Kerry Shawcross and Chris Demarais, two members of Rooster Teeth Productions (creators of the acclaimed machinima series Red vs Blue, as well as Immersion, and Achievement Hunter), are attempting to “walk into Mordor”.
They’ve set themselves the task of trekking more than 120 miles across New Zealand from the filming location of Hobbiton in Matamata to that of Mount Doom on Mount Ngauruhoe. In just six days.
TheOneRing.net was delighted to debut the first episode of this new web series last week. Now, as the folks at Rooster Teeth and Blip prepare to unleash the second episode on the world later today, Kerry and Chris sit down with TheOneRing.net to chat about their “little” tramp across New Zealand’s North Island.
TORn: For the uninitiated, can you tell us a little about Rooster Teeth and your roles there.
Kerry: Rooster Teeth is an Internet video company that produces comedic shows, often centered around gaming. Our biggest series is the award winning Red vs Blue, but Achievement Hunter, RT Shorts, Immersion, RTAA and the Rooster Teeth podcast are extremely popular. Our roles vary depending on the project, but we’ve done everything from writing and directing, to visual effects and editing, to performing on screen. Most recently, we’ve taken on the job of coming up with cool ways to hurt ourselves. Our feet are still hurting.
Chris: But it’s amazing to be with a company that’s so supportive and willing to send you across the world to document something like this. There aren’t many jobs out there like that.
TORn: From the outside, working with video games would seem to be a dream job (I’m sure that’s an observation you get a lot). But what are the drudgery bits? And how do you cope with that?
Kerry: When we make videos using games, we don’t really get to “play” the game that much. It’s a lot of experimentation, patience, and luck because you’re trying to stretch a game engine into a film studio. And often times when you’re finished with the project, you’re so tired of the game that the thought of playing it for fun doesn’t really seem like fun, so you have to wait a couple months to enjoy it.
Chris: That being said, we’re still getting paid to play games… So, no complaints.
TORn: Rooster Teeth is probably best known for it’s machinima work. What prompted you to do a live-action travelogue like this?
Chris: We’ve produced live action shorts for several years, just finished a video game competition show called The Gauntlet, and live-video stream the Rooster Teeth every week. I also helped comedian Zach Anner edit his newest show travel show Riding Shotgun so that experience helped a lot. Basically, we just want to make awesome content at Rooster Teeth. Kerry had a great idea for a series so we were given the opportunity to make it. That’s just the way the company works.
TORn: A year of planning seems like a huge logistical effort. Can you talk us through what you had to do to get everything organised?
Chris: One of the first things we did was get in contact with Nick Newton, the third member of our walking crew. He’s a native New Zealander who we met through our community site at RoosterTeeth.com. And if you’re thinking of doing something like this, I suggest you find your own Nick Newton (but you can’t have ours.) He headed up planning our route while we focused on gathering camera equipment, camping supplies, and our props and costumes.
Kerry: Before we even got there Nick drove all around northern New Zealand with a GPS, checking different trails and marking points for possible camping sites. He’d then relay everything back to us so that we were all on the same page. After many veeeery long Skype sessions and dozens of emails, we were about as “prepared” as one could be for something no one had ever done before.
TORn: Tell us more about your physical preparation. I understand you trained with weighted packs for a couple of months?
Chris: The instant we knew for certain the trip was happening, we purchased hiking boots, filled backpacks with weights, and started walking around Austin any chance we could get.
TORn: How much did that help?
Kerry: The training that we did absolutely helped, and we’re especially glad that we at least broke in our shoes. The blisters were torturous as it was, and we can’t imagine what would’ve happened with 100% new shoes. We definitely could have benefited from more training, but I think this journey would have been tough no matter how much we walked ahead of time.
TORn: You hiked as much, or even further than, the distance of some of New Zealand’s great treks (some four times the length of the Milford Track, for example). And you probably travelled far more quickly. Was there a point where you thought the whole thing was crazy and wanted to give up? How did you handle this?
Kerry: Every single day. At least some point each day, we’d ask ourselves, “why are we here and what the hell are we doing to ourselves?”. But thankfully there were three of us, so we pushed each other to continue when one of us was ready to give up.
Chris: And at a certain point in the trip, we just committed. We decided we would keep going no matter what, even if it meant we would physically harm ourselves. Which we did, but that’s okay. At least we got it on camera.
TORn: What was your impressions of the Hobbiton set?
Kerry: Visiting the Hobbiton film set was an absolutely surreal experience.
Chris: Uh, especially while dressed in full Hobbit gear about to start a 120+ mile hike.
Kerry: But yeah, it was a dream come true because, if you can’t tell, we’re pretty big fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
TORn: What were some of the interesting things you discovered about New Zealand?
Kerry: I had no idea just how beautiful it was going to be until we got there. It’s the kind of place that you hear is beautiful and see it in movies, but you have to be there to truly experience it. Also, there is a lot of animal poop.
Chris: And hills. God, there are a lot of hills.
TORn: In retrospect, what’s the challenge in producing a travelogue like this and keeping it interesting and vital for the audience?
Kerry: We knew we didn’t want 30 hours of footage of two dudes walking down the road in silence. So we included difficult mountain trails in our route, dressed like Hobbits, brought pipes, and basically committed to going all out.
Chris: The real challenge was forcing ourselves to film when we were exhausted. When you barely have the strength to stand, talking to a camera is the last thing you want to do. And every time we pulled out a camera, we’d lose that much walking time. Which just meant less sleep that night.
Kerry: So I think we averaged about 5 hours a night.
Chris: But at least it was well documented!
TORn: Did it make you feel a degree of empathy for Peter Jackson’s task with Lord of the Rings? What do you think now of LOTR and The Hobbit in the
light of your own “walk into Mordor”?
Chris: Well, we were originally planning on only releasing three videos but way to many crazy things happened to fit it into just three webisodes. So I guess we can relate to Peter Jackson’s decision on the Hobbit’s extended release.
TORn: Would you do it all over again? 🙂
Kerry: I would in a heartbeat. I would complain a lot openly and my feet would want to murder me, but in the end it was absolutely one of the best experiences of my life and I’m so glad and thankful that I was given a chance to do it.
Chris: Ditto. Except this time I’d bring a bike.
TORn: What are your own plans to see The Hobbit? Will you be trying out 3D HFR, or sticking to 2D 24fps?
Chris: I want to see it how Peter Jackson intended: 3D HFR. And I’m can’t wait.
Kerry: Just like Avatar, I plan to watch it how it was filmed and intended to be seen, and go into it with an open mind.
TORn: As fans, what bits of The Hobbit are you really looking forward to seeing brought to screen, and why?
Kerry: I’m really looking forward to the scene with Bilbo and Smaug in Smaug’s chamber. It was always one of my favorite scene in the book and I can’t wait to see how they pull it off.
Chris: I can’t wait to see the Riddles in the Dark chapter between Bilbo and Gollum brought to life. The strange friendship/nemesis relationship that develops is amazing. I’m also stoked to see Elijah Wood in the movies. He voiced a character in our show Red vs Blue this year and I was fortunate enough to meet him one time when he came to our office. And he’s just as nice of a person as he is a great actor.
TORn: Were there some bits from your trip you’d prefer to not see the light of day?
Kerry: There was a certain incident coming up where I may have “misplaced” the ring, which as you can imagine was pretty embarrassing. So I wasn’t super happy about it being captured on camera.
Chris: We had a firm no camera-poop rule. We weren’t always near bathrooms when Middle-earth called so made use of New Zealand’s fine bushes. But we all agreed to keep that both secret and safe from filming.
Re-watch the first episode of the series below, and then keep an eye out for the next episode over on the Rooster Teeth website later today!