It’s probably not shocking that filmmaker and internet celebrity pundit guy James Rolfe feels somewhat conflicted about his legacy as a critic. It wasn’t the job he really set out for in the first place. A lifelong lover of film and video games, Rolfe always envisioned himself a filmmaker. One of the characters he just so happened to come up with while languishing as a struggling artist and trying to keep a day job was The Angry Video Game Nerd, a rage filled, bespectacled outcast who looked back on the games of his youth – primarily Atari, Nintendo, and Sega games of the 1980s and 90s – and got a great amount of silly, curse filled catharsis out of it.
During a conference call while promoting the character’s jump to feature length format in Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie (which hits VOD today), Rolfe talked about the concept of therapeutic revenge.
“I think that people like to know that when they go through something terrible and it happens to be somehow related to pop culture that they know someone who went though the same thing. And that’s where The Nerd comes from, this sense of backwards nostalgia.” He speaks in a voice far softer than his brash counterpart. “The thing about these games is that the experiences with them are largely the same.”
But the concept of the film involves The Nerd – who’s apparently a clerk at a game shop in addition to being a web reviewer – is being asked to promote a sequel to one of the most infamous games of all time by a PR firm: EeeTee 2 (with the name of its source changed for obvious legal reasons involving Steven Spielberg, Universal Pictures, Atari, and really you shouldn’t bring up that game, anyway). There’s also something about an alien conspiracy that speaks to Rolfe’s soft spot for sometimes cheesy, schlocky sci-fi films, but considering that the material feels like it hits a bit close to home, does it make James feel bad that sometimes people will sometimes try to purchase a classically awful game just to try and reach the Nerd’s level of frustration?
“I actually wondered about that for a while, but I’m actually kind of cool with it, mostly because something about following in that path inspires some kind of creativity in the person who decided to pick up where The Nerd left off. It’s a little weird sometimes, though, when I go into a shop that sells classic games and they thank me and say ‘Thanks! We sell a lot more of this now that you’ve shit all over it!”
The film was co-conceived with co-director and co-writer Kevin Finn (who comes from a television background) over the course of several years, since the film was largely crowdfunded and personally handled.
“When we first started out trying to come up with the movie about six or seven years ago and after The Nerd had already started,” Finn chimes in, “we were at this point where you would see commercials from Geico and Absolute Vodka were marketing products in purposefully bad ways. That was how we got the idea for the film and there’s a line in there about how bad has become the new good, and that’s what I think really got things started.”
Aside from wanting full control over the project themselves, Rolfe and Finn also had the added challenge of working from the East and West coasts, respectively. “It’s funny,” Rolfe says,” I think one of the reasons that it took so long to get the film together was because no matter how many times we talked on the phone or Skype or over email, when we actually sat down to write the film, we were always in the same room. I think in total the script itself came together probably in about a week or so, but things were obviously still going to change until the last second.”
By his own admission, he couldn’t have starred in and worked on the project (especially the practical effects heavy final third of the film) without Finn’s help, and that the story was one of the hardest things to come together. When I said that the film felt like a knowing cross between a film that would be shilling for a product like Transformers or Go Bots in the 80s and something like Wayne’s World that takes established characters from a beloved series and blows them up and takes them out on the road, Rolfe perks up and gets excited.
“That was really the kind of thing we were trying to go for. At one point the film was kind of turning out to be this almost straight-up Revenge of the Nerds type movie, but that wasn’t working. We couldn’t just have him being angry and acting awkward around girls all the time or put him up against some jocks, so we had to take him on a bit of a journey to make that work.”
It’s a journey that least to the New Mexico desert to the infamous landfill where every remaining unsold Atari cartridge of The Nerd’s most requested review were buried. So considering it obviously made the most sense to cover it in the film, what does Rolfe think about having the game requested so much?
“I love that fans requested it constantly, and I love that we were able to feed off of that. They play a huge part of this and without fans, The Nerd is nothing, so I love it and this is my way of giving back.”