Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
While still in college in 1994, some friends (Mike Ginelli and Craig Fass) and I created the game The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It was more of a social/“parlor” game while we were in school, but after graduating in ’95, we decided to make it into a board game. We met with the brand new Endless Games in 1996 and made The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon the very first game at Endless Games. I’ve been in the toy and game industry ever since!
Why Kevin Bacon?!
Well, this was January of 1994. We were snowed-in in Reading, Pennsylvania (Albright College) watching Footloose. After Footloose, another Kevin Bacon movie – Quicksilver – came on, followed by a commercial for yet another one of his movies – The Air Up There. We were like “This guy is everywhere!” We started trying to figure out who Kevin Bacon had NOT acted with up until that point and the whole “degrees” game-play sort of stemmed from there. For example, the conversation might have sounded like this: “Kevin Bacon hasn’t worked with Robert DeNiro, but DeNiro WAS in The Untouchables with Kevin Costner, and Kevin Costner was in JFK with Kevin Bacon.”
It became kind of addictive to come up with new and unusual routes back to Kevin Bacon, and my friends and I were a walking party trick for a few weeks. Eventually, we’d take our act “on the road” and demonstrated our ability to connect people to Kevin Bacon on The Jon Stewart Show, Howard Stern, even Dateline NBC! After Howard Stern, we were picked up by the William Morris Agency and wrote a book. The board game came along shortly thereafter.
How did Kevin Bacon respond to being the focus of your “party trick”?
We met Kevin Bacon in 1995 on our second appearance on The Jon Stewart Show. He was on to promote Murder in the First, and we were asked to be on stage for his interview to connect people back to him. It was a pretty surreal moment. Kevin Bacon has since gone on record saying he was NOT a big fan of the game at this time and thought we as the inventors were making fun of him. After meeting Mike, Craig and I however, he realized we were genuine fans and had no malicious intent what-so-ever. Truth be told, we really had no intentions of doing anything with this game! The fact that we got to meet Kevin Bacon and be on television twice was much more than we ever hoped and the whole thing could have ended right there. But it didn’t…
Kevin warmed up to us and to the game, and after we got our book deal, he even wrote the forward.
Its now been 20 years since that fateful January night at Albright College, and The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is still as popular as ever, and has really become a part of the pop cultural lexicon.
I understand you actually got together with Kevin Bacon to celebrate the 20th anniversary.
That’s right. This past March I had the honor and the privilege of hosting a panel at SXSW (South By Southwest) in Austin, TX called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: A Social Phenomenon Turns 20. We had an audience of over 2400 people! It was an incredible experience to be up on stage interviewing Kevin Bacon about the game and how far it has come in the past 20 years.
Wow, how did that come about?
I think the event actually came about as a way to promote Kevin Bacon’s TV show The Following on Fox. I received a random phone call in January from an executive at Warner Brothers who said Kevin Bacon would be at SXSW to talk about The Following and they were trying to put something together as a part of the Interactive portion of the festival (SXSW has 3 main segments to it: Music, Entertainment, and Interactive). They asked if I would be interested in moderating a panel on The Six Degrees, and I jumped at the opportunity.
Had you ever done something like this before?
Not really, I mean, I do tend to gravitate toward the microphone at weddings or other such parties! And I think that after you’ve been Howard Stern 3 or 4 times, you think you can pull something like this off. The truth is, I was perfectly fine up until about 2 days prior when I received an email from Warner Bros outlining the event and the other members on the panel. High ranking execs from Mashable.com, Thesixdegrees.org, and Geek & Sundry; and actresses from the WB Network and HBO’s Game of Thrones were all “my” special guests.
That email came in on March 6th and the event was on the 8th. I remember getting a little nervous at that point, but my wife and children put me at ease before I left for Austin the next day. Once Saturday afternoon rolled around, I was decked out in a new Footloose T-shirt I purchased for the occasion, and I was ready to go! I made a joke with Kevin Bacon backstage that I might need him to bail me out if I started to “go a little Broadcast News out there”, (in reference to the classic Albert Books sweating scene) but everything went better than I could have ever expected. It was an absolute thrill to celebrate this “phenomenon” that has really changed my life with a room full of 2400 of my newest friends… and Kevin Bacon himself!
Is the board game still available?
Sadly, no, the board game is no longer being manufactured. You might find a copy floating around on eBay, and I have seen copies of the book on Amazon.com. But on the bright side, board game or not, people are still playing The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon every day! And that one little game turned the lights on here at Endless Games and launched our company where we’ve been making other games for the past 18 years!
Any last words for other new inventors out there?
I do have a degree in marketing, and I get to utilize all facets of it on a daily basis. However, I personally feel that the one biggest attribute that has been the most beneficial to me in this industry is I like to have fun! We’re in the business of Play after all! Fun is pure, and simple. It is healthy and genuine and organic, and the products we create should reflect that.