James Rolfe created the Angry Video Game Nerd character and webseries after putting together a few short videos complaining about old Nintendo games, such as LJN releases. Soon, as popularity grew, Angry Nintendo Nerd had to be changed to Angry Video Game Nerd so his character could delve into a larger oeuvre of terrible video games from the past. A lover of film and a director of shorts himself, Rolfe and his team often develop creative references to classic films throughout the videos, though still keeping the tone juvenile. Now, AVGN videos are just one of several series and columns on Rolfe’s website cinemassacre.com
His feature length-movie, about hunting down the long-rumoured stockpile of E.T. Atari cartridges buried in New Mexico, had its international premiere at Fantasia 2014, with co-director and longtime friend Kevin Finn in attendance with the Nerd himself. Rolfe took a few moments out of his busy schedule to speak to Sound On Sight about his new film and the origins of the Nerd.
The Internet has been amazing in launching major cult shows like AVGN. Did you ever even remotely expect the kind of response you received from a goofy video you made for your friends?
The simple answer is no. When I made the AVGN episodes, I didn’t think anyone else would remember those old video games. I was obviously wrong. It just needed some time, for the Internet and YouTube to develop the way it did. I’m glad it was a community effort of fans around the world, who helped make this movie happen. I love cult movies, because they aren’t seen by widespread mainstream audiences, but the people who do see them are die-hard about them. They’re the kind of films that are loved more obsessively. It’s like a fun party.
How do you make a name for yourself online, beyond actually having an idea? Is that it? Given the audience appeal, I kind of wonder if some people just to get a little nostalgic about the shit they had to go through with [a company like] LJN.
Yeah, it’s like nostalgia for bad memories. Kind of strange, isn’t it? We all played those same games, and had the same frustrations. Now it’s like group therapy, to know we weren’t the only ones. To get famous, I don’t think there’s any real answer. It’s a book that can’t be written. But I think one of the main keys is to do something original. If you’re the first at something, and it’s an idea that people embrace. Also, you have to work your ass off, for a long time, till you net the right catch. I developed my craft, making home-made videos since I was a kid, so my techniques were already in place. When YouTube came along, I was ready for it.
You’ve been teasing E.T. as a running gag for a long time now. Is that, if it exists, really your Mecca?
According to popular belief, it’s the “worst video game of all time”, which makes it appealing. The “worst” is always something that’s celebrated. People kept requesting the game, which spawned the plot for the movie. A gaming celebrity who has to deal with fan pressure to review a game that traumatized him as a kid. I could have gotten it out of the way, as a mediocre AVGN episode, but saving it for the movie, and developing a whole road trip adventure out of it, was mandatory.
Tell me a little about the difference between the character, the sarcastic attitudes you sometimes play as yourself, and the actual James Rolfe. I believe I heard someone once say that you were actually married and pretty calm, cool and collected.
It’s a character, for sure. So it’s not like my real self at all. But the experiences I relay about playing those old video games as a child are true stories. I’m re-creating my past through the character. By keeping something true and relatable, it makes it more authentic for the audience. So there’s some truth to myself, exaggerated through the character.
You’re a horror film nut. Top five?
Hmm, tough one. This may change from time to time, but: 1. Night of the Living Dead (1968), 2. Jaws (1975), 3. All the Universal Monster movies (a tie), 4. Halloween (1978), 5. Alien (1979).
Can you walk me through the process of Fantasia submissions a little?
That may be more of a question for my producer Sean Keegan, and co-writer/co-director Kevin Finn. The idea of submitting to Fantasia was bouncing around for a while. We were in contact with them and it happened, thankfully. If there was one festival I was dying to make it into, it was Fantasia. I’m very glad to be a part of it.
Favourite unnecessarily complicated swear you’ve come up with for the show and movie?
I’m a fan of ridiculous rhyming and word sounds. From the Christmas 2010 episode. “What turkeys worked on this murky mess of monkey jerky? Some quirky jackass from Albuquerque?”
How’d you meet [theme song writer] Kyle Justin and [frequent guest] Mike Mattei? They seem to be old high school chums.
Lots of the main Cinemassacre regulars you see in the videos are old friends. Mike Matei and Kyle Justin, I met in college. Kevin Finn and Sean Keegan, my partners on the AVGN film, I met in high school.
Speaking of nostalgic pieces, how did you and The Nostalgia Critic [Another internet personality with whom a fake feud was initiated] set up that epic fight?
He started it!! Yeah actually, we were both fans of each other’s’ work. He came up with the idea to keep taking fun jabs at each other. He posted the first one. I posted back. We kept going. The funniest part was that some people thought it was for real. Since then, we’ve been good friends.
You seem to have really enjoyed the whole film experience, even though it’s an exhausting one. You’ve been making genre pictures for years on your own, so what was the leap to something with a budget and a real cast like?
The AVGN movie was a dream come true, but there were many unexpected obstacles that made it more difficult than expected. This movie is a sampler platter of all the things I love. It has science fiction elements, horror, comedy… you name it. I also got to work with old high school buddies again, [co-writer and co-director] Kevin Finn and [producer] Sean Keegan. It’s proof that some dreams come true, when you work long enough at it.
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie will have an encore Fantasia screening on Wednesday 6th August. Sound On Sight thanks James for his cooperation and good nature.