Tag Archives: cinema

Snapshot – 5 minutes with Charles Barker

I wonder how many of the people involved in other gaming films actually session them? I don’t mean “oh yeah, I’ve played Call of Duty, its my favourite.” big grin, smile to camera. I’m talking about “Ha ha. Yes I’ve played Call of Duty… till my eyes bled at 4 am“. dead pan stare into the abyss. Well, maybe that’s a bit too far but I’m sure you get what I mean. I got to see The Call Up recently, a new film and first time feature from Charles Barker. He has a screenwriting award, Brit list winner in 2011, and a host of film awards from ‘Most original idea’ to ‘Overall winner’ from international film festivals. He has also worked on game development and plays games, especially first person shooters, himself. So, as I enjoyed the film, I took up the opportunity to have Charles answer a few questions. Below are his answers and as I read through them I now understand why I enjoyed the film, the first hand experience shows through.

TiX – Are you a gamer yourself?

Charles – Very much so, although I have children now which tends to curtail my gaming time. An alluring, unplayed Doom sits on the coffee table, quietly mocking my life choices.

TiX – Where did the concept of the film come from?

Charles – Playing COD into the early hours I’d start to think that if this was real I’d be some super solider, taking on all comers. Then I wondered what I’d actually be like in a combat situation, with my life really at stake. I’d probably be rubbish. Rocking back and forth in a corner, praying for it to stop. The Call Up is about that gap between what a gamer thinks they’d be like and what they’d really be like when put to the test. I started to think about how someone would devise a VR/AR game like this and came up with helmets and suits that could give this amazing, life-like, immersive experience – and would also be a deadly trap.

TiX – What games, if any, had an influence on the film?

Charles – Again COD – I was also a huge fan of Medal of Honor back in the day. The rules of the game within my film should be immediately recognisable to anyone who’s played this kind of thing. If you get shot you can heal yourself with a medipac, enemies and their arsenal of weaponry become increasingly fiendish as the game progresses. There was a great opportunity to play with recognisable shooter tropes and hopefully this brings a sense of fun to the film. But of course it’s a balance and I had to restrain my inner gamer so a wider audience could also enjoy this film.

TiX – I know you have done some short films and picked up some awards along the way but how was it working on your first feature film?

Charles – It was both tough and incredibly exciting, nothing really prepared me for it. It was a 5-week shoot, which was hugely ambitious for a high-concept film like this. But I had an amazingly talented team who really got behind the project. And somehow by working long hours and a six-day weeks we got through it. I had no idea action (shooting and blowing stuff up) takes so long to shoot and then is on the screen for such a short time!

TiX – Having worked on a game in development and now a feature film, how much difference is there working on the mediums to get your story across?

Charles – The obvious difference is that games are participatory while films are passive. But the cinema I write is all about set pieces and revealing character through action. This is a certain kind of storytelling that has elements it shares with gaming. That said, films tend to have one individual who writes the story, while the concept and story for games tend to be created in house by a team of developers. Developers have a much better understanding about what will create a great gameplay experience. And then, as a screenwriter, I help flesh out the story and characters so that the player has more empathy and ultimately a more immersive experience. The projects I’ve worked on are very much story-based and are still in development so I can’t go into too much detail here. But think The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. For me those games show how you can combine the best of both the storytelling of film and the intense participatory nature of gaming to create a magical hybrid.

Disclaimer: I am making sweeping generalizations of both the film and game industry to try and give a simple answer!

I’m pretty sure that I’d be right in saying the majority of people who play first person shooters have had the ‘What would I really be like in this situation?” thought, I know I have. Its this sort of thinking, his experiences in gaming, that I can relate to that really sold the film. The concept is very cool and I’m on-board with that but its all the little bits that make it. In Gamer (major spoiler – its the only good bit) there is the one moment a player tea-bags another, and you laugh because its real and you’ve almost certainly experienced yourself or done it online. In The Call Up the whole film is littered with little moments like that.

Thank you Charles for your time

THE CALL UP is in UK cinemas from 20th May and on DVD & Digital 23rd May

DVD Hyperlink: http://amzn.to/1qq6HNn

Cinema hyperlink: https://www.ourscreen.com/film/The-Call-Up


The Call Up film review

I got the pleasure of Heading along to a pre-screening of The Call Up a new film out on the 20th of May that blends cinema and games together. Now wait, I know what you’re all thinking

“ah, jeez. Gamer films are normally rubbish, so few hit the mark”

and I am inclined to agree. Coming from a gamer’s perspective on the film, I went in with very low expectations. Films and games have a turbulent past: remember Gamer with Gerard butler or Doom with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson *shudder* these are two examples of films that could have been great, but once again proved that sticking a star on the screen and telling people it’s about games, well, that ain’t enough, sir. However, with The Call Up I was pleasantly surprised. It was good. Now it has some faces you may recognise but no super stars, and the director, Charles Barker – who also wrote the screenplay – you may not know, nevertheless, this was an enjoyable film that blends cinema and games well.

The film is about a group of gamers who win the ultimate gamer experience, to go into a fully immersive virtual reality environment and compete. They are all strangers and top level, hard-core gamers, who meet for the first time at the location of the experience. And then off they go. I’m not going to go in to too many details, so not to reveal spoilers, but I’ll give you a rough idea of why I liked it and why I think you should go see it.

As a gamer, there are subtle nuances that I appreciated that may have been missed by non-gamers. Throughout the film there were certain lines and visual references that rung very true for anyone who has played games, especially first-person shooters. The intro was an especially good homage to the start of modern first-person shooters, I thought. It sounds silly to say, but I noticed and appreciated these little references, it’s nothing inherent to the script or story but they highlighted to me that the people behind the film really do know games. Things like the slightly off NPC movement that can happen, and the cheesy one-liners and speeches often made in games, all provided a terrific nod to the medium. Whilst many of these references focused on the lighter side of the medium, and included one or two that made me laugh out loud, the film was very brutal in places and didn’t shy away from violence. Which is great, because who doesn’t like a nice graphic electrocution or bloody gun battles, Right? Right. No worries here.


On top of clearly knowing the medium of games, The Call Up’s filmmaking was also very strong. The shots used, the framing and a plethora of other cinematic techniques where used to great effect and added to why the film was so enjoyable and immersive. One of the things I think matters a lot in film is the music. It can shape your emotions perfectly to amplify the feeling of a scene, but in the same way it can destroy it if done badly. I’m happy to report the music worked very well. It was very ‘Tron’, that deep synth, almost 80s style that I found very theme appropriate.

The characters had all the bases covered for your different gamer archetypes, your jock, loner, etc. all with suitable Gamertags that matched their personalities. The archetypes where a little predictable but it was saved (for me anyway) by the realisation that I had at least one gamer friend to fit most of them. I thought the cast where all quite good, with a couple of standout performances from individuals who could go on to have strong acting careers, and they helped add to the gravitas of the film. As skilled as an actor might be, however, it very much relies on the strength of the script, which I found pretty engaging. It did have some lines that I couldn’t place as being either a hint towards the somewhat clichéd writing in games, or meant as serious, but they were few and far between, maybe two or three in the film, the rest of it was enjoyable. Put it this way: it didn’t have me rolling my eyes in the way a lot of other videogame themed films do.

All in all, I liked it. I Think the director shows real promise for the future as do a few of the cast members. This certainly won’t win any Oscars and it probably won’t get the recognition it deserves, but it was enjoyable cinema. The concept for the film is brilliant and executed very well. If you play games then go see this film. If you don’t, then go see it anyway, you don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy this film, but it definitely adds to it.