The American Don Thacker, CEO and Creative Director of Imagos Softworks and Imagos Films, spent some time in Transylvania helping the Gibbous – A Cthulhu Adventure team by recording the voices of some characters and by editing the script. Don was accompanied by Lindsay Peck, who also has rich experience in creating and especially testing such games.
Liviu Boar, the Creative Director of Stuck in Attic, knew that Don had a successful project on Kickstarter, and he contacted him via Facebook to ask for some advice. Don liked the project so much that 10 minutes after seeing the game he wanted to be involved. After several months of discussions, Don finally arrived in Tîrgu-Mureș.
More about Don on www.starrmazer.com.
To better exploit his entire expertise, artists from Tîrgu-Mureș enjoyed several workshops held by Don about filming and game design. The events were broadcast live over the Internet and can be viewed here and here.
We talked to Don. Find out below what it takes to be a director from his point of view, what he says about the collaboration with Stuck in Attic, how hard it is to create a game or a movie and, at the end, a friend’s advice that applies not only in the mentioned areas.
Have you ever been to Romania before? What impressed you the most here?
No, it’s the first time. We have been here for 14 days. We visited all over the city, I think we went like everywhere, we visited like a million restaurants, we visited castles… The thing that impressed me the most so far has been the people. It’s a very calm, very chill place. The people are very open and inviting and super nice. Reea has been really incredible.
How did you met the Gibbous team?
They contacted me via Facebook. Liviu sent me a message and ask me if I would help support the Kickstarter campaign and then showed me the game and in the game there is a character named Don and I really liked the character a lot and I said “hey, do you have a voice actor for that character?”, I am a voice actor. He said “no, actually, I wanted to ask you”. And so we start talking and he assigned me the character of Don. I made a bunch of games. This is their first bigger game and they asked questions and I help. Beside of that, we recorded some voices and work on the game. We have done a lot of voice recording, but the voice recording is the least amount of the stuff we’ve done. We’ve done writing and re-planning and we’ve changed the story a little. It’s been a really good trip.
What do you think, will Gibbous be a success?
Yes, absolutely. I think it’s got the art style going for, which hasn’t been done for a long time in point and click adventure game, they stopped making them because they are really hard to make, because they are hand animated. The industry is kind a move away from that, because it’s a lot of time investment. You do things more easily now, but because of that there’s a lot of people, a giant audience of people who want those, who miss them. And the way that the Gibbous team is building Gibbous is very much classical and there is hunger for that, there is thirst for that. Even just in the Kickstarter campaign I saw people getting really excited about a classic hand drawn point and click adventure game, good voices and good writing and good story. So, I believe that alone gives a big opportunity, but on top of that is legitimately a good game. I think that being a good game gives you sales potential and being a good game with a niche audience, with a special sort of bonus, gives you even more sales potential. Also, we are going to be doing a lot to market it on our site, now that I am part of the team. We might help.
Can you tell me more about your involvement in the work of the team from Tîrgu-Mureș?
Sure! It’s started out as a guy who is gonna help advertise the game for Kickstarter and then became the guy who is gonna help advertise the game for Kickstarter and a voice actor. I now become a guy who helped advertise the game on Kickstarter, a voice actor, a writer, in some ways a designer and a marketing partener. So, I am now part of the team. When I get back to USA I am gonna working on more writing and I am gonna be recording a bunch of the voices in the States. Our studio is over there and I am trying to fly Liviu and Cami over so we can to recording in there as well. So, I guess I am also the voice director for a part of the game.
What did you know about the Romanian animation, film, and game development before you came in Tîrgu-Mureș?
I knew what I saw in the Gibbous Kickstarter, nothing else, nothing at all. In fact, when I first read that it was in Transylvania… It’s gonna sound funny… In the States, it’s 50/50 if Transylvania actually exists. It’s a cartoon place. When I said that I am coming here, people asked me if this is a real place. The only professional contact I had with Romania previously was with Romanian developers. I used to be an IT programmer so I worked with a lot of Romanian programmers. IT in Romania is great.
Is it easier to create a game in the US than in Romania?
If we are talking about the independent games, absolutely, yes. I think their culture supports it, a great deal. I’ve heard that like 3 of the independent game developers in all of Romania are here at Reea, so I don’t know if it’s incredibly popular to do so. I also know that our community, like the community we work on in Seattle is gigantic. We have support everywhere. I wanna know how to do something and I don’t know how to do it I just put a note on Facebook and instantly we go meet up. There are meet ups monthly for Twitch streaming and game development, VR development and 2D animation. If you go to Seattle wanting to be a game maker and you can’t figure out how to make a game, there is a problem, because it’s everywhere. I don’t see that here at all. I think it’s a young art here. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy to sell a game in the USA. It’s super not unique to make an indie game in the US. That happens all the time, is not big deal. I just released a game last week and it’s just a fight to make anybody even see it, because that’s just so many games that come out all the time. I think it’s probably easier to make one, but harder to be unique. I can tell you that one of the biggest things for Gibbous in the Kickstarter was that it’s been made in Transylvania. That was a big moment for everybody.
Tell me a little about yourself and your work so far.
I wanted to make movies since I was a little kid. I knew it since my entire life that I wanted to make movies, but I was really good at programming computer so in university I had an opportunity to program computers for a job. I quit university and programmed computer for a lot of money. I just kept going in this career. For 10 years I did that. I realized that I didn’t make any movies. I was very sad about it. I tried to make movies here an then, it was really hard. I wanted to tell a story. I am a storyteller so I got to the point where, eventually, at the very peak of my career, when everything was the best and if I wanted to I could spend a year, buy a big house and do whatever, I quit. I took my retirement found, I cashed that in and I took all of the money and then borrowed some money and I made a film company. I made a movie with some of that money and then we won a bunch of awards. Then people where saying “OK, you can do this” so I took that and I made a company that makes films stuff. I’ve been doing that for seven and a half years. But, I am also very good at programming and wanted to tell stories in every way that I can. When the film thing wasn’t making money I had to get contract work and I didn’t want to go back to doing like data bases or like hardcore programming. So I investigated doing game programming because I can still tell a story. I started working with other game companies that I knew and I realized “Oh I can do this”, and I actually moved away from programming entirely just at story and storytelling. Then I formed a software company, a game company with the idea that I can make both, movies and games.
I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you have won many awards in this field. How do you feel knowing that your work is so appreciated?
Torn. Dichotomist. I am glad that people liked the work. I wish I can get some money for it. I refer to the awards jokingly, I call them door stuff, so I can use them to hold the door open, I can’t give that to somebody and get rent or food or anything back. I went to Los Angeles recently to get a big job and you can play in front of them like all your awards but they don’t care at all. It’s good to have the awards, when you get them at the very, very beginning. I have 8 years of doing this and in the second year it was gigantic, huge big deal. Those awards didn’t get me into doors, they opened up doors for me, but they were little, they were smaller that I am looking for now. So it comes to a point like when you were a little kid and they teach you 2 plus 2. That’s really big deal if you get 2 plus 2. But if you do know 2 plus 2 now you can’t go to somebody and say: I want a job, I know what 2 plus 2 is. It doesn’t matter, of course you do, you were a kid. I am not trying to devalue the awards. I wouldn’t throw them away. They are really good to start. They give confidence boost. All my film making friends they all won awards. There’s a bunch of people who don’t.
What do you think are the qualities of a good director?
A good director has to know absolutely everything. Secretly, if you are telling this to film students or people who are trying to make films, a good director doesn’t necessarily have to know everything. A good director has to seem as already knows everything, constantly. If somebody asks you a question you absolutely have to know the answer at every step. If you watched Star Trek, captain Picard said that “a good captain always has an answer”. That’s a really good captain thing. If somebody needs help and you have an answer and you can remove the responsibility from that person asking for help and put it on yourself than you are doing the job of the director. You are directing somebody to do work. Having access to a good camera doesn’t make you a good director. Watching a bunch of movies, it can help but it doesn’t make you a good director. Having budget that your parents gave you, your friends gave you, your mom’s friends gave you, it doesn’t make you a good director. Wearing a scarf doesn’t make you a good director. Being pretentious and kind of jerk doesn’t make you a good director. A good director has to know all the jobs. At least, enough about all the jobs to direct every single one of the people. A good director also understands compromise, he understands the large picture not just the little bit that he wants, the little piece that he wants. Compromise is important an then I think, ultimately, the smaller your ego is the better director you will be.
I never say I am a film director. If I say I am a film director then people inquire further, and I say I am actually a director of artists. I direct a group of 18 to 200 artists. Every single one of those artists is a unique and powerful personality, who can create art without me. My job is to understand the throw line of the project we’re on and put those artists in the right place on that project and make each one of them do better work than I can ever do to make the ultimate project. Again, using the Start Trek reference, Captain Picard can’t work the engine, he doesn’t know how to fix the engine. He knows how the engine generally works, but he can’t get in and do anything. He needs the best guy. Everybody says Captain Picard is the greatest captain, he’s not really, he has the greatest crew. The crew does all the work. On the film set I am responsible, I am the guy who will go down with the ship. I am the captain of the ship, but everyone else is more important than me. They have to be.
I am the guy with the secret answer, I am the guy who had he idea from here to here. I know how it’s suppose to start and how it’s suppose to end and everything that is suppose to happen in the middle, but everyone of my crew will make it a better project. The results will be better if each one of them is allowed to be free, to be artists. Every department is producing something that I couldn’t think of. If I know how a set it’s gonna look like, I wanna build a set, I always draw it and I say: “this is my idea, but here’s what I am feeling, here is what I want it to look, here is the feeling I am trying to evoke, here is what I want the space to feel like, here is how I want to operate. What can you do with this as like the base? Like this is the worst version, what I draw is the worst version of what it can be. What can you do to make it incredible?”. And I did that with every piece of architecture, every piece of art. I tell them: “here’s my dumb idea, the worst case scenario is the film comes off exactly as I asked for to come out”.
What advice would you give to those who want to start their career in filmmaking or game development?
Do it! Do it now! Don’t stop! You are gonna fail miserably every single time for the first 30 times. Don’t stop! If you have a phone, make a movie. It’s gonna be a terrible movie, nobody is gonna watch it but make it. Make it how to figure how to make your phone a better camera. I made my first film on the worst camera and I won a bunch of awards and now I have a career because of that. I sent the film to a lots of film festivals, 33 festivals, 28 awards, 15 best effects, and I’m making money out of it. The worst failure is the failure of not doing something. The only way you are gonna ever learn is to fail a lot. So start now, nobody knows who you are. Fail now, when nobody knows your name. When they will know your name, try not to fail as much. 🙂