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Seth Gordon Interview: We Didn’t Show You The Darker Stuff in The King of Kong

Kevin Kelly
By Kevin Kelly posted 1 week ago
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Seth Gordon

I recently had the chance to sit down with director Seth Gordon while he was promoting his holiday comedy Four Christmases, which is a decent enough film with a few laughs in it, most of them courtesy of Jon Favreau’s UFC fighter wannabe character and his redneck wife, excellently played by Katy Mixon. Growing up in Texas, it’s a great portrait of many holidays past.

However, I couldn’t stop myself from asking him about The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, and the controversy it’s stirred up. In my other article talking about that movie and Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade, my point was that Ghosts was a much better film if you’re looking for a documentary about the arcades of yesteryear. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t entertained by The King of Kong –– on the contrary I find it very entertaining, and having met Steve Wiebe several times, he literally is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, just like in the film.

My main problem was the fact that Seth and his producer Ed Cunningham had seemed to play fast and loose with the facts when they edited their movie. Gordon doesn’t deny this, and he tantalizingly drops the fact that Billy Mitchell was actually much worse than they depicted in the movie. Does this mean that there needs to be a The King of Kong 2: Take This Hammer and Shove It sequel to set the record straight? I’d stand in line for that.

So, I cover a lot of video game events for Joystiq, and going to these video game events I have run into Walter Day, who is very outspoken. He has a whole page on Twin Galaxies sort of refuting facts in The King of Kong. He breaks down the dinner and says, “Well, Billy actually did come into that dinner. The movie makes it look like he just drove away after he found out he was there.” And all these other facts.

I know there is a frequently asked questions page on the The King of Kong website where you guys kind of address a couple things…

Oh there is, right.

But has Walter tried to contact you? Do you know about the whole controversy? Was the movie a product of kind of the editing process to help heighten the tension between Steve and Billy?

It is such a complicated conversation. The way we painted Billy and his actions is so much gentler that we could have, that it makes it hard for me to stomach the tiny little details that they are choosing to fight about, because his true actions were so ugly that we couldn’t use the complete truth, meaning we didn’t show him as dark as he really is.

To have them take issue with these tiny, tiny little things makes me want to unveil the darker stuff, because it would silence them forever. But it is not worth my time. I don’t think it is worth the kind of bad blood that could bring to start really opening Pandora’s box.

I could tell you off the record some of this stuff, but the dude is so much worse than we painted him out to be. So we just included the stuff in the movie that was necessary to tell the story and to understand Steve’s fear of him and his reputation, but we didn’t go into any of the stuff we could have.

All of their claims are fine, but someday we should have a symposium. The truth is that Walter is regularly in touch with Ed Cunningham, specifically the producer of Kong, and they are good friends. So there is no bad blood there.

Some of those guys are pissed, like Dwayne. Dwayne is sort of frothing at the mouth. He is making his other documentary, I believe. Dwayne is an extreme dude. I am excited to have a documentary that supposedly proves ours wrong.

I invite it like, “Do the best you can dude. Do whatever you want.” But if we went to court and we brought all the evidence, I am sure they would regret that choice.

The only other kind of exposure we have had to that world was Chasing Ghosts, which was at Sundance when you were at Slamdance, and then it kind of didn’t have nearly the success that Kong did, although it is coming out on Showtime next month, I just heard.

Oh good.

Yeah, it is going to finally be seen.

You know what? I didn’t know that they ever sold it. I am excited for them.

They are much lighter with Billy in that, although I haven’t talked to those filmmakers about the Kong controversy. I would love to see if what they did similar to what you did. When you do the feature film version, or the narrative, the scripted making of Kong, the remake I guess, is that something you would feel more comfortable pursuing? I mean, are these characters going to be named Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell?


Would you go down that dark road any with Billy’s character?


Because you can say, “Well, you know. This is scripted. This is fake.”

No, we would probably show a little more of the truth, but I think we would also hint at it more than making it…You don’t need to do much in a narrative film to suggest someone is sinister.

I think if Billy in a narrative film behaved exactly like he did during our doc, you would consider him implausible and unbelievable, I think. Right? I am not talking about the footage we didn’t use.

You are talking about what you did use.

I am talking about the footage we did use. Sure.

Sure. That is why everyone hates this guy after that movie.

Right. So I don’t think we would have to do much of that, but we might do a little bit.

Tell me about The Only Living Boy in New York. What is that all about?

It is a great story. It is along the lines of The Graduate. There is a Greek tragedy kind of plot where a kid finds out his father has a mistress, and instead of doing…The way he handles it is he ends up seducing the mistress himself.

So this woman is sleeping with both the father and the son. Neither knows about it. It is just really heavy. In the process he learns that these sort of changes in some more of a semantic responsibility and accountability for his actions. That ends up making it possible for him to fall for…

The girl that he was interested in ends ups starting to get interested back in him and grow an unrequited love. It is a great story.

Is it based on something? Is it original? Did you write it?

I didn’t write it. Alan Lowe wrote it.

Does it look like that will be your next film or do you think Kong will be the next one?

I would imagine it will be close, because that script is done, done and the Kong script is a great first pass that is likely to take a big step up and then get cast. So I would imagine it wouldn’t be sooner.

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