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Doug Liman on How a Video Game Almost Derailed ‘Swingers’

The hockey game they play in the movie is much more difficult than it looks

(Miramax)
(Miramax)

It should come as no surprise that film director Doug Liman is also a video game fan. Edge of Tomorrow has a distinct video game feel to it, and The Bourne Identity often echoed the feel of a first-person shooter. Ben Lindbergh and Jason Concepcion brought Liman on the latest Achievement Oriented to talk video games — and he shared a story about how one game in particular almost ruined Swingers.

If you’ve seen Swingers, you probably remember the iconic video game scene. That’s where Liman’s story begins.

Many of the details of Swingers are pulled from experiences Liman had in real life, and this scene is no different.

"One Christmas that I was staying home playing games, I was playing an NHL hockey game on Nintendo," Liman began. "And I was like, ‘You know, ice hockey seems pretty fun.’ And I ended up buying a bunch of gear and joining an ice hockey league. I’d never played before — I’d only played on the video game. And I still play ice hockey. I don’t play the video game anymore but I play real ice hockey. They do not transfer, for future reference. This is one of these ‘Do not try it at home’ [things]. Because they were so mean to me when I showed up at this ice hockey league and just jumped out on the ice, and I hadn’t had people be that mean to me since dodgeball when I was like 10, basically telling me to get off the ice. And trying to trip me with their sticks. They don’t do that in the video game."

So they shoot the scene, though of course they aren’t actually playing the game when they do so — the video game scenes are shot in postproduction. Standard procedure.

"We’re a little low-budget movie; we need to knock over Wayne Gretzky and draw blood. The actors are acting like that’s happening onscreen, and in the editing room I needed to get a closeup shot of the video game where that actually happened. Because while we’re shooting this scene, they’re just acting like that happened."

The scene centers on Vince Vaughn’s character knocking down the video game version of Wayne Gretzky, drawing blood. There was one problem: They’d never done it in the video game before.

"I had never actually seen Wayne Gretzky draw blood, but Vince [Vaughn] claimed he could do it repeatedly, so we put it in the script. The actors are reacting to that. And then we’re editing the movie and I bring the [game console] into the editing room and we start playing it and we’re recording it onto a videotape so that when we get the one piece we need we’ll play that back on the TV and shoot it. [We do this] for, like, weeks. Nobody can draw blood. And I’m like [to] Nintendo, ‘Hey, can you give us the backdoor key to doing this?’ It wasn’t like we were having fun playing the game, because all we would do was pass the puck down and set it up for Gretzky to get the puck and then we would, you know, try to slam him into the boards."

Finally, they figured it out.

"What was the trick? It was not replicable. It wasn’t like once we did it once we could do it again three more times. It was infuriatingly fleeting. We happened to get it on video and then we were able to play it back — but it almost derailed the whole movie. I mean, I don’t know what would have happened. It’s such a key thing they’re talking about in Swingers. It would have been really cheap if we couldn’t have shown it."

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.