With Sundance’s 2012 lineup announced, guest blogger Edward J. Delaney highlights the unconventional approach of one of the selected docs and its filmmakers, Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky.

James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot

James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot,
directors of Indie Game: The Movie
are Sundance bound

Back in July, I interviewed Canadian documentary filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, who were at work on their documentary Indie Game: The Movie, about independent video-game designers. They had high hopes for their film, and this week, those were realized when they got word the film will premiere at Sundance 2012. Theirs is one of 14 selections in the World Documentaries category, out of an estimated 800 entries.

What is notable about the film is not just its subject matter, but the fact that this is a DSLR film that raised its financing through crowdfunding on Kickstarter, making short demo pieces that would build toward the final film but serve as selling tools for financing.

According to Pajot,

We basically started with the Kickstarter campaign in May 2010, and we just had one piece, and we put out that slice of the film, and we made our goal in 48 hours. We asked for $15,000 and we ended up with $23,000.

As we continued making the film, we just kept building the audience. We’d put out lots of videos while we were shooting — which might be ill-advised. We put out 80 minutes of content while we were shooting, separate pieces and things like that. It was really helpful creatively to help us figure out what we were doing, and show people, and get a response. People would pass around those videos, and that would lead us to new stories, and to gaming sites, and it just kind of grew from there.

As this was happening, we just kept finding out that this doesn’t just apply to people who are interested in indie gaming or making indie games themselves, but to general gaming people, or people that just want to make something themselves.

Their second Kickstarter campaign, which raised more than $71,000 of a $35,000 goal, included a digital copy of the film for people donating $15 or more. For $35 or more, the donors gets a DVD of the film, but for $75 or more, a special-edition DVD, which Swirsky says makes use of the volume of video they shot in the process. Swirsky said,

The neat upside is this: We have two movies, really enough footage for three movies, really. So what we’re going to do is make this special-edition version of the film, which will have that original movie and that original intent kind of deconstructed into a series of 10 or 12 three-to-five-minute pieces. The stuff we shot of everybody else that that didn’t make it into the film is really good stuff. But in order to do justice to the dramatic arcs that really excited us, it needed more time in the film. We wanted to keep the thing under 90 minutes.

Filmmakers usually guard their material carefully. Pajot and Swirsky raised close to $100,000 in donations by being transparent, flouting conventions of filmmaking.

As for equipment, more films are showing the efficacy of light, mobile equipment. Last year’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, Danfung Dennis’ Hell and Back Again was shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, but one might expect that for a journalist embedded with infantry and shooting combat footage. But for Indie Game‘s sit-down interviews, where there might be a higher bar for quality, the DSLRs were also fine.

Swirsky and Pajot shot the film on two Canon EOS 5D Mark IIs, with a set of lenses including a 70-200mm, 24-105mm and a 24-70mm, with a 50mm f/1.4 as the main interview lens. They traveled with two Cool Lights. “But we really didn’t use the lights all that much,” Swirsky says. “We mostly used them for fill, because most of the places we shot had huge banks of windows.”

For audio, they used a Zoom H4N, with Sennheiser and Electrosonic mics. Everything was shot with tripods for the interviews. When they went off tripods they generally used monopods.

“We had a lot of sliders in there, too,” Swirsky says. “At the time, sliders were the new thing, so I went slider crazy on the first half of shooting this thing. We used a Glidetrack, then got our hands on a Kessler dolly.”

Here’s a video showing them traveling with equipment:

If you can’t see Indie Game: The Movie at 2012’s Sundance Film Festival, you can seek out local screenings on the film’s official website.

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Edward J. Delaney is a journalist, author, filmmaker and editor of DocumentaryTech, an online project that explores documentary filmmaking techniques and technology.