He soon spoke with gatlopp director Alberto Belli to talk about the board game comedy, which is now available digitally and on demand.
“A group of old friends reunite for a nostalgic night of fun and games after a decade apart,” reads the synopsis. “After too many, they decide to play a drinking game, but it is quickly revealed that this game comes with supernatural stakes. Mischief leads to chaos, and the group realizes that if they can’t come together to win the game before dawn, they’ll be forced to play for eternity, in hell.”
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Tyler Treese: What were your biggest influences growing up? Who really inspired you to become a director?
Alberto Belli: Safely. I mean, Steven Spielberg, like a lot of people of my generation, I saw Jurassic Park on the big screen. I think it was one of my first movies. I was like, “Wow, I want to be a part of that.” Yeah, that’s the one that did it to me.
You have experience directing so many shorts. For your film debut, did anything surprise you or did that experience ensure you were ready?
I think so, like the short experience, and I had done a TV series before in Mexico, so it didn’t feel any different, I guess. What felt different was that we were shooting during COVID, right when it was the worst in 2020. So it was a lot of getting used to wearing a mask and directing actors in a mask, and all those protocols. So that was more of a learning curve than filmmaking itself.
Jim Mahoney wrote the film and stars in it. Did you know him before this or how did you two get involved?
I did. So, funny story, he co-wrote a short film that I had done before that went viral, called It’s not porn, it’s HBO, and that opened up our careers, probably like three years before we did this movie. Then we always wanted to keep working together and we were having lunch one day, and then he proposed this idea to me and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s a brilliant idea,” because I love it. Jumanji and all those movies. I was like, let’s do this. So we were friends, and we’ve been really good friends ever since we made that viral video a bunch of years ago.
It’s such a fun idea. Like you said, it’s very much along the lines of a Jumanji with the haunted board game. How much fun did you have working on those cards and working on the physical board game?
Oh honestly I loved it. We worked with a team that also created the title sequence for us, and you really wanted to have a vintage feel, but something modern, right? This game is supposed to have some kind of story. So it feels like it’s been played for a long time, but also trying to keep it modern. And then we went through many, many designs and this one just felt right.
I love what they created with all the little details. Many of the themes in the movies, like Green, assume that she is the ex-wife. So a lot of the boxes, as you keep winning, the game turns green. And then we had all these thematic ideas that we were able to put into the game, and it was a lot of fun. As it would be my dream, it becomes a real board game.
Can you talk about Jim’s script and what really stood out about it and made you want to fully join in here?
I guess because we obviously did it on a very limited budget, I was always wondering how we’re going to pull off this cool idea with the limited budget that we have. And I think what he did brilliantly was that instead of trying to focus on visual effects and trying to do it as a visual effects show, it was more of an acting show. A lot of the challenges or twists in the film have more to do with switching bodies, it’s about actors acting differently, or it’s about getting emotional. It was more about how smart he was creating these challenges that didn’t involve a huge amount of money. And it was more about having faith in the actors, so that they can then bring it to life.
I loved the use of flashbacks, particularly with Polaroid photos. Which led to the choice to use that framing device and delve into the background of these characters.
We felt that it was an interesting way to differentiate between the present and the past. And then, since the situation was that Cliff had all these Polaroids in his house, we were working with our DP and we thought, what if we really take that idea and then all the flashbacks look like those Polaroids? So the memories of him are part of those photographs. So we were very inspired by that, and then we tried to keep it consistent so that it’s very easy to tell the past from the present.
I thought the jazz exercise scene in the movie was very inspirational and fun. What led to the creation of that?
Thanks. I mean, I guess I love musicals and so does Jim. So again, it’s more of a challenge about the acting of the actors than it is about this VFX madness. So it was more like, I think we need a break between the movie that’s not too traumatic or too far away or whatever, so how about we put a dance scene in there to make people laugh? So I’m glad you answered that. And then to be honest I think Emma and I mean Emmy [Raver-Lampman] and Jon Bass were on Broadway, so I was really excited, like, “Oh, I hope they do a crazy dance.” And they knew how to pull it off. I think they learned the dance the day before, so it’s crazy.
What surprised me about the film was that it has a lot of heart. It is very much about facing your own faults and failures. What do you hope people take away from this?
I think, hopefully, first of all, good laughs and entertainment. That was one of the goals for Jim and I, to create a movie that was fun and entertaining, that would make you forget about your problems, but at the same time try to make people think about reconnecting with people they hadn’t talked to. in a while. I think it happens to all of us where you are, or you move to another city or you change jobs, or you just forget your old friends, many of the things you used to do with them. So hopefully the message that it’s probably worth reconnecting with your old friends for a fun night in and maybe even playing a board game that’s hopefully not cursed.
You have a great cast here. I’m sure the filming went pretty quickly, but did you have a lot of time to experiment and improvise with the cast?
Not really. No, because as you said, it was a very short time. We were very lucky that somehow the cast got along wonderfully, even when they were off camera, you felt like they were best friends forever, and then they literally met like the day before. And we also did a lot of chemistry reading on the day with Zooms, which was very awkward. But even through Zoom, you could tell they were going to get along. It was very, I feel very lucky that I didn’t have to work on their friendship because it came naturally to them.