Interview: “The Great Kingdom” Filmmakers

I had the opportunity to ask some questions of Andrew Pascal and Chris Haifley, the filmmakers behind the documentary The Great Kingdom, which is being Kickstarted right now, ending this Sunday. As of this writing, they’re less than $10,000 away from their goal. They’ve reached their goal!

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GG: Let’s get the 900 pound gorilla out of the way first. What were some of the “creative differences” that led you to break off from the other D&D documentary, “D&D: A Documentary”?

AP: We unfortunately can’t say too much on the particulars of the separation due to the current legal action against us. What we can tell you is that there were personality and creative differences, but our obligations to our Kickstarter backers remained paramount. That, coupled with the idea to explore the amazing story of Gary and Dave even further was the impetus to start a new project from scratch. No money or footage from the previous project has been or will ever be used for THE GREAT KINGDOM.

GG: Will your documentary have a different emphasis than “D&D: A Documentary”? Why should people who backed that Kickstarter back yours as well?

AP: We can’t speak for the other documentary as we don’t know what the film will ultimately be about. What we can say is that the focus for THE GREAT KINGDOM is on the creators of the game. Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and this group of midwest gamers were content playing and creating games for themselves. Then this amazing idea for a game falls on their laps and it changes their lives in very dramatic ways. That’s a great story. We certainly would appreciate the support of the previous Kickstarter backers. We are offering the previous backers a free download of THE GREAT KINGDOM when it’s finished. This is our way of thanking our original supporters.

CH: We knew the history of the game was entirely too big to fit into a two hour movie.  We decided to focus on the people who were there when Dungeons & Dragons was created, which lead to the formation of TSR and how both ventures dramatically changed the lives of so many people.  There are personal stories of heartbreak, death and triumph.  We narrowed the scope so we could tell the story we wanted to tell.

GG: Do you think the ongoing lawsuit could have an impact on your ability to get your documentary into the hands of the backers?

AP:  We don’t know what the future holds, but we are confident of an ultimate vindication and victory. Our job right now is to finish the film regardless of what may be happening behind the scenes. When we succeed with our current Kickstarter, the clock will continue to tick for the completion of our film which should be spring of 2015.

CH:  The lawsuit hasn’t stopped us from production.  Again, thanks to James and Andrew, they keep pushing forward.

GG: Can you give a little more in-depth background on your history as gamers? Any favorite memories to share?

AP: I started playing in the early 80’s. Like any respectable nerd back then who was into Star Wars and Monty Python, D&D was my bread and butter. Today, I DM a gaming group that includes my wife, that is in the middle of an almost 4 year campaign. We play a loose 2nd Edition. My wife pushes the envelope on the term “loose”.

CH:  Dungeons & Dragons was first introduced to me in a psychologist’s office.  I was eleven years old and had been suffering anxiety and panic attacks.  As with most therapists they want to get to know you, figure out where the anxiety is originating from.  I didn’t talk so much about anxiety but about Ray Harryhausen monsters, Godzilla, and fairy tale creatures.  That’s all I wanted to talk about, certainly not what was giving me anxiety.  About two months into the therapy, my therapist gave me a copy of The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.  That was the best possible treatment for me.  I buried myself in all things D&D and never looked back.  A few weeks later I stopped therapy.  D&D gave me another focus and in some respects saved my life.

GG: Your trailer caught the attention and imagination of a lot of people, especially because of your choice of background music. Do you see a connection between heavy metal and D&D?

CH: Thank you.  Our trailer was put together by our very talented editor, Travis Graalman.  He plays D&D, loves the world and had a good sense of what music was needed to elicit emotion.  He knocked it out of the park.  Digging into the history and talking to early gamers, I never got a sense that music was important to gameplay.  I think now, and when I started playing in the 80’s, music was the first thing everyone agreed upon before starting a game.  We did listen to the Heavy Metal Soundtrack and Blue Oyster Cult when we played but I’m not sure if D&D is music genre specific.  I’m sure a lot of players would disagree with me.

GG: Can you name some of the luminaries from the early days of the hobby that are involved in your project?

AP: Sure: Dave Megarry, Dave Wesely, Rob Kuntz, Terry Kuntz, Ernie Gygax, Bill Hoyt, Bill Hoyer, Jim Ward, Mike Carr, just to name a few. They were there. They hung out with Gary and Dave…they are the keepers of the torch. They helped us fill in where Gary and Dave couldn’t.

GG: From a film making perspective, what is the greatest challenge you’ve encountered making this documentary?

AP: Money. Always money. We’ve learned to squeeze 15 cents out of a dime, but we still have to find that dime. Raising money is always the challenge. But I’m a hammer, so all I see are nails. As a producer, all I see is money. But we’ve been very fortunate and very lucky to have amazing help from amazing people to get this documentary made. The favors they have given us would cost us ten times what anybody else would pay. A huge thank you to Keslow Camera for their unbelievable and continued support. THE GREAT KINGDOM is visually dynamic with the help of Keslow Camera.

CH:  Making movies is a bitch.  You really have to love doing it because it’s never easy. The greatest challenge for me is making sure we finish our day.  So many things can go wrong on any given day of production.  Because our film’s budget isn’t as big as most, we’re wearing several hats.  It’s easy for the ‘little things’ to slip through the cracks. Thankfully, I have James and Andrew there, making sure I don’t miss anything.

AP (Addendum): Without our fearless leader, Chris, we would be lost.

GG: To what extent, if any, have you relied on written sources such as Jon Peterson’s “Playing at the World” or Kent David Kelly’s “Hawk and Moor” to guide your research?

AP: We have three experts helping us out. You mentioned Jon Peterson. He and his book have been a valuable source of information for us. This truly would not have been possible without his help. We also have Paul Stormberg, who is also an unbelievable source of information on the personal lives of the creators. He has devoted so much to this game and knows so much about their lives as he’s spoken to all of them in depth. Plus, he’s even let us touch the DM Guide original painting by David Sutherland he has in his basement. The other expert is David Ewalt who authored “Of Dice and Men”, another great book on the history of the game. We stand on their shoulders, for sure.

GG: Have your researches turned up any particular heroes or villains in the story of D&D’s early history?

AP: Plenty, but we’d like to leave that for the film.

CH:  We have turned up heroes and villains.  The great thing about this story is that the roles of hero and villain are not so cut-and-dry.  You may think you know the hero or the villain until the story unfolds and you may change your mind.  We want the audience to decide who those archetypes belong to.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

2 thoughts on “Interview: “The Great Kingdom” Filmmakers

  1. Just curious if they got the rights for the Led Zeppelin songs they are using in their trailer. Posted this over on Tenkar, but haven't heard anything.

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