Updated 2/18/07



Q & A : Chasing Ghosts
By Jeff Hanson

Anyone who ever put a quarter into a Pac-Man or Space Invaders game in the early ‘80s will appreciate being yanked into the nostalgic charm of Chasing Ghosts. The documentary centers on the pioneer players of the then-fledgling video game industry, and the arcade classics that served as precursors to today’s billion dollar gaming mega-empire. On hand for the Q&A after a recent screening were director Lincoln Ruchti, producer Michael Verrechia, director of photography Lisa Wiegand, official gaming scorekeeper Walter Day, and world champion gamers Ben Gold and Mark Robichek, who were featured in the film.

Director Lincoln Ruchti, Chasing Ghosts. -- Photo By Joy Reyneke, Wireimage.com

"Mike [Verrechia] sent me an article on Bill Mitchell and his perfect Pac-Man game and his Donkey Kong score. He was immediately compelling – partly because of the mullet, but also because of his attitude... "

Q: Tell us about the evolution of the film. How did it all come together?
Mike [Verrechia] sent me an article on Bill Mitchell and his perfect Pac-Man game and his Donkey Kong score. He was immediately compelling – partly because of the mullet, but also because of his attitude – and so I thought he’d be a good subject. We did some research and found that Life Magazine photo, and I think as soon as we saw it we knew we wanted to do the movie. We contacted Walter [Day], who put it all together, and he was very open to doing the story. He helped us find some of the people.
Day: This really is only the beginning of examining the history of video game playing. Because video games are becoming so big, so monstrous, so widespread, with so much money involved. The future is going to be looking back on these moments a thousand times more than what this movie has looked on. All the people who were connected to Twin Galaxies (Walter’s arcade) were true pioneers. They were the first video game fanatics. They were the first video game stars. Now there are millions of them. But in those days, there were only a few dozen who were hardcore enough to get on a bus and come to Twin Galaxies, the birthplace of organized video game playing. And these guys were that story.

Q: (To the gamers) How do you feel about players like Thresh and Fatality [current professional gamers] who have created very lucrative careers?
I was 16 when all of this was happening, and that was my dream, to become a professional video game player. Today, the players have gone far beyond what we ever did. We couldn’t imagine the Internet and the online phenomenon. All we had then was the telephone and airplane tickets. That was the way we communicated. There were probably people out there who didn’t know about the scoreboard or found out about it later. Today the kids are professionals. There’s more money and the games are really complicated. I hate to say this, but it’s a lot easier to stick in a quarter and play one of those older games because these new ones are just a little bit beyond me.
Day: I want to stick up for Ben and everybody else in the early ‘80s because that skill set they had back then is the same skill set that Thresh and Fatality are using today. However, these guys were born a generation and a half too early and didn’t have the opportunity that’s now available through modern technology through the Internet and especially through modern funding and sponsorships. That’s why it really didn’t take off because there was no money to fuel the development of leagues and teams. They were the stars back then and they would have been the stars today, but they were born too early. It’s as simple as that.

Q: It’s a beautiful looking documentary – can you talk about what you shot it in and how you made it look so good?
We shot the modern day footage on HD on a Sony F900 and I think if we had the option to use a smaller HD camera we might have done it. We had to lug a lot of stuff around to a lot of different places.
Robichek: I had not seen the movie before today, not even a piece of it. So it was very interesting to see how we video-gamers from 20 some odd years ago were portrayed. And I was very glad to see that maybe I didn’t come across as normal but I was more normal than the others.

Q: What percentage of your budget went into the music? You had really great music.
It was probably way too much. That’s the biggest part, finding all those old pieces of footage and finding the music that fits and then finding out who owns them. We started collecting early, but most of the footage came from personal collections. It was kind of nice to see that they care enough about that time period that they keep it all themselves.

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