You might remember a little film called "Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary." I've known the producers for quite some time now and have been following the documentary's progress, including the unfortunate split that led to another documentary, "The Great Kingdom." In preparation for 10 minutes of the documentary's debut at Gen Con on Saturday, August 16 at 2 p.m. in the Westin: Capitol I, I asked director and producer Anthony Savini about the controversy and plans to finish the film.
Michael Tresca (MT): Let's get this out of the way first: Please share what you can about the split between this documentary and "The Great Kingdom."
Anthony Savini (AS): At this time there not much to share that is not already out there. To see the complaint, you can go to: https://www.dropbox.com/s/nozd3cwui0bom9a/1%20summons%20complaint%281%29.pdf. If anyone wants to keep track of the case, go here: https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/nyscef/Login
MT: I think I speak for the gaming community in that we hope the dispute between the two films can be resolved amicably so we can enjoy both documentaries. Do you have a timeline for when we can move past this?
AS: The timeline depends on how quickly the court proceedings go. Right now, there is no way to tell.
MT: With that out of the way, tell us a little about the current team behind the film. What is your gaming history?
AS: Cecily Tyler is the other half of the creative team and the producer on this film. She is where I can't be and vice versa. Without her, this film would stop in its tracks.
We are right now working with a couple production and post-production team members, names TBA, that we love and that have truly helped shaped the film.
Matt Shoemaker is our archivist and one of the co-producers. He's a godsend when it comes to this production. He's been able to find footage and photos that I've never seen before, and he's also been a great sounding board on the film. When we first started the film, my D&D knowledge stopped at AD&D, but Matt has been part of the D&D community until today; he's been an integral part to keeping us on track.
MT: Do you currently play D&D? What's your favorite edition?
AS: I haven't been able to play for a few months and that needs to change! The cool thing about making this film is that it's opened me up to a bunch of other games along side of D&D. After visiting some private collections and The Strong Museum, you can only imagine how many new games have peaked my interest! I've also been able to meet some great communities like the local NYC war gaming community, Metropolitan Wargamers. When it comes to D&D I like to play old school AD&D. When the film is done we're putting together a group. Cecily has been threatening to join as well!
MT: What period of Dungeons & Dragons' history does the documentary cover?
AS: We are looking at a broad part of the history with a focus on the pre D&D and early history, which was so fluid and dramatic, as well as the fall of TSR in the late 1990s.
MT: Who was involved in the making of the documentary?
AS: Gee, now that could take a long time to answer. We have done a ton of interviews with everyone we could afford to get to: from Jon Peterson and Paul Stormberg, to the Gygax family and Dave's old gaming friends from Minnesota. With a rich history like this, you want to hear from the people who have as much knowledge as possible regarding the subject. There are some areas that feel lights for which we plan to film. There are a couple people we have reached and believe should be part of the film.
MT: A lot of reviews of Dungeons & Dragons' history avoid the unpleasant parts. How does this documentary explore this subject?
AS: We don't avoid anything. There were tough times at TSR and that shaped D&D every step of the way. The in-fighting and the poor business choices made a big impact on the game itself. TSR could have been a giant to this day. It could have been a major player in media, but that didn't happen and the messy history is partly to blame for that. Additionally, it's been important and interesting to research the reputation that was spawned by the 1979 media outlash stating that D&D was corrupting the minds of our youth starting with James Dallas Egbert. AS any film about D&D couldn't be made without Gary & Dave, it needs to mention the satanic panic of the 1980s.
MT: How much do the original creators (Gygax, Arneson, among others) feature in this film?
AS: I don't think it's possible to make a movie about D&D without talking about Gary and Dave. They shaped the game so much and really shaped all of gaming. They are a good portion of the film, but they share space with the game itself and the others who made the game possible over the years.
MT: What's the most surprising thing you uncovered in your research?
AS: When we first started this film I made note that this could turn out to be a Rashomon like story. Between Matt Shoemaker, myself and a huge amount of research by Jon Peterson, we are as close today as ever to piecing together a full picture of what happened inside TSR. You should check out Jon Peterson's, "Ambush at Sheridan Springs" if you haven't already: https://medium.com/@increment/the-ambush-at-sheridan-springs-3a29d07f6836. This story was a black hole for us until now. Gail Gygax was the only person we interviewed who was close enough to the ambush to give us a glimpse of what happened.
MT: What do you think of the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons?
AS: So far, I have held true to a promise I made which is not to play 5E while making the film. I made this promise as I initially wanted to stay on track and not get distracted by 5E. Of course, I'm kicking myself in the butt (someone please stat that so I know how much damage I'm taking). Talking with Mike Mearls, seeing his love of the game and his approach has me a true believer in the new edition. I may need to give AD&D a rest and try this when I get back to gaming.
MT: When will the documentary be released?
AS: Contingent on funding and logistics, we plan to finish by December.
MT: What cons will you be at this year?
AS: We hit Gary Con earlier in the year and we are going to Gen Con. After Gen Con, because we're on a budget, we aren't going to a lot of cons until the film is completely done.
MT: Where can fans follow the film online?
AS: We are on Twitter @DandDTweets, Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DungeonsandDragonsDocumentary, and online at dndadoc.com
MT: Anything else you'd like to add?
AS: We are going to have a screener of 10 or so minutes of the film at Gen Con (https://www.gencon.com/events/66470) Jon Peterson, Tim Kask, Cecily, Matt and myself will be on a panel. We are also waiting to hear from a couple other people about joining. Because still photos and items are still coming to light, this isn't going to be a finished version of the 10 minutes, but it's going to be very close.
Also, a big thank you to everyone who has supported us through the making of this film. A huge thank you to our Kickstarter supporters who have been patient and who continue to support us. A tremendous thank you to those who have been supportive though the last year. And a big- open armed hug and thank you to those who have helped with time and effort over the last year, including the tireless Matt Shoemaker and my partner in every decision, Cecily Tyler.