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GRAND THEFT HAMLET: where Shakespeare meets video games

April 26, 2024

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Grand Theft Hamlet is a Machinima feature documentary about two out of work actors attempting the impossible task of mounting a full production of Hamlet inside the ultra violent world of Grand Theft Auto Shot entirely in game. The team were winners of the 2023 Stage Innovation Award.

It’s January 2021. The UK has just entered its 3rd lockdown and all theatres remain closed. For actors Sam and Mark, the future looks bleak. As the pandemic drags on Mark who lives alone is increasingly socially isolated, while Sam is panicking about how he is going to support his family. They channel their midlife frustrations by immersing their avatars in the horrifically violent yet beautifully rendered virtual world of Grand Theft Auto Online. They steal cars and shoot strangers, but also find moments of calm reflection walking through meadows of wildflowers. In one gaming session they stumble across a theatre and have an idea. Why not stage Hamlet inside the game? Well, there are several reasons why not, chiefly that most people in the game are intent on murderous destruction, not polite appreciation of a theatrical production. But wasn’t theatre just as dangerous and rowdy a business in Shakespeare’s time, and isn’t Hamlet, a play about revenge the perfect choice for this place?

This documentary is shot entirely inside the world of Grand Theft Auto. It’s ground-breaking and necessary – especially at a time when more and more of our lives (even a cultural artefact as ancient as live theatre) move online. The documentary asks what is this space? How do we use it now and what else is possible inside it? Can we transport this ancient story inside a brand new one? And will it still make sense? The cinematic potential of Los Santos is immediately apparent, with its glittering, mind-blowingly detailed cityscape and surrounding countryside, the ray-traced rendering of light, ever-changing weather systems and intricate sound design. By using the in-game phone camera we were able to get intimate close ups and cinematic pans across landscapes – enabling a more cinematic visual language  and moments of pathos, emotion and lyricism to exist within the chaos and violence of this undiscovered country.

“It was our absolute pleasure to collaborate with the whole OnSight team. Recording the entire film on multiple Playstations gave limitations for the post, but they were happy to find solutions for all limitations. Fantastic experience.” – Julia Ton (Project 1961) and Rebecca Wolff (Grasp The Nettle Films)

“Onsight are a perfectly coordinated responsive post production team- who combine a personal touch with excellent jammy dodgers. Nothing was too much trouble for them. An absolutely delightful place – We could hang out there all day.” – Sam Crane and Pinny Grylls, Directors

Grand Theft Hamlet is directed by Rustic Mascara aka Sam Crane and Pinny Grylls, and produced by Julia Ton (Project 1961) and Rebecca Wolff (Grasp The Nettle Films), with Executive Producers Hazel Pictures and Park Pictures. It was the Jury Award Winner for Feature Documentary at SXSW, and screened at CPH:DOX and HotDocs!

We were delighted to be a part of this unique project, and completed Picture and Sound Post.