‘Pokémon Go’: Filmmaker Brant Pinvidic Navigates The Global Phenomenon In ‘Why I’m Not On Pokémon Go’

December 8, 2016 4:37PM

When Pokémon Go first released in July, the world wasn’t quite ready for what was to come.

The mobile game that let users simulate catching Pokémon became the most downloaded mobile game in history and sparked a whole movement of mobile users getting off their couches and walking around to find virtual monsters.

While over 50 million people downloaded Pokémon Go, there were still some who didn’t understand the craze. Meet Brant Pinvidic, a filmmaker living life in Los Angeles as an outsider to the Pokémon Go hype when, unbeknownst to him, the game infiltrated his home.

Not only were his three children taking part in catching Pokémon, but his wife was also determined to be the very best.

Pinvidic, who directed and starred in the award-winning Why I’m Not on Facebook short film, decided to figure out why Pokémon Go became as popular as it did and whether it was good for his family. He documented his findings in the film Why I’m Not on Pokémon Go, which is now available to watch on the official site and on YouTube.

We spoke with Brant about his film, Pokémon Go as a game, the future of the Why I’m Not… series and how it changed his relationship with his family.

iDigitalTimes: So I’ve been told that there may be a series based on your short films?

Brant: “The plan is, I did a movie last year called Why I’m Not on Facebook and it did pretty well and people seemed to respond to it and we were going through some of the development here for next year. There’s been quite a bit of interest and people asking me that I should do more and turn it into a series. I partnered with STX Entertainment on a larger deal on television and we looked at that as a possibility. And when I was in the midst of planning my next documentary and we decided to do a short film and do Pokémon Go with the idea that Why I’m Not… becomes a television series in 2017, so we’re getting all the packages ready for that now and writing it up and we’ll be ready for the new year.”

Anything you want to tackle in this series or is it too early to tell?

“We’re in preliminary writing now, but the idea is to do it in the same sort of tone and style that I’ve been doing the movies, which is very personal, and is about something that I genuinely don’t understand or get. I’m ok, sort of, being the “fool” in this moment because it has led, so far, to some good storytelling where I genuinely go and look at these situations. For example one of the things I’m going to do early is “Why I’m Not on Tinder.” I’ve been married for 25 years and I’ve never really been in a dating situation and Tinder has completely changed the way people date. I have single people in my office and I cannot for the life of me understand how this thing works. So that’s a perfect example of how I will go into it blindly ignorantly and figure it out. And what I feel I’ve been able to do in these two films, I’m a pretty honest guy and at the end of the day I can say one way or another if I get it or don’t get it and this is how it works. I’m able to see both sides and try to explain why it works and why it doesn’t. Is it just me who doesn’t get it or maybe there’s just something strange about it. I’ll be going into things like that. A lot of parody stuff, tech stuff and a lot of pop culture stuff at the end of the day as I get older i tend to find out that I understand less with what’s going on in pop culture. So this is my attempt to stay as relevant and connected to it as possible.”

Brant Pinvidic, director and star of 'Why I'm Not on Pokemon Go'

That’s great! We’ll be on the lookout for that, but switching over to your film on Pokémon Go. I get asked ‘Are you still Playing Pokémon Go?’ a lot so I’ll ask you. Are you and your daughter, Brianna, still playing?

“Absolutely, what’s really fascinating is how it’s an instant entry into conversation with her. If she’s been up in her room for hours and hours and hours or I want to go say hi to her, it’s like, as soon as I bring up Pokémon Go and ask her something or tell her something I caught at work she’ll engage right away. It’s a shared interest that we have and that was the most powerful element of the game itself. I still play it once in awhile, it’s great for burning up some time when you’re bored and walking around and I’m super excited for the next release with all the new Pokémon and I’ll think it’ll spark her interest even more again to go out.”

You have two sons and Brianna, did they grow up with Pokémon?

“Absolutely, my oldest son was into Pokémon like crazy. He still has thousands and thousands of Pokémon cards somewhere in his room. And my youngest then took it over and now my daughter played it, not only in the cards but in the video games. She has the Nintendo DS and she plays it like crazy. And I remember for years not understanding how the game worked why was it interesting, why people were so connected to it and how could it be such a global sensation not just to some kids in some countries but everywhere. And i still don’t understand the card part of it, I don’t understand the cartoon part of it and I don’t understand the video game part of it., but Pokémon Go made sense to me because it’s active. You’re effectively chasing things down, hunting them and collecting them and that seems very natural and fun and I can see the benefit of that. The rest of it, the complexities of the game I mean my kids are super into that.”

Since its initial release it seems the Pokémon Go craze has slowed down, have you noticed?

“Yea, even while we were filming you couldn’t go anywhere without people playing [when it was first released]. Now I think it’s isolated to the “hot” zones. In LA we go down to Santa Monica Pier and there’s still thousands of people around still playing. Obviously, Nintendo and Niantic continue to do a good job because at this point they will release a lot of new Pokémon. And then it will start all over again, where you’ll have to go out and find them all. I think, most people have most of the Pokémon in their general area and there’s not enough new ones cycling through and so the update will probably spark another resurge again.”

Brant goes to the mall using his 'Pokemon Go' metal detector.

Your relationship with your daughter was a big part of the film but has your relationship with her evolved after the filming was over?

“Yea it has really helped. Because now I look at the relationship much different. I don’t approach her or try to get her on board with the things that I am doing or where I want to be. That’s not my point of entry with her anymore. Now it’s more I look to see what’s going on in her life, and try to talk to her just like I did with the Pokémon Go thing. What conversation can I start to have a similar sort of feel that’s important to her.

“I had a really great moment last week where she had her winter formal. She bought this amazing dress that she was so excited about, which was weird because she doesn’t get excited about much. But then she got sick. She had food poisoning or something and she had to miss her dance. And so for me I was able to realize that the dress was a big deal and then I approached her and asked her about it, is she bummed out that she didn’t go to the dance. And then i found out she was more bummed that she didn’t wear the dress. So i was able to go and say ‘why don’t we both go out on Saturday on a date out. You can wear your dress, look fancy and we can go to Hollywood.’ And so she was like ‘ok, that’ll be really great’ which was a surprise because she doesn’t want to leave the house to do anything, normally.

“We had a great time, it was a new experience for her and it was fun for me and we got really dressed up and it was just the two of us. And we talked a lot at dinner and I learned more things about what she likes at school and other things that I wouldn't normally ask. I’m like every other parent, ‘what did you learn at school? What did you do?’ and that’s not really the way kids talk or interact and I’m learning so much faster, and Pokémon Go and that experience led me down that path. And now I know how to get things out of her, what she wants to talk about, what she’s interested in and it’s been a huge help. It’s not a miracle [laughs] but it’s so much better.”

While filming your film what opened your eyes about the game?

“The big thing for me is that it wasn’t the game itself, it was the relationship and the connective tissue that people shared. And it felt like people were almost looking for that in their world. The ability to have something in common with people they can talk to, converse with and share and be a part of in our sort of digital age where everything is on your screen in a less sort of contact. But Pokémon Go gave people a real opportunity to get out there, which was great that they liked the game, but once they got out there and into that mode and into that community they shared in that community, which was very strange.

“The only thing I can liken it to is fantasy football. In a similar type feel where if you’re a fantasy football player, which is one of my ‘Why I’m not on’ coming up, people are so into it. They talk about it, they review it they spend time at work thinking about it and what’s great about it is that’s it’s not just the game that they play or Pokémon Gobut that there are other people who share your passion and share your interest. And when we had the Pokémon Party down at Pershing Square, everyone was talking to each other. Everybody had something in common that they can have a conversation in minutes. You can see who’s playing and ask what team they are on, what are they hunting for. They can share things and that’s a big barrier like that in the real world, going up to people you don’t know and starting a conversation? Not easy. And Pokémon Go sort of gave everyone a license to sort of do that and people really really enjoyed that.”

Brant brings a 'Pokemon Go' party to a Los Angeles park.

You’ve met so many different people during the filming but were there anyone that you cut out from the final product that stuck with you?

“I met a lot of people who were using it for exercise and to lose weight. And so I was really surprised as to how many people were using that as a device to give themselves motivation to walk out of the house and start walking around. I was really surprised at that because, once I saw [Pokémon Go] I thought it does make sense because I’ve done a lot of weight-loss shows in my TV career and the motivation is the hardest piece to instill in someone. So when people get on television to lose weight they do well, because they are part of a TV show every day, so they are motivated. With Pokémon Go, I think it helped a lot of people to give them motivation to get out and walk, which I think is really neat.

But I met a lot of people who were part-time players who didn’t know the folklore or weren’t really into the history of the game itself who found the interface very fun and dynamic. My wife is a perfect example. She doesn’t know a thing about Pokémon before it came out. So one of her friends asked her to try it and she loooved it. And it was really the functionality of the game and was something to do when people are out. I met a lot of those players. I didn’t meet a lot of quote-unquote, “comic-con-level fanboys” that I expected. I thought I was going to meet and be swept up by these uber intense players that you can liken to a Trekkie type of thing. And there wasn’t nearly as many of those people as i thought because the appeal seemed so broad. There were old and young people, people who loved the TV show way back when. It was much broader than I expected.”

Is the mass appeal and popularity the reason you chose to focus on Pokémon Go?

“Yea, and it fit what I was looking to do as a documentarian. The original Facebook movie, I went in with a different attitude. I went in looking to expose Facebook for all the bad things that it was. During the course of making the movie, what i was trying to do wasn’t working the movie wasn’t going to be some 60-minute, Michael Moore expose on Facebook, it turned into my personal journey of what are the personal elements and personal types effect that facebook has on people. The thing that worked when i was able to let my guard down and explore it naturally. So that same feeling when Pokémon Go was becoming really popular in my house with my kids and my wife i felt the same way. What on Earth is this stupid game and why do people like it? Either there is something wrong with them or there is something wrong with me that I don't get it. So I felt a little left out, and that this was silly and that sort of attitude that I had originally with Facebook, like ‘only those silly people are on Facebook’ and Pokémon Go it was the same thing. But when it was big enough I had to take a step back and say ‘hmm maybe I’m the silly one for not playing’ and there’s something I’m missing. And that’s when Pokémon became the focus of this movie.”

Pokémon Go was such a big phenomenon do you think we’ll see something like that again?

“I think so. I think there’ll be several. The information age today and the way technology moves and the way people go along with social media, there’s more opportunity than ever. It’s harder to get noticed than ever before, I deal with that in my business a lot, it’s harder to get noticed with a sea of video and content but when something hits it has a chance to really make a big difference because so many people have access to it. So i suspect there will be something else, maybe not similar but there’ll be something else like this that everyone wants to try, everyone wants to be a part of, everyone wants to do and experience. And the ability to get that information out is easier than ever before and the ability to share those experiences is easier than ever before. So being in this globally connected information world will help the next phenomenon become bigger, wider and faster.”