Second Skin is one of the fest’s most buzzed-about films, as it was when it premiered earlier this year at SXSW. It’s a well-researched, balanced and hugely entertaining look at the phenomenon known as MMORPG, or massively multiplayer online role-playing games like WOW (World of Warcraft) and EverQuest.
Here’s an interview with the film’s writer, Victor Pineiro-Escoriaza. Conducted, of course, via email.
NOW: What was your MMORPG experience before making the film?
Pineiro-Escoriaza: My buddy Ben bought me Star Wars Galaxies for my birthday in 2004, and I jumped into the virtual world of Naboo nightly for a good three or four months. It fascinated me, especially watching the Super Bowl in a desert cantina on Tatooine. Ben eventually became the mayor of the largest city in Naboo, and watching him juggle his mundane real world life with his incredible virtual world existence was fascinating- it inspired the movie!
NOW: Did you have any idea about the sheer number of people involved in gaming?
Pineiro-Escoriaza: I’m an enormous gamers, so I’ve been surrounded by them all my life. That said, gamer culture as of late is absolutely everywhere. It’s the next evolutionary step of entertainment, and people have really taken notice. The stigma is dissolving, and everyone's joining in this latest pop cultural revolution.
NOW: The "gold farm" phenomenon surprised me. What surprised you the most?
Pineiro-Escoriaza: Meeting Andrew, our disabled gamer was one of the defining experiences of my life. I hung out with him for months in Second Life before meeting him in real life. He was affable, witty and hilarious, and we got along smashingly. I was aware that he was disabled, but it never affected our interactions. Then, three months into our friendship, we interviewed him in person. Walking into his room and seeing him in real life- unable to walk or talk, only able to move his right index finger - a shell of the man I knew - made me truly realize the power of virtual worlds in so many people's lives.
NOW: You obviously interviewed a ton of people, especially couples. How and when did you know which ones you'd follow closely?
Pineiro-Escoriaza: Distance, money and luck made some of those decisions for us. The real trick was finding people who had dynamic events going on in their lives - we met hundreds of possible subjects, and though many had fascinating stories to tell, few were having a defining year of their life that had an interesting and coherent narrative arc.
NOW: It seems to cover a long period of time. How long did you work on the film? And how did you know when to stop filming?
Pineiro-Escoriaza: We spent two years working on this movie. We lucked out - our three stories seemed to have clear end points. We almost didn't get a chance to visit Dan one last time, which reallywould have left his story hanging- we filmed him for the last time just days before the film was due at SXSW.
NOW: Did romantic couple Heather and Kevin ever want to back out of the interview process?
Pineiro-Escoriaza: Kevin was never very into the idea of being filmed (I don't blame him, I wouldn't have been either!) and he dragged his feet and made access difficult at points. Heather, however, was incredibly generous with her time and balanced it out. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to have a film crew with you throughout the first year of a relationship - I can't thank them enough for letting us document that!
NOW: The film's very balanced. How did you achieve that non-judgemental tone?
Pineiro-Escoriaza: We worked very hard month after month to try and stay as non-judgmental as possible. We talked about it constantly. Then Juan (director Juan Carlos Pineiro-Escoriaza) did an amazing job editing it - I can't begin to articulate how hard he worked, and how painstaking the process was. (Months and months of twenty-hour days.) Our proudest moment was when gamer advocate Andy Belford and anti-gaming advocate Liz Woolley both loved the movie, and said we portrayed them fairly.
NOW: Is the film going to get a commercial release? Online release?
Pineiro-Escoriaza: We just got a few exciting emails over the past week- it looks like this film is going to get a great commercial release throughout the world. It'll definitely make it onto the internet (legally) eventually, but there's no practical way of doing that yet. We have hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to pay back, and the internet doesn't make documentary filmmakers that kind of revenue... yet.
NOW: What's your next doc about?
Pineiro-Escoriaza: It would take far too long to explain, but whenever we pitch it, people tell us it’s going to be the next The Sixth Sense. Rest assured, it's a documentary.
Second Skin screens tonight (Monday, April 21) at 7:15 pm at the ROM and Wednesday (April 23), 1:30 pm, at the Isabel Bader.