Nolan Bushnell has heard numerous pitches to adapt his life and the birth of Atari into a Hollywood production. He's always passed on the opportunity.
But when writers Brian Hecker and Craig Sherman came to him, Bushnell said yes. "I felt that these guy got it in a very, very real way and [knew] what Atari stood for," Bushnell told MTV Multiplayer over the phone last night.
Hecker and Sherman's story of Atari was revealed to be picked up by Paramount Pictures last week, with actor Leonardo DiCaprio set to star. I asked Bushnell if could have ever imagined the boy in "Titanic" would one day be the person to represent his real-life experiences on the silver screen.
"No," he laughed. "I'm very, very thrilled and honored that would be the case."
Representatives of the current French-owned Atari company had no comment on the project's announcement yet. But the newer Atari's involvement remains a relevant question. Bushnell does not own the rights to the Atari trademark including that famous "triple-swoosh" logo. Atari does. To tell the complete story, it's likely the new Phil Harrison-led Atari will have to be involved in some capacity.
As the project was still in its early stages, Bushnell couldn't speculate too much on what would happen as it moved into production, but he expects the process will change his life.
"It's a little bit mind boggling," he said. "It's hard to wrap my head around."
Bushnell is used to people talking about him. It's been 30 years since he left Atari, and much has been written about the company's ups and downs since. He's said that doesn't faze him anymore, but also didn't think such influential Hollywood talent would come asking about it at this stage in his life.
"There's been a lot of books [about Atari]," he said. "Some correct, some incorrect. I've kind of gotten used to being portrayed by others. I kind of thought that this [a movie] might happen. I kind of thought that it wouldn't happen until maybe after I was in the ground for a little while. [laughs]"
You can tell that Bushnell is giddy about the project. It comes through in every sentence. But to him, that excitement moves past the idea of walking down a red carpet and watching a movie about his life. It's about passing on the spirit of Atari and what made the company such a success story in its early years.
"I thought [a movie] wouldn’t happen until after I was in the ground for a little while."
"To me, one of the things that happened with Atari was that it was really almost against all odds," he said. "Nobody thought that video games represented a business. That's the part that I think a lot of people don't understand; if you really work it, you can turn your dream into a reality. It's not because the bankers like you, it's not because Wall Street likes you, it's because they all think you're an idiot. But if you keep your dream in tact and just work as hard as you can, you can often pull it off."
He believes the movie can help capture that unending drive he had so many years ago, and hopes the film can help inspire others to have the same attitude with their own ideas.
"I've been a proponent of entrepreneurs going for it," he said. "People aren't going to succeed as an entrepreneur unless they try. I feel like, if I can get more people to try that I'll be rewarded. I really think the new ideas that come along are the things that make America and the world a better place. To the extent that it [the movie] can be a sort of pep talk -- you know 'follow your dream, go after it, make it happen, don't settle.' I think that would be a really good thing and I'd feel very proud to encourage as many people as I can do that."
This will undoubtedly be Bushnell's most ambitious brush with Hollywood, but it's not the first time he's associated himself with the process. He was briefly involved with a entrepreneur-judging reality show "Made in the USA." Though the show didn't prove a success, it did make one member of his family very happy.
"My 14-year-old was very enthusiastic about the fact that I actually had a star trailer," he joked.
Before we got off the phone, I wondered if Bushnell might pull a Stan Lee and cameo in the film. He laughed at the prospect, adding that "all my kids have asked [to be in it]."
That might have something to do with a certain DiCaprio being on the set.