Burnie Burns & Gavin Free | LAZER TEAM

PrintE-mail Written by Nick Spacek

Internet video company Rooster Teeth is known for its wide variety of gaming-related video series, especially the massive hit Red vs. Blue, the Halo-based machinama series that has been going since 2003. However, thanks to a very successful Indiegogo campaign, the company is now releasing its first big-screen film, the sci-fi adventure comedy, Lazer Team. That film stars Rooster Teeth regulars like company co-founder Burnie Burns, as well as Colton Dunn, the company's creative director, Gavin Free, and Michael Jones.

Lazer Team is the story of four unlikely men who come together when they discover the wreckage of an alien spacecraft, and must go on to save humanity. It's a surprisingly touching, yet never sappy film that takes what Rooster Teeth does well and gives it room to breathe and grow into something rather impressive. We spoke with Burns, the film's star and co-writer, and co-star Free, from the Rooster Teeth studios in Austin, Texas. 

STARBURST: Watching Lazer Team, it seemed like it was almost more of a sports film than sci-fi or action. 

Burnie Burns: It's interesting that you say that, because Rooster Teeth's audience knows us primarily online as being a gaming channel. Even though our biggest shows are narrative shows like Red vs. Blue and Ruby, we still fall in that gaming category, because we do some gaming content. I believe that the things that draw a lot of people to gaming are the same things that draw people to sports and the things that draw people to the sorts of entertainment that are essentially based on conflict or competition. 

We wrote some of that in, but I can honestly say that when we were developing the script for Lazer Team, one of the things we wanted to be careful of – when you talk about it not being a sci-fi/action movie – we didn't want people to think that we were making a parody of modern-day superhero movies, because comic book movies are so popular these days. 

This is a movie that we've wanted to make for a long time. It just happens to be a comedy that has sci-fi elements in it. That's the way we look at it. It's like if you went and saw Ghostbusters: you wouldn't call Ghostbusters a parody of a horror film. You'd say that it's a comedy with supernatural elements in it. 

Did being based in Austin contribute at all to the sports aspect of the film, what with the Texas football mentality?

BB: Oh, it definitely did. We wanted to communicate very early in the film that this is a very small town, outside of a military base. That's why there's not a lot of global awareness taking place until later in the film. The best way to communicate ‘small town in Texas’ is high school football. It just makes the most amount of sense, and it became a great way to introduce one of the main characters, and to have them all in the same place at the same time.

Is Lazer Team influenced by the gaming shorts for which Rooster Teeth has become known? 

Gavin Free: It's not Rooster Teeth: The Movie. It's Rooster Teeth's movie. We don't want people to be intimidated if that haven't seen any Rooster Teeth content. We just wanted it to be its own standalone movie, with little hints to Rooster Teeth's stuff. 

BB: A lot of online personalities are starting to branch out with TV shows and books, and just trying to take what they do online that's popular and apply it to new formats. But we know that the content that we do online is popular in part because it's a good format for online entertainment. Something that is going to be in theaters should be a movie, and look a lot more like what you see in a movie theater.

GF: I'd say the style is very similar to Red vs. Blue, in that [Burnie] wrote Red vs. Blue and also the movie, and the way that we interact with each other in the movie. Like, there's a huge alien threat, and we still have time to bicker about the name of the team. That feels very Red vs. Blue to me. There's big things happening in the background, but you can always rip on someone. 

BB: It follows that theme that we always liked, which is ‘idiots in extraordinary situations.’ 

The dialogue is relentlessly snappy, which is something that can readily make the leap from the handheld screen to the big screen. How did you focus on bigger visual imagery while trying to keep hold of that verbal style for which Rooster Teeth has become known? 

BB: When we were setting out to make a movie, we wrote out the story we wanted to tell. We're used to writing episodes across an entire season of shows that we do. So, when you're writing your feature, you write something where the overall story can be small for a series, because even if you look at half of a season, that's six hours. And nobody's going to sit through a six-hour movie.

You just go through this editing and condensing process, and that just makes the dialogue snappier and snappier, because everyone wants to keep their best jokes and best moments in it, so it just ends up really tightening everything. I think that that tightening of everything – in both the scriptwriting process and post-production – that's the most important part of any kind of production.

In going from the small to the big screen, what sort of choices were made regarding special effects? There's a pretty good blend of CGI and practical in Lazer Team – like, those are real explosions.

BB: Right. I have to credit our director, Matt Hullum, because Matt spent ten years in Hollywood working in the visual effects industry, so he has good experience in computer-generated effects. But, then we all grew up on the original Star Wars movies, with a lot of practical effects, so we loved those.

GF: I was always amazed when the DP would play back something we had just shot, and how good it looked in-camera. Obviously, there wasn't a spaceship flying through the air in-camera, but everything else was like, real explosions, real glass breaking. People are actually going flying. It was really cool.

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Lazer Team is available for viewing in the United States via YouTube Red starting on January 27th, and screenings in the UK are available via Tugg. You can find out when the screenings are happening in your area at the movie's website.

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