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Rebooting Pac-Man: An Interview With Directior James Farr

// Featured, Interviews

We’ve seen a number of nostalgic games, comics and toys rebooted as films in recent years with varying success rates (the less I say about Battleship,  the better!)  With the trend increasing, you might ask why has no one attempted a movie about 80s arcade gaming legends, such as Pac-Man, before….

“Because Pac-Man made no sense” explains Steelehouse Productions, the company behind a brand new fan film tribute to our favourite dot-gobbling yellow disc.  “On the surface, it was absolute, utterly random nonsense.  Then James Farr wrote a script. And suddenly … it WASN’T.”  Enter “PAC-MANThe [Fan] Movie”, a slick new short film combining live action and CGI in an arcade-game-meets-Transformers-meets-Tron-Legacy mash up for a 21st century audience.

You can watch the full film here:

It comes as no surprise that the film’s writer and director, JamesFarr, is a self-confessed Transformers fan.  As well as being the Creative Development Director for Steelehouse, you may also recognise him as being the creator of XOMBIE and Trains-Formers, two hugely popular YouTube series, plus other development work for companies such as Hasbro, Dreamworks and  and New Line Cinema.

Skwigly recently caught up with Farr to talk about his vision for Pac-Man and what has been called “The Greatest 80s movie never made”…

An artist, writer, and professional Transformer devotee, James got his start in the industry at 21 when he sold his first cartoon to “Simpsons” producer, Film Roman.

When you stop to think about it, the concept behind the Pac-Man games is pretty bizarre!  How did you go about making it into a credible storyline for a modern audience?

It’s funny. Once I knew what Pac-Man was – the why and how of his existence – the rest of it fell pretty easily into place.  I knew he had to serve a purpose, and that his purpose – whatever it was – needed to feel innovative yet comfortably obvious. Framing him as a sort of tactical hazard eliminator seemed like a cool way to give him narrative value, but also a means to make him relevant for the world we live in now.

Were you ever tempted to stay true to Pac-Man’s original style and use 8-bit animation rather than CGI?

Not so much. Though we were sure to include his classic 8-bit shape in over half the shots in the film. We wedged it into everything from the compound doors, to the on-screen loading bars, to the dials on our goggles.  Still, I think the real excitement and challenge came from trying to make this work as a live action concept. And to make him feel surprisingly at home in that space. As for Pac-Man’s actual character design, though, we borrowed quite a bit from the original artwork that accompanied the 8-bit game. Most notably, the big red eyes from the classic arcade cabinet art, and the short-ish arms and legs from the old Atari 2600 cartridge. The latter was the first iteration of Pac-Man I ever owned.

You created a teaser campaign under the name “Project Yellow Sphere” which seemed to get a great response from your audience.  Is this a technique you’ve trialled in the past?

Definitely. It was much less about going viral, though, than it was about complementing the eventual film. In this particular short, there was very little time to convey an awful lot of story, and to justify a very long list of stuff. The Project Yellow Sphere website and teaser trailer felt like a great way to built some additional narrative foundation. To help prime people for the sort of tone and level of reality we were shooting for.

This is your first live action project, how did you find directing real people as opposed to characters, and also taking an acting role in the film yourself?

Ha. I’m not positive I’d call it an “acting” role. But it was a blast to be on screen. Directing real actors, of course, tends to be a heck of a lot faster than directing a CG character. But at the end of the day, its all about getting the best performance you can.

Have you had any reaction from NAMCO about your film?

Perhaps…

We noticed that you partnered with Machinima to release the film, does that mean we can expect more computer game-themed productions in future?

Oh yes. I’m sure Steelehouse and I will be “digging deeper” at some point in the future.  And yes. I love bad puns.

What are you working on next?  We see that a Xombie sequel is on Kickstarter…

Yeah! The Xombie crew and I are really excited about that. After having the rights sit on a studio shelf for a few years, it’s great to have the chance to jump back in, and continue the story as it was originally intended. You can check out all the info and goodies at:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/epiclevel/xombie-death-warmed-over

As for other projects, there is always something awesome going on at Steelehouse. Expect comics, a few web series, and of course, more amazingly random video game adaptations.

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