This month has shaped up to be a huge Tolkien-themed month for me with the release of the Desolation of Smaug as well as the various Lord of the Rings games I play, including Lord of the Rings Online. I also reviewed a LOTR-themed movie, Rise of the Fellowship, and not only did I enjoy it a lot but could relate to using LOTR references in everyday life. It’s an indie movie about a group of friends, and LOTRO gamers, who go on a journey against all odds to compete in a LOTRO tournament and along the way learn the meaning of true friendship, love and never giving up. Yes there’s actual LOTRO gameplay footage in this movie and numerous comedic references to the series created by Tolkien. Seeing as how this movie combined 2 things that I love, LOTR and gaming, I had to interview the director, Ron Newcomb, and find out more about the inspiration behind this film. Of course this would give more insight into the movie but it also gave me a greater appreciation of it as well. This was Ron’s first time directing a feature film of this length, and being the lead person producing, but he’s done smaller films so he has experience. And he’s also a LOTRO gamer and a cool dude. Besides this particular film we talked about supporting indie films in general, LOTRO expansion packs and the Desolation of Smaug. But the focus here is just on Rise of the Fellowship and all the spoilers we discussed have been taking out. Enjoy and check out the movie.
Me: One thing I liked about the movie is how everyone was a gamer, and that was shown early on. So regardless of who actually came out on top, the winners would ultimately be gamers
Ron: Yeah, you know you want to try to do it in a fresh and new way, and in a family friendly film like this you’re trying to give the payoff to the expectation of what people want. But you’re right, at the end of the day, that’s the world that we went into, the mash-up of the jocks, the antagonists, they’re still gamers themselves. It’s just the type of gamers they are.
Me: There’s still the classic geeks vs jocks story line, and I noticed that was played up a little bit. Why was that something that you wanted to play up? Was it just to show a difference between the groups or did you want to make a statement about it?
Ron: You know, that really sums me up personally. I grew up and I was more of a jock. But little did people know that at night I’d go home and would be playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends. But I didn’t want my high school friends to know that. I didn’t want to be classified back then as a geek. And it wasn’t until I got comfortable enough in my own skin that I realized there’s a little bit of geek in everybody. So that pull, that dichotomy between the two, the jocks vs geeks, was really my own internal struggle if you will. I had to kinda fight that fight (within) myself to figure out who would come out on top.
Me: It’s interesting that you say that because I’m a gamer, and I’ve been a gamer my entire life. But I love sports too. I’ve played sports my entire life too and if you’ve ever seen my twitter feed you’ll see that I talk about sports constantly if I’m not talking about gaming or anything else. Nowadays gaming is a lot more popular. I don’t know if it’s because a generation has grown up on gaming or because it’s such a big business now. But did you want to reflect that change in the movie with everyone being a gamer to some extent?
Ron: Yeah again that’s a really good pick up and a really good point. That is where, I think both those points are exactly right, I think it’s a little bit that the younger crowd that grew up in gaming are now adults. And I also think that it’s big business. AND I think that gaming offers some really really cool, not only visuals, but some fun story telling in its own right. And you know there are some things that people can say about gaming in a bad light and that’s not what I was trying to do . I was trying to honor the gamer and yeah there may be some bad things. People may have the epitome of some acne laden kid in his parent’s basement playing video games (in their minds) and there are some stereotypes that unfortunately hold true to that. But there are way many more (gamers) and there are actually some really good positives that gaming can provide like friendship, camaraderie, even sportsmanship among other things.
Me: And I noticed that besides the fact it would be really cool to win a LOTRO tournament, and it serves as a basis for the journey to go to Orlando to prove their innocence so they can compete, what do you think the motivation was for the entire group to not give up every time they came across a problem?
Ron: The real deep layered motivation is the character arc that each individual character, our four hobbits, (has to go through) and why they’re motivated to go on this journey (starting) with our lead character, Justin Moe, the actor who plays Randall Dooley. He has to become much like Aragorn. Has to become the man he was born to be and that’s the ultimate leader. And without him leading they may fail. And so it was Randall’s journey in accepting and embracing who he was born to be and that is to be the leader. So you’ll see him early on be extremely doubtful and unknowing, and as the journey continues he becomes much more forthright and comfortable in his own skin. Squirrelly is one of the hobbits and his journey is almost the opposite of that where he believes himself to be the leader and he doesn’t necessarily like the geek stigma, and thinks he’s a ladies man. When it’s not until he comes to terms with himself of who he really is that he gets to become the ladies man. So he doesn’t (spoilers removed) until he can complete his character arc of embracing who he is. And it’s not always the take charge kind of guy or always has to be the comic relief. He is someone who has to go on that journey as well. Then Nate, he’s always afraid, he’s afraid of everything. And it’s this journey which is the springboard into him challenging those things. He’s the momma’s boy, his mom bakes cookies and sends him on his way. And he has to realize through the journey and the struggles that he has more to offer than just that. He’s not that kid. And he starts to like the outdoors, and likes the adventure, when he originally was very fearful and afraid of it. And of course Emma Earnest, who plays Stacy, the love interest, she goes on a special journey as well. And I was very conscious of this. I have two daughters now and another on the way, and she becomes who she was born to be in the sense of she embraces and becomes the beauty. So she originally masked it with all this very goth and dark make up and through the film she’s embracing who she is and that is becoming the beauty. She allows herself to become the beauty.
Me: Without giving anything else away, Randall’s brother is angry at him it seems not just because he was expelled from school but because he does a lot of gaming. And he connects that with what’s known about their father. Or a lack of what they don’t know about their father. He’s on one end of the spectrum I would say. On the other end is Baba Melvin who was a big gamer and he still keeps up with the tournaments and everything else. But the journey of the four friends impacted both of them. What was it about their journey that had an impact on everyone around them?
Ron: Wow that’s a really good question. It really is about friendship and love, much like …the journey of what the four hobbits went through in the LOTR tale. And that’s kind of our re-branding and re-telling, and our Tolkien love letter to the Tolkien fans. And it’s our four kids that go on this journey, really because although they have individual character arcs and they’re motivated to do individual things, it’s really the love for a friend, and it’s the love for Randall. And even the brother, as angry as he is, deep down he wants it to be true and good, right and just. And he finds out through the lead convention guy that he is validated. But it’s the love for a friend, that love for camaraderie that spurs people into it. Even the bad guys kind of have to respect their loyalty. And even the bad guys have their own loyalty. Now once it’s challenged it falls apart because the center of it is not love. At the center of it the other three antagonists, the cronies, they are in the friendship so they can see what they can get from Joe, and what Joe brings to the table for them. And that’s a false friendship. So seeing hope and good and righteousness and justice, the light if you will, and (Joe and his cronies) represent the darkness. If they can prove that their way is right and better, then they win. And if our four heroes can prove that their way is better, the love for a friend, then they win. And that’s kind of what draws everyone else into it.
Me: The gollum character in the movie, I couldn’t completely figure out his motivation in going through such lengths to after Randall was expelled from school and getting back into the tournament.
Ron: His motivation is a desire is to fit in, a desire to be loved. And the love of a friend type thing. So it’s his desire to matter, to count, and that’s what he’s trying to do. And the truth is he does because he’s the one who provides their ability to kind of have a story. You said you’re a gamer too and if you’ve ever gone to any of these gaming stores, it’s so interesting that even among fellow geeks there are subclasses within geekdom. And these periphery kids that are odd and eccentric, freely admit that, but they too are driven and motivated to fit in and try to find that kinship, that camaraderie. He just wants to fit in.
Me: You mentioned earlier that you were a gamer your entire life but you used to hide some of it in terms of dealing with your high school classmates. So do you relate more to Randall or to Randall’s brother?
Ron: It’s definitely a little bit of both but if I had to choose I can easily choose the brother. I was more the brother. I resonate with that because of his rough exterior. He thinks he needs that external bravado to go out and be macho. And to what society deems to be a man. He even used being a marine as a stance. And I’m a former marine myself. So the brother is definitely who I see myself like for sure.
Me: As a first time director of a film like this, what was it that you learned form this experience that you’ll take for your future projects?
Ron: ah man so much, from producing to all kinds of things. But specifically with directing here’s the big thing that I learned: there are 3 different types of directors. One type of director focuses so much on the technical that the actors don’t know if they’re doing it right or not. The second type the director focuses so much on the actors that the technical team doesn’t know if they’re doing it right. Then there’s the third type who balances both…the actors giving them guidance and the technical. And I certainly swayed way too much probably to the actors. I gave very little technical advice but that’s because I was really spoiled with the phenomenal Director of Photography, Brian Pennington. And I felt like I didn’t have to and a lot of his choices that he would come to me with when we were talking about shots, he was right about. And that’s great but I didn’t focus so much on the technical and like I said it paid out for me because I had such a great DP. I would literally just give him my vision, what I’m thinking and what I’m talking about. He had a free reign to throw in suggestions, and that’s all healthy, but I can see my flaw was to focus just more on the acting. So my advice to all the directors out there is to make sure you have a strong balance between the technical and giving guidance to the actors. Because at the end of the day there are all these people on set when you call cut your actors turn to you. They don’t turn to anyone else. They’re not doing it for an audience, they’re doing it for an audience of one. They want to know did we do it right, did the director like it. That’s it. And you need to give them that guidance. That’s one of the gripes that people got feisty about (when) they complained about Megan Fox about Michael Bay with Transformers. But what she was saying is, if I read it right, is he doesn’t give any guidance or direction. He focuses more on the technical. Now to his point, he’s like yeah I have to because I’m dealing with millions of dollars of technical gear and equipment, a lot of people are asking questions and you’re a professional. So I’m gonna give you a little guidance as a director. But still to her point and to help make my point, I do think you need to balance it. So that would be my biggest guidance is make sure you’re balancing that.