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:

Cinema hyperlink:


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