SXSWedu 2012: A Filmmaker in Design Land


Everyone's familiar with the ongoing discussion about how the film and video game industries fit together. In this era of Doom live-action features and Harry Potter videogames, it's inevitable that the two industries would be talked about side by side. But the topic often turns heated, as film and game producers try to protect the integrity of their medium. "Can I make a movie of your game?" "Can I make a game out of your movie?" Stalemate.

From an education perspective, film and games are both great tools for teaching key academic concepts and improving student personal and social development. Both media have slowly crept into schools as a way to engage kids and excite them about learning. As the Austin Film Society's Community Education Manager, this type of programming is part of my world every day. Our Film Club afterschool program works with Austin Independent School District students daily on everything from claymation to documentaries, all with the goal of creating citizens of the 21st century. Being in Austin, with such a robust video game community, means I'm inevitably asked about video game curriculum. "Do you teach that?" "Could you and would you teach games?"

As part of the Austin Film Society's mission to explore game design curriculum, I recently attended the AMD Game On! Workshop, which was offered as an opening component of SXSWedu. The event consisted of three in-depth demonstrations of game technologies being used in K-12 classrooms. It was not only a fascinating workshop, but invigorating! I wanted to run home and write lesson plans. (Read: signs you know you're in education.)

My biggest take-away was an analysis of game design, the aspect of game production that in my opinion has the closest connection to filmmaking. The folks from Gamestar Mechanics, a great game tool aimed at middle school students, talked about their five elements of game design -- space, components, mechanics, goals and rules. When you think about it, you could easily apply these same elements to the scripting and pre-production process of filmmaking.

  • Space -- The area that a game is played in, such as a virtual space, or a basketball court, if we want a real-world example. For films, this is the set, or where the narrative is played out.
  • Components -- The physical pieces needed to play a game, such as the player and controller. For us, this could include everything from the actors themselves to the camera.
  • Mechanics -- What you do in the game. If it's Mario Brothers, you're collecting coins and saving Princess Peach. For films, this is the plot, or what the characters are actually doing in the narrative.
  • Goals -- How do you win the game? Obviously, mechanics and goals overlap a lot when thinking of filmmaking. Both concern the narrative structure. But, as I tell my students all the time, "Your story needs a beginning, middle and end. Your characters need goals."
  • Rules -- In game design, these are the parameters in which you can play the game. If you get attacked by a Koopa Troopa, your energy is depleted. For me, the "rules" of filmmaking are elements like the 180 rule. You can break them, but you've got to know why they exist in the first place. They are the rules we use to tell a coherent story.

Videogames, of course, have player-driven narratives. This is where the comparisons between the two media clearly diverge. While one moviegoer might interpret a film differently than another -- was Leonardo DiCaprio really asleep the whole movie? -- it's not the same as a player choosing to kill a main character. Even stepping into a game studio or a film set in the full swing of production would look very different. As a teacher, however, I see both as a way for students to combine technology and art for their own creative endeavors. Using script writing, production design and character development, kids learn language arts and even math and science in a really fun way. And, isn't having fun all that really matters?

Katy Daiger Dial is the Community Education Manager at the Austin Film Society.

Great observation on an important perspective

Illustration as in film and technology as in the current fast moving state of video games work well with those like myself who learn best through illustration. In Austin you have the convergence of both and it is seen as that from across the country and indeed around the globe. With SXSW being the venue that highlights that fact, you can go a bit further and make the observation that Austin - a center for learning, high tech capital and a fast growing film community is a unique city to develop what is to come in motion pictures.