Nintendo fans have imagined for years exactly what a movie based on The Legend of Zelda would be like; could it turn the tide and prove video game to movie adaptations can be done? – with the right material. Or could it be another commercial and critical flop like the cult-classic Super Mario Bros Movie?
The Legend of Zelda enthusiast Joe Granato, a film-maker by trade, decided to merge his two passions and make a video game documentary on one of Nintendo’s most-cherished franchises. With a tip of the hat to the original Legend of Zelda game on the NES, “It’s Dangerous to go Alone… The Movie” was born. Joe sought the funding of the Nintendo community at large, and put this ambitious project at the mercy of Kickstarter.
Now on the eve of the campaigns completion, we’ve spoken to Joe about his plans for the movie, where he intends to go next and most importantly, the reason we’re all here…. video games….
First can you tell our readers about your ambitious project, and your experience as a film-maker?
I’ve actually sort of been a film-maker all my life. I first started messing around with it when I was about 7 years old with my parents VHS camcorder. My friends and I would make satirical mini movies and commercials for bizarre products…typical kid stuff. As I grew up, I found other outlets for creativity…I became a musician and very interested in audio production, I started learning some basic programming and used old presentation software to make some very simple video games, started writing a lot of fiction, but film always hung around as an interest. So much so that I went to college and got a film degree, and somehow, even there, I didn’t truly realize one could legitimately make a living doing film production! It was just a fun, creative pursuit. Around that time, I started to do a lot more with music. I played in a band that did pretty well – toured the country multiple times, got to play with bands like the Toadies and the Misfits, put out a few albums, but never quite cracked that glass ceiling.
When I finally settled back in Baltimore, I started doing a lot of audio production, and it wasn’t long before I put my film-making skills into practice to support that business. A partner and I started a full service production company that did everything from feature film work to music videos to documentaries to commercials to dumb, short form sketch comedy videos. Eventually, I got back into programming, we hired some artists, and we started to do some small scale games for clients. Still running the company, I took a job teaching film, game design, and audio production, and I did that for six years before being offered a job as a full time videographer at the prestigious Ringling College of Art and Design, which pretty much leads me to here and now.
What is your background in gaming? Describe your favourite gaming memories.
I’m a retro gamer all the way. Yes, I love all gaming, but I think there is a rift in gaming that has developed in the era of 3D worlds. Gaming has diverged into two very different artistic mediums. One, traditional gaming, where the art of it is in the mechanics and interaction, and the other, a sort of interactive cinematic experience, where one essentially gets to interactively play through a linear narrative, but the art comes truly from the visual aesthetics. I project no hierarchy on the two…they are both great for different reasons. I’m just saying that Tetris is simply not the same creative medium as, say, the upcoming Naughty Dog title The Last of US…it’s like you’re comparing Monopoly to Avatar. The experience is completely different, and is intended to be completely different. That being said, I have always been one who enjoys games based on mechanics and interaction more. Yes, I love a good story, told any way it can be told, but I’m personally less interested in games that are a string of interactive elements that tie together linear cut-scenes.
I guess that’s why the first few Zelda games really hit a sweet spot for me.
The original was just the exploration of this world with a very vague storyline. What that meant to me as a kid was that I actually got to write the details of the story myself. The player decided how the story progressed and how the hero ascended. You explored the world freely and openly and found its secrets. The openness of it allowed the player to make his own connections. It’s the difference between reading a book and letting your imagination create the details or watching a movie and having the details projected for you. It’s a matter of taste…there are benefits to both, but I tend to like the former.
My favorite gaming memory is probably the day I got my NES. It was Christmas. It was all I (or anyone, really) wanted that year. I tore into all of my presents, but alas, no NES. I was heartbroken, but I still pretended to be having a great Christmas. My parents have this all on video. Finally, those sneaky parents asked me to go downstairs and get more bags for the trash wrapping paper.
I headed downstairs into my family room, and there was a TV all set up with a NES hooked up on top, big red bow around it and a note from Santa. The elation I felt in that moment was palpable throughout the house for the next month!
As far as the project – it was essentially a perfect storm of influence that led to us taking this on. I’ve always been a huge fan of the series, and I honestly think that it might be the primary impetus for all of my creative pursuits. As a 6 year old playing the original golden cartridge on the NES, I was compelled to want to create that sort of experience for others. It spawned my love for writing. It fostered an interest in drawing and telling stories. It was directly responsible for my young creativity. A few years ago I was articulating this while playing through Zelda 2 with my production partner…a game which we’d never beaten as kids. We both began speculating how many influential artists and creatives might have similar stories. What musicians had been recluse nerd kids who favored saving Hyrule to being outside on summer days? What best selling authors once turned in Zelda fan fiction to English teachers? What film-makers were captivated by the new way to tell stories through a digital medium? And, as film-makers ourselves, we conceived that it might make for a very cool documentary. So, for the next year or two, it sort of percolated while I worked on other things, until I found this perfect time with no other projects on my plate. I did months of research and legal, shot some test footage, put it out there, and people responded favorably. So I launched the Kickstarter.
If possible could you detail the structure of the film? Would it follow your childhood memories as detailed in the preview clip, or would it touch upon all entries and it’s evolution over the years?
This is tough – only because there are SO many things I want to leave for the film itself as a surprise. Even the narrative of it I’d hate to reveal. There are a handful of folks who know details, and they’ve sworn secrecy, but they really like the concept. I can say this – in creating Zelda documentary, we knew that we’d need to have a sense of adventure, so we’ve developed a narrative that will pretty nicely weave all of the smaller documentary segments together. It will be sort of a hero’s journey tale in that way, while reaching out to many creatives in the industry that are now doing awesome things but who were first inspired by Zelda. As for what games will be featured? Well, remember…this is more a personal and intimate profile on the influence of the series on now-successful creatives rather than a look at the games themselves. In that way, it will likely examine whichever games most influenced those individuals. I can say now that MANY of the games throughout the entire span of the series get some love!
Did the recent release of Hyrule Historia and the first look at The Legend of Zelda’s timeline have any impact on your project?
Hyrule Historia is a fun little book. It really has no bearing one way or the other on the documentary, but we enjoy it!
Your Kickstarter campaign has failed to reach it’s amount in the time-frame, what’s the next step for “It’s Dangerous to go Alone”?
We have a few private investors that have shown interest. We really honestly wanted to keep this a community funded projected, which is why we turned to Kickstarter, but despite some awesome press and a great little marketing campaign, we just couldn’t reach the level of visibility we needed. So, we’re courting a few investors and now the film’s production is taking on more of a traditional funding approach. This will likely lengthen the production cycle considerably, but I’m determined to keep working on it…out of my own pocket if need be. I’m already well invested into the project financially and creatively, so I’ll finish it one way or another. It just may have to move to the back burner for a little while, but especially for the people who have been so supportive, I will finish the movie!
The interactive part of the documentary sounded incredible, could there be any way of salvaging this and perhaps bringing it to Wii U? Have you had any contact with Nintendo and if so have they offered any help and advice?
I doubt Nintendo will greenlight any official partnerships with the film. While we’d love it, they’ve really tightened the reigns lately. Because of the nature and concept of the documentary, it’s pretty safe from legal action…we’ve worked with a legal team from the start drawing some pretty clear boundaries as to what we can include and what we can’t under US Fair Use laws, and the documentary in its current form is a picturesque illustration of the definition of Fair Use, so we’re not too worried about that, but for actually partnering with Nintendo…it’s a great pipe dream, but not practical. I’ll secretly keep hoping, but not hold my breath for the call from them. So no, I don’t think you’ll see this doc showing up for the Wii-U any time soon. We’re more targeting the mobile market with the game “experience”. It’s one of the things we’re most excited about regarding this project, and it’s an awesome challenge.
How are/were you planning on distributing the film?
The interactive sort of game like experience is one way, and our favorite way just because it’s a bit different.
Imagine a documentary that is non-linear, and every time you explore it, you might have a slightly different experience, discover different footage, even see different endings depending on how you play. That’s sort of the idea.
It’s not an easy thing to film, and it will likely look a LOT different from the traditional version of the film one might see on Blu-ray or through a streaming service like Netflix, but that also gives the viewer multiple ways to watch the film and significantly different experiences. We like to think of this as an experiment in marrying the two mediums. We’re excited to see how the experiment turns out! As for other methods of distribution – your standard avenues, I’m sure. Physical discs, streaming services…a few distributors are courting us so we know there’s interest, but that’s a conversation for a much later date!
What game(s) are you most looking forward to in the future?
After touring Naught Dog studios in LA and sitting with one of their artists yesterday, I’m very interested in playing through The Last of Us in a few weeks! I got to see some great concept work and actually see it in production. It’s not my favorite genre, but man, they did a great job and it just looks gorgeous. Not only that, they were an amazing group of people that was incredibly hospitable to me and my filming nonsense. Gotta love them for that! Certainly it’s not common for a game studio to invite a film-maker in with open arms. There was no pretension despite the fact they’re about to release the most anticipated game of the year. Just some great people working on an exciting title. So yeah, definitely looking forward to that! Aside from that, I’m looking for the next revolutionary thing. I’m always watching indie developers, because they’re the ones who have the ability to innovate. They don’t have to worry about appeasing investors and the like, they’re the ones that truly get to play to the ‘what ifs’, and so they often are the ones who create truly visionary stuff. I’m keeping an eye on the Sifteo Cubes too. I’m intrigued, and seeing them in action got my mind churning as to what I could potentially create for them. It’s been a long time since a game or game system has done that for me, and I love when games are a portal to one’s own creativity. I think that’s sort of what the point of them should be. So yeah, Sifteo Cubes are definitely an innovation, and I’m very excited to see what kind of cool stuff developers come up with for them.
On NintendoEnthusiast we have a weekly feature called The Score, where we ask our readers a question and poll their results. If you could only have a 3DS or Wii U which would you choose and why?
You’re killing me. Essentially, you’re asking me if I’d rather play the HD Zelda U on my awesome TV or the sequel to my favorite game of all time, Link to the Past, on a 3D handheld! I’m completely undecided. Both isn’t an option, hm?
I feel like that answer may be a cop-out, but it’s such a tough question to answer!
I suppose I’ll answer practically, then. Let’s go with 3DS. I say that because I’m travelling so often, I could still bring that adventure with me on the plane as I’m jetting around the country working on this project. Not so much with the Wii U.