Amanda Sonnenschein is an acclaimed director, writer, and producer based in Los Angeles and New York City. Working across a multitude of genres and media including horror, drama, comedy and animation, Sonnenschein has had a prolific past two years, directing five projects since March of 2020.
Pizzato, an animated short completed by Sonnenschein and Austin Beaulier at the height of the pandemic, utilizes a new approach to stop-motion: applying the up-and-coming technique of photogrammetry to scan original 3D puppets and animate them virtually.
Shortly thereafter, she wrote and directed Drawing From Life, an evocative and visually compelling horror drama about a grief-stricken painter in the early 20th century New York City. That film was chosen to be part of a Halloween anthology series for Amazon Prime, Legends of Sleepy Hollow.
In this interview, Amanda breaks down her favorite scene behind The Game, the upcoming comedy series directed and produced by Amanda. It stars Matt Curtin, Lauren Henning, Réchard François, Maggie Jorgenson, Amber Li, and Garth Sodetani.
PH: Which scene was your favorite to work on in The Game?
Amanda Sonnenschein: My favorite scene in “The Game” happens when our lead, Brandon the Game Master, brings the rest of our characters into the fantasy world of Aldia for the first time. He’s really excited to get into all the political drama in his world, but the group has endless questions about the minutiae of why they are located in some nondescript “woods,” and they express other concerns that Brandon deems inconsequential. Tensions escalate when Brandon suddenly embodies his first character: a tax collector. There is some confusion over when he is the Game Master and when he is playing the character, basic givens that he cannot believe he has to spell out.
PH: Can you describe this scene and the significance it has to the rest of The Game?
Amanda Sonnenschein: This scene establishes a formula for the rest of our show. Throughout the episodes we will be going back and forth between the reality and fantasy worlds, either to check in on a sequence being performed by the character as they put on their fantasy role in “real life,” or to watch the individual game players break out of the fantasy world in order to discuss what just happened in the fantasy world.
PH: What tools, plugins, or instruments did you use in your production of this scene?
Amanda Sonnenschein: We used Davinci Resolve, Blackmagic cameras and Atlas Orion anamorphic lenses for this scene in “The Game”. To distinguish the fantasy from the reality, we had distinct color grades and utilized our anamorphic lenses to achieve a 2.39:1 ratio for the fantasy sequences.
PH: What technical challenges did you encounter while working on this scene?
Amanda Sonnenschein: Logistically this was a very complicated scene to do, and we went through multiple rehearsals to get the timing just right. There were many moving parts among the performance of the actors, the timing of the actors coming into frame, the speed of the tracking shot, and the rack focus. Ultimately, the team was very happy with the outcome!
PH: What was the dialogue like between you and the rest of the team regarding this scene?
Amanda Sonnenschein: The initial idea was that everyone watching the show would understand the dynamics of tabletop gameplay, but as we went into post-production and started thinking about all the potential for non-gamer audiences, we changed our tactics to make the show as widely accessible as possible. The crafting of this scene was essential for making the show universally comprehensible moving forward.
PH: How did this scene advance the story or reveal something important about the character/storytelling?
Amanda Sonnenschein: This scene is crucial to understanding the dynamics of tabletop roleplaying, and how those dynamics are expressed in our world. In the fantasy world, we have each character being played by discrete individuals, however in the real world it is revealed that all the secondary, ancillary characters, called “NPCs” (nonplayer characters), are being voiced and embodied by Brandon, the Game Master.
PH: Did this scene come together on screen the way it was creatively envisioned initially, or did you make creative changes to have it flow with the film better?
Amanda Sonnenschein: Originally in the script, this scene was written to be played exclusively in the fantasy world. However, I shot a version of the scene with the characters in the real world as well because I wanted the premise to be easily understood for those less familiar with tabletop roleplaying games. This gave me the option of shaping the narrative so that we could cut back and forth between the fantasy and real world. By doing so, I believe that audiences can more readily grasp that the supporting characters in the fantasy world are all being played by the Game Master at the table. This also worked to our advantage comedically, because we get to watch Brandon take on the nonplayer character’s contorted facial and vocal traits in real life to differentiate for his novice players that they must only interact with him as that character, not as the Game Master. His split second switch from his “Brandon” face to the bizarre tax collector characterization, and the resultant slow-burn comprehension for the players at the table, emphasized the humorous tone we want to cultivate for the series.