17 July 2016

A Wargaming Movie? Really? Really??!!

Car chases, explosions, and shootouts heavy on the special effects.  Is this what it might take to make tabletop wargaming interesting to the non-participants?

I've had a troubling thought going around in my mind for quite some time (for a few years?), but I have avoided voicing the opinion until now.  It is beginning to seem like the proverbial elephant in the room to me however.

My question to you is this.  While we love the various permutations of our hobby, are attempts to televise it or make movies about it really in the hobby's best interest?  I saw elsewhere (Yahoo's Old School Wargaming group, I think) this morning that there are plans afoot to make a movie about the hobby if enough funds can be raised through a kickstarter campaign.  Apparently, several big names, a well-known publication, and companies that produce wargaming hobby related products have already pledged their support. 

Fine.  Assuming enough money is raised for the project, but how on earth is this a good idea?  Short of writing a script that apes one of the more recent Daniel Craig-era James Bond action films with paper thin plots but lots of shootouts, fights, explosions, and some gratuitous nudity, how in the world could a director and crew make playing with toy solders seem interesting? 

When it became available via YouTube a few years ago, I watched the old Battleground TV programs from the late 1970s, starring Peter Gilder and hosted by Callan himself, Edward Woodward.  I had always heard/read so much about the series and was eager to see it.  In a word -- well, two actually -- it was painfully dull.  Excruciatingly soEven from a historical standpoint.  My time might have been better spent painting or having a game myself.  That is a harsh, contrarian view perhaps, but how could a film made about the miniature wargaming hobby in, say 2018 or '19 if things proceed according to plan, do any better? 

If special effects are added post-prodution, it would simply take away from the spectacle of toy soldiers and well-executed scenery.  That is putting the cart before the horse I suppose.  

Our military history-toy solider hobby is riveting to us, and I say that with no sarcasm or irony intended.  But  is it interesting enough to finance and produce a film about it?  I'm not so sure.  I kind of doubt it to be honest.  Have you ever listened to someone who is seriously into online gaming blather on incessantly about it?  D&D or other roll-playing games?  Model trains?  HAM radio?  Long distance bicycling?  A new mothers' group?  Fly fishing?  The term mind-numbing seems apt, and, I hate to admit, it came to mind as I clicked on and endured those old episodes off Battleground two or three summers ago

The question of outsider interest in a niche hobby reminds me of a time several years ago now when I watched a short video of my now defunct Hamburg and Liverpool-era Beatles (before they were famous) band The Indras.  The footage was shot at a vineyard in Central Illinois where we played an enjoyable gig one weekend evening in July or August.  While our playing and singing were reasonably good for a bunch of middle-aged guys who were not professionals, we were really kind of boring to watch.  Truly dull and uninspiring.  It was a brutal aha moment that, I guess, helped crystalize suspicions I had rattling around the ol' nogggin and led, ultimately, to my bringing the band to an end a year or so later once our bookings for the year had been fulfilled in mid-December 2012.  Scary clarity.

Returning to tabletop wargaming though, what good does film or TV coverage of our hobby do besides making model soldier enthusiasts seem like socially inept, smelly weirdos with nothing else going on in their lives?  Why go to the time, trouble, and expense?  To me, it is far more interesting to be an actual participant in something than it is to watch from the sidelines. . .  or hear about it secondhand later.  What are your own thoughts? 


In other news, I continue to plug away at those first six limbers, horse teams and Austrian riders.  I'll get a progress photo up here this evening for your perusal.  So far, it is a slow, but enjoyable process.

-- Stokes


Alter Fritz said...

I think that the film would have to have a plot in which wargaming is but a vehicle to get to the climax of the story, that is, wargaming is integral to what happens in the story, but it is not the main focus of the film.

For example, maybe a spy is sending coded messages to his handler via painted miniatures: something about the way that the figures are painted has different meanings. Then the painted figures are mailed to the handler and deciphered . Similarly, the plot could focus on a person who happens to be visiting a convention such as Historicon. Maybe said person is in the Federal Witness Protecrion Program and has a known fondness for wargaming.mHe finally can't resist being away from the hobby and has to go to Historicon to Wargame. The bad guys are watching for this and then it is a matter of do they catch and kill him or does he get away.

My last idea is to borrow from the book, The Most Dangerous Game, only instead of hunting the advisory the protagonist and antagonist play a Wargame to determine their respect fates.

That is a start.


captain arjun said...

I've just watched the Netflix series Stranger Things because it was recommended on a D&D FB page I frequent. While the series is not primarily about D&D or fantasy role-playing game, the main characters are (geeky) kids who play D&D and the show does a good job of showing how the game influences the way they view the world and their relationship with each other.

Perhaps the way to make a movie about wargaming is NOT to make a movie about wargaming, but a movie about ordinary wargamers being put into an extraordinary (and therefore interesting to the average viewer) situation, and how they cope with it using the knowledge and insight they have gained from the hobby, and the friendship they have gained being in the hobby together. Keep the hobby references to a minimum and perhaps tangential, yet important enough to the main plot to make non-wargamers curious about the hobby to want to find out more about it after watching the movie. Easier said than done, I know, but perhaps the question is not so much: How to make a movie *about wargaming* interesting? but How to make an *interesting* movie that has wargaming as an important plot point in it?

A.W. KITCHEN said...

I agree - to the casual observer wargaming is like watching paint dry ! , have you ever tried explaining it to a non wargamer - their eyes start to glaze over very soon , Tony

A J said...

It is a difficult subject, and I'm not entirely sure wargaming translates to the screen, be it small or large. Channel 4 in the UK tried a revival a few years ago with "Game of War." They recruited Arthur Harman, a well-known figure in the British wargaming scene, as co-presenter. What let it down for me was they went for a kreigspeil approach using dreadful coloured plastic blocks (that looked like Lego Duplo), instead of using the beautifully painted figures and terrain we're accustomed to seeing in magazines and blogs.


A big name-drop here - sorry. Peter Gilder told me and other guests at his wargames holiday centre that filming Battleground was no picnic at times. Some of the gamers just wanted to game instead of following direction during filming. The WW2 episode was like that. It must be hard for directors to work with them.

I think the way things are, podcasts and blogs are probably as good as it gets, and pretty good it is too. My 2 cents.

Robbie Rodiss said...

Evening Stokes,
I think the need for such a film has long gone.In the 1970's and 1980's when there were attempts to make wargaming a more mainstream hobby, there was some appetite for such a thing, but like you alluded to, they were dull affairs. I found Battleground exciting when I watched it the first time around, but I was a teenage wargames nut so anything wargames orientated was great for me.
Lets be right, unless the viewer knows what is happening, ie the history and how the game is actually played then you might as well watch a film from Kazakstan, it is absolutely meaningless.
Paddy Griffith's Game of War could have gained a niche audience, but they persisted in using crap plastic blocks instead of beautifully painted figures. But Griffiths was always against toy soldier games anyway.I did think the presenters were okay though.
The problems are, lack of knowledge of the history being depicted, the actual hobby, as it is only really interesting to the people actually playing the game, and frankly I dont think in modern society many of the viewing public could appreciate what was actually going on.
All I can see is the negatives and very very few positives, better that the public are encouraged to pop into a really well presented wargames show, with some beautiful games to look at and perhaps participate in.

nobby said...

I'm with you. How on earth would you know which potential audience to pitch it at?

I remember the Woodward thing from when it was first on the TV and while I couldn't claim it put me off wargaming (a small book on Naval Wargaming by DF did that in the mid '70's) it certainly didn't encourage me to start.
That didn't change until two years ago when Stuart Asquith's Solo Wargaming took my attention and was nearly coincident with Henry Hyde's Compendium and Dan Mersey's Lion Rampant. :0)

MSFoy said...

For myself, I sincerely hope it comes to nothing. If the film gets made, and it's intended for wargamers, everyone will simply criticise it because it's not what he/she personally thinks it should be about. If it is to have more general appeal, then it will be altered accordingly by a director who probably does not really understand the subject anyway.

How could wargaming be worked into the storyline? - make a wargame a feature of the story (and that was embarrassing enough in Callan)? Something more weird than that? - how about human players find themselves involved at a miniature level? - something very like that has been done before, hasn't it? (Who said, "Alice through the Looking Glass"?)

I agree that the Battleground films are disappointing (though I would be hard-pressed to suggest how they could have been better), and at the worst moments are cringeworthy, with inept banter from players who were not professional actors and not in a natural environment. It's nice that someone trued to make them, but for me they don't work.

Si Bath said...

It's not April 1st...is it? A wargames movie, oh dear, please no! I agree with you Stokes it would be painfully dull, no matter how beautiful the soldiers and terrain might be. In the same way a movie about Chess or Draughts (Chequers) or even stamp collecting would be tedium beyond belief.
Best regards,

Maj. Guiscard said...

I always see a movie or action scene while I'm playing. So, while I don't think a movie with a table with miniatures on it will ever fly, Tom Clancy started his career by writing books about the games of Harpoon he played with his friends. So what we play could definitely feed a movie.

OTOH - Miniatures can always play a good supporting role. They have made recent cameos in "House of Cards" and "Preacher" for example. I was very disappointed that they were absent from the "Equalizer" reboot last year.

Brian Hamilton said...

First, it's a documentary - a genre that's become more popular in the last decade - so anyone watching will hopefully know what they're going to be watching - an informational video instead of some action movie.

Second, the latest episode of Meeples & Miniatures has the documentary's director on as a guest. Why not take a listen?

Third, it seems like you've made this post without checking out either of the film's kickstarter campaigns. Why not do a little investigating before making assumptions?

Big Andy said...

I can't think of a single reason why I'd watch it as a film . Lets face it it will be a bad excuse for product placemnt by fantasy companies- and that could be its good point ! I recently re-watched Battleground myself- and while I would not go as far as saying dull - in parts it was dull-ish but better that than childish perhaps.
However as a documentary it may well work BUT it will depend upon the path the director and his money take
As for listening to podcasts- tired it a couple of times and when you are talking dullness well- no competition

Si Bath said...

I think Mr Hamilton's tone could be a little more friendly.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

I'm with you Stokes - can't think for one minute why I'd want to watch it.. wargaming is a bit like cricket (name your sport) more fun to play than watch.. wargaming is 75% cerebral, how do you represent that?? How do you film a bloke reading a history book and make it interesting? How do you film a bloke painting for hours at a time and make it interesting? I suppose you could have said wargamer naked, but on the whole, Daniel Craig's we ain't... :o))

PS. Is it me or does anyone else think the same about pod casts???? Clearly they appeal to some, no idea why (in my case)...

James Fisher said...

It seems worse than you can imagine Stokes. Have you seen the preview?
The dramatic tension necessary to make a story seems to come from personal trials of the participants, who do come across as socially inept in this brief intro.

(On the contrary, I enjoyed the Battleground series on the web, which focussed on the game and were akin to 'Pot Black' with figures and terrain in place of balls and cues!)

Andy Bryant said...

I am one of the participants in the movie.
My main reason for taking part is to highlight the struggles of ex-service personnel suffering from PTSD after operational service. Wargaming and the gaming community literally helped me with my struggles with depression and gives me a focus in life. So forgive me if i find your remarks about being socially inept offensive. May I suggest you reserve judgement until you actually see the finished film?


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