AFF Interview: Michael Lovan Draws All the Right Cards in Murder Bury Win
Board game dark comedy rolls the dice on laughs.
By Richard Whittaker,
7:01PM, Thu. Oct. 22, 2020
Clue. Ouija. Battleship. Jumanji (sorta). We've had movies based on board games, but Murder Bury Win, the new dark comedy from Michael Lovan, is something different: It's a movie about board games.
Or, more particularly, about the perils of trying to get a board game made. In his debut feature as a director, Lovan tells the story of three friends whose crowdfunding effort for their project isn't attracting much of a crowd. That is, until a mysterious benefactor intervenes, and the trio suddenly find they have to apply their in-game skills about getting away with murder to a crime scene of their own making.
It's a trip inside the complicated world of indie game developing and the obsession of the culture - something Lovan admits to knowing a little bit about. "I had to stop myself from collecting because I would go to PAX prime and PAX East for work, and I would take a suit case that was half-empty just so I could put board games in there. I would come home and go, well, where do we put it? I dunno, we'll just have to throw something else away?"
Austin Chronicle: How much of your house is taken up by boardgames?
Michael Lovan: Thankfully, we're under 50. It's not too much, except that I have a toddler who's running around. She wants to get into every single box, and she mixes and matches all the board games, making it a very frustrating experience if we ever want to play one. It's my recommendation for people who collect and have children to hide the game pieces far, far away.
I am a collector, but I know the limits of my wallet and my physical space.
AC: So what's your favorite board game?
ML: This'll sound a little too on-the-nose, but Pandemic. It legitimately is my favorite game for the methods of collaboration it fosters in everyone playing. It is a wonderfully, wonderfully collaborative game, and it's a great game, but it hits a little too close to home at the moment.
If I want something that's a little not-topical, I love Once Upon a Time, which is a card-based storytelling game. It fosters imagination among a group to complete a fairytale. It's slightly competitive, but doesn't elicit hatred as Monopoly does.
AC: Monopoly is Satan's favorite game, though.
ML: It's the worst. My parents indoctrinated me on Monopoly Junior and got me into the zone too soon.
ML: One thing I do see in the rare movie that has board games as a subject is, typically, the board games can't be hard to film. They'll have a cool shot of a die rolling or, "We'll film charades, people just acting silly." Or there's the Maverick approach of how do you make cards interesting. I thought, "I'm going to put all three of these components into the film," as well as stepping into the literal immersion when you're playing a game that's absorbing.
The game itself, that wasn't made before the film. I wrote the actual game play to correspond to the story beats of the script. That included, aesthetically, what I wanted to see on film, and all those components came together - like the police car moving across the game board, the very crudely-drawn playing cards, the function of rolling the die, the necessity of people to act out what's on the card. That was all written cognizant of the fact that we don't see all those components together in films that cover board games.
AC: And one of the things here is that the film is really about how you get a board game made - development, testing, funding. You also second-guess yourself, because it's important that the game is not perfect.
ML: I am not a board game designer, but I knew once it was functional. I had a play test session with the actors from the film. One, I wanted to see their chemistry, see if I had to rewrite some of their lines or scenes. Two, I was taking fervent notes of their criticism that I wove into the script. Every piece of feedback in the film itself, a good percentage of it came directly from the actors when they had seen the rules with their newly appointed power of, "Hey, go criticize this. I welcome this."
AC: Who designed the actual game?
ML: The board game itself was very crude. It was just rough sketches, and you can see my hand drawn art on the board itself. When it looks crude and ugly, that's my work. But my wife, Amy Everson, who worked as the production designer for the film, she studied a lot of board games that we have, and looked online, and she mapped onto that aesthetic to make something that is wholly unique.
AC: So are you ready to release it as tie-in merch?
ML: I would love to release it. I think it needs a play-test or two, someone who could really hone in on the potential of the game. Like I said, I am not a board game designer, but I do think that, from my experience, it is fun to play with a bunch of friends who are prepared to get really into it and scream at each other.
Murder Bury WinComedy Vanguard, Texas Premiere
Thur., Oct 22, 9:30pm
Tickets at www.austinfilmfestivalconference2020.eventive.org.