How to Be Me is HCF's series of casual, vaguely instructional interviews with games industry professionals, conducted entirely over instant messenger services.
For this week's interview, HCF chatted with Matt Chandronait, former producer of The 1UP Show and co-founder of Area 5 Media, a video production company comprised of the former members of 1UP's Gamevideos team, who were laid off following the UGO buyout of 1UP. Matt works as producer, editor and *actor* for Area 5 Media's flagship show CO-OP, "a weekly look at the meaningful, the important, the interesting, or the just plain fun games that are out there or will be coming out." If you're unfamiliar with the show and have a moment (or half hour), you should definitely check out CO-OP's last episode, Indie Special -- Roundup of the Best of IGF:
Howdy, Matt! Could you tell everyone a little bit about yourself and what it is you do?
Matt: I edit videoz fer da internetz. Done! Interview over! Wow, that was easy!
Whew! 100k diggs!
Matt: w00t! We win! But yeah, more specifically... Area 5 is what I do. Well, what the six of us do. We used to be the video team at 1UP. After the UGO buyout we all got laid off as original content wasn't exactly a money-maker. So we all decided to start our own business. BAM. Area 5. CO-OP, I guess you could say, is our flagship product, though we contract out our services to developers and publishers et. al. in the games industry. Rob just got back from Japan on the first such gig. Really looking forward to what he brings back as he was there during cherry-blossom time. It'll be like every Anime evar!
Can you talk a little about the other sorts of gigs you guys do? Are they secret?
Matt: Well that's the first one. It was, specifically, for Ignition, though I can't talk about the content yet as 1) I haven't seen it and 2) it's for their website and I don't wanna push any spoilers. :) We have some other in the works, but nothing definitive yet.
Did you guys know anything at all about starting a business before you actually started one?
Matt: Um... other than the fact that you need a business license, not really. :) Fortunately I have tons of people, friends and family, that I could turn to for help. We knew we had to move fast -- both because we had severance that was going to run out (which it did) and because the buzz around our cancellation/layoff would wear off quickly. The Internet has a short memory. Also, random people that were fans of The 1UP Show were *extremely* helpful with all kinds of advice and life experience that I (we) just didn't have. One guy even drove into the city and took us to coffee to talk all about starting a business and the first steps you need to take. One more recommendation for a lawyer and -- whambammo -- business license. Now I do spreadsheets in between playing games for the show. :p
How quickly did all of this turn around? It seems, from the outside, like a whirlwind of awesome.
Matt: Haha. Whirlwind is apt. So is "roller-coaster" and "HOLYFUCKINGSHIT." Yeah... it was a constant barrage of fear, joy, support, love, trepidation, all of it together all at the same time. I think that's one reason why when we came up as Area 5 (from Rez) for the name of the company that it appealed so much to me, personally. In the game, Area 5 has the theme of rebirth as well as the lyrics for the music track which repeated over and over "Fear is a mind killer." Kinda became my mantra for a few months. :p ... I guess it still is. Though, yeah, I know it's from Dune. :)
I had no idea.
Matt: <- nerd
Matt: Hahaha. My name has yet to become a killing word, however.
Quick FYI, I am monitoring your mockery via this handy image:
Matt: Helvetica. Nice choice in typeface.
Oh, so you're one of those...
Matt: Can't help it. Spend 12 years as a designer and it rubs off. :)
You worked as a designer, you say? Did you study graphic design?
Matt: Haha, no... I was just fortunate enough to know a very little bit about doing art on a computer in 1995. Which meant, in those days, INSTANT-INTERNET-JOB-MACHINE. As in, everyone and their mom needed a web designer and anyone that could make a square in photoshop and knew how to animate a .gif got a job. So, of course, I dropped out of college to pursue my dream of becoming an internet-bubble baby.
Wow! So, for 12 years you made the webs?
Matt: I did! Both of them!
How did you transition into film production?
Matt: By getting my job at 1UP. Though I guess it started when I went back to school at 28. I decided to get an animation degree, specifically I wanted to do 3D stuff for Pixar. Um... might have been shooting a little high on that one. After school I decided I was too old to start over in my career with a basic internship so I ended up back in a web job, which I hated. Then the producer spot opened up at 1UP. I was already friends with everyone there (including the outgoing producer) and that became my first video-editing gig. Turns out I'm good at it, but I think the animation education helped a lot.
And where were games in all this?
Matt: They've always been there. My first web design job in 1995 was for the ill-fated ENGAGE Games Online (you can tell it was doomed to failure since the name was in all caps). It was an off-shoot of Interplay. After that I started at GameSpy in 2000 (well, with a few jobs-that-shall-not-be-named in between). So I've always worked around gaming editorial/production. My last job before 1UP was at Perpetual Entertainment. If you've heard of them you'd be one of the few -- another ill-fated game company, this time trying to make two MMO's. Ouchies.
So 1UP was where the magic happened. Did you have an immediate knack for editing?
Matt: I'd say so... I mean I had to do a lot of it in my animation classes, and being already familiar with timeline mechanics made it easy to work in Final Cut Pro. Turns out my two best skills when I was done with my animation degree were sculpture and motion graphics. The motion graphics thing I think is what made my move into video editing so seamless.
Hmm... is that what a person should study to be a fancy video producer? What sort of educational background would you recommend for someone who would want to be you?
Matt: Haha! I wouldn't. Not that I think edumacation am evil or some shiz, just that in any creative endeavor, especially if you're looking to do gaming criticism, the best education is to just do it. Emulate people you admire and do a bunch of it. Your body of work will speak far better for you than any degree. That, and if you literally want to be me, you need to go bald or shave your head. It's a particular part of the mystery that is me.
I have to know: why do bald men shave their heads? Why not have a little something going on?
Matt: I dunno! Especially on white men. It makes them look like penises. I like my sort of Patrick Stewart cum Heihachi look.
Is that a look men wish to cultivate?
Matt: Haha! Maybe they do. I cut it all off, which makes me look like Picard, and then it grows out enough so that I can look like a fighting game hero. Either way I win. ;p
Anywho, back to your work! How long were you at 1UP before the axe fell?
Matt: Only a year. I started in January 08.
That was long enough, apparently, to make some worthwhile connections.
Matt: And that I owe almost entirely to the people I worked with there! Not since I first started at GameSpy was I amongst such amazingly talented individuals. When you're in an environment where you're inspired just by fucking being at work... hell, I don't even think there's a word for it. I mean, I could walk down the hall and talk to Jeff Green. How many people get to say that?! My only regret is that I hadn't been working there for years.
But you managed to take some of those talented individuals home with you. Three of you live Monkees-style in the same apartment!
Matt: Haha! Truth! And the rest are over here enough that it's almost like they live here... fortunately the rest of our roommates (we have 5 more, for a total of 8 people in this place) have been extremely understanding.
Are you guys working on the show 'round the clock? What's a typical day in the life?
Matt: It varies very greatly. 'Round the clock usually only happens when we're nearing the end of the week and need to deliver to Revision3 (which is supposed to happen on Fridays...we're, um, working on that). It's pretty similar to The 1UP Show, actually. Really, I don't think people are supposed to be able to do what we do. Writing, shooting, and editing a show in 5 days (sometimes more, when I'm honest :) ) just isn't the thing you think to ask people to do. Maybe that's why we're the only one doing what we do... though we wish there were more out there! Also, it's hard to make money at it. Just ask UGO. ;p
What is it exactly that you guys hope to accomplish with your show? What niche are you filling?
Matt: We talk a lot about changing the way that people think and talk about games. I mean, really we're just passionate about the medium and its potential and are fortunate to live very near a stockpile of brilliant people that have brilliant things to say about the art form/sport/hobby/whatever, but if what we do could have even just a small impact on the overall dialogue surrounding gaming then it would mean so much more than that. We want games to be taken as seriously as the Mona Lisa. It's still okay to have fun playing them and talking about them, but the perception that they're an adolescent past-time for man-children of no social aptitude, or that they're merely the latest in the line of child-corrupting influences disguised as toys has got to stop. The power of interactivity is profound, to be sure, but the potential for its use and misuse is at least partially based in the way that people think and talk about it. Maybe we can play a small roll in expanding that conversation. This is the part where someone in the comments says "Too much text. Didn't read."
Oh no, no friend of the internet would type that. I believe the correct phrase is: tl;dr.
Matt: Haha! Truth!
Speaking of man-children of no social aptitude, any chance you'd like to comment on Heather Chaplin's rant from GDC? [In which Chaplin chastised a room full of game developers with phrases such as "It's not that the medium is in its adolescence, it's that you're a bunch of fucking adolescents."]
Matt: I honestly only heard of it peripherally. I have a thought or two, but being that I wasn't there I'd take anything I type with a grain of sea-salt. (Because other salts are yucky.) In short, I think she was right on. Shit won't change unless the people making the games (and talking about them!) change it. We do our very best to remove ourselves and our show away from the greasy machine of male chest-pounding that it's become, but that doesn't mean Gears of War isn't tons of fucking fun!
Do you really think mainstream games are reaching their full interactive potential? Or, even really striving for it?
Matt: Nah, but neither are (sans interactivity, of course) movies, or music. There are diamonds in the rough, of course, and sometimes the rough is just good fun and raw entertainment (which should also be appreciated) but largely I think, no, there's far too much playing it safe. Part of it is a lack of vocabulary and a lack of a diversified audience -- chicken and the egg problem. You need a diverse audience in order to create diverse art, but how do you create that audience from nothing? Personally I think it's just the kind of thing that happens when the people that are afraid of the new shit die off and leave the honest exploration of a medium to a generation less hampered by their insecurities about it. FEAR IS THE MIND KILLER. :p
Ooh, I like how you brought that back around. Well played.
Matt: My little brother is 14. I went as a chaperone on his 6th grade camping trip. EVERY kid on that bus, boy and girl alike, had a DS or a PSP. I'm hoping we don't have to wait until my little brother is grown up for gaming to truly move into it's golden age (which is where I truly believe it is headed) but we may have to if the current paradigm can't shift quickly enough. Online and digital distribution may do it for us. But that's just a guess. :)
Going back to what you said above, how is CO-OP bringing its expanded vocabulary to the world? How are you finding/reaching your audience? It can't all be peeps who followed the 1UP show... OR CAN IT?
Matt: I think that's largely who it's been, yeah. I mean, they're the ones that donated cash to us to start the project and they're the ones that helped spread the word, subscribed to our Twitters, commented on our YouTube channels, posted on forums, etc. -- Revision3 is doing a lot to promote our show now, but I don't think we'll see the results of that for a little while longer. Getting an article in Forbes as a good start. But mostly, at this point, it's word of mouth.
So, corporate sponsorship, eh? How did you swing that? Tell me the whole story!
Matt: Well our first sponsor was EA. They had marketing budget to spend for The Godfather II and, well, I think it just so happens that we have some fans over there and a drop in the bucket to them could be GINORMOUS for us. I got a call out of the blue saying they wanted to do an ad buy with us. This, and the $18k in donations we received are what made the Revision3 deal possible. With Revision3, we're not actually making any money. It's been a common misconception -- everywhere on the Internets -- that Revision3 drove up to our door and dumped a pile of cash at our feet. We are, in fact, not making any money just yet. BUT, the long-term potential with 'em is HUGE if we can get our viewer numbers up high enough that they can sell our available ad slot for more money. It's a revenue-share deal, meaning we get a % of the ad revenue. Right now, the ads you see in our show are the default sponsorships that fund all Revision3 programming. That won't be enough to sustain us over the long term. That's what the EA and donation nest egg are for. Hopefully that money won't run out before we've got enough new viewers to make our show more valuable.
Ah, interesting. I do think people just assume you're wading in caviar and toast points.
Matt: Indeed, they do. :) Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I mean, perception helps to create reality, but perception can also create inaction. And by that I mean we've only got word of mouth to rely on for now. If no one thinks to tell their friend about our show because we're already "just so huge" then maybe it won't happen at all. Also, what's a toast point? :)
Matt: For cereal. :)
Manbearpig. It's just a little piece of toast. Like, for canapés, etc.. You can put caviar on them if you like.
Matt: Ah... see? If we were wading in dough and going to fancy parties I'd know that. ;p
I had imagined you guys like the Simpsons, filling your living room with caviar and toast points...
...or laying on a bed of pearls, eating pearls for breakfast...
Matt: Haha! Just kidding! That's what we do every day for breakfast!
Anywho, we got way off on yet another tangent here. So, what does the future hold for CO-OP and crew?
Matt: More CO-OP! And Caviar! And Toast Points! And Capitalizing Words For No Reason!
That's How the Rich Do IT!
Matt: And the ultra rich just go for straight up caps! FUCK YEAH.
HAHAHAHAH. HOW WELL YOU KNOW US.
Matt: Bahahah! Honestly, we're hoping to get more contract work to help us break even. I think we can make a good go at that and make a lot of those crappy developer diary videos much more interesting and mini-documentary-like. Hopefully we'll get into the kind of stuff you see on Blu-Ray/DVD extras for games. But, really, we're mostly looking to CO-OP to make our mark on the games industry in the most positive way possible. Also, we're REALLY looking forward to PAX. We have some ideas that I think will be a ton of fun and PAX is our favorite event all year. :)
Any hints? teasers?
Matt: Heh, I wish! We're just shooting ideas around. I'd hate to give 'em away in case nothing pans out :)
Well, we'll all be looking forward to more CO-OP. Thanks so much for chatting with me, Mr. Matt. I know you were very busy playing games and ignoring your appointments. [Matt was 20 minutes late for this interview. He was busy hanging out, playing video games on a live webcast, and needed to be reminded of his appointment via the accompanying live webchat.]
Matt: My pleasure! And I appreciate you going to the extra effort to get me to actually MAKE my appointment. :)