When a classic, obsessed, socially-dysfunctional nerd named Scott meets a new wave hipster nerd named Miles, there a clash as epic as any Dungeons & Dragons battle. This conflict is examined by directors Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews in Zero Charisma, out on video-on-demand today. Both directors were kind enough to give us their joint thoughts on the movie, the character of Scott, and what “true” nerdery is. Spoilers ahead! (And look for the review on Friday.)
io9: What was the story you wanted to tell in Zero Charisma?
Graham & Matthews: We love outsider characters. Characters that have a lot of passion and vulnerability, but struggle with social mores or obsessions, or just can't seem to reconcile themselves to the way the world works. We wanted to make a movie about one such character who, because of the shifting nature of subcultures, finds his refuge threatened and reacts to it in a way that, while extreme, will hopefully strike a chord with audiences. Everyone knows what it's like to feel insecure. Everyone wants to feel admired and important.
Do you consider Scott the hero of the film?
Scott feels like he must be based on someone you know.
Scott is based on a lot of things; on archetypes, on other fictional characters, people we've known, and on [Andrew].
Do you think Scott is a "truer" nerd than Miles?
Again, the terms are so nebulous and changing, it's hard to say what makes a "true nerd." I've heard nerds described as people who are extremely passionate about interests that others find absurd. Scott definitely fits that description. But then again, so do a lot of sports fans. What Miles has over Scott is an social adeptness that makes his life easier, frankly, and gives him less reason to get wrapped up in obsessions. That may sound like the better deal, but a lot of great art and important discoveries were born from obsession.
Do you feel non-nerds can understand Zero Charisma?
Absolutely. We wrote it in the hopes that people familiar with the subculture would appreciate the authenticity, but the emotions that Scott feels are universal.
Scott has clearly had a rough childhood. Is Scott's inability to enjoy his obsessions a result of his personality and upbringing, or his environment?
I don't know that anyone "enjoys" an obsession. Scott would probably be less stressed if he didn't take his game so seriously, but then Stanley Kubrick would probably have been less stressed if he didn't take film so seriously. The point is, obsession may not be the most socially desirable trait, but it has its place in the world and we love the character for it. Whether it comes from nature or nurture is up for debate, but we do try to underline the fact that some people have a tougher time getting by in the world because of factors out of their control, and no matter how difficult their personalities can be, you can empathize with them if you know where they came from and what they're up against.
At the end, Miles reveals he considers himself separate from Scott's group. Do you feel that those who enjoy "nerd chic" are faking it?
Who are we to say that someone's not liking something "the right way"? There's obviously a difference in the degree of passion involved. The real difference is that for a lot of people of a certain age (myself included), these pastimes came with a social cost. It's natural that there's some resentment toward people who enjoy the same things with none of the social sacrifices. Would those people still partake if they thought it would change how others think about them? What Miles reveals is that he is still aware of and sensitive to his social standing, and how certain friendships and hobbies could negatively impact it. But I don't think that necessarily means he's "faking it," just that social rules and subcultures are changing, as they always are. Scott is a victim of those changes because he's not as good at adapting.