to be out there and do it justice. Steve (Zahn) was very, very present about what he wanted to make sure was authentic. He would ask “Would I use this spell? Would this lightning bolt work? What’s in my pouch?” And I would admit there was a lot of stuff in his pouch. Danny Pudi was a cleric and he wanted to make sure that everything he did was authentic to the culture. That’s what I love about working with great actors like that. We got so lucky where we got such a wonderful ensemble. People are like “oh you just designed that,” but no, they all came to us with wanting to do it. Peter (Dinklage) was the first actor who was really attached to the film when it first got announced by John Landis in England, he blurted it out during something. I was like “Thanks John, you dick!” But Peter (Dinklage) was one of the first actors because he had worked with us before on St. John from Las Vegas. When they called me and said “What do think about Peter Dinklage as this character?” Because originally he was written as a six-foot-five Asian fat guy. When they said that it was like what, but it’s Peter (Dinklage), one of the finest working actors today. I was like “I get to work with that kind of caliber of actors?” And then the snowball effect occurred where you have one actor in there then another goes “Yeah!” then another actor goes “Well if he’s in it, I’m in it!” And then than one goes “Ah! I wanna have fun too!” And it just grew and grew and grew that by the time we actually started shooting, you always have that big wall with actors and their headshots on there. I would just turn around and look in my little office and go “You’ve got to be f*cking kidding me. Really? Really?” I had chainmail on at the same time so I was like “Really really!?” It was like a dream come true, you couldn’t ask for magic in how this movie came together. Every single day
Talk about Hall H, how did you get in there?
Holy sh*t (laughs). We just have a great movie.
Hall H on Saturday on top of that.
I’ve gone to comic con for ten years now, I’ve gone as a fan, I’ve gone as media, I’ve gone as talent – me and Henry (Rollins) signing DVDs. But still I was sitting there going “oh my god, this is crazy. But when (producer) Mark (Burton) called me and said “we got Hall H” I swear to god, it’s like we’re stepping into Oz at this point. Mark has never gone at all, so expect his mind to be blown. I’ve gone to Hall H enough times – and I’ve dreamed “one day” – but you still there and go “what would be like to have a film that would appeal to so many different demographics and fanbases, just alone, Summer’s fanbase, and Peter’s and Ryan’s and Steve’s and Danny’s – your bringing all these collectives of fans and bringing them together. I mean screw The Avengers. We have such a great comic-con cast, but it was never designed that way. Last year we were shooting, and suddenly three or four of actors were gone because they had to go to Comic-con. We were sitting there thinking about it, and it was the first time I hadn’t been to Comic-con in tens years, and I thought “holy shit, we’ve got a cast that people will appreciate when they go to comic-con. Oh, it’s a dream team, but not the Michael Keaton movie. You could have gone with compete unknowns or expected types, but it was important not to cast for comedy. Cast the actors, who can be funny, but also take it as seriously as we were, so when the stakes get raised it’s not like “let’s improve ten minutes. Thankfully we had Nancy Mayer, who had previous done movies for these guys, and for myself. She immediately got the tone, and the actors got the tone. We went to New Orleans to meet with Steve Zahn and I was so nervous the night before, because he’s worked with Herzog and Tom Hanks and was in Saving Silverman, but he’s one of those actors who’s been around the block and then some. And I wonder if he wanted to be in a movie with LARPing, and the next day we talked to him and he was like “this is going to be awesome! I get to be a wizard?” And that was before we even pitched him, and he was in already. And we walked away, and he said “Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt!” All the actors had to look it up, I talked to Danny Pudi for the first time and he said “I’m going to be honest, I’d never heard of this before other than Role Models and a couple of things here and there, but once I start researching it, it was like ‘this looks like so much fun’ but something I would be into if I was more exposed to that world.” Everybody embraced that.
You said at the end there was no room for improv, did you allow that at the beginning?
No, everybody loved the script and were faithful to it. It was the type of film where it wasn’t about off the cuff lines. Every word means something. That’s to me, the Zemeckis/Gale school of “every line counts, because every line, every throwaway line makes sense, everything comes back. And that to me is going to the movies, being ensconced in the film and the story. And what you thought was a throwaway comes back you’re like “yeah! I’m in the movie.” And not taken out of it. And all the respect to the Apatow movies – love all that – it didn’t feel right for this. We wanted to be as in game as possible. Improv was out of game. Having that book, we wanted to adhear to the script like a bible. It also always helps actors to go off, but when you have effects nad a lot of set ups, and the whole point of the movie is to make it feel big. I wanted something that had a Sundance soul, but a blockbuster skin. And if it looks like that we won, but we wanted a story that people could care about.
You want to see this with a crowd. I’m glad we’re the underdogs going in to Hall H, because it’s amazing to be on the same stage as Francis Ford Coppola. We’re in between all these big movies, and it’s like “huzzah” But the fact that the cast is coming out, people who have nothing else to support are coming out. Everybody’s rooting for the movie because there’s a lot of passion and love in it. I don’t want it to be like these summer movies where it’s like “I saw it, notch, I filled my quota.” I loved Super 8, because it seemed like he was having fun making it (and having a lot of blue flares in shots), but everybody was having fun making that movie. Seeing the Amblin sign I was in the movie. I wish we could put something Amblin-esque in the film (actually we did put something Amblin-esque in the film), but every director’s motto should be “I want to see this movie.” Making movies is a hell of a time, and that’s what fuels you.
Knights of Badassdom hits Comic-con Saturday. If you’re there, don’t miss it. The rest of us have to wait until Spring of 2012.