Westdoc pitch winners focusing on creativity behind gaming

Winnipeg filmmakers James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot, winners of the PitchFest at last week's Westdoc Conference in Santa Monica, believe their pet project Indie Game: The Movie can speak to all audiences - not just gamers.
September 22, 2010

When Winnipeg’s James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot took home the top pitch prize at last week’s Westdoc Conference in Santa Monica, they realized that their pet project Indie Game: The Movie could speak to all audiences – not just gamers.

‘No one from the networks on the (pitch) panel was a gamer,’ says Pajot. ‘They completely connected with the personal aspect and the creative aspect of what we’re trying to do and saw that as something that’s exciting.’

‘That was the dream end result we’re going for,’ adds Swirsky. ‘We know we have a hardcore audience of gamers and indie game fans. We want to spread it out beyond them to people who appreciate the creative process, people who appreciate design.’

Their pitch was voted tops out of 12 finalists by a panel of TV execs that included Travel Channel’s Elizabeth Jane Browde; Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Dave Davis; Marc Etkind from Animal Planet; History’s Charles Nordlander; Sue Norton from Lonely Planet; Richard Saiz of ITVS and TLC’s Brent Zacky. ‘The enthusiasm and creativity by the pitching producers was tremendous, and the audience feedback showed there was a lot to be gained by all at this year’s competition,’ says Richard Propper, CEO of Solid Entertainment and managing partner of Westdoc.

Swirsky and Pajot make up the one-stop-shop prodco BlinkWorks Media. They stumbled upon a wealth of stories when attending the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco a few years ago – more specifically, the developers involved in the Independent Games Festival, held concurrently with GDC. Commissioned to create a video about fellow Winnipeg citizen Alec Holowka and his partner Derek Yu, winners of the IGF 2007 grand prize for their game Aquaria, Swirsky and Pajot realized there was a deeper story to be told.

‘We just kept getting drawn to (the developers),’ recalls Swirsky, noting that no video game docs exist that delve into actual game creation. ‘Not only their personal stories, but the fact that they were one- or two-person teams making these really fantastic, highly innovative and highly personal games for a worldwide audience.’

‘I think we approached this as filmmakers and storytellers first, and game appreciators second,’ says Pajot, drawing parallels between making IGTM and how developers handle their craft. ‘I think there’s a kinship between what we’re doing and what they do, how they go through their creative process. It seems so much harder than making a movie, which blows me away.’

They’ve also decided to find another way around Canada’s traditional government funding models to finance their film. Earlier this spring, they set a $15,000 target on the crowd-funding pledge site, thinking it would take 30 to 60 days to reach their goal.

In a mere 48 hours, they hit the $18,000 mark, which swelled to $23,000 over 60 days. Since launching DVD pre-sales through, they’ve topped $30,000. Tack on their $5,000 pitch prize from Westdoc and the two haven’t even needed to reach out to Canadian funding bodies such as Telefilm and CMF.

Though they’d certainly welcome other sources of funding, Swirsky says, ‘Given that we’re a two-person team now, we just didn’t have the time and effort needed to put toward that.’

Adds Pajot: ‘A lot of other filmmakers have been doing this, blazing their own trails, and that’s something we find really inspiring: filmmakers who see their films as an artistic and business endeavor. They have the tools and the power to do it themselves.’

The duo are looking to have 90% of filming completed by the holidays and will be travelling until then, hitting up cities from Montreal to Phoenix, with a projected delivery date of late summer/early fall 2011. Swirsky and Pajot are also open to discussions regarding distribution opportunities.

From Playback Daily

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.