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FOG! Chats With ZERO CHARISMA Writer/Directors KATIE GRAHAM & ANDREW MATTHEWS

If you haven’t heard of the indie flick Zero Charisma, you need to do whatever you can to watch this film (it’s playing in select theaters or you can download it on Amazon or iTunes) right now.

Yes, I’ll wait…

Now that you’ve seen this film about an overgrown nerd who serves as Game Master of a fantasy board game who finds his role as leader of the misfits put into jeopardy when a new initiate enters the group [IMDB], then you are definitely going to enjoy the interview I did with writer/directors Katie Graham (The American Scream, Best Worst Movie) and Andrew Matthews (The American Scream, Best Worst Movie). An interview that dives deep into this amazing tale of nerds vs. hipster nerds, the bullying power of nerd friendship and the always important Hero v. The Nemesis battle, which is a well beloved plot point in any movie starring people who wear capes.

So gather up ye velvet bag of multi-side dice and read on after the break.



FOG!: The story is so incredibly immersed in nerdom, and not the Hollywood version of it either, that I have to thank you both for putting this movie out, what was your influence in creating these characters and this story.

Katie: Where this all began was in creating the character Scott. We thought about doing D and D because Andrew use to play it in Junior High and High School …and we wanted to have a lead in our film that was very nontraditional and kind of difficult.

Andrew: We loved the character and it was very familiar territory. We wanted him to be difficult but also a very creative and passionate person which is why we didn’t do World of Warcraft or something like that…not that WOW players are impassioned.

FOG!: Scott is unlikable, but he’s so honest about his passion for tabletop RPG, that you feel for the guy when his life starts to slip away after the introduction of Miles, how much of the Scott character was on the page and how much of it was because of Sam Eidson’s performance?

Andrew: It’s kind of a 50/50 thing. The scary thing on the page is that he (Scott) was unlikable.

Katie: When people would read the script they would go “Oh, this guy is really unlikable” and we knew that was a scary thing and that’s kinda why we cast Sam because he’s very likable and vulnerable and we knew that his strength was in that vulnerability and that’s where people would really care for this person.

Andrew: If you ever meet Sam, he’s like really sweet and very mild-mannered, a very gentle kind of guy. We felt we had more luck casting someone who was naturally sweet and vulnerable and getting him to act like a jerk, rather than casting someone who was a jerk and getting them to act likable.

FOG!: I wasn’t sure about the character at first but then after the first ten minutes, I was like I know this guy…I know this type of guy.

Andrew: That’s one the most gratifying things people say like “Oh I know someone just like that” . We come from a documentary background and the characters are real people so it was really scary to make a movie about someone who doesn’t exist. Were they going to believe this? So when people say “I know that guy” it’s a really great thing.

FOG!: The inclusion of hipster geek Miles was great because a lot of nerds, including myself, feel that the word Geek has gotten co-opted by corporations and a bunch of people who don’t know what it was like to get made fun of for loving nerdy stuff like comics and RPG. Do you both feel that way as well or was Miles a portent to show that guys like Scott are heading the way of the dinosaurs. 

Andrew: I think all of the above I’d say. When we were working on the script Patton Oswald published an article about exactly that and we were like, “Oh my gosh, this is a real topic right now” and it was exactly how I felt which was when I was growing up it was hard to be a nerd, it felt like something you weren’t ever proud of you weren’t “I love to be a nerd”. It took a lot of time and commitment to pursue your hobbies and now with the Internet it’s a lot easier to immerse yourself in the topic, you also have so much more of a community for whatever your specific hobby is, being a nerd was a little bit of a more lonely thing before the Internet. So Miles represents the new type of nerd because it doesn’t cost him that much time and effort (to get into it).

Katie: I doubt Miles would continue the game if Scott wasn’t around you know? He’s just kind of there.

Andrew: Yeah, while it’s a fun thing he’ll do it.

FOG!: I had a real connection to the film that surprised me. I was an amalgamation of Scott and his friends in a lot of ways back when I was a kid in the mid-eighties and the movie brought up a lot of feelings that I thought I had outgrown, a lot of hurt and resentment and fear about being such a big dork and being female. And it was difficult for me to watch some scenes knowing how it would probably end up. Have you heard from other people who are in their mid-thirties/early forties about their reactions? Is this something that old nerds like myself tend to share? 

Andrew: Oh yeah, we’ve had people say “Oh god, this is really hard…this is bringing up memories that are difficult.” While writing the script I kind of focused on my own insecurities and used those as the emotional place to come from. Insecurity in not only being socially inept, but also if you have that one thing you really love and that fear that it could be taken away from you, or someone being better at it than you. It’s coming from that place of hurt and fear.

Katie: That Matrix story (in the film) is semi-based on someone (laughter).

Andrew: Yeah, that was me.

Katie: Yeah, Andrew wrote The Matrix (laughing)

FOG!: It’s funny because I was sitting on the couch and my husband was watching the movie with me, he looked over and asked “Are you crying?” And I was like, “STOP LOOKING AT ME!” 

Katie: We’ve had some people reacting that way (laughing)

Andrew: What I’ve learned is that the best way to deal with that is to have a sense of humor about oneself. Being able to laugh at myself and all the embarrassing situations I’ve been in.

FOG!:  One of the scenes that really made me love this movie is when Scott realizes his friends are falling under Miles’ seduction and he freaks out and is a complete asshole to everyone but says something amazingly profound, “When Miles is done with his experiment, don’t even think of coming back to me”. I felt that it was at this moment that I felt I was getting a huge Nerd hug from you guys. Did you see this moment as a turning point for the theme of the movie or am I simply being overly emotional about it? 

Andrew: That’s definitely a turning point moment in the film. There’s definitely some comedy preceding that scene, but at that moment it very important that Scott says some things that are a little more accurate then he usually is, you know ‘cause he kinda walks in his own world a lot of the time but it was important that he was right on in that moment and the audience will say that “He’s right about that” .

Katie: It’s funny, in making this film, we’re like, we’re making a comedy for the most part but Andrew and I really did treat it like a drama.

Andrew: We told the actors that this is not a comedy. Don’t fight for laughs and in that scene Sam was really great that day.

Katie: That was the last scene…

Andrew: He approached this like a method actor, I mean, he wasn’t going full Daniel Day-Lewis, but on some days when he was supposed to be on edge he wouldn’t joke around or talk to people between takes. 

FOG!: In a lot of movies there is always a confrontation between the hero and his nemesis and in this film you follow that formula in a way except you make it embarrassing and pathetic and horrible for Scott and I’m so glad you did since it felt far more real. Was there a point in writing this scene where you thought, this would be a good spot for Scott to have a hero moment and win the respect of everyone and almost went the Hollywood way? If so how did you back away from the temptation?

Andrew: We had a lot of variations on the ending. Some were a little happier for him, some were a little sadder. We were really trying to find that balance that seemed real but still had maybe a little bit of a silver lining. I think that when you are making an independent movie with so little money and there’s no studio looking over your shoulder telling you what to do, you have such freedom, it makes think, “Let’s not do what a big budget movie would have to do in this situation.”

Katie: Realism is so important to us. And for Scott it could only go a certain way and he could only change just a little bit. I mean, most people don’t learn their lesson (in real life). I feel that it’s more realistic the way it ends.

Andrew: If there’s one thing that I’m trying to learn is that you’re never going to be the “Best” at something, someone is always going to be better than you. And I think that moment is about that. It’s not about beating somebody else and winning, it’s about taking your hits and getting back up again.

FOG!: The movie doesn’t end on a feel good note, but there is a sense of hope in a sad, small way that Scott might one day find some happiness but I really liked that where he ends up is almost exactly where he started in the film. He’s bossing around a new group of RPG’ers and I don’t think there is any better way to end that movie 

Katie: Yeah, he can’t change that much.

Andrew: Well, maybe a little bit.

Katie: Okay, he’s growing ever so slightly

FOG!:  What about the brilliant homage to Inception at the end? 

Andrew: I like homages that are an homage but if you don’t know the reference, it wouldn’t matter.

FOG!: Me too, me too.

For my full review of Zero Charisma, check back tomorrow, Friday 10/11…or, better yet, just get a copy for you and all your friends and watch it over and over again.

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