A week ago I realized one of my childhood dreams. It happened at GenCon in Indianapolis, where ZOE (Zombie Orpheus Entertainment) premiered the third installment in their Gamers movie series: Hands of Fate. Not only was it a much-awaited sequel to one of my favorite movie franchises, but I got to play a Stormtrooper in it along with some of my 501st buddies! Not nice troopers, either. These guys chase people, cuff them up, and haul them off to the brig. No charity work here, sorry.
I never thought two of my passions would meet up like that. See, one of my alter egos is I’m a gamer. Specifically, RPG’s like the famous Dungeons and Dragons. The fandom world has lots of different sub-groups and genres and they don’t always understand one other. It strikes me as funny sometimes how passionately members of one fan base yearn to be recognized as a legitimate hobby, but then they smirk at another fan base for what THEY do. But more and more it’s becoming an eclectic affair, with people loving so many different hobbies.
Early last year I heard the news that the popular Gamers series was putting out another movie. For my Star Wars friends, that’s like hearing Episode VII would be coming out next year. That’s honestly how excited I was to hear about it! I can’t stress how much I love these movies. Funny, clever, rich in character development while keeping up the action (everything you love about Star Wars). And it’s obvious the creators have a love for the subject matter and for creating memorable characters.
Some history here: In 2002 some buddies in college decided to make a movie about a gang of basement-dwellers playing D&D. They called it, simply, Gamers, and it became a web sensation. Shot on a low budget on a college campus, it was more or less a lampoon on gaming and fun for fellow gamers to laugh along with.
In 2008 they stepped it up and put out Gamers: Dorkness Rising. In the second movie the creative team of Matt Vancil and Ben Dobyns had something to say in the midst of the humor .Dorkness Rising was about friends sharing a love for a hobby while at the same time learning something about themselves.
Both movies were lovingly shot with talented actors in the Washington state area and featured every joke there is about RPGs. Except half the movie takes place IN the fantasy world, seen through the eyes of the players. So you have two stories: an epic quest against evil, as well as the players’ personalities clashing in the real world. Oh, and did I mention that there were at least a half-dozen Star Wars gags in the story? Lightsabers, Force lightning, Jedi mind tricks. Pure awesome.
So last year when the Kickstarter campaign was announced to finance Gamers 3: Hands of Fate, I was on it from the word “go.” I put the word out on all my feeds to make sure it would happen. The campaign succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. And then the fine folks at ZOE rang me up to say, “Thanks so much for your support. We love the 501st! Would you and some Stormtroopers like to be IN the movie?”
(Sound of jaw hitting the floor.)
Well that was unexpected. A day later I was on the phone with longtime 501st Legion member and fellow gamer Dave Anderson. If any of my friends could understand the epic road trip it would be if we mashed up gaming and Star Wars, it was him. Within the week we recruited the Legion unit based in Washington: Garrison Titan. Before you knew it we had a full dozen members of the Empire committed to help. Our role: to play the security force stationed at the convention where the movie’s story takes place. Our mission: to harass the beloved main characters of the Gamers franchise. Perfect!
Before we even arrived, the red carpet was being rolled out. Scott C. Brown, who is famous in con circles for playing Flynn the Bard in the series (a womanizing, prone-to-be-killed-often minstrel), responded to my emails with “I love the 501st Legion! You and Dave are like brothers. Come stay at my place for the weekend!” Okay, so wow. Feeling the love. How often do fans get to hang with the talent? Imagine being invited to crash at Lando Calrissian’s pad — that’s basically the character Flynn. We were in for one memorable weekend!
Shooting took place at an out-of-the-way hotel nestled in Tukwila. Since some of the movie had already been shot at GenCon, the gaming convention where the story takes place, the hotel offered good continuity for scenery and let them shoot in-depth character scenes in a more controlled environment. And to thank their supporters, ZOE even hosted a mini-convention called ZOECon and the actors made everyone feel welcome.
Day one we suited up in our armor and reported for duty at 6:00 a.m. In our first scene we had to stand menacingly and check the badges of two of the Gamers gang, Lodge (played by Nathan Rice) and Joanna (Carol Roscoe), as they came in. As parts go, it may not seem like much. But to any fan of Star Wars, Stormtroopers being jerks is always fun to watch. I have to admit, with a helmet on it was hard to emote what we were doing. It was a lot of leaning forward aggressively, motioning with the hands for a badge, yelling from inside the helmet. I had new respect for Anthony Forrest having to do that in the middle of a desert all those years ago.
The next several scenes were much more fun. The script has Gary, played by Christian Doyle, dealing with some nerd-rage over a cutesy anime character that inhabits the con. Scene after scene had Christian attacking this orange bunny. And who do they call to enforce the peace? Why, the Imperial goon squad, of course! Dave, Brent, and I found ourselves racing in armor all over the hotel after Christian: wrestling him into binders, pushing back the onlookers, and hauling our prisoner away. And all while trying not to accidentally hit anyone with our armor!
By day two the chase scenes became more involved and the rest of the Garrison Titan troopers came onboard. Vader, Boba Fett, a TIE pilot, and several more Stormtroopers arrived to bring order to the set. And it was a good thing, too. Christian had a knack for improvising some great fight-and-run moves. In one great scene they even had Christian using a bit of the Force! If you’ve ever wanted to play the role of a hard-working, fighting Stormtrooper then this was a pretty good workout. We learned how to block for our scenes, how to get knocked over in armor, how to grab people without actually hurting them, and how to run like rabbits over and over and over!
Most importantly the cast and crew were amazing. Total professionals, they were super nice and always eager to help us do better. Imagine that, helping the enemy. And they didn’t even get mad when I kept failing to hear “action” and started beating on Christian before he was ready for it. Or maybe I did it on purpose. In the end, the Gamers got away with all kinds of shenanigans, but the good news is Lord Vader didn’t execute any of us. So it was a great weekend.
Hands of Fate premiered last weekend at GenCon and the fans were thrilled to see the outcome. The 501st Legion was happy to welcome the entire ZOE crew as Honored Friends of the Legion. The Stormtroopers looked good putting the smack-down on Christian and the end results were some fun and exciting segments to spice up an already-great movie. Credit Matt Vancil and company for making some regular fans in armor look like the real deal! And for me, it was just awesome seeing my heroes from Gamers having more adventures and to think that we got to be a part of it!
Even if you’re not a gamer yourself, you obviously like a good adventure or else you wouldn’t be here. I invite you to check the series out. Independent films like these have a lot of heart and will surprise you. You can see Gamers 3 online for free until September 1 at zombieorpheus.com. There’s plenty to keep a Star Wars fan intrigued: romance, humor, fight scenes, great acting, and one of the coolest surprise endings to any game (sports or otherwise) depicted in the movies. And if you’re ever out Washington way or even at GenCon, I guarantee you the heroes of the Gamers series are even cooler in person.