Wednesday, October 24, 2012
The King of Arcades Interview
Greetings and welcome to another exciting Kickstarter Interview! Today I’m joined by Sean Tiedeman of The King of Arcades Kickstarter project. How are you doing today Sean?
I'm doing great. Thank you James. I couldn't be better. The amount of support we have received so far is very exciting. It's been a lot of work over the past year and a half to get to this point. I'm thrilled that so many others seem to share the same passion that I have for this project.
So with so much good press, contacts in the industry, and interviews with video game legends already in the can why do you need Kickstarter?
When I first began filming this documentary in July of 2011, I had no idea how big the overall scope of the project would become. I never would have imagined I would be traveling to Iowa, New Hampshire, Colorado, or Washington D.C. The story just kept growing. Purchasing licensed footage, original music, hard drives, crew costs, artwork, and the travel costs began to add up substantially. Even when doing a film on the cheap, there are still many costs that you can not avoid. Financially, I began to get out of my league. I realized I needed a producer to help me take this film to the next level.
I actually shopped the film around a bit before launching my Kickstarter campaign. Surprisingly, I had a few producers step forward. As wonderful as it would had been to put their money to work, something just didn't click. I personally feel I needed to work with someone who understands these games, respects them, and understands the direction that this film is going in. This is a very important project to me, and I do not want to lose control of it. It's not like I needed too much money in comparison to what a feature film usually costs. Kickstarter quickly became an option and just made sense to me. The people who pledge obviously love this stuff as much as me. They can also benefit the production greatly because they know these games. It's a mutually beneficial relationship. They help me finish my project, I give them perks they can enjoy. The creative community should be very grateful that Kickstarter exists. It is a wonderful opportunity for filmmakers. Also, it is really cool as a backer to be part of a project you believe in. I know, since I started out that way supporting other projects.
So give us an overview of the kind of documentary you’re making here. Is it really just the story of one man’s arcade?
Richie Knucklez is like the 'Luke Skywalker' character of the Star Wars Universe. Richie is the center of the film, the thread, but there are so many other interesting places, simultaneous stories, and characters in the film. This may sound funny to you now, but I strongly believe the audience will have the same sort of interest and support for Richie Knucklez that folks gave to Sly Stallone with the Rocky character. There is so much to the story than you see in the Kickstarter video. That trailer is just the tip of the iceberg. There is comedy, drama, history, competition, and so much more. When this film is over, and the credits roll, I can not imagine a single person in the audience without a big grin on their face. I personally could not have written a better, more effective story if I tried. It's a good thing life is unscripted. I now that may sound funny, but I'm being honest. This story just happened and I was fortunate enough to hang in there for a year and a half to film it all as it unfolded.
The best stories do “just happen” as it were. So why should people care about arcade games in todays day and age of mobile phones, portable consoles, computers and the like which all can play more advanced games than these?
These are the small steps that got us to where we are today. The success of gaming today was achieved on the shoulders of many other people. I'm certain that as time goes on more people will care about these games and their history. These games are so iconic because they get down into the most basic templates of puzzles, challenges, and fast reaction tests. Most of the pioneers of the gaming industry are still alive today and that needs to be taken advantage of. We need to hear their stories, to show them our appreciation while we still can. These old machines are getting harder and harder to come by. Most of the companies that created them no longer have access to even a single one. Richie has some games that are like one of two that are known to exist in the entire world. I don't just want my children to hear stories about arcades, I want them to experience that excitement first hand.
Of course, the closest I can get might be showing this movie, this slice of the culture. This is history and the people who lived it care about it. We want to share that. When I first started filming only a year and a half ago, if you told me that the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. would hold their own Video Games exhibit exploring the forty-year evolution of video games I wouldn't have believed you. Someone else recognized how important this is to our history. Games are museum worthy! And who would have thought that Disney would release a film like Wreck-It Ralph? The movie is a beautiful tribute to classic gaming starring several well-known arcade characters such as Q*bert. The stories behind these characters in these games are very entertaining and important and I want to preserve those stories in beautiful HD for future generations to enjoy. It is simply wonderful that people are beginning to care.
As a fellow old school arcade fan I have to ask, are there any pinball interviews? I know the focus tends to focus on video game classics, but for me arcades have always equaled pinball machines.
Richie's Arcade does have many pinballs machines and they are all beautifully restored. He sells a lot of them too. I still remember the first time I saw Richie lift up a Pinball machine panel exposing the electronics underneath. It was mind blowing. Thousands of lights, wires, cables, microchips, and electronics. It looked like an entire city at night hidden under there. It was fascinating to me. I do not think anyone can argue that pinball machines have always been a necessary ingredient in any arcade.
I'm a big fan of Brett Sullivan's film 'Special When Lit'. The movie tackled the entire history of pinball in great detail. I watched it several times before taking on The King of Arcades, but I knew early on my target would be the video games. I was born in 1972 and I was there for the birth of the video game age. Ralph Baer's Magnavox Odyssey (the first home console system) was released the same year I was born. I remember there were actually overlay screens that you would tape to your TV set that had artwork printed on them since there weren't really any graphics. Put like Mr. Baer says in the trailer on Kickstarter, being able to control something on a TV screen back then was unheard
of. It was magical. As simple as the graphics were even in the later systems such as the Atari VCS/2600, when I played Missile Command or Space Invaders as a child, in my mind I was saving the world. Still to this day, when I hear the startup 'twang' of Defender, or the missiles shooting in Space Invaders, or the Donkey Kong opening, the hair stands up on the back of my neck. I never got that feeling with pinball although I highly enjoy it. Pinball machines make appearances in The King of Arcades but they are not the primary focus. If you love pinball I highly recommend Special When Lit:A Pinball Documentary. Last I looked, the film is currently streaming on Netflix.
For me it would have to be the missile counts, the city thumps, and the “Dwoo woo woo” of Missile Command. There are plenty of challenges that go into documentaries, from setting up interviews, negotiating archive footage rights, to live shots, how hard is it to do all of those things while running an active Kickstarter campaign on top of it all?
I am taking a short break from editing and filming right now and shifting gears to focus primarily on the Kickstarter campaign. Since this project is my passion, I do as much as I can when I'm not committed to my "real" job. My next shooting date is in Denver, Colorado on November 16th at an event called The Kong-Off 2. My Kickstarter campaign ends the next day on November 17th. That day is also my 40th Birthday so it will definitely be a memorable day.
What did you do to prepare for this Kickstarter? Documentaries, even ones about popular subjects, strike me as a hard sale in our digital entertainment age. Have you spoken to past Kickstarter documentaries for some tips before you launched?
I did a lot of research last month before launching. Anytime you tackle something new, of course the more you educate yourself the better off you will be. There are always so many unknowns. Just because I feel so strongly about this film, doesn't mean anyone else will. People do not part with their money easily. I had to make sure my Kickstarter page presented what I was trying to do in the most effective way. That is by no means an easy task. I put a lot of thought into the perks as well. I usually will use myself as a test. What would make me want to be a part of this project if I was an outsider seeing it for the first time? It definitely helps to have a subject matter such as video games that you can directly market. For example, I can easily promote the film by posting in video game forums or asking videogame websites to take a look at my Kickstarter page. Just be honest when contacting other sites. If you believe in yourself, and feel what you have is special, take some pride in your project and the rest should come a bit easier for you.
So with just over 26 days to go in your campaign you’ve already reached your goal of $40,000 what happens now? Do you have stretch goals in mind? Plans to keep the excitement up? How can extra money even help your production?
I am so grateful and thankful for the support I have gotten already. I never expected to exceed my goal. All I know is I am going to stretch every dollar I get. I want every dollar that every backer spent to show up on the screen in one way or another. As I said, making a film and maintaining a certain level of quality is very expensive. We have one backer, Eric, that really surprised me with his generosity. He is our new Executive Producer. His energy and enthusiasm for this project is inspiring to everyone involved in the production. I want to be sure that all of our backers don't just feel like they're contributing to the funding, but feel like a part of the production. I want them to take more away from this than just the DVD. As the campaign continues, I'll be sure to share updates on the project to keep my backers in the loop and continue to build the excitement. I'll share behind-the-scenes sneak peaks, take the opportunity to meet new people, and spread the word through interviews like this one. I always said I would finish this film even if we didn't get any money… because finishing the film is for me. To do it right, I need support. So, this is for the supporters now. The more people who love this idea and support this project, the better this project will become. It's bigger than me now.
Are you really giving away an Executive Producer credit for $5,000? PLUS an arcade cabinet shipped for FREE? Are you crazy?
You know, I don't think it's crazy to give people something big as a thanks for making my dreams come true. I started out as a kid with an arcade machine in my closet and an old home video camera. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself, "Someday you will meet the man who invented these games and you'll be making a real movie!" So, I want to recognize my backers. I want them to know how much I appreciate each and every contribution I receive.
My original plan was to have a contest for all of our backers to win a restored Richie Knucklez arcade cabinet. Basically, for every dollar someone donated to the film, they would get a single entry. We would then do a live drawing on Richie's Arcade Culture Web Show to pick a winner. I scrapped that idea last minute after research proved to me that would most likely be considered a lottery by Kickstarter and is currently not allowed.
I did not want to risk my project being pulled down halfway through, so we decided to simply add an arcade machine as a perk at the $10,000 level. It's the perfect way to thank our biggest backers. Richie restores these machines to look exactly like they did on the showroom floor back in the 1980s. Richie's machines are museum quality. Myself and many others agree they are the best in the entire world.
So now that you have met your goal why should new backers join the campaign? I mean if I just sit tight I’m sure I’ll see it on Netflix in 2013 or at Penny Arcade Expo or some other gaming convention.
For one, this may be the only chance to get a hard copy of the DVD with all those other great perks. I love Netflix, but it's always a bummer to miss out on the behind-the-scenes stuff. So, some people will just want to take advantage of that. I really try to make sure you're getting something valuable for your contribution. I feel that people love the excitement of being a part of something like this. It is very gratifying to believe in something early on, support it, and then watch it take a life of it's own in the world. Everyone who has donated to our campaign is helping to get this film done and is a huge part of the film. I noticed a common phrase in the Kickstarter community. Backers will often be very modest and say something to the extent of they are proud to be a small part of whatever project they graciously supported. Small!? No way. For example, I myself, am just a small part of this project if you look at the big picture. I am the one simply telling the story of Richie Knucklez, Walter Day, and Ralph Baer as well as the story of the entire early history of video games. I mean this film is bigger than any one person. Everyone knows I couldn't have done this by myself. Every person makes a huge difference and everyone whose name appears in the end credits deserves to be there.
So besides a love for classic arcades, what possessed you to go on this trek through video game history to make this documentary? Do you think this is a topic that isn’t getting enough attention by the mainstream?
As I said, I've loved arcades and making movies all my life. It was only a matter of time before the two passions collided. My dad has a lot to do with that. He took me to Merlin's Magic Arcade on 25th Street in Easton, Pennsylvania regularly on Sundays when I was a kid. He showed me how to use a film camera and supported me every step of the way in my career, even though it seemed impossible at times. When my father passed away in October of 2010, I couldn't stop thinking about all the things we won't get to share in the future. I wished I could go back and capture those moments I had with him so I could replay them. I couldn't stop thinking about how we often use our talents for work instead of following our own passions, and how my father always encouraged me to pursue mine. I wanted to take on a project about a subject matter I loved, to follow my heart and try to deal with the loss of my dad. When I walked into Richie's arcade, it really was magical. Seeing these games now in 2012 just takes me back to my childhood. When I play a game of Joust, Marble Madness, or Spy Hunter, for that 5 minutes (Yeah, I am not that good at these games) all of my real-life problems just go away. I can be a kid again.
This project helped me reconnect with my past and prepare for my future. There were a few points along the way when I thought about giving it up, considered the fact that I might be crazy for thinking this could be as important to others as it is to me. It was a good thing I had my Producer to keep me focused. When I started this project, I was recently engaged. As if planning a wedding wasn't enough for us, I dove headfirst into filming. I'm lucky enough to have a wife that not only allows me to pursue my passions, but also does everything she can to help me succeed. This project became a big part of our relationship. It became a way for us to share our talents and work together. She quickly became the Producer of the film, because I realized she was much better at organizing and handling the project so I could focus on filming, editing, and directing. Krystle, as a librarian, also approached this project from a different angle. She was able to really grasp the historical and cultural importance of this project, to help me appreciate the aspects of arcades that I could never quite put into words. This project has become a part of our family, and it has expanded our family to include the great cast and crew we've worked closely with for over a year. It truly is a labor of love.
I feel classic arcade games have gotten a lot of attention by the mainstream over the years, but not always necessarily the right type of attention. The King of Kong is one of my favorite films of all time in terms of entertainment value, but I do not feel it presents a positive or honest light on the gaming community. Chasing Ghosts is a good film too, but very different from the story that I am trying to tell with Richie. Since this project started as a pursuit of passion, we want to capture the heart of gaming. That is something I don't feel has been explored. The people who play these games for days non-stop, who spend years perfecting their skill to beat the records, who devoted their talent to designing the games, who painstakingly restore these aging works of art, who spend their free time and spare change trying to recapture their past as I have… these people are the arcade culture, they are the heart.
This is their story...
So what are you doing to get the word out about your Kickstarter project? Facebook? Twitter? Google+? Are you doing interviews with popular gaming sites or putting out ads.
I have to admit, the second I hit the launch button for my project I got a bit nervous. When you see $0.00 of your $40,000 goal it can be very intimidating. I realized within the next few hours that success wasn't going to come by itself. You can not launch a Kickstarter project and expect to just check it everyday and see the numbers go up exponentially. It is a full time job. The amount of work you put in will determine your success. Everyday I would spend an hour before going to work, a half hour on my lunch break, and an hour before I went to bed contacting everyone I knew and telling them to spread the word for me too. I emailed all of the big video game sites asking them to take a look at the project. Some helped me… some didn't. I owe a lot of thanks to sites such as yours, Kotaku, GMD Studios, Retrocade Magazine, and Gaming World United. These folks really supported my cause and helped spread the word. You need things like that to be successful. It is easy to get lost in the shuffle on Kickstarter. Before you launch your campaign, think of what you will do to get people to see it.
So besides donating, how can supports and backers help out your project?
I am open to anything. I met a few folks such as Acey Brimshore from the band Not Another Sequel, Just Another Prequel who donated a wonderful song called 8 Bit Superhero. We are helping each other out. He gets to promote his work in through the project and I get an awesome song to enhance the film. I have had people contact me to mail me footage they shot of historic gaming events, all kinds of stuff. Very fun. An artist named DJ Chribs just sent me a song called Attract Mode that is pretty cool. You never know who will step forward to help out the production. The important thing to remember is if this is something you want to support, share that excitement. We need to let the world know this is something we care about, something worth watching.
It has been a pleasure speaking with you Sean. Do you have any final thoughts for our readers? Any tips for others thinking of starting their own Kickstarters?
If you are thinking about it, just do it. If you look at the big picture, you can't lose with Kickstarter. Even if you don't get the money, you will learn so much and will most likely get it right next time. Within a few days of launching my project, I met so many people I never would have met otherwise. I even had some celebrities email me. Pretty crazy. It's a great way to network and get your ideas out there. You open a whole new door in your career that could bring anything your way.
Thank you for your time! I look forward to seeing “The King of Arcades” in some form or another!
Thank you James. Maybe I should go 100% old school and release the film on VHS.
I love your blog and really feel anyone who is planning on launching a Kickstarter campaign needs to poke through your site. Lots of priceless information in there. Thanks for your time and interest in the movie.