Guest Post: Mary Ratliff on her film “Good Game”

BIOGRAPHY

Mary Ratliff has won awards for both filmmaking and screenwriting. She has also worked on several features, a webseries, and numerous short films as a member of the art department and a script supervisor.

As a screenwriter, Mary was a finalist in last year’s DC Shorts Screenwriting Competition and the recipient of the Will Interactive Dramatic Short Screenplay award for her script, “Catching Up.”  The film also received the Panavision New Filmmaker Grant.  The completed short won the Visions Award for Outstanding Thesis Project in 2011.

Ratliff recently earned a Masters of Fine Arts at American University in Washington D.C.

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I’ve always been interested in fighting stereotypes.  As a female filmmaker, I face them almost every day.  There are assumptions about the kinds of things I would write, what genres of films I’m best suited to direct, and just general thoughts about what I’m capable of.

I also happen to be a very big nerd.  I’ve been a fan of science-fiction and fantasy since I was first able to read and understand stories.  I attended anime conventions for years.  I also love playing video games.  We had an Atari when I was growing up, and we got our first computer when I was four.  I’ve been playing video games ever since.

As a girl gamer, I’m told frequently what I must think, what I must like, and I’m even told on occasion that I don’t exist.  Recently a well-meaning comment on reddit lamented that “girls don’t like real time strategy games.”  The only reason I saw the comment was because I was there to read about one of my favorite real time strategy games, Starcraft 2.

I love Starcraft 2 so much that it is the focus of my latest film, Good Game (http://www.goodgamemovie.com).  I’ve devoted the last year of my life to following a team of professional gamers that compete around the world.  This project has been responsible for the biggest ups and downs I’ve experienced in years.  After months of pre-production we started filming earlier this year.  Since then I have been following a specific team called Evil Geniuses as they compete throughout the year.

Greg "IdrA" Fields (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

What attracted me to the project in the first place was the chance to challenge the idea everyone had of gamers.  I wanted to take the stereotype of gamers and turn it on its head.  Everyone believes they are lazy, that they can’t get dates, they don’t have jobs, don’t leave their parent’s basements, and that they’re all men.

None of these things are true.  Each of the members of Evil Geniuses was drawn to e-sports because of their own competitive drive.  Most of them participated in sports when they were younger.  Several of them work out regularly.  Geoff “iNcontroL” Robinson, the captain of the team, was also captain of his football team.

I’ve also been lucky enough to meet Anna Prosser, who is dating Robinson and works with Evil Geniuses.  She is also the reigning Miss Oregon USA.  When I started a film about gaming, I never expected to find myself at the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas, but there I was last June.  I’ve loved watching as Anna’s role in the esports community has grown.

Geoff "iNcontroL" Robinson (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

She creates video content for the team, interviews players at tournaments, and does her best to promote competitive gaming at every opportunity.  As a woman director, it’s been nice for me to have this opportunity to find the women of gaming and showcase them in my work.

For these players, Starcraft is their job.  The top players earn a salary along with taking home their tournament winnings.  The IGN Pro League recently gave their winner $30,000.  The upcoming season of the North American Star League will give out $140,000 amongst the top competitors.  If you rise to the top, you will start finding sponsors.  The members of Evil Geniuses appear in commercials and print advertisement for the brands that sponsor the team.

But even other gamers will insult their work.  Posts on major gaming websites are full of comments by gamers who say that these pros need to “get a real job” and that it’s insulting that they make a living at this.

That was part of drew me into the world of professional gaming.  I see many parallels between what they have chosen to do with their lives and the career I’m striving so hard at.  Frequently in my life I’ve had to deal with people who think that my life on film sets sounds fun and glamorous.

Film work is exotic to most people, so they don’t think of it as work.  They think it’s all the things we’ve seen in the “making of” featurettes on DVDs.  They’ve also heard a lot about how we all “hurry up and wait,” and assume we spend plenty of time sitting around chatting up our fellow crew members.

The crowd at a Major League Gaming event in Anaheim, California (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

I’ve tried to explain to people that a standard day on set is twelve hours long.  While shooting in Orlando last weekend, my crew and I were on site and filming for sixteen hours at a stretch, running on very little food and even less sleep.  Because of the timing, I was also on my third shoot and my eleventh straight day on set.  By the time I caught a flight back on Monday, I hadn’t had a full eight hours of sleep in weeks.  As a director and a script supervisor, I’m not physically running around but the work is still difficult in ways that most people can’t understand.

These professional gamers face the same situations.  One of them commented to me that people ask him how he could be tired from playing a game.  What these people don’t understand is that they practice their game for ten to twelve hours a day.  At a tournament, they play almost constantly for three days straight.  At Major League Gaming tournaments, they frequently don’t finish the first day until 1a.m. or later, and the matches start again at 10 a.m. the next day.

Anna Prosser interviews Chris "HuK" Loranger (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

This practice isn’t like sitting in front of your Xbox and playing games with your friends.  They are strategizing different ways to challenge their opponent, calculating the math involved to be successful at the game.  When they aren’t playing, they are sitting together and talking about the game.  In order to be at the top, they must live and breathe what they do.  While all of the players I am following are contracted and have sponsors, many are struggling to be able to play enough to stay competitive and make enough money to afford the travel and tournament fees.

That to me sounds exactly like filmmaking.  I quit my full time job two years ago so that I could concentrate on filmmaking.  My first job was completely unpaid. I spent an entire month as an intern and set costumer on a feature film.  From there I slowly made connections and getting the experience I needed.  In the current economic climate, there are a lot of people telling me that I should go out and get a “real job” instead of pursuing this crazy dream.  They sometimes will say that it’s irresponsible for me to be doing this right now.

It’s not an easy time to be pursuing a dream, and I know that better than most of them.  Months after I quit my full time job, my husband’s company folded and he was unemployed.  We suddenly were a household without any income, and I was also a full time grad student.  That was a do or die moment for us.  I had to sit back and decide if I was going to give up or even step back and put my dream on hold.  I could either keep trying to get jobs on sets for income and finish school or I could take a job in an office and wait for a better time.

But I had faced that choice before, when I first graduated from film school.  I worked as a journalist for a while but when that job ended, I decided to take a step back and I started making decisions based on being safe and on making money.  For several years I felt unhappy and unfulfilled.  The money was there but it wasn’t a lot, and I was miserable.

Cong "StrifeCro" Shu (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)

After my first year of grad school, I was driving home one day and I realized that if I looked at the decisions I had regretted over recent years, it was because I chose safety over my dreams.  I chose to be careful, instead of confident.  Each time I made that decision, it put me further from my path.

Quitting my job was anything but safe.  I see my bank account balance; I know how many days I’m on a job and how many days I’m spending on my documentary.  I also am completely aware of how much of my money I’ve been putting into this documentary (hint: it’s everything I’ve made this year).  We’ve got a Kickstarter campaign to earn some funding for the film, and we reached our goal in the first week.  But I also know that the goal for that campaign won’t cover the rest of our production costs, and I know how much I need for post.  It’s a struggle.

But every time I wonder what I’m doing, I look at the footage I’ve been bringing back from these gaming competitions.  I see these interviews where the players say that they came to this point in their careers because of their own hard work and sacrifice.  I see my story coming together, and I see how amazing everything looks.  I know that this film will be fantastic. I know that it will be compelling.  The struggles that I have gone through to make it, both financial and personal, feel worth it every time I look at the story developing.

I came into the film wanting to challenge stereotypes, to push against people’s perceptions, and to delve into a little known world where these men are taking a chance to pursue a dream that reminds me of my own.  I’ve seen all of those goals be met time and time again, and I can’t wait to share that with the world.

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Learn more about Good Game and Mary Ratliff’s other work by visiting her website at:

www.ninehourfilms.com

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