Games can bring out both the best and worst in us. One minute you’re stealing fictional resources from someone, and the next you’re arguing about every mistake and disagreement you’ve ever had. It can get ugly. Stuart C. Paul’s Kickstarted short, The Lord of Catan, captures the passionate feelings on both ends of the spectrum that go hand in hand with gaming. The black comedy stars Amy Acker and Fran Kranz as a married couple who face off in “epic struggle for dominance” as they play the Settlers of Catan mobile game.
The Lord of Catan is funny, endearing, bizarre, and dark. It hits a lot of notes during its 13 minute run time, and all too many of them are relatable. We spoke with Paul about how the short developed, the challenges of filming with a limited set, and the surprising ending (I’ll keep it as spoiler free as possible).
Nerdist: Settlers of Catan is clearly a part of the short so I’m curious: was it an obsession or hobby of yours, or did it just happen to fit the bill for the story?
Stuart Paul: Usually the things I work on are from crazy whacked-out universes that populate my head, but every once in a while the universe slaps something right in front of you. It happens. You don’t need to put a lot of bells and whistles on it. I found out about the game through a friend who had it on her iPad, and that just got me hooked. I played the board game and then ended up getting the app for my iPad, and my wife and I would play it a lot. Then one night I was getting into it with her and we were just – it was just one of those perfect storms of screwing each other over [in the game] that escalated. It was funny as it was happening. And I realized, well, here is a contained movie about two people playing this game that I could make, and I didn’t really see much point in changing what the game was.
I wasn’t trying to make any statement about the game itself, but the way you try to teach someone the game – because I’ve been through this a number of times with friends – there’s an initial period of silence and confusion. Eventually the tide breaks, and they start to get into it and enjoy it. It’s a game that encapsulated a lot of, in a very simple concise way, a lot of the mind boggling rules that if you throw them out really fast can overwhelm people.
N: Tell me how Amy Acker and Fran Kranz got involved.
SP: I asked my manager if he had any recommendations for producers, and he mentioned this client who ended up knowing Jason Dolan. The first name he [Dolan] brought up was Fran for the guy. It was exactly who encapsulated what I was after. Jason and Fran were friends from a few years ago and so he got him the script, and Fran liked it. We met, and I managed not to scare him off with my giant Necronomicon of storyboards and notes.
And then, once we had him we started looking for our actress. We were almost a week away from shooting and still didn’t have our actress, so my wife was like, “What about Amy Acker?” I know we had brought her name up in the past, but for some reason we had not gone out to her. It was like, “Of course. Why aren’t we going to Amy Acker?” So Fran reached out to her, and luckily she was on hiatus from her TV show and she had some time and thought it would be fun and said yes.
N: And she really gets to play a range of emotions in the short.
SP: She, in reality, is the epitome of sweetness and so it just shows what an amazing actress she is. She goes from subtle anger to just complete explosion. She was pretty great.
N: So you have two actors and for the most part, a single set. What were the challenges of telling your story using just one room with just two characters?
SP: Having two actors was – well, I mean it’s probably toughest on them because they’re on screen the entire time. They have no breaks. But for me it was easy because there were just two just people. It’s not hard to figure out where to point the camera.
For the one room thing, I was excited about embracing the challenge of shooting something in one room and making it interesting. To make that room feel like it’s changing with the progression of the game and make it reflect what’s going on with the characters’ emotional states, it required a large change in camera work and tone with every different scene.
I just wanted the feeling you get when you’re in the middle of a game that’s heated to really come through. And to make it feel like this room, just with the two of them, was as epic as the quest of Middle-earth. We panned from one end to the other, and it was like Gandalf and his guys crossing those cliffs, about to fall off into their doom. So I wanted that feeling of an epic quest to build throughout. We had a tough time finding a location that would fit the bill, but ultimately, we found a building that rented out locations that just had this giant, concrete, empty room.
N: I appreciated the hexagon, Catan-like patterns in place throughout the decor.
SP: Definitely the biggest boon was finding the sheets for the bed because the sheets are covered with the bed cover for half the movie. Then when things get serious, we take it off. I wanted the pattern under there to be something that really resonated with the escalation of the game. Then the production designer found these hexagon bed sheets at Target and I was like, “Buy them all!”
N: Without going into specific spoilers, I want to touch on the ending. It definitely caught me off guard.
SP: Thanks a lot. I wanted to make something that moved a lot because it is set in one room and to cover as much of a journey as I could. I like giving people one thing, and then it turns out that’s not exactly what you’re getting. I wasn’t sure if people would be surprised at the end or not, but it seems like the general reaction. That’s good.
Dying to see The Lord of Catan? It will be screening this Saturday, August 16, at Gen Con in Indianapolis, at the Hollyshorts Film Festival in Hollywood from August 15-22, and at Dragon Con in Atlanta from August 29-September 1. Keep up with the latest news on screenings at Paul’s website and at the film’s Facebook page.