I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Nathan Rousseau, director and star of the Zelda fan film Rising Darkness coming out this fall. We chatted about the inspiration behind the film, his first Zelda experience, and learned a little more about the film’s plot. Talking with Nathan really has me looking forward to the release of Rising Darkness!
How did the idea for Rising Darkness come about?
Well, I’ve actually had the dream of creating a Zelda movie since I was very young. When I was 10 years old, me and my friends attempted to make a film adaptation of Ocarina Of Time. It never got finished, but we do at least have a trailer for it. That’s where the idea of Rising Darkness, or at least the passion behind it, started. A few years later I started drafting together my own story set in the world of Zelda. I was still very young, but I had a story that I wanted to tell. Characters new and old were fleshed out and given their stories, locations were found, and some very early scenes were filmed. As time went on and we all grew in our passions and talents, the project grew better and better. Most of our first shoots were entirely redone by the end. The movie that we now have in the works is an entirely different movie than what we started with five years ago, but it’s the same story, and has evolved into something much greater than any of our team could have imagined.
Without giving too much away, can you tell us what the film is about?
As far as plot goes, it’s a very straight forward Zelda-style story, e.g. Link, a boy from a small village, travels to Hyrule castle where he meets a beautiful Princess and discovers he is the only one who can save the world from the evil Dark Lord Ganondorf.
In essence however, the film is about the forging of a hero, and finding your courage. Zelda games themselves are meant to connect deeply with the players. The gamer is supposed to feel like they are Link as he travels on his quest to save Hyrule. This movie keeps that emotion, but dives deeper into the character of Link. The movie is really about what makes him this hero. He’s presented with these deep, hard dilemmas, and the way he responds to them is what cultivates this courage within him. He doesn’t just wake up and decide that he wants to be the hero, he has to be tried, he has to come to a place of brokenness, he has to lose things. The goal is that Link’s character mirror’s people in their daily lives. It may not be saving the world, but we all have big decisions to make, and they can be scary and intimidating. But, we have to face them none the less. We all have to find the courage within us to do what’s right, and that is the journey that we are taking Link and the audience on.
“The goal is that Link’s character mirror’s people in their daily lives. It may not be saving the world, but we all have big decisions to make, and they can be scary and intimidating.”
With Rising Darkness including characters from the Zelda series as well as original characters, is there any Zelda game in particular that plays a bigger influence than others?
Yes, there are really two or three games in particular that had the most influence, although we try to keep the general feel of ALL the games and you will see a lot of overlap. I think it’s best for me to break down the influences from the game into two categories: story, and style.
As far as story goes, it was most heavily influenced by A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. There are also many similarities to other games, but those three are the ones that the story follows more closely. Like I said earlier, this is an original story, but to make it without drawing inspiration from the games would result in a movie that isn’t Zelda at all.
The style that I wanted for this project was decided very early on. New and realistic, but classic and familiar. This being the case, the style of the movie, meaning: Costumes, character designs, props, and visual effects, were all mainly influenced by Twilight Princess and A Link to the Past. A newer game, and a classic. Twilight Princess is the grittiest of all the Zelda games, and I believe that it gives the closest interpretation of what the Legend of Zelda would look like on the big screen. But, we also wanted to keep that classic Zelda feeling, so you’ll notice that many costumes and locations look much more like those from A Link to the Past. Princess Zelda’s costume is a good example of this. She has some bits of armor and jewelry that fans have come to expect from her, but the design of her dress and hair looks much more like that of A Link to the Past’s Zelda. Everything should look new to the audience, but it should also feel very familiar.
“this is an original story, but to make it without drawing inspiration from the games would result in a movie that isn’t Zelda at all”
Will we see Tingle?
No, Tingle will not be gracing our movie. However, there are MANY other fan-favorite characters that you may be surprised to see throughout the film. One of the most fun things about writing this project has been the feeling of “Oh! Wait until they see this character,” or “wait until this line happens!”. I just know that fans of the series will find so many familiar places, props and characters. And hopefully they’ll be as exited as I was writing them into the script.
When did you first start working on the project?
As I said earlier, the thought of the movie started about 6 or 7 years ago, but filming didn’t really start until 2011. And even then it was just some test footage to get a feel for the characters, their chemistry, locations, etc. So we’ve really had about four solid years of filming.
Where was it filmed?
It was filmed almost exclusively in New Hampshire. We are very blessed to live in such a gorgeous region that has so many different locations available! We have actual castles, actual deserts, lakes, large open fields, antique houses and farms, and of course lush green forests. I really couldn’t have asked for a better place to film, other than New Zealand, but let’s face it, we couldn’t make that happen.
What would you say was the most difficult aspect of the project?
For me personally, the most difficult part of filming was being the director as well as Link, and often times the many other roles behind the camera. It was a lot of responsibility to be thinking about my character, but also having to think about so many other things. It’s been a growing experience for me, but directing and starring is not something I would suggest to anyone making a project of this scale. I think other than that the most difficult thing was making so many actor’s schedules work. We started Rising Darkness when we were in high school, but as tend to do highschoolers do, we graduated. By the end of filming we had people commuting from Boston, Pennsylvania, and a bunch of other places. We had to get very clever in our use of stand-ins and doubles. Fun fact, in the teaser trailer you there is only one shot that is actually one of the main characters besides Link. Our goal with the teaser was just to set up atmosphere and scope so you hopefully can’t tell, but it has made our actors very confused on several occasions when they saw themselves in scenes they didn’t film.
While working on Rising Darkness, were there any crazy or funny moments that occurred off-camera?
Oh boy. So many funny moments. We had cameras rolling for a lot of shooting though so I was very happy to find the amount of funny moments we captured ON camera. You can see a lot of them in our short featurettes that we post on our YouTube page. I’ll share one story that hasn’t been in any updates though. So basically, we had been filming in the woods for a week. Summer was just slowing down so everything was still gorgeously green, but getting a little chilly. We had gotten almost everything done and I had edited together a rough cut of the scenes to see what we might be missing. So this was our last day in the forest, but my crew had a tight schedule and had to leave earlier than anticipated. It was a small shoot so there were only three or four of us. So, me being the productive man that I am, I said “Oh that’s fine, I can film it myself.” Only non-moving tripod shots were left and all I had to do was stumble around the woods, so it was actually pretty easy to shoot on my own. Right. So I set up the camera, I cue myself in and start walking. Halfway through, one of my shoes catches on something and breaks. The other one just falls off. but I keep walking because I don’t want to redo the shot again. I finish the shot and run back to the camera. I started zigzagging back and forth but couldn’t find my shoes! Then I think, okay, I should probably get back to the path and retrace my steps. So I walk back to the higher brush where the path was, but it’s not there! I follow the brush for a couple minutes but there’s still, no path! Then I hear some gunshots in the distance. Someone was hunting, so that didn’t help my nerves at all. At this point I have no idea where I am and someone’s getting closer with a gun, so I take my camera out and start loudly documenting my journey so that they know I’m not a deer. I start walking right, away from the gunshots, and after about a half a mile I stumble upon a clearing that we used for filming. The weird part is, I had been filming on the OTHER side of the clearing. So somehow even though I was walking right, away from the clearing on the other side, I ended up a half a mile left, in the opposite direction. The fact that this all happened in costume with my master sword made it all feel very … familiar. All I can say is, gosh we found a dang good location for the Lost Woods.
“I take my camera out and start loudly documenting my journey so that they know I’m not a deer”
When will the film premiere? Will you be taking it to any conventions?
The film is set to premiere this fall. That gives us almost a full year to finish up editing, making the score, and all the other aspects of making this movie complete. We’re hoping that it will release before Zelda Wii U so that people can have the movie to tie them over until the game’s release. We do plan on taking it to conventions, but as of yet we have nothing set in stone. I know that there will be a small pre-release viewing for the cast and crew, and possibly a public premiere. We’ll see as we get closer! The film will go live on YouTube the same month as the premiere.
Have you worked on any other films?
Yes. Many of our team have worked on many other projects. Members of our crew are currently pursuing careers in acting, filmmaking, music and a bunch of other things. However we did have a number of people who had never worked in films before, so it was cool to see them grow and develop these skills that they may not have known that they had. Me and one of the other members of our team have a pretty successful YouTube channel called Crorousseau where we post a lot of our various film projects. Personally though, I will be pursuing acting over filmmaking, it’s just a bigger passion for me. I do love every aspect of film though.
What was your first Zelda game?
My first game was Ocarina of Time. It came out the year I was born and I remember my brother playing it all the time as I grew up. I had very vague memories of the game, but I remembered loving it. So I snuck into his closet while he wasn’t home one day, and secretly played through the game on my own. At first I started on his save file though, and he was at the final battle with Ganondorf, so I was pretty confused. But eventually I traveled further and further away from Ganon’s Tower and discovered more of Hyrule. The interesting thing is that the shocker came for me when I made my own save file and found out how happy and life filled the game was in the past before Ganondorf takes over. I kind of did it backwards.
And what about your favorite Zelda game?
Oof. That question. I like aspects of every game, but my top three would have to be Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess and Majora’s Mask. I think OoT will always have my top spot, but I always loved TP’s story and cinematic feel, despite it’s easier bosses and such. I love Majora’s Mask too though and I always forget how much I love it. I just love how through the whole game you feel a need to succeed because there’s an actual consequence if you don’t. The world literally blows up. That impending doom just gives me so much adrenaline, I also enjoy the darker, creepier side of it.
If you could befriend any Zelda character, who would it be and why?
That’s a tough one. Probably Skull Kid. Maybe if I befriended him, he wouldn’t go off and try to destroy everything! Also he’s super rambunctious and loves playing pranks on people ALMOST as much as me. I’d love to get some lessons from the Hero’s Shade too though.
Thank you so very much for taking the time to answer these questions, we love promoting fan works here at Zelda Universe. Anything else you’d like to add?
I also want people to know that this was a project started by high school students, so while we hold ourselves to a very high standard, it’s still important to keep in mind that we did this whole movie without a budget. Everything was paid for out of pocket by me and the other crew members. That being said, I know people will enjoy it and I don’t want it to “feel” like a highschool project. I just feel like it’s important to keep things in perspective before you comment something rude regarding something that people put a lot of time, blood, and effort into.
I’d also like to encourage people to check out our YouTube channel and keep up with it. I know our first teaser trailer is very sparse and doesn’t show much. We did that mainly to peak interest in the project, which it has tremendously. But the other videos on our channel provide much more insight into the film. Depending on how my move to PA goes, there should be a full trailer up in the next couple of months. So there is more to look forward to, but there’s also time to catch up on our filming process. Our Facebook page and website also each have a lot of exclusive content and important info about the film.
I’d also like to say just that a main goal of this film is to create a sense of nostalgia. We do that through a myriad of ways. If you’re an avid Zelda gamer, you’ll notice many camera angles that just seem very familiar. We try to put those in there so that while people are watching, they’re thinking of the game. It’s just one angle here, one angle there, but it gives the whole thing an overall feel that I think many Zelda films lack. There have been some very good Zelda fan films, but for me, they’ve never had that same feeling of adventure and mystery that you get when you play the games. We are trying VERY hard to create that feeling. So my hope is that if people walk away from the movie with one thing, it’s a desire to go curl up with some Skittles and play some Zelda for a while.