134. Road Trip larp, Part Nine: The documentation team in focus

/This is the ninth part of the series on the Road Trip larp project. If you want to start from the first post, it is #116.

I’ve been organising larps since 1995. If there’s one thing I could go back and change, it would be our level of documentation. We’ve done so much awesome stuff, and we’ve been incredibly bad at preserving pictures, stories, videos and testimonials. Larp is ephemeral, but larp documentation doesn’t have to be.

For Road Trip, we made the decision early on, that we were going to blow it out of the water documentation-wise. A road trip across America with a fake rock band, set in the present day? There’d be cool landscapes to film, cities to catch a glimpse of, and visual atmosphere all round. Being in America feels like being on a film set anyway, due to the massive influence of American culture into our lives, and here we were travelling the iconic Route 66. It was going to be amazing visually.

Add to that the not-insignificant fact, that we could hide the documentation team in plain sight, and even use them as our ingame documentation team as well. It’s a larp documenter’s dream, and we decided to go all in, bringing our full three-person video/photo team across the Atlantic. We also decided that I would play a music video producer in the larp, giving the film/photo team an extra associated person to up the oomph. And for complete overkill, during the larp, we trained an extra player (playing the band make-up artist and stylist) in how to use one of our big cameras, so we’d have even more docu-power.

With that intro in place, there are of course takeaways and learning. This series follows a Ten Lessons Learned format, so I give to you Ten Lessons Learned About The Documentation Team in Roadtrip. And as a special bonus, you also get a link to the one minute teaser made after the larp.

  1. Not having to hide the cameras is fucking bliss. Damn, it was nice not having to worry about the cameras being in the way, but instead being part of the experience. When we do larps about 15th century vampires or 1917 nobles, the camera is supposed to be as invisible as possible, and that’s hard. Here, the cameras were anything but invisible, and the shots we got are a testament to how nice this was. Also, the documentation team didn’t detract from the immersion — they added to it.
  2. Thinking about documentation so much made us make different decisions. As the band’s music video producer and overall documentary boss, I was always thinking “How does this play on camera?”. As an organiser, I started thinking the same, and thought it may sound a bit strange, I think it made my decisions more “cinematic”. When we decided to stop at a weird wooden blue whale and have a ritual there, I wasn’t just thinking about the experience, but also about how the cameras would fit into it.
  3. Cameras inspire their own set of behaviour. Maciek, our lead cameraman and senior editor at Dziobak Larp Studios, said it while grinning, and I agree. “When you get one of these big cameras in your hands, you change your way of thinking. You turn into a Hollywood cameraman. Your posture changes, your attitude changes and you’re much more in people’s faces.” Maciek works professionally as a larp documentarist, but normally he shoots discreetly, using small Sony A7S2 cameras and tries to remain in the background. Here, we also brought a big videocamera, and he said it made him feel differently just because of its size.
  4. It felt amazing to do interviews during the larp. Though we didn’t do it as much as I’d hoped for, we did manage to conduct quite a few interviews while the larp was running. Some of these were ingame interviews. Some were offgame. We used a simple codeword for asking people if they were up for a taking a short break from the larp, so they could comment on it. “Are you up for talking a bit of Chicago?” meant that we were asking the players if they were up for an offgame interview. Sometimes they’d say no, but often they’d say yes. Those interviews were not only useful for our post-larp documentation, but also gave us running player feedback and thoughts.
  5. Ingame documentation can be a good playmaker. “Let’s stop here and do a photoshoot with the band!”, “This place looks awesome. Let’s unload the gear and record part of the music video here.” and sentences like that were part of the larp. Both players and characters also talked about the documentation as an argument for doing certain things. “I was tired, but I wanted it to look good in the music video.” was something I got from one of the offgame interviews. Simply put, a camera demands attention, and once you point a camera at someone, it creates an alibi for interaction.
  6. We got insane amounts of material from doing it this way. When cameras are a part of your larp, they’re not going to be sitting in dark corners much. I haven’t seen all our material, and probably never will, but I know that there is a LOT of it. There are tons of stunning photos, and photo wasn’t our focus — video was. I’m pretty sure that we can make something wild and memorable out of that footage, when we find the time to get it done. Of course, a lot of material isn’t the same as a lot of finished film, but it gives more options for post-work.
  7. Playing a documentarist was fun! My role was part tour organiser, part music video producer, part overall documentation boss. I loved it. Even though we have an in-house film team in the company, my role in it is usually peripheral. Getting to be on location, directing a film shoot and thinking in visuals was gratifying in a way I hadn’t expected. I’ve done film work before, but it’s the first time I’ve had the privilege of directing professionals — even for just a little while. But I won’t forget that music video shoot at Cadillac Ranch in Texas anytime soon!
  8. The cameras also made it easy to interact with outsiders. Tapping a bar owner and asking him if he’s up for doing an interview. Asking a biker gang if they’re up for being part of a photo shoot. People know cameras and know how you’re supposed to interact with them, but they still carry some mystery and magic. For us, this meant that the cameras became a good tool to use in our interactions with non-larpers (who didn’t know that we were larping). I conducted several interviews with random strangers, we met on the way, and those interviews were solid gold. The cameras not only caught them, but helped facilitate them.
  9. I recommend that all larp organisers do more documentation. Even us. We could (and should!) do more. There’s so much magic there to show, so many feelings to catch and so many brilliant reflections that are shared. I think we as larpers could learn a lot from reality TV — not necessarily in our designs, but in our way of approaching documentation. I know that my own past in reality (TV) have made a huge difference for how I think about larp documentation, and after having just done another reality TV show (coming out in 2018), I’m even more inspired by the genre.
  10. Thank you, Iulian, Nadina, Maciek (and Linka!). Our three hard-working film people and our part-time camera(wo)man helper were heroes. They were tireless in their enthusiasm, self-organising and professional, and deeply, deeply motivating for me to work with. I often feel privileged that I get to work with the awesome team that is Dziobak Larp Studios, but I feel even more privileged that I these days have my own amazing film team. Claus 2014 wanted this. Claus 2009 dreamed of it, and Claus 2004 didn’t even know he could dream of it. Claus 2017 loves it.

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If you want to get into contact, you can find me at clausraasted.dk.

Director at The College of Extraordinary Experiences, Coach at McKinsey & Founding Partner at The Global Institute For Thought Leadership. Author of 31 books.

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