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The game hasn’t changed — you just noticed we were playing

February 17, 2009

So the blogosphere has been aflame with conversation about Escape from City 17, a film based in the Half Life 2 universe. I actually saw it on Friday, a coworker showed me. I figured I had until at least after the weekend to blog about it — obviously I still haven’t gotten in the habit of being “cutting edge,” so now it looks like I’m late to the party. So I’m going to fix it by rubbing other peoples’ faces in being late to the bigger party. 

Here’s the description of the film from the YouTube page: 

The Escape From City 17 short film series is an adaptation based on the Half Life computer game saga by Valve Corporation. Originally envisioned as a project to test out numerous post production techniques, as well as a spec commercial, it ballooned into a multi part series. Filmed guerilla style with no money, no time, no crew, no script, the first two episodes were made from beginning to end on a budget of $500. 

And here’s the video: 

Ultimately it’s a five minute short with no plot to speak of and a bunch of FX work. But more than one blog has referred to it as a “game changer,” primarily because they only spent $500 on it. Thing is, to people in the fan film community it frankly comes as no surprise. We’ve been seeing this kind of stuff for years.  

I don’t mean to sound like I’m dissing on the Purchase Brothers or their film. It’s a great quality piece, if a little repetitive.1 The FX work is very strong, but it’s honestly not much I haven’t seen in other high-quality indieweb productions. 

If you’ve actually been paying attention for the last decade or so, City 17 is just the latest in a long line of high-quality products produced on shoestring budgets by people who have a ton of talent, a ton of passion, an increasing amount of industry experience, and friends who can donate more of all three. (Not to mention decent computers and software they know how to use).

I don’t think I have to explain why I’m not surprised to discover that a couple guys can make a high quality short film on their home computers in their spare time. I’m not looking to compare our work with theirs, because that’s not the point. My point is that lots of people can do that, and lots of people are doing that. Hell, most of my friends are doing that — for the most part that’s how I meet them! 

Producing content as its own reward — and engaging and retooling existing content, e.g. fan films and remixes — isn’t even a subculture anymore. It is the culture. The Purchase Brothers are more experienced than most YouTube filmmakers, so they were able to get more sophisticated, more gutsy, with the way they shot their film and put it together. I’m not trying to deride them in any way, because clearly they’re talented on set and in post equally. If anyone knows how much hard work had to go into making something like this, I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say I’m in that club. And I hope that their film going viral does great things for their careers, if that’s what they want from it.

But having the passion, the skill, and the creative problem solving abilities to make an awesome short flick for $500 isn’t, by any stretch, a new thing — nor was it a new thing, either, with the RvD films. It’s just the way things are, they way they’ve been for some time; they’re only going to keep improving in quality and, I hope, substance. 

Though I dismiss the notion of City 17 in itself being a major game changer, I do agree with the other side of the argument, being that City 17 is yet another piece that proves you don’t need a lot of money or even a lot of resources to make a movie. People like to make excuses about how they don’t have time, or money, or people, or equipment, and all of those excuses are crap. 

If you want to make a film and you have a camera, you have no excuse. If you want to make a film and you don’t have a camera, get a job and save up for a camera, and then you’ll have no excuse. And that’s not new either. But it’s something that, for the next generation of filmmakers, I don’t think can be stated to loudly or too often.

The game not changing means you already know the rules. If you aren’t already playing, what are you waiting for?


  1. I hope Part 2 goes somewhere other than “100 ways to shoot a guy,” though granted that is a fairly accurate adaptation of the Half Life 2 gaming experience.
7 Comments
  1. I’m waiting for the right part to play. :)

    Actually, I don’t have the skillz to be organized like that. I have a million thoughts, but I can’t organize them. I read about that Mac software in a previous post, but that’ll have to wait (as Macs are way more expensive and would be used for nothing else, and I already have a computer that does everything for me except that one software). If I could organize the music the same way, that might help. It’s almost like I think in phrases of music. Pretty much anything I imagine has music associated with it.

  2. @Gamut: I am working on a way to help organize people’s creativity and focus – give me a little time. I think that is key – finding a story/characters that will allow you to focus on creating the media. That’s why so many very talented people without the Hollywood connection connect with fan productions – they know the characters and the world and they can access it much more readily than creating something new out of whole cloth.

  3. Oh, and Scott – thanks for the linkology to my post over at Pulp 2.0

  4. dorkmanscott permalink

    @Gamut: The Scrivener site has a page of links that includes recommendations of similar, Windows-based software. Still only for writing words and not music, but worth noting. The top recommendation is an app called PageFour.

    @BillC: no problem. Got a link to your blog from a co-worker re: City 17, but I expect I’ll be reading regularly from this point on.

  5. Thank you, sir. I do think you bring up a valuable point re: the title of your post “..you just noticed we were playing.”

    That’s always been the rub hasn’t it? Getting noticed and “rewarded” for the hard work, talent, creativity and so forth. I place rewarded in quotes because they takes many forms – future employment, notoriety, opportunity, etc…

    But the future is happening right now and the “game” is changing for the better. At least if I and my cohorts have our way.

  6. Thanks. I saw the links at the Scrivener site when I was checking to see if they were considering Windows dev. on it. (They are not.) They have Page Four (Mac) in a writing lab somewhere on campus. I have not stopped to check on it, though. (A quick Google of our campus didn’t reveal it, but I’m certain I saw it showcased somewhere.)

    I think the “game” is making a sudden change, now, AFTER the recognition. I believe that more people will be aware of the possibilities than before and have more confidence than before. The thing is, then, that the articles and posts about this “change” may instigate a change instead of the recognition of one.

    I just want to see if I can collect everything into something coherent. I feel that I can almost see a pattern just as it always slips from my mind. (I could be imagining that anything coherent could be made.) I have no desire to put myself any further into a production than that, though. I am certain I do not have the stability for it. (The last thing I want is someone recording ME verbally bashing the crew.) :)

  7. Vapes permalink

    Wow.
    That was really good. I love the Half-Life 2 world. The underground, the dirty sci-fi city, the noises the troops make when you die, it’s just great.

    I’m going to have to go watch the rest of these.

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