For its competitors, life on the Pro Tour is about personal goals. More than anyone else, they compete with themselves.
Today, I am honored to announce the release date for a project that two fellow coverage members and friends have been working on since 2013. Enter the Battlefield—Life on the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour, a feature-length documentary created by Nathan Holt and Shawn Kornhauser, is coming to Netflix and YouTube on April 26, and to celebrate, we'll be streaming a 12-hour marathon of the documentary on twitch.tv/magic starting April 25 at 12 p.m. PT/3 p.m. ET/7 p.m. UTC.
Enter the Battlefield centers its story on seven figures from the Pro Tour's past and present, focusing on the very different origins and motivations of Owen Turtenwald, Reid Duke, William Jensen, Chris Pikula, Patrick Chapin, Shahar Shenhar, and Melissa DeTora as they work to achieve their personal goals on the Pro Tour.
"Enter the Battlefield happened because [Organized Play Production Manager] Greg Collins wanted 'a project to challenge' Shawn and me," Nathan Holt explained. "This is what we came up with. From our first preproduction meeting to release, it's been two and a half years, a full year before my son was born. We shot footage for nearly two years."
Holt mentioned that the project became so thoroughly a part of his life that he found himself lying awake at night thinking about story angles, shoot logistics, personal correspondences, bureaucratic red tape, and all the little elements that make up a project of this size and scope.
"In Walking the Planes, Shawn and I found a way to engage with those stars in a fun, lighthearted way that could entertain the Magic community," Holt continued. "But anyone who works at the Pro Tour can tell you how much grit and guts the players put into their craft. It's a huge part of their lives, and they're putting a lot of themselves on the line. With Patrick, Melissa, Shahar, Owen, Huey, Reid, and Chris, we got to get a little closer than coverage usually goes. We asked for their vulnerability on camera. That takes an enormous amount of courage and trust. They gave it to us. They deserve a huge round of applause, and I hope this film does justice to their lives as Magic players."
The project presented some interesting challenges that both Holt and cinematographer Shawn Kornhauser had to tackle in order to achieve an end product that both would be happy with.
"I had been making films for ten years when Nate told me about something called the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour," Shawn Kornhauser reflected. "It was coming to Philadelphia, and he thought it would be fun to film it. That was almost five years ago. Since then, my life has been consumed by Magic: The Gathering, its culture, and the people who make up its Pro Tour. A few years later, we had the opportunity to do something bigger than our current web series, Walking the Planes. The initial concept behind Enter the Battlefield was simple: tell the story of the Magic season. As we developed the idea further, it grew into a project that was infinitely more ambitious than we realized."
A few years after Holt and Kornhauser got involved with Walking the Planes, the idea for Enter the Battlefield began to emerge. The idea was simple, but as Kornhauser quickly realized, the project was more ambitious than initially brainstormed.
"Aside from the conceptual challenge, it was a challenge of scale as well," Kornhauser elaborated. "Our crew consisted of two people: Nate and myself. I was learning how to make a feature-length production as we went. I transcribed hundreds of hours of interviews into a 126-page document. I made dozens of outlines trying to figure out how to weave multiple storylines together while maintaining an overall theme and flow."
Kornhauser said that working on the project for two and a half years taught him more about filmmaking than anything he had done in the previous ten, shaping him as a person and as a filmmaker.
"My goal at the beginning of this process was to feel satisfied with the final product," Kornhauser said. "My goal now is to feel as though we made a project that is worthy of the Magic community and the players we featured. They opened their lives to us, and I can only hope we told their stories well."
"During the normal course of covering a tournament, it's often hard to tell the deeper stories about a player's motivation and his or her life outside of Magic," said Greg Collins, executive producer for Enter the Battlefield. "I knew that a project like Enter the Battlefield would tell those stories in a more powerful, engrossing way than we ever could during live video coverage. Nate and Shawn stepped up to the challenge of a project this size, and the final cut looks fantastic. It was a long road to get here, and I'm thrilled that we're now able to share these players' stories with the world."
More information in Enter the Battlefield can be found on the documentary's web page. Join us on April 25 for the 12-hour marathon premiere on Twitch, and be sure to watch Enter the Battlefield on-demand on Netflix (in select markets) and YouTube starting April 26!