Cannon Arm and The Arcade Quest is a unique look into niche retro arcade gaming, and those within that community. Director Mads Hedegaard blends history and personal tales to create a compelling narrative about determination and following your dreams.
Outtake spoke with Hedegaard following the showing of Cannon Arm at the BFI London Film Festival 2021, discussing inspiration for the project, the people involved and the stylistic decisions that led to such a visually aesthetic documentary.
When and how did you first come across Kim “Cannon Arm” and his friends?
Mads Hedegaard: When I was at film school, I met a guy who worked as a technician at the school and we became friends. It turned out that he was the co-owner of the Bip Bip Bar arcade and he invited me down there to visit and hang out. After I had been there a couple of times my friend introduced me to Kim and told me about his dream about setting the 100-hour arcade-marathon record. Soon after that Kim introduced me to his friends.
At what point were you inspired to make them the subject of a documentary?
Mads Hedegaard: When I first walked in the door at the arcade I was blown away by the colors, sounds, music and atmosphere. It was like stepping into a new world. Then I heard about Kim’s dream and I thought ‘that’s insane!’. But I also thought that it was a really nice and simple starting point for a film: A guy has a dream/goal, will he achieve it or not? And that simple premise combined with the feeling I had of stepping into another world I thought maybe could be a film, so I decided to try to make a film.
You mentioned that you were a relative outsider compared to those you were filming. What has been your experience with gaming?
Mads Hedegaard: As a kid I played video games first on a Commodore 64 and a bit later on an early PC. And when I went on summer holiday with my family to Italy or France, I loved going to the local arcades which almost every little town had. A bit later I played a game that I can’t remember the name of, but I do remember that I got so hooked that I didn’t do anything else for days but already at that point I was a lot into films so I actually made a conscious choice not to play any more video games from that day on because I preferred watching movies.
And what kind of insight does that outsider status grant you as a documentary filmmaker?
Mads Hedegaard: Obviously when I stepped into the Bip Bip Bar arcade I was thrown back to my childhood memories of playing the same games in the small Italian towns, so there was a lot of love from the beginning. But being the outsider also made it possible for me to see more than just the games. Very quickly I became friends with the guys in the arcade and I found them to much more interesting than the games, so rather quickly it turned into a film about a group of friends more than about gaming and arcade machines.
In your opinion, what makes Kim’s endeavour so engrossing, even to non-gamers?
Mads Hedegaard: To me the interesting thing is the passion and the effort that goes into the whole project, it’s not necessarily the games themselves. I think it could have been anything really. To me it’s a film about friendship and the need to be part a community much more than it’s about gaming. I think we can all relate to that in some way, it might not be at an arcade but it could be a football club or a music group or something completely else. It’s the passion for something and the community and it’s about following your dreams and doing what makes you happy.
How did you ensure the documentary hit the emotional beats with the audience, particularly when so much of the story involves a man looking at a screen?
Mads Hedegaard: It took a while before I found the form and structure that the film needed to have, because as you say it’s basically just a guy standing in front of a screen for an incredible number of hours, so I knew from the beginning that we needed something else to make it interesting and engaging to an audience. So, I decided to narrate the film myself hoping to make sure that we didn’t loose the audience along the way and then obviously the editing was a major thing in making the film engaging and entertaining and my editor Mark Bukdahl did an amazing job at that.
The film touches on some universal ideas, such as wanting to be remembered – when a record could mean some small level of immortality. Did these themes emerge organically throughout filming, or did you go searching for them from the beginning?
Mads Hedegaard: Those ideas very much emerged organically while I was filming and talking to the friends in the film and thinking about how to tell their story as best I could. To me it’s not a film about these guys, the guys very much are the film. It all came from them I was just trying to let other people know about these guys and their world.
What do you hope to communicate through this subject matter?
Mads Hedegaard: I hope the audience can relate to the characters and themes in the film even though they may not be interested in video games. As I said before to me it’s much more a film about the importance of friendship and being there for each other and also about having the guts to try to achieve your dreams. Also, I hope that the audience think about what prejudices they may have against others (because we all do) and how easy to judge other people from just a brief look, but we are all so much more than an initial impression to someone.
The filming and editing were incredibly interesting to watch. Personally, I noted many 80s inspired aspects, like the music and the transitions between scenes. Did you set out wanting to have that aesthetic, or were you inspired along the way?
Mads Hedegaard: As I mentioned before the film very much came organically from the characters and their world so I tried to make a big effort to portray them and their community as well as I possibly could. So the music in the film is the characters’ favorite music and so on. And as I mentioned in the beginning when I first stepped in the door I was blown away by the atmosphere and the world I felt like I was stepping into so it’s me trying to give the audience a similar experience of stepping into another world that’s surprising in many ways.
What other cultural references or inspirations did you draw from stylistically, structurally, and in terms of your approach to the subject?
Mads Hedegaard: Except for the music which is obviously mostly 80’s music we’ve looked at a lot of films, everything from Scorsese to Wes Anderson to Edgar Wright and I could go on and on. And the whole structure of the film is actually based on how Bach wrote his fugues hundreds of years ago. It may not be apparent and it’s not meant to be but that’s how I thought of it anyway and hopefully it makes sense if you’ve seen the film.
You filmed all 100 hours of Kim’s quest – did you feel like you were sharing in his victory?
Mads Hedegaard: I wouldn’t say that I was sharing his victory. All credit goes to Kim and his friends, they are the ones who made everything possible I’m just very happy that they were so generous to let me and my crew along for the ride both in the good times and bad times.
You’re also developing an app based on this film – can you tell us more?
Mads Hedegaard: Right now I can’t, no, because the app has been paused due to a lack of financing at the moment, but I hope to get to make it one day.
There is a quote about Thomas and the part he played in supporting his friend: ‘Why just imagine a dream?’ What dreams do you have for the future?
Mads Hedegaard: I hope that this film reaches as many people as possible and that they’ll be able to relate to the characters and the themes in the film. If people have a great experience and feel like they’ve if not been part of then felt like being a part of an amazing community, then I’ll be happy. And then I hope to get to do more movies in the future. I’m working on my narrative feature debut which is a revenge thriller set in the stone age, so that’s something COMPLETELY different but hopefully it’ll be just as exciting.
Read our review of Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest.