The Call Up is the latest addition to the library of films attempting to bridge the gap between cinema and gaming. We caught up with the film’s writer and director, Charles Barker, to talk Call of Duty, virtual-reality and how to shoot a big film on a low budget.
The Metropolist: The Call Up is your first feature film and you claim both writer and director credits. First things first, what is the film about?
Charles Barker: It centres on a group of hard core gamers who are summoned to a secret location to trial some new full-immersion, virtual-reality gaming technology. Things quickly spiral out of control and it becomes a fight for survival.
TM: Creating a successful film based on gaming is not an easy job, there are plenty of cinematic flops to evidence that. Why choose such a tough task for your first feature outing?
CB: I love high concept projects – and I have always been a fan of gaming. The way I see it, this film’s USP is that gamers will enjoy it, but I hope film fans will love it too. The gaming industry is huge, far bigger than the film and music industry. Hopefully this film’s gaming content, which takes the form of popular shoot-em-ups like Call of Duty, will mean it’ll appeal to a wider audience.
TM: It is clearly a film based around gaming, but what exactly did you set out to make with The Call Up?
CB: Technology is moving so fast nowadays. I wanted to create a gaming film that had a realistic edge to it. I mean years ago people may have laughed at virtual-reality, but now it’s the future, and a future that is not that far away. Films about Mars thirty or forty years ago for example showed aliens walking around with ray guns, but then Ridley Scott came along and updated the cinematic interpretation of it with The Martian. And The Martian feels real. It feels as though you are actually watching someone fighting for their life on Mars. I hope The Call Up has that similar effect when it comes to gaming and virtual-reality. In fact, something like The Matrix touched on the issue of virtual-reality not that long ago, but it was very much an unrealistic premise. The Call Up on the other hand is much more grounded, drawing on advanced, yet current, technology.
TM: You mention Call of Duty in terms of its shoot-em-up style. Were there any specific aspects of gaming that you wanted to convey in the film?
CB: The film is of course littered with references that gamers will appreciate, like picking up new weapons and desperately searching for a medikit. What I was particularly interested in conveying though was a good story to go along with it. There are some games out there that engage you just as much as films do, The Last of Us being one of them – that is a great game with a great story. I wanted to have the action-packed thrills of a shoot-em-up but also incorporate a good story. The characters throughout for example don’t just go in guns blazing and care-free, well they might at first, but then fear soon sets in and they panic, just like anyone would if they were thrown into a war-zone.
TM: The Call Up’s combination of challenge-completion and survival horror reminded us of films like Cube, Death Race, and Tron. Were there any specific films that you used as inspiration for The Call Up?
CB: Tron was definitely a film I studied closely when writing this, the original though – I’m not a fan of the remake. And it’s funny you should mention Cube too, as I did take that into consideration as well, mainly because just like The Call Up it was also a film made on a relatively low budget and yet it still does a great job of creating something big on-screen.
TM: The film takes place partially “in the real world” as well as in a virtual-reality, which means things on-screen are constantly changing up visually. But how were you able to create those two dramatically different settings while filming?
CB: Well, we actually filmed every scene twice – that is to say, we filmed every sequence that featured the actors lifting their virtual-reality helmets twice. I insisted that the virtual-reality helmets worn by the actors were designed with handles on the front of them, so when the characters motioned to take them off, I could use that movement as a cut. So, we would walk through each scene, picking out the parts that required the white background of the gaming arena, then film. Same goes for when the characters were in the game and surrounded by bullet-ridden furniture. I am really happy with the way we achieved that.
TM: You mentioned that this film was rather low budget, however, the film hinges on the characters shooting their way through numerous floors of a skyscraper-styled office building. How was that achieved?
CB: Not to kill the illusion, but every office floor you see in the film is actually the same floor, we just had it extensively re-decorated. We had to get creative with a lot of the shooting. Most of it was actually filmed in Birmingham (UK) believe it or not – although we also got some shots in cities like New York.
TM: Thanks for your time Charles. We really enjoyed the film and would recommend it to anyone who is into gaming. Thanks for creating something both fun for gamers and visually stimulating for film fans.
CB: You make me blush. Thanks for the kind words.
The Call Up is now showing in cinemas around the UK. It’s also available on DVD and BluRay. It’s available for purchase here.