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An Interview With Brian Clevenger, a Writer for Nuka Break and Much Much More

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By: Stephen Crane (Photo: Courtesy VTFilms)

A few months ago I showcased the fan film, Fallout: Nuka Break which was a fantastic non-profit fan film with the disclaimer “Please don’t sue us. We don’t have the money. Really, like none.” I feel like that’s just as good a disclaimer as “This fan film is brought to you by the suffix -ing as in ‘copyrighting’ and ‘violating’, but also as in ‘forgiving’ and ‘not suing’.”


 


Since March, the minds behind the original fan film have been hard at work turning it into a series. The first episode came out last week, and I can’t lie — it looks pretty amazing. I got the opportunity to ask one of the writers, Brian Clevinger, a few questions about the series. For those who don’t know, Brian Clevinger was one of the names to make an appearance at the beginning of 2001 with 8-Bit Theater, and soon his works expanded to include writing a bit for Marvel Comics as well as his own independent comic, Atomic Robo.

First, just so the readers can know a bit more about you, why don’t you explain a little bit about your past creative works and how you got started? What inspired you to first get into writing, and did you think you would be as successful as you have been?

I’m Brian Clevinger. Back in 2001 I started up a little webcomic called 8-bit Theater, so yes, it’s my fault all those terrible sprite comics popped up back then. By way of apology I started writing Atomic Robo. It’s like The Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, The Rocketeer, and Buckaroo Banzai all crammed into a robot.

I wanted to be a writer since I was 9 years old. I’d gotten as far as the first page of the The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and that was it. My course was set.

It never occurred to me to worry about success. I just kept writing and here we are.

You make video games seem like an easy target for parody. Some of your most well known works have been based in video game worlds or used video game sprites (8BT, Nuka Break, Dynasty Memory, etc.). How did this come about?

Same reason every nerd on the internet talks about games: by playing too many of them!

A slightly better answer: y’know, humans can’t help but to think in narrative terms. We’re telling stories to ourselves and each other every day about every little thing. Early games had technological limitations that severely impacted their ability to tell stories. But we, as storytelling humans playing them, naturally invented our own little narratives as we played.

And as games technology allowed for more complex narratives within the gamespace, it helped to create the illusion of a complete world within the game. And while that definitely enhances one’s experience of the game and its story, it also creates many opportunities for the logic of the game to butt up against the logic of a consistent world. Y’know? There are goofy illogical things you don’t worry about in, say, the original Final Fantasy that throw up immediate “Wait, why’d that happen?” in a modern game. By way of example: no one minds that you’re able to resurrect fallen comrades in either FF1 or FF7, but then when you’ve got the death of Aeris as a specific narrative moment, the immediate question that comes to mind is, “Well, why don’t you resurrect her?” You do it all the time in combat, why not now?

Higher storytelling fidelity in games just makes it all the more jarring when game logic world fails story logic. 

So, games are a ripe space for parody.

Now you’ve both created your own comic book series as well as written for Marvel. What would you say is the biggest difference between writing for an indie publisher vs. writing for a long-running comic giant?

 Having worked on creator owned properties for over a decade now, I find the corporate structure of the comics publishing houses to be more trouble than it’s worth. I mean, I enjoy picking up work from them when I can, but there’s so many cooks in those kitchens that it makes me uncomfortable. And I’m not even talking about editors or anything. I mean the marketing and accounting departments.

The people making the comics love comics, but they can only do what they the business people let them.

Nuka Break isn’t necessarily your first time trying to write for a video web series. What ever happened to Emerson Wild: Monster Hunter? How did your experiences filming the pilot affect what you have done with Nuka Break?

I believe that’s on the back burner. Zack shopped it around to several places but nothing came of it. That’s just how these things are.

It was definitely a prototype to whatever came next, though, and that turned out to be Fallout: Nuka Break. We learned about writing for and shooting on a super small budget; about practical and computer effects, etc.

The original Nuka Break fan film has more than 1.3 million views on YouTube. Were you expecting this response, and were you planning on turning it into a series at the time?

 Oh, lord no. We just wanted to make a short film. We expected that folks would more or less enjoy it, but we had no idea it’d get such a strong response. We’ve been very lucky. There wasn’t a specific plan to turn it into a series, but the original was structured so there’d be room to do more just in case there was interest in it. And there was!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other minds and the cast behind the project. How did you meet them, and what led you all to decide on collaborating? Was it spur of the moment or something you had been planning for a while?

Zack and I met at Megacon in Orlando, FL one year. He was just a damn kid, not even 20 years old I bet! But I saw some of his art and he was quite talented and enthusiastic about making comics. We kept in touch over the years and eventually collaborated on Warbot in Accounting.

From there, he moved out to California to make movies. He usually asks me to write them because I don’t think he knows any other writers. And I do it ’cause, hell, why not.

Your writing style is heavily based in jokes on the audience and anticlimaxes which, to say the least has been polarizing among fans. Will we be seeing more of this in Nuka Break, or will there not be nine years worth of set up for a joke?

Nothing like that, I’m afraid. I always enjoy toying with audience expectations. Y’know, leading them one way only to show they were fools for believing it all along. You so rarely get to be surprised by fiction these days, so that’s one way I try to keep folks on their toes.

Nuka Break is a little more straight forward though. Maybe I’m getting over the stage where I want to surprise people and getting into a stage where I want to keep them entertained the whole way.

Obviously doing a fan film can be tricky in regards to copyrights. Have you heard anything from the makers of Fallout or from Bethesda?

Nothing official, but they’re well aware of it. Zack got to talk to some representatives in person before we filmed the original short. Basically, for long-winded and ultimately short-sighted legalese reasons, they can’t endorse us buuuuuut they’ve made it clear they have no interest in shutting us down. Hell, they’ve even promoted the original and now the series through their official blogs and social media outlets.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to create a fan production like a webcomic or a fan film?

Do it, but don’t make a habit of it. Think of it as practice. It can be fun and rewarding to play with someone else’s toys, but ultimately, it is far more enriching and empowering to have completely control over your own.

Thank you again for agreeing to this. Is there anything you would like to let the readers know or anything you would like to leave them with?

Buy Atomic Robo! We make it to improve your life, but we can’t help you unless you check it out.

And, I GUESS, in the meantime look forward to new episodes of Fallout: Nuka Break. We should have them comin’ at you bi-weekly!

Make sure to check out the Wayside Creations YouTube channel on the 12th to catch the second episode!


About Stephen Crane

Stephen was hooked by the NES at a very young age and never looked back. He games on a daily basis and is currently trying to climb his way up the ranked ladder on League of Legends! Outside of the video game world he actually likes running and owns a rapidly growing collection of toed shoes. Stephen Crane is the owner of Armed Gamer.

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