You may or may not have heard about Lazer Team. Rooster Teeth, an internet production company known mostly for its video game-based content and web series, was able to produce the film through an extremely successful Indiegogo campaign, reaching its goal of $650,000 within the first 10 hours and receiving more than $2.4 million overall. The movie centers around a danger that is on its way to earth; to aid humanity, a race of aliens has sent a suit to be worn by Earth’s mightiest hero to help him save the planet. Unfortunately the suit is accidentally intercepted by four idiots, and now it’s up to them to learn to work as a team to fight off the looming threat.
At the Rooster Teeth panel this past Saturday at Comic-Con, fans were treated to some never-before-seen clips from the movie. Before the panel I was able to sit down with director Matt Hullum, writer and actor Burnie Burns, and actors Alan Ritchson and Colton Dunn to discuss the movie and what it was like making a high-concept action story as an indie feature.
- When asked about how the scope and scale of the movie changed over the course of the campaign with its success, Burns said, “It changed quickly. We always had a plan in place. We’re so used to financing things on our own that we always have a plan in place to sort of scale our ideas. And one of the reasons we put it off for so long is it was such a large-scale idea for the company. Once we started to get more and more funds we were clear to communicate to the audience that ‘we’re going to be be putting money into this as well, every dollar you spend even beyond the goal is going to make this movie bigger and better.’ Nothing scales quite the way a sci-fi feature does, I mean you can always add more visual effects, you can spend a lot of money on the visual fidelity alone.”
- Hullum explained about the choice to fund the movie through a campaign rather than seek the help of a larger studio: “The fun part was that we could control everything ourselves and make the movie exactly the way we wanted it to be. We’re really excited that this is the first original IP [Intellectual Property], the first original franchise of its type in a really long time. I think a lot of people see the same franchises over and over again and are hungry for something new. And we wanted to make something that was new and fresh and had our own Rooster Teeth stamp.”
At the panel they played two clips from the movie that show how the team find the downed spaceship and end up with the suit that was originally intended for someone very different from them. The clips were hilarious, as fans have come to expect from Rooster Teeth, but also visually amazing, with a spectacular explosion and impressive CGI. The clips overall gave a good indication for the tone of the movie, but also gave the audience a good taste of what the campaign was able to pay for.
- Talking about why he was drawn to the project, Ritchson said, “The reason I fell in love with it is because I’ve been a part of a few sequels, and it just gets old seeing the same thing over and over again, and as an actor you’re sort of powerless sometimes. So when you see original content come across your desk . . . I read the script, and everything about it seemed to work. And I started looking into what these guys were capable of on a daily basis, you sort of realize they scale up to the scope of this film and I think I was lucky that this found me. And being on set, just the first day was like, ‘Oh, this was a good move, these guys know what they are doing and this is going to look just the way I saw it playing out in my head.’”
- Dunn spoke a little about his character in the movie. “I play Herman, who is one of the members of Lazer Team. I like to think of him as the leader of Lazer Team, and probably the best and cutest and most inspirational. Best dancer. [laughs] And I’m kind of this, sort of, former high school athlete, sex symbol, who’s a little washed up, doesn’t really get along with his old friends, and that sort of old rivalry kind of leads to us coming in contact with this suit. And that’s basically who I am; I’m a guy who’s had his chances, failed, and doesn’t really have a lot of prospects moving forward, but gets a great opportunity to maybe be a hero. Most of the team is kinda in that position: guys who really haven’t reached our potential yet.”
Lazer Team is an action movie for the everyday person, as Hullum explains: “The thing it really is, and what I love about the movie is, it’s funny, it’s got great action, the CG looks amazing, but it’s got a lot of heart in the sense that it’s a story that’s really relevant to today, and the feeling, I think, that a lot of people [have], like, ‘I don’t have the thing it takes to be super successful and to be great at anything these days.’ There is so much competition, there are a million excuses that we make, and this is a movie where we see that start to happen, and then the narrative changes a little bit and these guys step up to the plate. I think that there is a theme of hope in there for a lot of people.” Dunn added, “Well we have things like Ender’s Game, or even in Star Wars, The Matrix, there’s The One, and this guy, when he gets his chance, he’s the one who can do it. And this movie kinda says, ‘Man, fuck that guy. What about us, why don’t we give it a shot.’ I think that’s what’s going to be fun about it.”
- Ritchson talked a bit about expectations regarding the ideas of what makes a hero, and who that hero is supposed to be: “That’s what I loved about it, it’s so unexpected. We’re so inundated with the hero getting everything that he wants; he’s invincible the entire time. So my character does not get what he wants in this movie. But he gets what he needs, and that’s the making of a great story. And that same arc happens for everybody I think.” Burns added about expectations, “My character’s in a similar boat to Colton’s, to Herman; we play these four guys where expectations for them are low, whether it’s expectations we have for ourselves or, externally, the expectations people have for us are very low. That’s what makes Alan’s character, Adam, so unique in this; the expectations for his character are very high. The whole movie is about defying those expectations; they’re either very high for you or very low. Who can rise to the challenge when those expectations are not met, or are very low?”
When asked whether or not he was intimidated to work with Rooster Teeth, Ritchson admitted, “I gotta say, just from the perspective of coming into a family like this, with such a robust audience that’s obviously super dedicated to the content that comes out, I felt like an outsider. You never really know how you’re going to be received by this group… There’s just this level of entitlement, and rightfully so in a lot of ways, of who gets involved with Rooster Teeth and who joins the family. And it was a little scary for me coming in because it was like, oh my god, they could hate my guts, for whatever reason. And it just goes to show how great this group is, the entire body of Rooster Teeth, from the fans up, because immediately I felt right at home and I think people were really sweet to make me feel like it was a good choice to bring me in to this.” Dunn also spoke a little about what it was like working with Rooster Teeth for the first time. “For me it was pretty quick, because I’m a gamer. I like to play games, I like to play First Person Shooters a lot. So I had known about Red vs. Blue because I was a big Halo player. So I feel like the first day on set I started talking with Michael [Jones] and Gavin [Free] about Destiny and about how we were doing the Raid and stuff, so we already had that vocabulary and language down immediately. So it went pretty quickly. And like [Ritchson] said, they are a really tight-knit family, but they’re not dicks about it. They’re very open, and the fans are so welcoming.”
Hullum and Burns talked a little about the other side of things, bringing in new people to work for Rooster Teeth and how they felt about it. Said Hullum, “I didn’t think they fit in at all, it was super awkward the whole time, I’m just glad it’s over. [laughs] No, they were great. It was really interesting and fun for me to watch, as the director, seeing them all get to know each other and how quickly they all bonded and were playing off of each other’s strengths, and everybody was bringing something different. And I felt like [Ritchson and Dunn] elevated the movie so much, it was really awesome.” Added Burns, “Alexandria DeBerry, too. As a web group, we’d worked with people who had done cameos, but here we were casting people to be in the principle cast. Alan was on Hunger Games and Smallville. Colton was on Key & Peele and Parks and Rec. Alexandria grew up on the Disney channel. There were moments that were like, there could be some real conflicts, we could run into typical Hollywood problems. But the moment they set foot on the set it was awesome. We didn’t have a single problem the entire time, everybody was on board with everything.”
- The making of the movie was pretty rigorous for the cast and crew. The production shot for 40 days, filming a good portion of the movie at night in Austin, TX. And during the shoot the weather often got below freezing temperatures.
Burns shared a little about how the stunts were planned and put together: “[Hullum] made an animated version of the movie essentially. There is an animated version of Lazer Team, with all the action sequences, that exists. It’s a pre-visual fidelity, and the voice acting is terrible because it’s one of our animators doing it. But we could sit there and watch what the scene is supposed to look like while we’re doing individual shots. That’s a really rare thing, and [Hullum] did all that work before any of us even showed up to the set.” Said Hullum, “We’re lucky, at Rooster Teeth, that we do so many different productions that I was basically able to just steal a bunch of our animation crew, in between making RWBY and Red vs. Blue and our other shows, and say, ‘I want to make the movie before I make the movie. And here’s what it needs to look like.’ So that was really helpful. I don’t think we would have been able to pull off some of the bigger action scenes if not for that experience.”
- When asked about what was the most technically difficult aspect of doing large action sequences as an independent feature, Hullum said, “Oh, trying to trick Burnie into doing stuff that was not really safe at all. No, really, I give all the credit to these guys because we had a decent amount of time to shoot the movie, but not really for doing huge action scenes. Normally you would have a second unit to do all the explosions and car chases and the crazy stuff. But these guys would act for six to eight hours, and then I’d go, ‘I need you for another six to eight hours to do crazy stunts.’ And they nailed it, they were awesome about it and they never got tired, they always gave 100% when I was asking them to do stupid stuff.” Ritchson added, “I think that’s a testament to the director, because I’ve learned that 100% starts at the top. It was one of the tightest sets that I’ve been a part of, and to come into a film that doesn’t have a hundred million dollars behind it and it’s still running like a machine, and everybody wants to be there and willing to do what it takes: I think that says a lot about the guys that run the show.”
In terms of cameos by other Rooster Teeth productions and personalities, they didn’t want to spoil anything for fans, but Hullum did say, “If you are a long time Rooster Teeth fan, I think you will find a lot of little, subtle moments in this movie that will make you very happy and excited.” Burns went on to add, “But our approach is much like it’s always been, going all the way back to Red vs. Blue, is that you don’t have to be a Rooster Teeth fan to get it, but it’s rewarding if you’re a big Rooster Teeth fan. You’ll get a lot more from the movie than the average person.”
- During the panel on Saturday, Dunn told a funny story about how during a scene in the movie where Burns’ character was supposed to be eating a burger, Burns would always finish the burger in-between takes, confusing the props people on set. Dunn concluded that Burns may, or may not, have eaten close to eight burgers through the course of filming the scene. “He wouldn’t stop! They’d yell cut, wouldn’t stop eating the burger.” Apparently Michael Jones, who plays Zach in the movie, also had this habit.
- Though they do not have an official release date yet, Hullum confirmed that the movie will be out this year.