Step outside for a while – Meet the makers of “Indie Game: The Movie” a Sundance Film Festival Selection

Indie Game: The Movie - A Video Game DocumentaryEver wondered what life is like for an independent game developer? Microsoft Student Partner Jessica Pellow interviews Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky about their film “Indie Game: the movie” a film selected for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival that follows the stories of four game developers.

Bruce Mau, a Canadian designer, said “To invent something you have to be removed from the world. In order to have liberty to imagine something better, you need to step outside for a while.” This seems to be fit the premise of the new documentary film Indie Game: The Movie, a film which at its core is a story about imagination and perseverance. Indie Game follows four developers at the various stages in their projects and captures the trials, tribulations, and the human element behind game development.

Indie Game: The Movie is the creation of Canadian filmmaking duo Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky. In addition to the initial idea, they are behind the producing, directing, cinematography, editing, and writing that went into this film. For over a year they have gathered the stories that make the film what it is and were kind enough to answer a few questions about their film, the world of gaming, and what makes them passionate.

To start with, do either of you play video games?

LISANNE: James has been a lifelong gamer. I got into games through this project. I wasn’t much of gamer before.

JAMES: I grew up on games.  All events were plotted and personally valued in terms of their proximity to Arcade machines.  A trip to the Grand Canyon was considered a waste of time ... unless it had a Double Dragon machine in the gift shop lobby.  In which case:  Best. Trip. Ever.  This went on for a long time ... until it didn’t.  Something odd happened.  The magic kinda stopped for me.  It could’ve been growing older, drifting away from childhood things.  It wasn’t until I was introduced to independent gaming that the magic came back to games for me. There was that sense of childhood discovery returned in indie games. 

From what I understand, this project was sparked because the province of Manitoba reached out to you to do a documentary of a game developer. What was it about working on that initial project that attracted you to the gaming community?

LISANNE: We were commissioned to do a series of documentaries on people in new media in Manitoba. One of the docs was on a programmer/designer Alec Holowka, who made Aquaria, with designer/artist Derek Yu.The story was about the making of their game and their eventual-winning of the Grand Prize at the Independent Games Festival.

In talking to Alec, we learnt about his creative process and how his personal experience of making it basically shaped the feel/tone of the game. That was really compelling to us.

What was your impression of the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco? In some of your interviews in the past you've drawn parallels between game development and film making as both being forms of storytelling. Do you feel that filmmakers and game developers have a similar sense of community?

JAMES: After the short doc on Alec, we ended up at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. There we found the Independent Game Summit, and we just saw this whole room of similar people with similar stories of making games.

The games were interesting, looked amazing and they were reaching millions of people online. It felt like there was this sort of thing happening. There was this energy in the room. Everybody was sharing. When they were sharing, they were sharing about their games but really they were sharing about themselves. That whole idea of the game as an extension of personal expression was something that was interesting to us and something that we hadn’t really thought about. That’s sort of what kicked it off.

LISANNE: I think that we identified with feeling of working on your own, on your own thing. It was the DIY spirit that attracted us to it. We hadn’t met any other creators like this. We just hadn’t in the film worlds we were exposed to. We thought what theses people are doing is really interesting and inspiring to us - even though we don’t make games.

Being so fully immersed now in the gaming community, do you feel that this prolonged exposure has changed anything about you as individuals and/or filmmakers?

LISANNE: I think, seeing all the examples of hard work and perseverance in the indie game world helped give us confidence and propelled us to finish our big project.

It was life-changing to watch the developers in the film, go through what they went through, and come out of it.

In the film you see the developers, go through a wide range of emotions. They go through challenging situations. It’s tough to make something on your own. But, I think there’s value in seeing people go through that. It’s motivating, because, “if they can do it, I can at least try”.

What impact do you feel your film will have on gaming development, whether it be indie game development or more mainstream?

LISANNE: We hope it will have impact with all gamers, but also people that don’t necessary identify as gamers. We tried to make the film satisfying for people in the gaming community, but also accessible enough that your friends that don’t understand, yet, will get it. It was a tough balance, but we think, we hope, we achieved that.

Now that you've fully dived into the world of gaming, have you stayed part of the community? Do you feel the release of this movie has guaranteed you a place among the gamers of today?

LISANNE: We talk game community every day. We get lots of e-mails and tweets. We try to respond to everything. We get such a thrill out of reading e-mails from kids (they are really kids) who were inspired to start making games, in part, because all the clips we released. That’s an amazing feeling.

You've had the opportunity to be exposed to some very talented and passionate game developers now. Have you considered or tried making a game or app yourselves? If you did make a game, what would your game be about?

LISANNE: Nope! Mainly because we were so consumed with making the film the past year and a half. When the dust settles, if would be great to try to stretch our brains around an idea. But, really the talent for that stuff lies with the guys in the film.

What suggestions or advice do you have for students interested in developing games?

LISANNE: All the developers from the film would say - just start making stuff. The more you create, the better you get. And, that’s experience as well.


Indie Game: The Movie is an official selection of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival. Visit to see trailers and learn more about the film.