Les D'Arcy is a legend in the table tennis world: a seven-time world champ. Within minutes of our meeting him at the European Table Tennis Championships in Croatia, he was quoting Rudyard Kipling's "If":
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son. (Rudyard Kipling)
Les introduced us to 81-year-old Terry Donlon. As we heard about Terry's life-long battle with illness and how he uses sport to deal with it, we knew we had a story that could take us not only into sports and aging, but into bigger issues as well.
We knew that we had to film people who would make it into the later stages of the competition, but also that something about their outside lives had to chime with table tennis. So we started by looking at the statistics from previous world championships and getting in touch with the consistently high scorers.
After telephone interviews and meetings, we created profiles of about 30 players who offered something in terms of both sports stories and bigger home-life stories. During the world championships in China, the walls in our hotel rooms were covered with these profiles, and as the competition unfolded we would add comments and re-assess whose stories were panning out. From the original 30, we started filming 14 and from those we chose our final seven players to follow.
For us, Ping Pong was never going to just be about table tennis. A lot of the film is about growing old and coming to terms with mortality, but at the same time the people we meet in the film have more passion and lust for life than many people 50 years their junior.
It sounds odd, but at the beginning we thought we were making a film about what life is like toward the end of our lives, but Ping Pong is much more about living than about dying. It is more about love and friendship than loss and death.
— Hugh Hartford, Director, and Anson Hartford, Producer