We recently talked to Knights of Badassdom director Joe Lynch, who showed us new footage from his LARPing-meets-demons movie. He explained why this movie avoids CGI, what genre this is, and why this is the most authentic LARPing movie ever.
First, let's do a mildly spoiler-y description of the footage, which was dubbed "Succubeth Rising." The scene finds Joe (Ryan Kwanten), Eric (Steve Zahn), and Gwen (Summer Glau) out in the woods. They've come across a woman who looks very much like Joe's "psychotic ex-girlfriend" Beth (Margarita Levieva)...except she appears to be feasting on a freshly killed person. As Beth - now revealed to be some form of succubus - advances towards them, Gwen gores her against a tree with a sword. This only slows down the succubus, who removes the sword. At that point, Eric starts reading more spells from his magic book, and the suddenly agonized monster runs off into the woods "like a wounded animal."
It's at this point that Jimmi Simpson's Ronnie shows up, who reveals just what is going on with this strange book with the power to summon hellish demons in the form of ex-girlfriends. According to Ronnie, the book was handwritten in the 16th century by famous mystic and occultist John Dee. The man had tried to use his magic to talk with angels, but he summoned demons instead, so he encased them in the book.
The characters then hear the horn of war, realizing the main LARPing event, the Battle of Evermore, is at hand. Realizing that the succubus will eat the LARPers' souls if she isn't stopped, Joe declares, "We have to save them." Eric is hesitant to go up against a demon, but Joe convinces him that he needs "to man up and avenge the death of a friend." Eric reluctantly agrees, and Joe declares, "The time has come to earn our valor, people." The scene ended there, right at the brink of what we can only assume is all-out war between LARPers and the forces of Hell itself - something backed up by one last glimpse of footage as the succubus began to transform into something really monstrous.
In discussing how he made the movie, Joe Lynch explained that the vast, vast majority of the film was done using practical effects, and that they tried to do everything with the actors present if at all possible. There is CGI in the movie, he told us, but it's more about enhancing the existing effects through "illusion and sleight-of-hand." For instance, they used CGI to erase wires and rigs while leaving the basic effect intact, so that you both get the feeling that something is really happening and can't quite figure out how they made the effect work. He argued that "if you can erase, that's more magical."
Figuring out the precise genre for Knights of Badassdom has been a bit tricky - horror comedy has been thrown around a lot, but Lynch prefers to call it an adventure movie. He pointed to eighties movies like The Goonies, Romancing the Stone, and Excalibur as influences on the movie's tone and approach. The reason for this, he explained, is because "we're telling a tale, not making a comedy."
Besides, Lynch argued that the adventure genre is "the ultimate mash-up", and it allows you to freely mix together all other genres in one big rollicking stew, including, yes, horror and comedy. He mentioned the movie has 425 gallons of blood in it, though he promised they showed some restraint. He also noted the movie's action movie vibe, which he credited to the work of his director of photography, The Descent and Doomsday cinematographer Sam McCurdy.
Lynch said that he and the entire cast were concerned with verisimilitude, although he joked that he didn't want to be "Michael Mann in Ali" and that he occasionally allowed some minor LARPing inaccuracies, such as meshing the American and European rules, if it served the movie better or made for a cooler moment. For those up on their LARPing vernacular, I can say that Lynch promised the rules depicted in the movie are an amalgam of the various guilds, and that nothing is too out of game. (And yes, I only barely understand what I just wrote.)
The LARPing community also got into the movie in a big way. He said that people took vacations and came all the way from Georgia and Florida to the film's Spokane, Washington set just so they could be extras in the background of scenes. The movie's LARPing consultants made over a hundred weapons just for the movie, and that spirit extended to everyone else in the production - Steve Zahn's spell book is filled with 1,700 pages of "John Dee's authentic handwriting", despite the fact that only a page or two of it is actually ever glimpsed in the movie, thanks to one gloriously insane man in the film's art department.
To prepare for directing the movie, Lynch explained that he and co-writer Matt Wall actually went LARPing, which he said was "amazing cardio." In fact, he said that when he put on the suit of armor for the LARP, that was when he knew how to approach the movie, and he claimed he wore chain mail at least half the time while on set to remain in the right frame of mind. The actors picked up on the "medieval summer camp" vibe, Lynch said - Steve Zahn insisted on making sure all the spells he said were correct, and Danny Pudi made sure his actions as a cleric were technically accurate. At least one cast member had it a bit easier, according to Lynch - star Ryan Kwanten just had to listen to a bunch of heavy metal.
On that point, Lynch delved a little more into the movie's plot. Ryan Kwanten, Steve Zahn, and Peter Dinklage's characters have been buddies since grade school, and all three have pursued their own avenues of wish-fulfillment - for Kwanten, it's trying to become a heavy metal star, while for Zahn and Dinklage, it's LARPing. After a very bad day featuring some serious romantic and musical setbacks, Kwanten goes with his friends to the LARP as part of their attempt to lift his spirits.
Lynch explained that the movie functions as "origin stories for these guys", and that it's about exploring that time in your 30s where you wonder "Where am I going?" The movie starts out as a fairly realistic and grounded (albeit funny) look a bunch of guys at the crossroads of their life, and it's only around page 30 or 40 in the script that one goes, as Lynch put it: "Monsters! Sweet! Shit!"
It's then that the characters are thrown into the extraordinary situation, and the fake heroes have to become real. Lynch expanded on what he discussed at Comic-Con, that this movie is all about the power of wish-fulfillment and why that can be a very good, even necessary thing. The movie, he said, points out how real life dulls us, and that the magic of being 12 years old goes away. LARPing, Lynch said, is one way to get that feeling back...and fighting demons is another.