Phil Morris narrates Ken Burns-style ‘Game of Thrones’ Castle Black battle retelling
Phil Morris may have found notoriety acting in a wide range of genre favorites, from “Star Trek III” and “Smallville” to “Seinfeld.” But now he’s finding online fame in fictionalized retellings of fake battles from films and television shows -- a la Ken Burns-style documentaries -- including “Star Wars,” “Pacific Rim” and “The Avengers.”
Now, the Battle of Castle Black is retold as “Game of Thrones” steps into the spotlight. Instead of concentrating on Jon Snow or the Night’s Watch, the video tells the story from the perspective of one of the giants.
Morris is the narrator of the recently launched Machinima series on YouTube called “Real Fake History.” It is a series of shorts that satirize the greatest fictional battles and most inspiring stories in movies, TV and video games by presenting them as historical events with a serious tone.
They’ve already tackled “Star Wars: The Battle of Endor,” and “Kill Bill: Massacre at the House of Blue Leaves” (advisory, both feature adult language) and on the list after “Game of Thrones: The Battle of Castle Black” are “The Avengers: Battle of New York City” and “Pacific Rim: The Battle of Hong Kong.” Throw in a little of “The Walking Dead” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” and you’ve got the perfect cauldron of fake historical material.
Morris and a crew of performers including Tony Janning, Sandeep Parikh, Jeff Lewis and Brooke Seguin bring to life what Machinima bills as “the never-before-seen tales of those who witnessed these defining fictional moments.”
Hero Complex talked to Morris about the project, the production it involved and finding his unique voice as narrator.
What drew you to this project?
My buddy Tony Janning wrote this. He and I worked together on a show called “Instant” by Roddenberry [Entertainment]. He called me and mentioned what the concept was, and I was all over it. Not only am I used to all the genre stuff, but I love games. I’m not a current gamer, but have been a gamer in my past. I have games all over the place. I thought, “What a fantastic concept. How clever!” When he sent me the material -- and I’m a huge Ken Burns fan -- I went, “Yes!”
So far, do you have a personal favorite?
I think “The Walking Dead” or the Ewoks one. Based on some asides that the narrator utters that are too funny. I think in “Pacific Rim” there’s a couple of those. It’s hard to say specifically because this was done awhile ago, and this was all done in one day. I’ve been away from the material for a while and have moved on to some other things.
Did you, as research of course, run out and play “Starcraft 2" or some of the other games featured in the project?
There was no need for me to do that. The reason that there was no need was because you don’t have to have played the video games to know the universe. That’s all the narrator needed. The writing was so good that all I needed to do was read what Tony wrote. That told me what the universe was -- if I was familiar with it, then so much the better. My job really was to knock off Ken Burns’ style. So my job was just to create that framework. You have a narrator that’s kind of objective -- this is what happened on this date in the year of our Lord whatever whatever -- and then I go down the events, talk about the collateral damage, then I come back and wrap it up. I might have an opinion, I might not.
Opinions from the script, or ...?
So, that was the challenge: Where do I put that left-turn opinion, which you never hear in a Ken Burns documentary? It’s well-written, very objective, and the audience has to make up its mind. But this? We don’t care! That’s why you hire me! I can give you that patter, that tone, that timbre, but I’m also going to find that [stop sign] that turn it on its ear. My job was to find the moments of doing that that didn’t detract from the proceedings and weren’t so frequent that you see it coming. That was the dance.
How was the actual production, and did you do much ad-libbing?
We would adjust lines. There were certain things they would send me and and I would just riff. They have a vision of what they want to do, they’ve already got that and I’m not a part of that. They didn’t really have a visual for me to match my vocals to. “This is what this will look like.” Or maybe not. Sometimes I’d go from narration to narration without the visual cue. I have an image and a vision based on what I do, and we kind of come together -- and there’s the process. We hit on a rhythm, a tempo, a process .... We hit on that tone. It has to all kind of be consistent with what you heard before. It’s a great process and a really delicate balance.
Do you know of any historical parodies off the top of your head?
I haven’t really seen or heard of this kind of thing. Like I said, I’m a big Ken Burns fan and of the documentary style, period. Also, I’m a comedic actor. One thing I don’t like to do is mimic. I don’t really want to watch something and then go, “OK, I’m going to do it that way.” I want to utilize my own genuine creativity married with my own experiential background, and then we see what happens. There are parodies and satire out there ... filmically the one we always turn to is “This Is Spinal Tap.” The wonderful Christopher Guest, and a certain style that worked for Christopher Guest, and in some of his other movies. For me, that’s how you become Christopher Guest, or Jerry Seinfeld, or Judd Apatow or Larry David. You have figured yourself out based on stuff that you’ve seen before. Then you do your unique regurgitation of the material, and then you are you. I can’t tell you how long it’s taken me to learn that.
There’s a lot of people we can emulate, and sometimes we do that to our detriment. What happens when we emulate is that we don’t discover our own unique voice, and I’ve been one of those people. Now, in my later years as a performer, I’m really trying to find my unique voice. In doing something like “Real Fake History,” I don’t have a template that I’m calling from. Hopefully, it’s successful.
Can you describe your unique voice in “Real Fake History”?
He’s super-earnest. [In deep, narrator voice] “When he’s on the planet of Endor, he’s feeling for the Ewoks.” He’s super-empathetic and he draws you into a reality that is [in the voice] “beyond what you can imagine.” It’s like that. Then when he says, “But at the end of the day, they’re just furry little knuckleheads,” you’re captivated by it. It’s like syrup, and then there’s a tack, and you’re like “What was that?” That’s the approach that I took.
What kind of reaction did you want to see?
I don’t think I need to be a video game fan to know this, but I think they’re going to appreciate the crap out of it. I think they’re going to get the wink. They’re going to get the respect that we paid to gamers too. And here’s the thing ... because I am a rank-and-file comic book fan and addict, I honor fans. I know that the one thing you cannot do with fans is cheapen them. You have to know that they have an energy, and you don’t even have to understand it, just know that they like something and are passionate about something. I think this highlights the passion.
The series is live now on Machinima, and we’ll have more updates to come in the future.
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