Geeks, Gaming and (Blue) Goggles Net Austin Indie Film Studio 1 Million Views
It’s 2 a.m. Husband-and-wife team Ben and Rachel Moody are surrounded by angry, sword wielding Christmas elves. Before things get really ugly, it’s time to shoot them. Then it’s time to break down the sound equipment and cameras before they clean up the filming site. Welcome to an average night at Austin’s Blue Goggles Films.
Blue Goggles is best known for their highly cinematic gaming themed video series De-Pixelated, which runs on GameTrailers.com. They just launched an original webseries called Bit Parts, which they’re financing via Kickstarter.
After Ben graduated from film school in New York and worked in Los Angeles for five years, the couple decided Austin was where they wanted to make movies.
“I thought Austin was a more relaxed place, a place we could be more creative freely,” said Ben Moody. “In five years in L.A., I made one short film on my own. In five years in Austin, I’ve made 32.”
Most of their content is aimed squarely at the gaming market. In addition to De-Pixelated and Bit Parts, they’re behind the Skyrim Intervention video that was popular when every meme involved taking an arrow to the knee, a Mass Effect video suggesting what shenanigans the crew gets up to when they’re not being watched, and for the holidays, A Very Arkham City Christmas.
While Texas lacks the tax incentives that brings big-budget filmmaking to other states (much to the consternation of local filmmakers), the Moodys said Austin’s creative culture made it much easier for them to make high-quality shorts.
“In L.A., you ask to use a location and they want to charge you ten grand for it. Here, we seldom get turned down when we ask to use a site [for free],” said Ben Moody.
Finding eager, talented actors was also easier in Austin. They haven’t needed a casting call since 2011, when word of mouth spread through the local acting and filmmaking community that the Moodys were worth working with.
“Any time either of the Moodys call or email about a project, I don't even care what it is, or in what capacity they want me,” said Brian Villalobos, an actor who stars in Bit Parts. “I'm always in, because it's always excellent, and it's always fun. My wife is an actress in town, too, and she feels the same way. Actually, everyone I've ever talked to about it feels the same way about Blue Goggles. ”
Blue Goggles webvideos don’t have the typical YouTube feel of two cameras aimed at a green screen. The production values make their videos feel like short movies, complete with stunts, special effects and multiple settings. In addition to the locations, lighting and their fight choreographer, the use of sound in their videos adds an extra layer of professionalism.
“Our sound team is amazing,” said Rachel Moody. “They’re on site making things happen, then they’ll recreate all the sounds for the entire fight scene in post. That and the dialogue editing makes such a difference.”
"It's a rare relationship I have with Blue Goggles,” said Clayton De Wet, the location mixer, sound effects and sound mixer for Blue Goggles. “Often a sound crew isn't brought into a project until the end of pre-production, or until the end of a shoot as far as post-production goes, but it's unheard of to find a crew that brings a sound team in during the concept phase and even before the initial pitch.”
Ben says their videos are a lot more work than most things filmed for an online audience, but taking the time to make quality videos now increases the odds of getting funding to make a feature film or extended series later. Plus, he just likes the look.
“I’ve read a lot of interviews with people talking about how they’re going to film school because of YouTube,” said Ben Moody. “I’m a child of the 80’s. I grew up watching movies, so that’s the caliber of films I want to be making. I may be the last generation in it to make feature quality films instead of YouTube videos.”
After the script is written, storyboards are made, and rehearsals are over, it takes about twelve hours of filming to shoot a five-minute video. After that, they go through a few days of post production to get it feature ready, upload the video and start on the next one.
Rachel said people are constantly surprised by their ability to make a polished, finished product on a small budget. “When Ben comes to me with a script, I always ask how are we possibly going to do this? Then we find a way,” said Rachel Moody. “It sets us apart from a couple people in an office or sitting in front of a green screen, or something less visually inspiring.”
A slick, polished look is increasingly important in the gaming video genre. Video games now make more money than Hollywood movies, and gamers have come to expect a visually stunning experience.
“Gamers have been online the longest,” said Ben Moody. When Blue Goggles started making videos, he and Rachel knew there was an existing audience waiting for high quality, cinematic gaming-related videos. “They like watching Web videos, and they’re hungry for good content.”
In addition to an existing, underserved audience, the Moodys hoped gaming-related videos would be more socially sharable. While their 2008 zombie series netted a few thousand views, this year their gaming-related content earned Blue Goggles over 1 million views.
“The good thing about making videos for gamers is we’re rabid and passionate about stuff,” said Ben Moody. “We’re very vocal and we like to love stuff and if we love it, we want to share it with our friends. I think that’s why a lot of gaming videos go viral. There are a lot of forums and communities where people just want to share stuff.”
The Moodys hope that passion for sharing will finance a full season of their indie webseries Bit Parts. They financed six episodes themselves, and hope to extend that to a full 24 episode season via their Kickstarter.
“Kickstarter is exciting, in any art form,” said Ben Moody. “If it takes off, you know you’re developing something people want. There’s nothing worse than spending a couple years working on something and finding out people don’t like it. I love the show and really hope we get to do more.”
The Moodys expect Blue Goggles and other direct-to-Web production companies to gradually blur the line between television and online content. Chris Hardwick has his Nerdist Channel, Felicia Day has Geek and Sundry. While geek and gaming content is leading the way, in another five years, the Moodys said they expect mainstream programing from cooking shows to scripted dramas to get their start online.
“I love watching YouTube on my X-Box on my 50 inch TV,” said Ben Moody. “It’s definitely blurring the lines between TV and Web video. I don’t know if TV needs to go to short formats or if the Web will go to longer 30 and 60 minute shows. It’s exciting to me to think about people watching our videos not on their iPhones but on their TV, with a real sound system.”