What happens when actual, seriously legit fans get to make a massive blockbuster Hollywood movie based on the video game they've been playing for years? That's what we asked Warcraft director Duncan Jones and actor Robert Kazinsky after a screening of the movie.
They told us about their favorite World of Warcraft stories, the role of fans in the film's production, Easter Eggs they slipped into the movie, and what it's like interacting with the passionate Blizzard fan community.
How They Joined The Warcraft Community
Jones is old school; the 45-year-old started playing Warcraft on a 486 PC while at college in the '90s. When World of Warcraft came out, he was a guild leader in a similar game called Ultima Online. He moved his guild to WoW, and that's where the love affair began.
Kazinsky started with World of Warcraft some years later, but his story of the game's role in his life is a powerful one.
The actor, who plays the orc Orgrim Doomhammer in the film, first began playing the game when he was tackling the role of villainous bad boy Sean Slater on long-running British soap opera EastEnders. Talking to us at an ArcLight Cinemas event promoting the film in Los Angeles, he recalls:
"I was playing a bad character, not a very nice guy. When you’ve done something wrong on screen, people don’t differentiate."
Kazinsky said World of Warcraft was his escape from an outside world where everyone recognized him and treated him poorly because of his TV counterpart.
"Here was a community where they didn’t know who I was, and I wasn’t being judged on who I was, I was being judged on how good I was at something. I was being judged on the content of my character rather than the preconceived conceptions people might have about who I was because of what I do for a living."
To this day, he still plays with the same guild of friends.
"And it’s those people and that community that kept bringing you back, you know what I mean?"
Geeking Out On Set
Warcraft fans were well represented in the movie's production. Aside from Kazinsky and Jones, Blizzard fan artist turned actual Blizzard artist turned movie artist Wei Wang also contributed.
Jones describes Wang's role:
"[Wei Wang] started off as a fan based in China, spoke no English, had been submitting pieces of artwork to Blizzard. They were so blown away that they brought him over from China and hired him. And he really was the one who gave us the template of what our orcs should look like, and how to design them for a real-world environment."
I didn't get to speak with Wang, but I asked both Kazinksy and Jones about their biggest Warcraft fan geek-out moments on set. Kazinksy says:
"The best moment ... was when I first set foot on set. And I walked into the throne room of Stormwind, and it was recreated so beautifully."
Kazinsky believes gaming is "an intensely personal thing," so seeing something he felt ownership of created in reality by other people who love it just as much as he was emotional and stirring.
"That was an enormous moment, and I wept the first time I went on that set. Because 10 years of my life, 600-ish days played now, of something, and it wasn’t just me. It wasn’t just me. And that’s a wonderful community to find yourself in."
For Jones's part, it was a whole bunch of geek-out moments, but one particular standout was when props, like weapons and armor, were delivered to the set. Jones used a hilarious analogy for the experience:
"You know, it’s like those scenes where Arnold Schwarzenegger gets a delivery of machine guns and he opens the case and he pulls out the machine guns and goes, 'Yeah, this is perfect!'"
Kazinsky's Best World Of Warcraft Memory
Kazinsky had a very amusing recollection about his time just enjoying his friendships in WoW.
"We would do naked raiding."
And what does this entail exactly? He explains that groups of friends would tackle the game's easiest dungeons totally naked — and work their way up to the difficult ones using only the clothes and weapons they found in the process.
"You’ve got to complete every boss fight, every raid with only what you can pick up before that point. That was one of those moments where it wasn’t about serious raiding, or going for a speed run, or trying to get a world first. It was just about enjoying company."
The Curse Is Broken
Jones didn't share as many specific memories from playing the game, but he did talk about attending BlizzCon, the conference where fans converge from around the world.
He said skepticism turned to enthusiasm as more scenes from the film were shown at the event — including those very props he geeked out about.
"I just think there was an infectiousness of the fact that, yeah, this film really is getting made, and the people who were making it seemed to really care about it."
And let's face it, anticipation has been building for many, many years, with expectation running at an all-time high.
"I’m so sorry that it’s taken so long. I’ve been on it for three and a half years, and we’ve been moving as fast as we can to make the best film we can."
For what it's worth, I've been playing this game for 10 years, too; I saw the movie, and I was not disappointed. It was everything I had hoped for. It had Easter Eggs a-plenty — there was a Murloc at one point, all the Warlords of Draenor made subtle appearances, and one character literally leveled up. The story was excellent.
They say no one's ever been able to make a good video game adaptation movie. When I left the interview with Jones, he asked, "Did we break the curse?" I answered with a resounding yes. Apparently it just took tapping real fans — real community members — to make it happen.