Exclusive Interview: Five Dates Writer & Director Paul Raschid Talks Filming Remotely & The Best Way To Approach The Game

This week brought the release of Five Dates – a full-motion video (FMV) game about Vinny, a twenty-something Londoner who is navigating the digital world of dating due to the global lockdown brought on from COVID-19. Vinny will meet and, hopefully, charm his matches enough to find love during the pandemic… or at least give enough of a good first impression for a second date.

Five Dates is an absolute triumph, especially if you’re able to navigate your way through the game to reveal what I believe to be not only the best ending in the game, but a perfectly executed ending for a rom-com movie in general.

Paul Raschid, the writer and director of Five Dates, was kind enough to speak with TheGamer about his latest release, which was an idea that was ultimately shaped as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

“It was an idea I had in my head specifically for the interactive formats, especially after I did The Complex, and sort of started delving into what other stories could be told, what other genres could be explored in the interactive format. I felt like romance, in particular, and very much so dating is basically a series of loads and loads of small decisions that you’re making at various different points throughout. I felt like that in itself in the real world dating, as a concept, as a construct is something that is very interactive in how it makes people make decisions constantly. So for me, it was something that I always wanted to kind of explore in the format. Then the lockdown expedited that process where I had other projects that I was hoping to make this year that were interactive as well. But, obviously, they had to all be put on hold.

“At the beginning of the lockdown, I saw loads of articles online about people being like, ‘Oh, how is dating going to continue,’’ and one of peoples’ main concerns being about the change of lifestyle. Then video dating became a big thing. They were actually noting things on articles, discussing it, featuring it on the news, and apps were rolling out video dating within the apps themselves. That was just an easy kind of tweak from my original concept to suit this, something we could shoot remotely.

“When John Giwa-Amu (Five Dates’ producer) came and said, ‘Let’s make something, man,’ I was like, ‘Oh, I got an idea.’”

As you may have guessed, Five Dates was filmed entirely remotely using iPhones, which was a new experience for everyone involved.

“Right from the inception, it was completely remote. No two people ever met in person through the whole process of it, which is pretty crazy. You know, creating stuff and making stuff in this film, it’s about connection. It’s about interaction. Being in the same room as people and being able to work together. But to do it the other way, from the comfort of my own room – which is also my office – was also kind of quite cool in a way.

“I think about halfway through the lockdown, I sort of had about six weeks off where I didn’t really do anything – I just played loads of video games, exercised a lot, slept a lot – just recharged my batteries basically. Then, I was starting to see that people were making content remotely. There’s something on Netflix called Staged. There’s something on Netflix called Homemade. People were starting to do things remotely and then John, like I said, rang me up and said, ‘Let’s do something of our own and we can [make] it interactive.’ So we had the idea and John was up for it.”

Of course, with so many unknowns regarding the global lockdown, timeliness played a major role in the overall execution of creating Five Dates from start to finish – a feat that in itself is as impressive as the final product.

“It had to be quite a tight turnaround because I wasn’t sure whether after the lockdown, we could go back to normal and my other projects would come back; John and his other projects would get up and running again. We were kind of like, ‘We have a small window to do this.’ I actually wrote the first draft of the script in two weeks. Which was super, super intense, but I’d spent, like, six weeks doing nothing, so I was raring to go.

“In the meantime, because of the tight window, we were starting casting. We were sending out incremental bits of the script for casting purposes. That was really a fantastic process as well because usually when you audition people in a room, you have to visualize them as though you’re not in a room. You could be in a forest, or be in a bar, but you’re actually just in a boring room sitting across the table from someone, whereas this audition process was completely different.

“It was almost like a screen test because it was happening over video. The way I was seeing people would be how they would be seen in their own homes, in their own clothes, how they would appear in the final film, basically. It was as close to a screen test as you could get. So, the audition process was actually really thorough and really cool in that way. You could see very close to how their interpretation of the character would come out in the end product.

“[Casting] was a pretty exhaustive process. There’s a real wealth of talent here in the UK. Eventually, we had to make the decisions and cast the parts we did. We sent out iPhones to them. We sent a single light to them so they could set up wherever they could. We sent radio mics to them. We had a costume designer who got on the phone with them – because, obviously, we couldn’t get any of those into them. We had to pick out from their wardrobe over the phone, over a video call to figure out what the best costumes were. They had to do all their cooking, obviously, for the dinner date. The actors were not just focusing on delivering the performance as they did. They had to be DPs (cinematographers), kind of. We had a DP who would talk them through it, but they had to light themselves. They had to costume themselves and to do some production design things. They basically had to do everything while I was kind of just kicking back and giving my direction.

“Basically, the way we did it is we got on a Zoom call. We’d have Taheen (Modak) who plays Vinny, and we had about a day and a half with each actor, and it was just him and the actor talking. We had them on Zoom, but we also had them set up their iPhones to basically mimic the video camera of the phone. So they weren’t actually ever really properly looking at each other, since their eye line had to be to the iPhone, not to the Zoom call.

“It was about ten days to shoot – they got through so much content. So much script. Then I got into the editing process which, again, was done remotely doing screen sharing with the editor who was actually up in Scotland. We just cracked through that and then Wales Interactive [put it] into their game engine and did all of the UI and everything like that – all the final polishes, the grading, sound, dialogue, music – that all got done remotely and in all sorts of different parts of the country and pulled together to the final product that you saw.”

The remote filming process certainly had its share of workarounds that needed to be navigated during filming. However, similar to the screen test-like casting process, filming remotely also had its perks that attributed to the quick turnaround.

“On a set, there can be a lot of wasted time through camera setups, or a unit move, or if the sun hides away or something like that. With this, there was none of that. It was literally like we all showed up at 7 a.m. in the morning. We were rolling within 15-minutes. We went away for lunch. We were rocking within five minutes after lunch. There was very little time wasted. Just having such a minimalist setup was really helpful. So that was a pleasant surprise as well.”

While there is no shortage of other romantic comedies to draw inspiration from, Paul wanted Five Dates to stand on its own as a natural and relatable experience.

“I wanted it to be quite organic. I wanted to try to be as naturalistic as possible and as relatable as possible to [people] who are trying to video date or trying to date in the real world, but also video date during a lockdown. I feel like this is a period of time that is so… there’s a commonality between all of our experiences globally. We’ve all been affected by this lockdown and a lot of us do date. So it’s kind of two themes that were coming together that were very universal. I wanted it to be relatable to as many people as possible.”

In my review, I shared that, for the most part, I played as though I was the one behind the camera, making choices based on how I might make them in real-life. However, I also made some choices based on the traits I had chosen for Vinny, as a kind of a hybrid character experience. I asked Paul if there was a preferred way that he thinks players should approach Five Dates, such as the way I did, or if players should “play to win” the game.

“I think the flexibility of that – of the way you can experience the game – for me, was something that was really appealing about it. There are different ways you can approach it. You can approach it being like, ‘Okay, this is me. I want to bring my preferences and my face and what I look for on a date and a romantic partner, or what I don’t. What’s a red flag to me and what isn’t,’ and live it out with Vinny has a cipher.

“Or, you can play it and be like, ‘Okay, I have a gauge of Vinny as a person and I want to try and make the decisions for Vinny as a character, for him and his life.’

“Or you can play as a game to win, but I feel like you’ll get the least out of it if you do it that way. I can’t speak for everyone, you know? Everyone’s mindset when they play something – they may have a really fulfilling experience doing it that way. But for me, it’s the two other methods. There’s so much to gain from both of them because there are so many different sides of Vinny that can be brought out between the different women that you date, between the different decisions that you make with Vinny as a character, but I think there are also a lot of things that you’ll see and observe about yourself in how the women respond to you, depending on what decisions you make on behalf of Vinny.

“That would be what I would say for the way to approach it, really, but there’s no right answer. I want everyone to experience it however they want to experience it.”

And everyone should experience it. Five Dates lends itself to being a great way to spend an evening with your partner, regardless of whether or not they are interested in video games. I asked Paul if this kind of appeal was intentional or just a result of the welcoming nature of romantic comedies.

“I guess it would be a result of the rom-com genre. At its core, I would say it’s about the dynamics of courtship, and relationships, and compatibility, and chemistry. That’s me digging down beneath the surface a bit, but again, there’s a show on Netflix called Dating Around. I think that’s a really great snapshot of what the dating process [is like] for people of our generation. Any of these reality shows that have done really well at the moment, they all always give a really great insight. There’s always a truth in there about the dynamic of romance, and attraction, and relationships, and all those kinds of things, and I think they’re very popular at the moment. People love not only the rom-com aesthetics, but I think there’s a hunger that is coming back for [the genre].

“I think those kinds of shows are a communal experience that people of different genders, ages, and backgrounds all enjoy. I think I wanted to tap into that audience very much.”

With The Complex and now Five Dates, FMV is a genre that Paul is very familiar with, not to mention passionate about.

“I really believe in this format. I think there’s a growing audience for them, and I think what I really love about the format is that it is a really good hybrid of film and game. We’re seeing a desire to crossover between those two audiences, whether you look at your high-end video games where they mocap Hollywood actors; the cinematography that you see in the cutscenes is extremely cinematic. Or, you see a lot of gaming IP being made into a Hollywood film. I think that there’s a real Synergy at the moment between the two markets.

“FMV gaming and interactive film is a natural marriage point between the two of them, which I really think, I hope, will only grow. It’s something I want to be in at the moment. I have a slate of other features of various genres that I really want to make, hopefully, sooner rather than later.”

If you’re planning on checking out Five Dates, one of the best things you can do, according to Paul, is to go with an open heart and open mind, and allow yourself to be immersed in the interactive experience.

“You asked me about what the best approach to it is. This is a game that allows people to give as much of themselves as they want. I think that should be embraced. It’s not really an RPG. You can play as an RPG. You can play Vinny as a character, but I think the beauty of it is – and it’s a testament to the naturalism that all the actors gave in their performances – that there is a reality to what they’ve done. They’ve made these characters very real and people that you can engage with as yourself, not just as Vinny. If you embrace that, you might see things and learn things about yourself that you may or may not have known before, and I feel like that’s what makes it quite a unique gaming experience.“

A huge thanks goes out to Paul for taking the time to sit down and chat. Five Dates is available now for PC, PS4, Xbox , and Nintendo Switch.

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Sam has been writing for TheGamer since early 2018, earning the role as the Lead Features & Review Editor in 2019. The Denver, Colorado-native’s knack for writing has been a life-long endeavor. His time spent in corporate positions has helped shape the professional element of his creative writing passion and skills. Beyond writing, Sam is a lover of all things food and video games, which – especially on weekends – are generally mutually exclusive, as he streams his gameplay on Twitch (as well as TheGamer’s Facebook page) under the self-proclaimed, though well-deserved moniker of ChipotleSam. (Seriously…just ask him about his Chipotle burrito tattoo). You can find Sam on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as @RealChipotleSam.

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