Up Next

Esports

Director Sheldon Candis helps ‘NBA 2K20’ with its new look

He teamed with SpringHill Entertainment, Maverick Carter and LeBron James on this newest version

NBA 2K20, the newest version of the popular NBA 2K series, is out, launched Sept. 6 by Take-Two Interactive. The new version introduced a new MyCareer, the game’s popular story mode. The general idea behind MyCareer is simple: Players start with a college basketball player and play as that character as he navigates his way to the league and, once there, from the bench to, hopefully, the Hall of Fame once the journey ends.

Take-Two Interactive teamed up with SpringHill Entertainment, the LeBron James- and Maverick Carter-run media company, for this year’s MyCareer. That joint effort has infused a socially conscious message into the MyCareer story this year. Gamers play with Che, a talented player who quits college basketball to atone for a wrong committed against his best friend and college teammate, Porter.

The Undefeated talked with Sheldon Candis, director of this year’s MyCareer.

How would you explain the MyPlayer story in NBA 2K20?

Imagine if LeBron had gone to a big D-I program and his best friend, who’s a bench player, gets hurt and the coach and the school pull the kid’s scholarship. [In the game], Che decides to stand up against the university and its coach and the system to say, ‘This isn’t right. My best friend should still be able to be at school and have a scholarship and not be sacrificed because he got hurt on the basketball court.’

It’s a simple idea that’s really aligning with LeBron and Maverick’s More than an Athlete platform through Uninterrupted. That thematic is really at the core.

How did you first get approached by SpringHill Entertainment to direct the MyPlayer experience for NBA 2K20?

I first established my relationship with Maverick off my first film, Luv. I made the film and went to Sundance. After Sundance, I put together a screening with my producers for LeBron and Dwyane Wade for the film, and from that I was able to create a relationship with Maverick. And then once SpringHill was formed, my agent started taking meetings with them, discussing ideas, and 2K20 When the Lights are the Brightest was the first one to happen.

What’s it like working with SpringHill Entertainment?

It’s just really phenomenal. To see the literally cultural seismic impact that LeBron is having on the entertainment industry and the different individuals that you don’t see that SpringHill is bringing opportunities to, it’s just really phenomenal, man. I just happen to be one of those people.

Do you feel ventures like SpringHill and what LeBron is doing with his media company is helping diversify the industry?

Very much so. It basically, the brass tacks of it is that a lot of those opportunities just weren’t there before SpringHill. And it’s not only that they are giving minorities in the entertainment industry opportunities, they are also creating opportunities.

For example, think about it — this is the first year in 2K’s existence that they took on a creative producing partner to produce the game, SpringHill Entertainment. Before LeBron and SpringHill, this opportunity, it was never a thing. It was never a reality.

Take me through the story of the MyPlayer NBA2K game. What will players of the game experience this year?

It’s striking at a true core of an authentic experience of what it is to be a modern basketball player and what it is to be responsible for so much outside of basketball. So now it’s more than just the game. It’s the decisions you make off the court that directly and immediately impact what your future in the sport can be.

Che is a guy who is a phenomenal high school basketball player. He goes into a D-I program and is having a really hard time with what he sees and with what he’s encountering and with what he’s experiencing within the system of big-time college basketball. And so he’s the person who decides to, as it’s said to him, ‘Hey, you chose to sit out.’ And his response is, ‘No, I chose to stand up.’ He chose to stand up when his best friend gets hurt and loses his scholarship. And basically, what’s thrusted into the culture is accountability not only for yourself but advocating for others and this idea that an athlete can be more than someone who entertains people and just plays basketball to generate dollars. So it’s a very serious core thematic this year, and it’s very emotional.

How do you think fans of the game will respond to it?

I think everybody is going to dig it. Your agent, Spencer, introduces you to Maverick, and Maverick is your guru. He’s advising you on decisions you can make or bringing opportunities to you. But what’s so fun about the game is that you have options. So you can get a call from Maverick and he says, ‘Hey, man, you want to come down to this movie set and be in this movie?’ And so now you get an opportunity to be in a movie, but you can potentially miss your morning workout that could ultimately affect your draft status. But if you go to the movie set, who knows who you could meet, who could bolster your profile and get you endorsements.

So that’s so cool about it. It’s giving gamers the real-life experience of what players have to go through, what decisions they have to make. And then they get to see through the gameplay, through the journey with Che.

What’s so amazing about it, when Che does decide to stand up and speak about the system, it affects him, as we’ve seen within American sports from Colin Kaepernick to John Carlos to anyone who’s taken a stand. We’ve seen how it has affected not only their opportunities to play the sports they love but also their career, their livelihood, their well-being. So, in this case with Che, when he speaks out, it affects his draft status.

Who came up with the story idea?

It was Taylor Materne, the screenwriter, who came up with the storyline and with the multiple options. It’s like a 150-page script, literally like a conventional screenplay for a movie, but then you have to work in all the different options, the different paths that Che can take. And so that’s why SpringHill gravitated to it so much, to try to push as much as possible. And trust me, there are things that are in there where we’re like, ‘There’s no way the NBA is going to clear this,’ and it cleared.

Take me through the process of what it means to be a director of a video game.

It’s the same sensibility and craft of making a film. But what’s very interesting about the movie inside of the game and working within motion capture — all of the actors show up and put on one of the funny digital pajama-looking suits with the white balls on them, and then we put the face camera on their head so the camera captures every angle and every characteristic of someone’s face so that later the [artists] can then paint on what I call the digital dermis, the digital skin of an individual. And so, when you’re directing it, it’s a very interesting world because it’s somewhere between directing a film, directing television and a little bit of theater, because it’s all happening in real time on the stage and the actors are in little moments of theater.

I was brought in to elevate and make it this movie inside of the game, make it an emotional cinematic experience. I’m working with cranes and dollies and everything to elevate the movement of the camera and [give gamers the] feeling you’re immersed within a movie and not just this idea of a computer-generated world.

It comes down to communicating story with actors to get the very best performance out of them so the gamer can get immersed in the reality of these things that are happening.

What do you want the audience to leave with?

For me, listen, man, it comes down to who outside of yourself are going to champion. And I think that what’s so amazing about this game other than this idea of ‘Me, me, me, the athlete. I got to make it. I got to achieve my dreams to make it to the NBA and make a lot of money and buy a nice house and a nice car.’

What’s so wonderful about this experience, which I do believe is a direct reflection of LeBron — just think about it — he wasn’t through his entire journey just thinking about himself. He was constantly championing and thinking about his brothers, thinking about his guys. And that’s what’s so beautiful about Che’s story when it comes to his best friend, Porter, and just what his championing and what his advocating means for the game. It’s more than just yourself; it’s who did you stand up for.

Brando Simeo Starkey is an associate editor at The Undefeated and the author of In Defense of Uncle Tom: Why Blacks Must Police Racial Loyalty. He crawled through a river of books and came out brilliant on the other side.