I take my job telling people that their “life’s work” is “terrible” and “unfit for the worst of YouTube” seriously, so I am delighted when YouTubers take their work seriously and make awesome programming. Such is the case with Leon Films, Ltd.’s Petros L. Ioannou and Brent “Brentalfloss” Black and their explosive (figuratively) YouTube series “My Life As A Video Game.” I’m pretty sure based on the way this article started out, they thought this was going to be a negative piece — it’s actually anything but, as this show rules.
Centered around a young man who gets whisked away into the world of video games (a sort-of live-action “Captain N: The Game Master” — I swear to god, if you’ve never heard of this cartoon, look it up!), “MLAAVG” has a large cast of innovative and fully fleshed out characters — impressive for a video game realm. The series, which started as the result of a successful crowdfunding effort that raised $30,000, stars Petros as “Don” the protagonist and Brent as “Menu” his snarky A.I. hologram buddy (damn, guy lost in alternate universe, just trying to do what it takes to get home; also has hologram buddy guiding him — also check out “Quantum Leap” if you’ve never seen that!). Currently in the middle of its first season (which is good because you can watch several episodes at once, which is what I like to do), “MLAAVG” has the potential to tell a very well-defined and sharply crafted series of adventure stories — and that credit is largely due to Petros and Brent.
If you’re a gamer, “My Life As A Video Game” is the perfect show for you — full of wry humor, clever in-jokes for dedicated gamers and smart storytelling, it delivers on multiple fronts to provide an exciting destination channel on YouTube. Make sure you check it out after reading our interview with the guys. No, wait. Check out the show first — at least one episode — and then read the interview. I feel like it will provide a rich tapestry to the interview. Wait, no, read the interview first. If you start watching the show, you aren’t going to want to stop.
How did the “My Life As A Video Game” idea come about in the first place?
Petros Ioannou: I’d always been a gamer for a lot of my life and I’d seen the occasional awesome video game short or a series that was based around one game but I wanted to go beyond that. I wanted to try and find a way to tell the story of video games, because I think gamers are something of an underrated niche at times by the media. It wasn’t until VidCon 2012 that we really decided to make something awesome out of this.
Brent Black: Petros asked me to guest star in a small short film he was making and that project eventually evolved. We got to talking, and then it suddenly became this huge undertaking, and it’s been fun ever since!
For people who haven’t seen any of your episodes, what makes “MLAAVG” better than other web series with a video game slant to them?
Petros: We’ve made a series that is not confined by a single video game genre or series, and I think what makes us unique is that we’re telling the story of video games as a whole. It’s a series by gamers, for gamers of all ages; and it’s something that even if you’re not a gamer, you’ll be able to get into because it’s got fun characters and stories.
Brent: I think it’s got a balance of video game satire and heart, as well as an overarching story that you don’t often get in video game webseries. You don’t often get that heart and the comedy, it’s usually one or the other. For example there’s a really emotionally charged scene for Don, the protagonist, in episode 7, and then later in that episode, we’ve got a big cheesy 80s montage to a song I wrote called “My Body is Ready.”
Are you guys pretty big gamers, and what were some of the biggest video games that influenced the series?
Petros: I’m definitely a huge gamer — always have been, always will be; from childhood to now. I don’t think I could have done this series if I wasn’t, and the series was influenced by all the games I played throughout my life in every “gaming generation.” For example, when you look at our first season, we have three story arcs based on three totally different genres that appeal to totally different gamers: first-person shooters like “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield” are a genre that is popular today; beat ‘em ups like “Double Dragon,” “Streets of Rage” and “Final Fight” were very popular in the late 80s and early 90s; and our final story this year is space combat, like “Starfox,” “Wing Commander” and the upcoming “Star Citizen,” which again is totally different genre, very popular in the 90s and making a comeback today. So it hopefully should appeal to gamers no matter their age or preferences.
Brent: I was an obsessive gamer as a child, and as I’ve grown up I still play them, though maybe not as much as I’d like to. I’ve continued to be involved in the video game scene through my own work on YouTube as “Brentalfloss” (where I add satirical lyrics to video game tunes). I think my favorite as a kid was “Final Fantasy IV,” which is why I’m looking forward to an eventual JRPG story arc.
What program do you use for the special effects?
Petros: We’ve had a lot of talented people using a lot of different programs. Primarily we used Adobe After Effects CC with various plugins like Video Co-Pilot’s Optical Flares and Elements 3D. We’re also using Cinema 4D and sometimes Maya for the 3D animation itself, which is going to be huge in our upcoming space combat arc.
How did you get your large cast together? Is it all friends and family or did you actually do casting?
Petros: The best of both worlds actually; a lot of our friends happened to be awesome in their field of the film industry, actors who were an exceptional talent like Brent, and others who came in and wowed in the audition like Jennifer Polansky, our lead actress. Others like our director of photography, Brian Dickson, joined the project through application, and at this point we’ve all become so close we’re formed our own “Leon Unity” family as it were.
Brent: Petros and I have been friends for a number of years now and because most of the shooting is done in Los Angeles, I’ve kinda become the crazy uncle of that family. It’s really unlike anything I’ve done before, and it’s a very odd sensation filming from New York yet still being a part of said family.
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