Joe Granato, creator of It’s Dangerous To Go Alone: The Movie, recently announced that he would be releasing his own in-house iOS game to go with the upcoming documentary. As both a fan project about The Legend of Zelda community, and an experiment in new ways to deliver films, It’s Dangerous To Go Alone: The Movie continues to stand out as one of the most interesting projects in the Zelda community landscape.
We were able to reach out to Joe and speak with him about his inspiration for the film, his views on The Legend of Zelda, and even the legalities behind creating such an intricate fan project. Hit the jump for the full interview, and don’t forget to support It’s Dangerous To Go Alone: The Movie on Kickstarter.
What made you want to make a Zelda documentary? How did you end up where you are?
Wow. I could write a novel about that. I’ll give the short version. I grew up with The Legend of Zelda. Probably like most of you, it compelled my creativity. At six years old, as a direct result of playing the games, I started writing fantasy stories. I started drawing monsters and characters. I started planning my own video games on my driveway with sidewalk chalk. I used my Casio keyboard to write ‘soundtracks’. My first adventures through Hyrule gave life to that creative part of my brain. Fast forward almost 30 years, through my fascination with my parents camcorder, my learning to play various instruments and playing in rock bands throughout high school, learning basic programming and building small video games, writing a novel, joining a new band which toured the country, getting to play with bands that influenced me like the Toadies and the Misfits, opening my own recording studio, getting a film degree, starting a production company… my entire life (including my current profession) has been based around that creativity. What would have been different had I never exercised that muscle back in 1987? It’s fascinating to consider. As for the direct impetus for this project, replaying the NES games a few years ago with my production partner (neither of us had ever beaten Zelda 2 as kids… we made it a mission) during the course of filming a different feature sort of planted the seed in my mind about a documentary about The Legend of Zelda. Over the next two years, we conceived of a fun narrative, met a lot of amazing people, and started shooting test footage. Everyone was very encouraging, so I decided to launch a Kickstarter. That, in the most abridged way I can tell that story, leads us to here and now.
What types of people in the Zelda community are you working with?
The people we’re really focusing on are people who were inspired by the series and are now adults and artists in their own right. This won’t be a documentary about the creation of Zelda, though we may touch on it here and there. It’s more about its influence. We have sit downs planned with Hollywood writers working on big projects, successful musicians who have built careers around recreating 8 bit music live, filmmakers who have created homage projects to the series, the folks behind Symphony of the Goddesses, a cyber security agent who works for the government to protect the US from cyber terrorists whose first interest in technology was NES and Zelda… it’s a fascinating array of stories. I am being intentionally vague, because I want to leave some surprises for the film, but we’re very happy with how it is coming together and the breadth of interesting people with cool stories to tell.
How do you work? What’s your setup? physical equipment, apps, midnight food of choice, etc.
Haha. Well, when traveling my usual rig consists of what I can fit in a backpack – 5D, Juiced Link preamp with a few different microphones, Tascam DR100 just in case, a MacBook with an Apogee Duet, a handful of good lenses. When it’s a more planned shoot, I have access to a Red Epic and a C300 (which I love), and plenty of other peripherals. This film will probably see a lot of traveling, though, so it will probably mostly be shot on DSLR, unless I hire crew at the locations I’m visiting. Rather than revealing my midnight food (ahem… beverage), I will say that every adventure starts with a Monster energy drink and Pizzeria Pretzel Combos (and ONLY that type). And no, no one paid me to say that, but if you think they might, let me know! Haha.
In what ways has the Zelda franchise let you down?
I don’t know if I can say that the series has every fully let me down, though certain aspects have been rather disenchanting. Growing up in the 8 and 16 bit era, Zelda always had a knack for redefining gaming, usually by introducing new mechanics that became the standard. In the NES era, it introduced non-linear play, a revolutionary inventory system, a save and continue system… these things sound trivial now, but it’s only because the ideas were so well received in the original game that they were mimicked and copied so frequently that they became the norm. Ocarina of Time essentially introduced the foundation still built upon today, almost fifteen years later, as to how third person, 3D games should function. Even Wind Waker pushed the envelope of how expressive its characters could be by introducing a unique art style. I guess my biggest disappointment with Zelda games since is that they don’t feel groundbreaking. While I enjoyed them, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword did not introduce me to any truly memorable gameplay experiences that I hadn’t seen a hundred times over or couldn’t get from other games. There is a bit of stagnation within the franchise right now, and I wonder if I’d even have bought the games had such an attachment to the series already. I guess in that way, the series has begun to let me down a bit.
Would you be interested in a Zelda game set far into the future?
A Zelda game set in the future? I think it’s incredibly novel. It’s fun to consider in theory, but I think the execution would end up being very convoluted. I think it would feel more like a tribute game or fan game than an actual licensed release. The artwork would be cool… but then you’d play, and it just wouldn’t quite feel like a Zelda game. Link, rockin’ his Triforce Corporation stamped laser gat… wearing some sort of bullet proof armor and traversing a futuristic city in the Epona model flying vehicle… it sounds like really cool fan art, but I think it would truly hold up in the reality of Zelda.
Has Zelda gone from being “real and gritty” to “childlike and feminine”? Or is it the other way around? Why do you think these changes have happened?
It’s funny, I’ve often compared the rather troll-like imagery from the NES game’s instruction manual to the current vision of Link. I always thought it would be really interesting to see a game that looked to those original illustrations for its art style. A lot of people bash on the art style of Wind Waker for being too cartoonish. While I like a more serious game, I actually didn’t have a problem with the art style of Wind Waker. I thought it was a great way to contrast the darker elements in the game, rather than Twilight Princess, which was so entirely dark throughout that without the proper contrast, wasn’t as emotionally interesting as it could’ve been in my opinion. My problem stems more from the ever-increasing cutesy cut scenes than the art style. The introduction to Skyward Sword was full of them. I felt insulted by all the silly little asides. I think there may be some culturally divergent things happening with that too, though.
How would you like to change the way people view video games and documentaries?
A lot of people view documentaries as boring. To those people, I say that you just haven’t seen the right documentaries! We’re hoping that optionally making this documentary a game like experience will invite a new level of interest from people who would normally not be interested in watching docs. As for how people view video games – there’s always lots of bad press. For those that have negative opinions about the effects of games, I say go talk to the people at Child’s Play charity and listen to some of THEIR stories before you settle into your opinion to wholly!
You’re releasing a game simultaneously with the film as a new, interactive watching experience. What are your plans for this medium?
We’re still testing the waters. Right now we’re in early proof of concept stages with it. It’s a viable scenario, and we think it works really well as a way to tell this story. The specifics… well, there are a lot of ideas on our proverbial dry erase board. It will be a top down adventure game with more modern 3D graphics. It will be reminiscent of Zelda, but not a Zelda clone. It will be it’s own game that could stand on its own and still be compelling. Its story will likely be loosely metaphorical of the actual film. We hope to make it as non-linear as possible and hide a ton of bonus material in the game where appropriate. Again, it’s in the early stages. If our project gets funded, we’ll be diving in with reckless abandon. If not… it’ll be a longer process, and the game will likely be a secondary concern.
What challenges do you face in designing new ways to interact with games and film?
Keeping up with changing technology is tough. We’re working within the limitations of current gen mobile technology. Actually, we’re already one generation behind. By the time the project is released, we’ll be TWO generations behind, and what the technology would be capable of will likely be far superior to what we’ve created. It’s the nature of the beast. There are also creative decisions to be made as to how the two will interact. I’ve never been a fan of games that are a string of cut scenes strung together by linear gameplay (unfortunately for me, the common trend). So one of the challenges is telling this story in a way that can still make sense to a viewer, yet be non-linear and with a focus on exploration. We have a few ideas that we’re toying with. I have a feeling the end result will be a fun experience, and like I said, may excite gamers who may not necessarily be interested in documentaries to experience this film.
What are the legalities behind producing your film? How are you hoping to avoid the ill fates of other fan projects?
It’s a legal minefield, no doubt. But for six months prior to even rolling cameras to film the first shot, we investigated legal boundaries of what we’ll be able to do. Fortunately, two things work wholly in our favor. Our project is pretty much the dictionary definition of fair use laws created specifically to protect documentary filmmakers in the US. We are not claiming the intellectual property of Nintendo as our own, nor is it the focus of the project. Our film is not a fan film that retells or interprets the narrative. It’s not even gameplay videos. It’s its own wholly unique entity. It is a commentary on the games’ influence. Contextually, most iconography for the games that is used is either incidental or used to directly demonstrate the point of the commentary of a particular segment. We have this great sort of ‘legal checklist’ that we pass every idea through to see if it meets the definition of fair use. If it straddles the fence, we scrap it or find another way to tell that part of the story. We’ve had to sacrifice some great ideas this way, but that’s a small price to pay if it helps keep the film safe to see completion from a legal standpoint. Of course, the ultimate hope is that Nintendo itself completely supports the project, which would open up even more fun possibilities. We haven’t gotten any notification either way on that just yet though.
Anything else you’d like to share?
The community of Zelda fans has been tremendous, and we are humbled by your awesomeness and enthusiasm. We really appreciate the support. We hope that we can bring you a very enjoyable experience about the influence of this great franchise.