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Interview with "Lazer Team" director Matt Hullum

lazer team
Photo courtesy of Rooster Teeth Productions

"Lazer Team" is a 1980s style sci-fi comedy about four misfits who stumble upon alien technology, a mysterious suit made up of two boots, two arm pieces, and a helmet.  Each guy puts on a piece of the equipment, which attaches to their bodies with no way of getting them off. They are then forced to work together to save the planet.  Will they stop bickering long enough to defeat an alien invasion or, at least, be able to work the suit?

The director of the film, Matt Hullum, is an Atlanta native and will be in town on Friday, Jan. 29th to do a Q&A after the 8 pm screening at the AMC Sugarloaf Mills 18.

I got to interview Matt about the film:

Mike:  Who came up with the idea for the film and what was its inspiration?

Matt:  We have these regular pitch / brainstorming / drinking sessions, and during one a few years ago we started talking about how all the superhero movies seemed to be basically the same lately. You could swap out superpowers, but you pretty much know who your hero is going in and that he's going to win. We thought it would be fun and different to make a movie about someone who was destined to be a superhero, but didn't get to be because a bunch of knuckleheads accidentally took his place. Burnie Burns wrote the story, and we tried to make it tonally in keeping with our other content like "Red vs. Blue," which both mocks and embraces common video game tropes. We tried to walk that same line between revering and ridiculing superhero movies with "Lazer Team."

Mike:  Your film was partially funded by a record-setting Indiegogo campaign.  Did you feel pressure to make a film that the backers/fans would enjoy?

Matt:  We felt pressure to make a movie we would like, and not get distracted. Our philosophy has always been if we are true to ourselves with the kind of content we want to make then it will find an audience. There's a lot of like-minded people out there, and that's why we've been able to organically grow this incredible community that has broken all these crowdfunding and cinema-on-demand records for Lazer Team. Even though we think this movie will appeal to a wide audience, we didn't want to set out to make something totally mainstream, that just wouldn't be us and wouldn't be interesting. It was really an incredible relief to have all the Indiegogo backers because we knew that we had more than their financial support, we had their emotional support, and that gives you an amazing incentive to get up and work your hardest every day.

Photo courtesy of Rooster Teeth Productions

Mike:  Talk about Rooster Teeth, the production company behind your film.

Matt:  Rooster Teeth has been producing comedy and gaming-related video content online for 13 years. It started as just a handful of friends in a spare bedroom and today we have about 150 employees producing 40-50 shows per week at a studio campus. We run a YouTube network with about 25 million subscribers as well as our own website and apps with a subscription video service and a focus on our amazing community. A lot of people know us because of Red vs. Blue, which is the longest running web series of all time and now on the El Rey cable TV network, and RWBY, which is the first American-made Anime to be distributed in Japan. I am CEO of the company, and Burnie is Chief Creative Officer. I grew up in Atlanta but moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas, where I met Burnie. We started making content together at the student-run TV station there and always wanted to go on to make movies. But of course, life takes you in unexpected directions, and we ended up being the first group to really break out as Internet content creators. In fact, we had an online video business long before YouTube or Facebook even existed! It's fun for us that we are finally getting back around to putting out a feature film.

Mike:  We know the disadvantages of making a smaller budgeted film. Are there any advantages to making a smaller film?

Matt:  Well for us there were a lot because we know how to get the most out of doing run-and-gun, down-and-dirty filmmaking. You have to be nimble to be able to produce consistent, high-quality content online. However, there were a lot of big effects and stunts in this movie that couldn't be done on the cheap. I had spent quite a few years working in Hollywood, so I tried to fuse traditional big-budget movie-making techniques that I knew with our own low-budget style so we could get the very most out of our funds. $2.5 million is a lot of money, but not for a sci-fi movie of this scale, so we had to make every dollar count.

Photo courtesy of Rooster Teeth Productions

Mike:  The film has become a hit around the world with big crowds seeing the film in Britain and Australia, mostly with tickets sold through a crowdsourcing website. That must feel great having the fans responding to your movie.

Matt:  It's unbelievable. We pre-sold 100,000 tickets and over $1 million gross, and most of those screening dates were for the middle of the week! People don't typically go see movies on a Wednesday, but our fans came out in droves because they have been so excited to see this film. The response has just been incredible. We run a pretty large convention called RTX with annual events in Austin and Sydney, Australia that drew 45,000 people to Austin last year, but I realized that last night's around-the-world Lazer Team screenings were actually our biggest fan event ever. Instead of being in one convention center they were in hundreds of theaters around the world, but it felt like we were all connected.

Mike:  You are going to do a Q&A at AMC Sugarloaf Mills 18 after the 8 pm screening tonight.  Have you done Q&A's before and what kind of questions does the audience ask?

Matt:  I have done a lot of Q&As and always happy to answer questions, although I don't usually do them in a crowd that might include my old North Atlanta High School buddies. Hopefully, they won't embarrass me too much. I might be more agreeable if somebody shows up with some Varsity slaw dogs

Mike:  Since the film is a hit, any plans for a sequel?

Matt:  I would love to make one if the audience wants it. We'll see what happens next.

The film is playing at AMC Sugarloaf Mills 18 and Matt will be doing a Q&A Friday, Jan. 29th after the 8 pm screening.

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