[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE is publishing two interviews daily with Sundance ’07 competition filmmakers through the end of the festival later this month. Directors with films screening in the four competition section were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview, and each was sent the same set of questions.]
Set for the Independent Documentary Competition at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, Lincoln Ruchti‘s “Chasing Ghosts,” written by Ruchti and Michael Verrechia, travels to Ottumwa, Iowa, descibed in the Sundance program guide as the video-game capital of the world and profiles Billy Mitchell, called the first and only player ever to get a perfect score on Pac Man. Included is footage of the 1982 Video Game World Championship in a film that Ruchti calls “a love story.”
Please tell us about yourself…
Jobs: Corporate Video, Lawn Mower, Elderly Care Giver, Gas Station Attendant.
I was born in Arkansas and grew up in Mississippi and Florida. I currently live in San Pedro, California.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
In 1984 my uncle bought a video camera. He taped me watching Benji on TV and played it back. I think I was hooked after that.
What other creative outlets do you explore?
I enjoy cooking.
Did you go to film school? Or how did you learn about filmmaking?
In high school, my best friend Eric was teen film critic for the Orlando Sentinel. We discussed movies constantly and I formulated a lot of opinions that year.
Later, I studied Film Theory at the University of Florida, where I met our producer, Mike Verrechia, and Film Production at Loyola Marymount in L.A.
Please tell us about your film. How did the initial idea come about?
Mike and I were looking for something to get our foot in the door. He emailed me a CNN article on Bill Mitchell, who played the world’s first perfect game of Pac-man, and I immediately connected to the idea. I investigated a little further and unearthed this amazing story of teen whiz-kids banding together in 1982 to conquer the video game world. After that, nothing could stop me from making the picture.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film, including your influences (if any), as well as your overall goals for the project?
Of all the programs I’ve ever seen about video games, none of them connected on an emotional level. I approached our film like a love story. These guys talk about the arcade like it was their first girlfriend. Nostalgia plays a huge part. We’re talking about electronic machines, but the human element runs very strong. And don’t forget that these guys are badasses, so I get to portray them as Rockstars too. It was fun playing with that.
How did the financing for the film come together?
When you are a first-timer, it’s hard to get attention. We tried to think outside the box and let our subject matter be a guide. We basically cold-called game companies until someone took the bait. Our only demand was to maintain full creative control, and I guess we look trustworthy or something because they agreed.
And what about finding your subjects?
Finding 12 guys from a 1982 LIFE magazine spread was just about as hard as you’d expect. The Internet was a huge resource. We created spreadsheets of possible names and phone numbers for the players and started dialing:
“Hello sir, are you Ben Gold?”
“Great, did you tour the country in 1982 as a Video Game Champion?”
“Yes, of course I’m being serious.”
“Okay, thanks pal.”
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
I can’t complain. We traveled the country talking to Video Game Legends about the 80s. I had a 30-minute conversation with author John Sellers about Rocky 3. Dream job.
The biggest challenge was getting our crew off 4-player Gauntlet long enough to finish an interview.
What do you hope to get out of Sundance, what are your own goals for the experience?
I want people to connect to my film. And I want to connect to the films I see.
Tell us about the moment you found out that you were accepted into the festival, where were you and how did you react?
I was in line buying Eddie Money’s Greatest Hits for our final mix. Mike called and told me we got in, and I thought he was kidding. It blew my mind that our Video Game doc was competing at Sundance. I calmly purchased the CD, then exploded on my drive home. “Two Tickets to Paradise” has never played louder.
What is your definition of independent film?
I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.
What are some of your favorite films, and why?
What’s coming to mind today: “You Can Count on Me,” “Road Warrior,” “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” “Withnail and I,” “Bottle Rocket,” “Karate Kid,” “Midnight Madness,” “Diner,” “American Movie,” “7-Up” series… “Stevie,” “Harlan County USA.”
But on a desert island, “Ghostbusters” would be my best friend.
What is your New Years resolution?
I’d like to drop 50 lbs this year. On the road, I could not stop eating Wendy’s Classic Triples and my addiction nearly warranted an intervention from the crew. Our producer documented some of these escapades, and I hope the photographs never surface on the Internet.
Get the latest coverage of Park City ’07 in indieWIRE’s special section here at indieWIRE.com