XOXO: Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky - Indie Game: The Movie

Swirsky and Pajot are the directors of the Sundance-award winning documentary tracking the agony of indie game development. Interviewed by filmmaker Jason Scott.

The Details

James Swirsky


Lisanne Pajot


Project: Indie Game: The Movie

XOXOing: Fim Distribution and Indie Games



Jason wants to start by asking how many have not seen “Indie Game: The Movie” - the single most important film to be released in 2012. It’s being released in one of the widest ranges of distribution ever, and it’s a good film.

[Clip Shown]

The project started when Lisanne and James met an indie game developer, and saw the passion, and discovered that nobody had ever made a documentary about this kind of work. There was not much work done (only a week of shooting) when they started the Kickstarter. Fortunately, Andy Baio tweeted about it and changed their lives.

They both shoot, own their equipment, and wanted to make their own project. The fact that the indie game devs they were covering had open development processes and shared their creative process with their audiences inspired them to do the same.

Did backers have influence? Not in terms of content. But it inspired 88 minutes of produced video to be released during the funding process. People’s attention spans cause a time warp on the web that forces urgency on creators. The project grew into more than they expected it to be, so a second Kickstarter campaign let them upgrade the film into being theatrical-ready; This campaign got funded in its first day. And helped them get to Sundance, where they learned how real films are distributed.

Going to Sundance, they didn’t know what to expect, but they learned instantly how businessy it was, on the way to working with Scott Rudin, producer of The Social Network. (Lisanne didn’t know who he was.) There were some elements of communications disconnect because things moved into the world of rumors about the release or distribution or deals around the film faster than they could update backers.

Nobody has ever had distribution on Steam, VHX, theaters and through HBO and all DRM-free on a theatrical film all at the same time. Video games and Louis C.K. had sold direct, but not anything like this in film, and they were worried major distribution would mean the film would take years to come to market, especially in different territories or in digital.

The challenge was going to theaters without a distributor. Films like Scott’s and Helvetica inspired them to do a 16-city tour with tickets sold off of Eventbrite and they “toured like a band”. One of the hardest parts to endure was learning how to do a dozen theatrical bookings while doing deals with VHX while distributing through steam while selling t-shirts to filmgoers.

So what’s the lesson to that effort of a half-dozen distribution channels running simultaneously? How do they perform? Steam is interesting because it’s leading them to try things like building achievements into their film. iTunes and their own website are performing comparably to Steam, and they’re happy with the performance of all of them. Worldwide territories have yielded true surprises, like being licensed on Israeli television. And all of these things flowed because they just made sense -- not because they shunned traditional distribution, which also has positive aspects.

The film has turned a profit. [Healthy round of applause.] And they got to travel around the world - it plays directly with community groups around the world. Stories from South Africa, Australia, etc. all show how it’s reaching people globally. (Excitement over Iceland!)

What’s the lesson they want to share with this audience? The deadline thing: You have to leave enough time for things to take much longer, and they feel they should have known that. Kickstarter and community require a lot of maintenance to sustain. And selling your own movie on your own website is “empowering and amazing”. Having a direct relationship also leads to the hope that their fan base will come with them to their next project, which would have been impossible in traditional distributorship.

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