Part 6: Interview with Paul "Trevor Barnes" Mitri!
Now for the last videos:
VIDEO: Death Reel! - (Veoh) (Viddler)
not nearly as spectacular as Phantasmagoria 1's deaths, I'm afraid.
VIDEO: Easter Eggs! - (Veoh) (Viddler)
VIDEO: Bonus Footage! - (Veoh) (Viddler)
Near the end of the thread, I found contact information for actor Paul Mitri, who was, by now, a professor at the University of Hawaii, teaching stage acting and continuing to act, write and direct for the stage. Because of his character's popularity in the LP thread, ProfessorClumsy arranged an interview by e-mail.
Paul Mitri: Phantasmagoria was a long time ago...I was living in Seattle but my wife and I had just accepted going to Japan for an indeterminate amount of time when I got the gig. Filming was spread out over a few months, with me working a day here, a couple days there, and then a week straight (if I recall rightly). I actually had to come back from Japan to finish the filming, but that was fine as I also had theatre commitments lined up as well. I'll answer your questions as best I can--
ProfessorClumsy: "Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh" isn't exactly a punchy title. How did you become interested in being involved in the project in the first place?
Paul Mitri: I had never heard of the first Phantasmagoria but my agent sent me on the audition for this. To my understanding it was one of, if not the first, game to use SAG (screen actors' guild) members and contracts. The title didn't exactly thrill me, but actors never get to choose, do they?
ProfessorClumsy: Had you played Phantasmagoria or any other game of its type?
Paul Mitri: Nope. I was too busy trying to run a Shakespeare Festival and make a living. I had a friend who was a programmer and he kept me up to date on what was going on in the computing world so I could join the future if and when I had the means.
ProfessorClumsy: I imagine that many people saw these kind of interactive movies as "the future". What kind of hopes did you have for the project when you first signed up?
Paul Mitri: They told us that there were very high hopes that live action would be the next thing for games and that SAG would be looking into contracts and how to make sure actors got their cut. But it became clear pretty quickly that as soon as we did this one, other ways were being explored that made actors expendable. It reminded me of when I first got to Seattle and everyone was saying that Seattle was going to be "Hollywood North" because it was cheaper to produce movies there, the talent was there, and any kind of terrain was within 100 miles. They built a soundstage in hopes of attracting filming, but then Hollywood found out that if you went further north, it was even cheaper to produce in Vancouver BC, so Seattle got bypassed totally. Seems like a similar case to using actors in games. Although the voice over market for games was still going well when I left Seattle...
ProfessorClumsy: Trevor Barnes is an incredibly cool and likeable character, how much of that was your creation? Did you inject much of yourself into the role?
Paul Mitri: It's part of the actor's training, you try to find something fun in any role, no matter what the dialogue or situation. I had fun playing Trevor and they seemed to like what I did on set, so I was hoping it would be fine in the end. You never know though, good stuff ends up on the cutting room floor all the time.
As for how much of myself is in there, that's hard to tell. Probably my sense of humor. But as an actor I try to blend craft with personal expression in creating a role.
ProfessorClumsy: You play a very non-stereotypical homosexual man, which was incredibly rare for any media at the time, did you ever feel that what you were doing was particularly brave or fresh?
Paul Mitri: I remember auditioning for the role of Paul in A Chorus Line in Seattle. The director, a gay man, asked if I had any problem with performing a gay role. I thought to myself, "I don't understand that. So he's gay. I'm not going make a caricature of the part. That's just one aspect of the role, not the 'be all and the end all.'" Being in theatre and dance, I've known plenty of gay friends, so I could pick and choose certain characteristics to observe, just like any other role. I do wish that more shows, especially on TV, would portray people as people and not as labels (take Arabs in film, for instance...there's very little work except for terrorists...).
ProfessorClumsy: Were there a lot of takes for any given scene, or did they tend to get it in a take or two?
Paul Mitri: When filming first started, there seemed to be alot of pressure to get each take "right." Lots of preparation, lots of direction, pressure to be under budget. By the time my last bit of filming happened, it was a lot looser on set--I think maybe the producer had decided that it would take whatever it took. For myself, I like to try to get it in one take though...I don't remember if we did or not, but in general it seemed to go fine...
ProfessorClumsy: There are several times in the game where characters are shown "idle", standing in corridors or sitting at their desks, how much footage was taken of this and how were they directed?
Paul Mitri: These were the "fidgetors." We did this at the very end, I think, in front of green/blue screen. Some of it was too subtle, so we had to fidget more. It was a little strange, because I don't think we could envision exactly how these fit into the "film." I think if we understood it better, we could have made them more fun.
ProfessorClumsy: I imagine this was a strange project to work on, there are many times when people leave and re-enter sets repeatedly to fit the structure of the game design. Did it ever get confusing or jarring?
Paul Mitri: It was all filmed out of order anyway, so it became pretty clear that we just had to do what we were told. I think it was harder for the continuity people to know the order of the game--they took good Polaroids all the time because some shots were done months later but had to look exactly the same. I also imagine it was tough for Stetler (Paul Morgan Stetler, the actor who played Curtis Craig) to keep track of what was going on!
ProfessorClumsy: Was there ever any conflict during the shoot or was it a generally friendly atmosphere? Are you still in touch with anyone else from the cast and crew?
Paul Mitri: Like I said, at the beginning it was pretty serious work, but by the time I came back from Japan for the last bit, it was laid-back and they were throwing a football around on set. I remember there was a pinball game in the green room, that was a great thing to keep your mind occupied if you had a long wait. I knew a couple of the other actors from the theatre world and it was good to work with them (as much as "working with them" happened...most of it was two person scenes). Stetler had so much he had to do by himself that he was always happy to see another actor there. The crew was always great to work with. I haven't worked with anyone from the show since except for Stetler--he went to LA for awhile and then came back and has worked steadily in Seattle. Great guy, would love to work with him again.
ProfessorClumsy: Have you played the game? If so, what did you think of it? Were you surprosed by the results?
Paul Mitri: You know, I assumed they'd give us all copies. But they didn't, and I didn't have the 50 bucks to buy it when it came out (starting a Shakespeare Festival took most of my spare change). I did get a copy from a friend at some point, but couldn't get out of the first chapter without going back to the script and reading all the various possibilities. My computer at the time probably didn't have the horsepower to run it right. Honestly, I haven't seen most of my scenes, let alone the rest of it. My brother played it, but had to find hints about what to do.
ProfessorClumsy: Trevor meets a particularly grisly end, were there many ideas rolled around before shooting or were you just given an exact brief?
Paul Mitri: My first day of filming was actually as a zombie, which was weird because I had no idea what the character was going to be like. So, no, we didn't have alot of input into any of the story elements. The day we filmed getting caught by the wires was memorable--they strapped me up there, then decided to take lunch. I waited for awhile, then when it became clear no one was coming back, I had to yell to be let down.
ProfessorClumsy: Just before you die, you very nearly share a kiss with the main character, this is a surprisingly tender moment. I was rooting for them to get it on, was there ever any feeling that it should have gone further? What are your feelings about that scene?
Paul Mitri: Me and Stetler were just very professional about it. On set, we know what we're supposed to do, and professional actors know we should try to do it as fast as possible so they can move on to the next thing. It wasn't a collaborative process, the story was set, and that's fine.
ProfessorClumsy: The FMV game phenomenon burned brightly, like a flame and died before the decade was done. Why do you think the genre never really took off, in spite of massive industry buzz?
Paul Mitri: I don't know for sure, but I have to imagine it has to do with money. Actors (especially union ones) are expensive. And when the union started wanting a cut of future releases to go back to the actors, well...it's a lot cheaper to use animation. I think also the quality of the acting was an issue--if you don't use professionals, you waste alot of time and money and the quality suffers. Even if you use professionals, there's no guarantee the final performances will be brilliant...so much depends on the directing, the editing, even the sound. With animation, you control everything and you don't have to pay the characters overtime. I think it's too bad, ultimately, because it lacks the semblance of human interaction that full motion had the potential to fulfill.
ProfessorClumsy: There are a lot of interactive DVD games being released now, do you think that maybe the FMV wave is set for a return or was it simply a sign of the times?
Paul Mitri: I wish it would. Me personally, I have no desire to play animated games. But to control Ralph Fiennes as Hamlet...wouldn't that be fun?
ProfessorClumsy: Finally, if anyone had it in mind to do Phantasmagoria 3, and wanted you to be in it (maybe as zombie Trevor), would you be interested?
Paul Mitri: Doubtful that it would happen, but it would totally depend on all the usual circumstances--what it's about, who's in it, who's the target audience, etc. And making sure that someone lets me down for lunch...
ProfessorClumsy: Thank you once again.
Paul Mitri: Thanks for asking! Sorry that I don't have more insight into the process and the behind the scenes of it all. After you have kids, your memory starts to fade and all you can remember are the names of Pokemon...and when you forget those, you lose all credibility...more than you wanted to know, I'm sure...
And that concludes the LP!
Say goodbye to your sanity!