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All hands down

Rock, Paper, Scissors: A Geek Tragedy, makes its Whistler debut during TWSSF



What: Rock, Paper, Scissors: A Geek Tragedy

When: Saturday, April 18, 7 p.m.

Where: Rainbow Theatre

Cost: $12

Rock, paper, scissors: it's typically thought of as a decision-making tool or simply a fun childhood pastime. But apparently for some, it has developed into a game that requires training, strategy and a society.

Pat McKinnon, a Pemberton-based filmmaker, found himself immersed in the competitive realm of rock, paper, scissors as part of a feature-length documentary he made with his good friend, Mike McKeown. The duo were in the midst of developing a screenplay project when, one day, while strolling down the streets of Toronto, they stumbled across an ad for the upcoming inaugural World Rock, Paper, Scissors Championships.

"Both of us were just completely baffled that such a thing existed," McKinnon recalled.

They immediately dropped the screenplay project and started researching the Rock, Paper, Scissors Society, a group founded by brothers, Doug and Graham Walker.

"It was just an idea that they had one night when they were at their family cabin - drunk - and they took that idea and ran with it and it just exploded," McKinnon said.

The brothers had created an online community, which quickly blossomed into a championship that immediately attracted competitors and media from around the world.

"Our initial vision was really to do a short film, like film the championships, watch the people 'training,' and meet some of these characters, and then these characters ended up becoming so interesting that it just kept going," McKinnon said with a grin.

"...The whole Rock, Paper, Scissors thing ended up getting just so much broader than bigger in scope than we ever anticipated."

McKinnon and McKeown started working on the documentary in 2002, right after they first discovered the subculture of the Rock, Paper, Scissors world, founded Flip Flop Films, and began filming about a year later. They ended up shooting almost 120 hours of footage.

"Neither of us had ever made a film independently before," McKinnon said, so it was a huge learning process.

But after gaining the trust of the Walker brothers, McKinnon and McKeown were led into the Rock, Paper, Scissors community, where they discovered an incredible cast of characters.

"Everybody's got a unique strategy, that's for sure!" McKinnon said. "It's a really simple game, but it's as complex as you want to make it. There's a lot of debate over, 'is it skill versus luck?' and after watching hundreds of rock, paper, scissors matches over the last few years, I can say that definitely there are people that are inherently good at the game."

They are often the people who are also good at games like poker.

"You're reading people's reactions, so if you're to play somebody like a one-off and you don't know them, then it's pretty much a game of luck," McKinnon said. "You don't know each other, there's no pattern there. But as soon as you start getting into best of three or best of five, playing somebody over and over again, that's when you pick things up."

McKeown took on the role of director, while McKinnon wrote and produced the 87-minute feature-length documentary.

They eventually teamed up with Good N' Proper, another production company, after most of the primary shooting was done and they were trying to find funding and production deals.

They fully committed to the project by heading overseas to London to meet and film a four-person rock, paper, scissors crew from the UK. Soon, they were making trips around North America - San Francisco, New Jersey, Washington.

"The first year (of the championship) that we filmed, every major media outlet was there - CNN, ABC, NBC, CTV - everyone."

The novice filmmakers were thrown into the fray, and found themselves a bit out of their depths, running six separate film crews.

"We were just flying by the seat of our pants and competing with all these pro outlets for shots and interviews," he recalled. "It was a gong show, but it worked."

The film premiered at the Calgary International Film Festival in 2007, where it won the Audience Choice Award. Since then, it's screened at festivals across North America, and next week it will make its Whistler debut at the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival.