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D&D film explores 'lightning in a bottle'


April 08, 2014 | 04:27 PM
“Lightning in a bottle.”

That’s what one contributor called the creation of the ground-breaking role-playing game of Dungeons & Dragons, said Anthony Savini, a Brooklyn documentary filmmaker.

Savini is working on a documentary about the creation of Dungeons & Dragons, with some of the focus on Lake Geneva resident E. Gary Gygax, who played a major part in creating the game.

Originally, plans called for a June 2014 screening.

“Unfortunately, we’re not going to make it,” Savini said in a telephone interview on Friday.

The Regional News became aware of the film when archivist Matt Shoemaker, a Waukesha native, asked to take photos of archived Regional News stories and advertisements featuring Dungeons & Dragons, Gygax and TSR, the gaming company Gygax founded.

Savini and a film crew was also in Lake Geneva at the same time taping interviews.

The movie is being put together at the same time that Gail Gygax, widow of Gary Gygax, is working with the city of Lake Geneva to get a memorial to her husband built in Donian Park. The film and monument projects are not connected.

Savini said work on the documentary is in its final stages, but work has been moving slowly. He said that right now he is collecting archival material. In particular, the filmmaker is looking for old video and photos of D&D games, role-playing games in general or of the founders of the role-playing game phenomenon.

He said he’s also raising funds to complete the project.

The project started with a 2012 appeal on the website Kickstarter.

In a matter of months, the proposed documentary raised $195,000 from more than 3,000 donors. Savini said he always knew that it would take more than $195,000 to make the film, but he doesn’t plan on going back to Kickstarter.

“Kickstarter is a one-time deal,” he said. Savini said he’s found some independent donors willing to finish funding the movie.

Plans are to have a sneak preview of the film at the next GenCon in Indianapolis in August this year. GenCon, first called the Geneva Convention, was a gathering of war gaming hobbyists started by Gygax at Lake Geneva’s Horticultural Hall in 1968.

A major problem is that two of Savini’s partners have left the project.

Usually, when partners break up, the project breaks up as well. But Savini said he felt driven to complete the project.

“The story of D&D has always been a really weird one,” said Savini.

Although not a regular player of D&D, Savini said he always wondered about the bad rap that the game got.

Documentaries done in the past either cast the game in a negative light or it was more about how the game was played, Savini said.

“I want it (the film) to be about the history,” Savini said.

He said he wanted to delve into the stories of the people who were there when the game was being created.

There is no doubt that Gary Gygax was intimately and actively involved in the creation of D&D.

Born in Chicago, Gygax grew up in Lake Geneva.

The first edition of D&D released in 1973 was printed, boxed and distributed from the basement of the Gygax’s Lake Geneva home.

But others were involved as well, including a gamer named David Arneson of Minneapolis.

Dungeons & Dragons grew out of a wargame co-developed by the two men.

Also involved were members of war gaming clubs from Lake Geneva and Minneapolis.

Disputes over who invented what, and who was most responsible for the unique (at the time) role-playing elements have swirled around the founding of the game, said Savini.

But as one of the members of those early war gaming clubs told Savini, the whole thing was like seeing lightning captured in a bottle.

“We don’t know who put it there, or how it got in there, but there it is,” Savini said.

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