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Five on Film: D&D and Indie Filmmaking With Zero Charisma Directors Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews

Five on Film: D&D and Indie Filmmaking With Zero Charisma Directors Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews


Five On Film is an occasional feature on “Hey You Geeks!!” where directors, writers, actors or just plain awesome advocates of geek culture are asked five questions in line with the theme of their current work. Starting this week, the “Hey You Geeks!!” column will be a bi-weekly companion to the “Hey You Geeks!!” Podcast, carrying over the theme of the week into bonus, in-depth and exclusive content. This weeks episode was the first Indie-Film Geek Out, so in this edition of Five On Film, I chat about Dungeons and Dragons and indie filmmaking with Zero Charisma Director Katie Graham and Writer/Director Andrew Matthews.

Zero Charisma made waves when it premiered at this years South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, and ever since, has been eagerly anticipated by both film fans and gaming geeks alike. From the time its trailer hit the web earlier this year, the film has gained almost instant cult-like anticipation ahead of its inevitable release. Katie and Andrew talked with “Hey You Geeks!!” to answer some questions about tabletop gaming and movies, and a bonus question about when we might expect to see the film in a theater or on VOD in the near future.

Hey You Geeks: First and most importantly, what moved you to make a film with D&D and tabletop gaming as the backdrop for its events and characters?  

Andrew Matthews:  We really wanted to make a movie about the main character, Scott. He’s just a great archetype who rarely gets his own movie and when he is portrayed in film or TV, it’s usually with cartoonishly broad strokes. We loved the specificity of him, which also meant putting him in a world with which I was familiar enough to make it authentic. I’ve been playing D&D for over 20 years, so that’s a lot of experience and authority to draw from when trying to build a believable world. It’s also a very creative and imaginative world, which was important for the character. Making Scott a Game Master as opposed to, say, a music snob or a film buff allowed him to be something of an artiste–a passionate, hard-working creator with high principles and goals–but in a medium that most people don’t understand or see as absurd.
HYG: The films title, Zero Charisma no doubt refers to the Dungeons and Dragon status Charisma 0, meaning azerocharisma_finalposter-768x1024__span character has been rendered helpless; withdrawn into a catatonic, coma-like stupor. Zero Charisma is also a well-timed insult Elliott slings at this brother (who play D&D at the beginning of the film) in E.T. How does the title relate, more personally, to the theme of your film?

Katie Graham: Well, obviously, this is a movie about a guy who has great difficulty getting along with people. His social skills are pretty poor–not just with authority figures or members of the opposite sex, but even within his own circle of friends, he’s something of an outsider. When throwing around potential titles, Zero Charisma stood out, because it was simultaneously a reference to RPGs, but also the main character’s main obstacle: his own personality. It was important that the title said, “This is not just a movie about gamers. This is about a very specific guy with very specific issues.” Ironically (and what we were hoping for when we cast lead actor Sam Eidson) is that the character is actually brimming with charisma. He’s blustering and offensive, but he’s also incredibly watchable, which is fortunate since he’s almost never not on screen.
HYG: Dungeon Masters are storytellers obsessed with planning and detail, so what made this type of protagonist, and supporting characters in the tabletop gaming subculture fun and/or challenging to write and direct?

Andrew: Filmmaking and being a game master actually have a lot in common. You spend untold hours building a believable world, populating it with characters and detail, and bringing it to life for people to enjoy in a communal atmosphere.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I know my motivation for being a game master has always been a love of films and storytelling in general, and RPGs offered me a platform to exercise that creativity with a guaranteed audience. But like GMing, you also have to know when to release control as a director.  And the end of the day, it is a collaborative process. The actors you have cast may want to bring something you didn’t quite intend to their roles, and you have to be flexible and adapt on the fly. Maybe that’s Scott’s big flaw as a GM–he can’t give up any control, and ultimately it alienates his players. 
HYG: What are some of your favorite D&D inspired films?

Andrew: I’m a great fan of fantasy films in general, but I can’t say that many of the greats were necessarily inspired by D&D.  I’m embarrassed to say this, but Katie and I are actually fairly into the 2000 Dungeons & Dragons movie. I own it on DVD and Blu-Ray.  Yes, it’s a total travesty, and not at all the film D&D fans were hoping for (though Fellowship of the Ring came out just a year later, so that lessened the blow) but it’s just so earnest and campy and totally serious in its awfulness, we can’t help enjoy watching it.  Also, it has Marlon Wayans greatest death scene (spoiler alert) and Jeremy Irons screaming “Let the blood rain from the sky!”
HYG: Reviews of Zero Charisma have classified it as “Geeksploitation.” Is this a subgenre befitting to the film? Why or why not? 

Katie: I think the author who coined that term meant it affectionately to refer films that appeal to a specific subculture, which Zero Charisma certainly does, but we hope no one feels like the intention was to exploit the subculture.  If anything, we were sick of seeing geeks and nerds in film being represented in such a shallow, superficial way. Sure, we have some fun with the different character archetypes (it is a comedy, after all) but we also wanted to delve into the social and emotional conflicts entailed in being a member of that subculture. That said, we also believe that a good film should be able to reach anyone, so we tried to build an emotional arc that anyone can understand, whether or not they know anything about gamer culture. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel alone. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel threatened.  Everyone wants to have friends.

HYG: What’s next for the film and what is your next project?

Katie: Right now, we’re trying to secure distribution for the film, and hopefully we should have something to announce soon.  You can “like” us on Facebook ( to stay informed about what’s going on with the movie.  (Don’t worry, we keep posts to a minimum so as not to become a nuisance).  We have a few ideas for our next project, but haven’t decided on anything yet.  There’s a fictitious horror web series in Zero Charisma called “Blood Brigade,” which we had a lot of fun shooting a scene for.  Maybe we’ll do a whole episode?