GIVEN their rampant energy levels, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Derek Guiley and David Schneiderman are serious gamers.
Guiley laughingly admits, “We play a lot of games on the console, Xbox 360, Nintendo and on our phone.”
Having explored the full gamut of games over the years – rattling off titles I couldn’t get my head around – he also revealed that for Level Up, they simply told their wives that all the games they were playing (Elders, Skyrim, Oblivion) were for research purposes. Schneiderman adds, “We love to write characters who we want to see in a new and unique situation. We wanted to know who would be fun to put through the paces, to go out and fight against monsters.
“It was really about bringing together three – and now four – kids. It also gives the audience a chance to identify with the characters, who vary from nerdy to athletic to wild.”
Level Up is centred on four high school students – Wyatt (Gaelan Connell), Lyle (Jessie T Usher), Dante (Connor del Rio) and Angie (Aimee Carrero) – who, if it weren’t for the opening of an internet portal from Conqueror of All Worlds into the real world, wouldn’t be friends.
Together they work to protect their town while also dealing with the dilemmas that come with being a teenager.
Interestingly, the series was born out of the movie that served as a pilot.
Guiley adds, “Taking kids who wouldn’t be friends in real life and forcing them to become friends is The Breakfast Club aspect of the film.”
Shedding light on the casting, Schneiderman recalls, “It was important to find a cast to do comedy, action and the drama of being a regular teenager. It wasn’t easy. Finding Gaelan, who plays techno-geek Wyatt, was instantaneous. Jessie was so charismatic: tall and great looking. But it took a while to cast for Dante. We didn’t want the character to just be wild. We wanted him to be identifiable and we managed to find Connor way down the line.”
On the complexities of integrating animation with the live scenes, Guiley says it wasn’t difficult.
“Everybody at Cartoon Network was prepared to explore how this could work. The fact that they deal with a lot of animation and I come from the live action world was sort of a marriage made in heaven. We figured out how to make our tome come to life…”
Schneiderman adds, “It was very important, when we started working on the film, that the game looked like something kids wanted to play.”
As for the interesting creatures and villains in the game, Guiley says, “We had a great conceptual artist. There are monsters that have leaked into Earth – one of our favourites is the Hampire, a creature that is mixture between a hamster and a vampire. Ultimately, we want to be authentic to the gaming crowd.”
The main villain in the series is a narcissistic sorcerer called Maldark, who sets out to find new worlds and destroy them. Other intriguing characters include Morthorn Worm, Trash Troll, Five-Armed Blood Marauder, Acid-Spitting Mini Dragon and a Skunkbear.
“The other cool thing is that grownups are finding something to latch on to. In fact, when we are writing, we are cracking ourselves up,” admits Schneiderman.
• The Level Up movie airs on Cartoon Network in July. And the series will start airing in August.