When Sam Ho started college in ’20, he barely knew what LARPing was. Now he’s making a documentary about it. While still a student at Brandeis, Ho began conceptualizing his now feature-length film Hero Camp!. As of July 2022, Ho was living in Providence, Rhode Island and editing over 120 hours of footage with fellow Brandeis classmate Colin Hodgson ’20.
Ho spent the summer of 2018 as a videography intern Wizards & Warriors summer camp. Wizards & Warriors in Burlington, Massachusetts is a “Live Action Role Playing” camp – “LARP” for short. Live-action role-players portray their game characters in real-time. Following the character’s “rules” in the imaginary world, LARPing is part game, part performance. Campers create their own characters who fill specific roles in the shared fantasy world.
Ho’s summer internship was the first time he encountered LARP-ing – and professional filmmaking. Returning to Wizards & Warriors to make a documentary after his internship felt “really natural,” Ho said. “I was able to hone this craft [of filmmaking] and getting inspired by the creativity of these kids, and that culminated in my wanting to be a filmmaker. It just felt right to want to do it at this camp.”
Filming for Heroes’ Camp! began in the first week of March 2020, but the pandemic dashed Ho’s plans to film in person. He spent the duration of the pandemic conducting Zoom interviews with campers and staff. Eventually, he returned to camp once in 2021 and four times in 2022 to film in person. “Through this process [of Zoom interviewing]I got a much better understanding of what this camp means to people,” reflects Ho. “There was definitely a silver lining – the pandemic forced me to be patient [the film] and find out where the story could lead.”
Ho worked alone during filming until Brandeis’ restart in May 2022. “I didn’t realize how strong my connections were at Brandeis, particularly in SIMS [Sound, and Image Media Studios] …since the world has been on hiatus for a while.” Ho and Colin Hodgson collaborated on various projects at those media studios while they were students at Brandeis.
“SIMS was really where… I became part of a film community,” Hodgson said. “Marc Dellello [director of SIMS] was by far the most responsible for honing my editing and filmmaking skills.”
Claire Ogden ’21 also spent time at SIMS during her time at Brandeis. Though she didn’t work directly with Ho during her time at Brandeis, she said, “My appreciation for Sam as an artist and a filmmaker really got me into this.” Ho helped Alyssa Fagin create her thesis, a documentary, in ’20. “It’s cool that it’s coming full circle and [I can] be on Sam’s team and help out as much as I can.”
All four have worked in video media since graduating. Before joining Hero Camp!, Hodgson had a job producing commercial media content, which he left to join the documentary team as executive editor. Hodgson and Ho lived and worked together in Providence from July to August 2022. “Living together definitely helps,” Hodgson said. “Brainstorming is super easy when you’re together in person; It’s much harder to work over Zoom. It was worth it for that alone.” Ho added, “And it’s just fun to share … It’s nice to have a sense of camaraderie.”
Ogden, one of the film’s producers, describes herself as an “independent filmmaker”. She said the process of making a film can be “really lonely and really tough,” and shared that with Hero Camp! It was “really rejuvenating and inspiring to be able to create something together.”
One of the first big decisions Hodgson had to make as editor was to narrow the documentary down to focus primarily on a few people. “The goal is for it to be as condensed as possible and still get the emotion across… You could make something that ends up looking really amateurish and mediocre, or you could put more effort, energy, and creativity into it and take it to the next thing.”
Hodgson and Ho flattened a rough cut of Ho’s footage. “I think a major theme in this film is change, and I think our hope is to convey the passage of time in a cohesive way,” Ho said. “And hopefully it’s entertaining.”
None of the employees knew much about LARP before this project. “It was pretty much what I expected when I heard about LARP,” said Fagin. “What surprised me was the sanctuary it offered so clearly to many of these campers.”
Although LARP is new to the filmmakers, they feel there is a connection to the campers’ stories, even for viewers unfamiliar with LARP. “They describe themselves as nerds,” Ho said of the campers, “but at the end of the day, they’re creative together. I think these types of spaces should be given the spotlight.”
“All documentaries go back to the fact that we are human, and every human action will be relatable if you portray it correctly,” Fagin said, drawing on her experiences as a documentary filmmaker at Brandeis and her work in the professional environment.
Ho feels Hero Camp! has a dual responsibility of setting a story for an audience and uplifting campers as they share their stories. “I was my hope [would be] being able to connect with the people I follow and treat them with respect… These people I follow are very creative and I learn from them how to build a story,” Ho said. “I humble me where it can be a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Ogden added that her work in non-fiction has changed her understanding of storytelling. “You have limited influence over the content,” she explained, “You have to find ways to get the points across… with the pieces that you have. You create the puzzle pieces as you put them together.”
Since Heroes’ Camp! is an independent production, “Money is the eternal problem,” Ogden said. Ogden, who is primarily responsible for financing the film, created a Kickstarter for production and set the funding goal to $10,000. If the fundraiser didn’t meet that goal by the August 16, 2022 “due date,” all donors would get their money back — per Kickstarter’s policy — and the filmmakers would have to figure out a way to get the $10,000 themselves. They ended up raising $11,015 by the due date.
The “Heroes’ Camp!” The team uses the money to score the film and hire another editor. Rating for “Heroes Camp!” is provided by Cassidy Ames and Giuseppe Desiato Ph.D. ’22, candidate in composition and music theory with Brandeis. According to Ho, “Hero Camp!” should be completed by the summer of 2023 and submitted for candidacy at independent film festivals next summer.