When one hears the words “Dungeons & Dragons” and “movie” together it conjures better forgotten memories of a uniquely bland adventure that Jeremy Irons was definitely in along with one of the Wayans and the guy who played Jimmy Olsen in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Legions of D&D fans, young and old, experienced the crippling disappointment of watching an underwhelming on-screen representation of a thing you love. Because the animated series from the 80s is flawless, no notes. Also there may or not be an homage to those characters in the upcoming film.
Fresh off the hype of San Diego Comic-Con’s triumphant return to Hall H–small technical difficulties aside–we sat down with writing/directing duo John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, along with producer Jeff Latcham, who has worked on a handful of obscure indie titles including Iron Man, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy, to discuss creating 2023’s Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, a film they hope authentically captures the feeling you get when playing the game.
D&D in the DNA
During the packed inaugural Hall H panel of San Diego Comic Con 2022, Daley, a former child actor who starred as Sam Weir in Paul Feig’s beloved NBC comedy-drama Freaks and Geeks, revealed that it was during production of said series that he first delved into Dungeons & Dragons. He felt it was important to bring authenticity to his character, one of the titular “geeks.”
But once he started playing, he never stopped, and still maintains a campaign to this day. “I’m a half-elf Paladin, and I’ve been that for the last five years.” And while his current campaign takes place in an original Fantasy World of his Dungeon Master’s creation, it utilizes a lot of the creatures and spells found in the traditional Forgotten Realms setting.
“I also play a video game with my son, Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara,” Daley goes on, harkening back to some deep cut side scrollers, developed and published by Capcom in the mid-90s. “He’s probably too young to be playing it with me, he’s only five and a half, but it’s a nice boding moment for us, so it’s much in my DNA at this point.”
“John’s character, also, the name gets checked in the movie,” co-writer and director Goldstein reveals, much to the surprise of producer Latcham who previously did not realize this.
“That was the most exciting moment for me,” Daley says, “not seeing my name on the screen but hearing my character.”
He didn’t reveal what the name was, so movie goers will have to keep an ear out when the movie hits theaters next year.
As any Dungeons & Dragons fan knows, the game is not wanting when it comes to thorough and readily available reference material. The whole thing is built on the back of dozens of books, covering instructions for Dungeon Masters, character creation, monsters, treasure, towns, religions. The list goes on and is constantly growing as new materials are published.
When asked how often they used the Forgotten Realms Wiki Daley answered “a ton, sometimes on set,” noting how fortunate he was to have bonafide D&D expert, Ashley Alexander of E1, as a producing partner who knows “way more than I do”and was “an invaluable resource.”
Latcham adds, “I think we also all had all the time access to D&D Beyond,” and notes how they would sometimes stop filming in the midst of a scene to cross reference causing the actors to go, “what’s happening?”
Says Daley, “I wish there was a D&D Beyond equivalent to every movie that we make because it would answer a lot of questions that we have.”
For the Love of the Love of the Game
But it’s not just the specifics of how a spell works or where a town is located on a map that the creative team was after. During the panel Daley noted that D&D is not so much a game as it is the feeling you get when you play it.
“It’s just such a unique feeling,” he says, “The first time I ever played, I just realized that it was unlike anything I’d ever done before and I understand the appeal. It’s almost like a drug, this game, because there’s so many possibilities and so much fun socializing and creating these bonds that you would otherwise never create from a normal conversation.”
Goldstein adds, “We created characters who are not super heroes, they’re not great across the board. They have weaknesses that are very apparent that makes them relatable both to people who are watching the movie and people who’ve played the game. Because you have some things you’re strong at and some things you’re not so strong at, and our groups gets to level up as they go through the movie.”
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves hits theaters March 3, 2023.