When Sam Ho ’20 started college, he barely knew what LARPing was. Today, he is making a documentary about it. Ho began conceptualizing his now feature film, “Hero Camp!”, while still a student at Brandeis. As of July 2022, Ho was living in Providence, Rhode Island, editing over 120 hours of footage with his Brandeis classmate, Colin Hodgson ’20.
Ho spent the summer of 2018 as a videography intern at Wizards and Warriors Summer Camp. Located in Burlington, Massachusetts, Wizards & Warriors is a “live role-playing game” camp – “LARP” for short. Live role-playing players portray their game characters in real time. Following the character’s “rules” in the fantasy world, LARP-ing is part game, part performance. Campers create their own characters who fill specific roles in the shared fantasy world.
Ho’s summer internship was his first encounter with the LARP – and professional cinema. Coming back to Wizards & Warriors to make a documentary after his internship ended felt “really natural,” Ho said. “I was able to hone that craft. [of filmmaking] and being inspired by the creativity of these kids, and that resulted in me wanting to be a filmmaker. It was just to want to do it in this camp.
Filming for “Hero Camp!” began the first week of March 2020, but the pandemic derailed Ho’s plans to film in person. He spent the duration of the pandemic doing Zoom interviews with campers and staff. He eventually returned to camp, once in 2021 and four times in 2022, to film in person. “Through this process [of Zoom interviewing]I gained a better understanding of what this camp means to people,” Ho said. “There was definitely a silver lining there — the pandemic forced me to be patient with [the film] and figure out where the story might go.
Ho worked alone during filming, until Brandeis restart in May 2022. “I didn’t realize how strong my relationship with Brandeis was, SIMS [Sound, and Image Media Studios] …since the world kind of stopped for a while. Ho and Colin Hodgson worked together on various projects at these media studios while they were students at Brandeis.
“SIMS was really the place…where I became part of a filmmaking community,” Hodgson said. “Marc Dellello [director of SIMS] was by far the most responsible for me to hone my editing and filmmaking skills.
Claire Ogden ’21 also spent time in SIMS at Brandeis. Although she didn’t work directly with Ho during her time at Brandeis, she said, “My appreciation of Sam as an artist and filmmaker is really what got me into this.” Ho helped Alyssa Fagin ’20 create her senior thesis, a documentary film. “It’s cool that the circle is complete and [I can] to be on Sam’s team and help out as much as I can.
All four have worked in video media since graduating. Prior to getting involved with “Hero Camp!”, Hodgson had a job creating promotional media content, which he left to join the documentary team as an editor. Hodgson and Ho lived and worked together in Providence from July to August 2022. “Living together really helps,” Hodgson said. “It’s very easy to brainstorm when you’re together in person; it’s a lot harder to do on Zoom. That alone made it worth it. Ho added, “And it’s just fun to share…It’s nice to have a sense of camaraderie.”
Ogden, one of the film’s producers, describes herself as an “independent filmmaker”. She said the process of making a movie can be “really lonely and really difficult” and said it with “Hero Camp!” it’s been “really rejuvenating and inspiring to be able to be in this act of mutually creating something”.
One of the first big decisions Hodgson said he had to make as editor was to scale down the documentary to focus mostly on a few people. “The goal is for it to be as condensed as possible while still conveying the emotions…You could do something that ended up looking really amateurish and mediocre, or you could put more effort, energy and of creativity and take it to the next level.”
Hodgson and Ho cut down a rough cut of Ho’s footage. “I think a major theme of this film is change, and I think our hope is to convey the passage of time in a cohesive way,” Ho said. “And I hope it’s entertaining.”
None of the collaborators knew much about LARP before this project. “It was pretty much what I expected when I heard about LARP-ing,” Fagin said. “What surprised me was the refuge he so clearly provided for a lot of these campers.”
Although LARP is new to the filmmakers, they feel there is a connection to camper stories, even for audiences unfamiliar with LARP. “They’re self-proclaimed nerds,” Ho said of the campers, “but at the end of the day, they get creative together. I think these types of spaces should be spotlighted.
“All documentaries come back to the fact that we are human, and any human act will be relatable if you portray it correctly,” Fagin said, drawing on his experiences as a documentary filmmaker at Brandeis and his work in the professional setting.
Ho feels “Hero Camp!” has the dual responsibility of portraying a story for an audience and uplifting campers while sharing their stories. “My hope was that I [would be] able to relate to the people I was following and treat them with respect…These people I follow are very creative and I learn from them how to build a story,” Ho said. “I humble myself, where it can be a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Ogden added that working in non-fiction filmmaking changed his understanding of storytelling. “You only have some wiggle room over the content,” she explained, “You have to find ways to convey the points…with the pieces that you have. You kind of create the pieces of the puzzle as you put them together.
Since “Hero Camp!” is an independent production, “money is the eternal problem,” Ogden said. Ogden, primarily responsible for financing the film, created a Kickstarter for production and set the fundraising goal at $10,000. If the fundraising campaign did not meet this goal by the “due date” of August 16, 2022, all backers would get their money back – per Kickstarter policy – and the filmmakers would have to find a way to help. ‘get the $10,000 themselves. They ended up raising $11,015 by their due date.
The “Hero Camp!” The team uses the money to score the film and hire another editor. Score for “Hero Camp!” will be composed by Cassidy Ames and Giuseppe Desiato Ph.D. ’22, candidate in composition and music theory at Brandeis. According to Ho, “Hero Camp!” should be finished by summer 2023 and will be submitted to independent film festivals this summer.