We’re elated to release the short documentary film “Pinheads: The Story of the Pacific Pinball Museum” today. Please give it a watch and let us know what you think by posting a comment here.
Shoot the left ramp! Hit those three drop targets in order! Lock this shot for multi-ball, but be careful nudging that machine…
To most who remember it, Pinball is considered a dusty relic of a bygone era. The only places you’ll find Pinball machines today are home game rooms of private collectors or dark corners of seedy bars. As far as the general public is concerned, it has all but faded into obscurity.
However, one group of dedicated men and women have decided to right the ship and save Pinball from extinction. Their goal is to preserve Pinball for what it really is: a national treasure of pure American engineering, art, and design. The Pacific Pinball Museum was founded in the late 90’s by Michael Schiess, a multi-disciplined artist and an avid fan of museums. Over the years Mike has grown the non-profit organization into 13 board members and an army of dedicated volunteers, as well as amassing and restoring a staggering collection of Pinball machines.
Every fall since 2007, the PPM gathers over 400 of their restored and fully playable Pinball machines to host the annual Pacific Pinball Exposition in San Rafael, CA. The Pacific Pinball Expo gives other pinheads the chance to meet the board members of the PPM and attend seminars with renowned Pinball historians, game designers, artists, and vendors. Oh, and they also get to play a lot of Pinball.
With an unprecedented collection of machines and a high-spirited drive to further the art, science, and history of Pinball, the Pacific Pinball Museum is well on the road to becoming “the Smithsonian of Pinball.”
First and foremost, I have to give a shout out to my old friend Salvatron who helped me every step of the way in post production on this film. He’s also the man who provided us the title sequences, so if you dig those make sure you post some comments and let him know. We sure like them. Without his help, this film would have only been maybe half the level of quality it is now. Thank you T-Diddy.
Got a Pinball story to share? Post it in the comments! Here’s my story:
As a child of the 80’s, I grew up playing video games and Pinball. There’s no denying the powerful influence of video games in that era, and while Pinball didn’t necessarily feel “old” it certainly didn’t drain my quarters like Mortal Kombat did. Still, when I felt like no games in the arcade left a challenge there were always a handful of Pinball machines in the back staring me down. Those were games I knew I could never beat. As I grew older the arcades faded away, and I hadn’t seen or played a Pinball machine outside of a few in bars.
Sometime around 2005, I read this New York Times article by David Kushner – “It’s Still a Mean Pinball, but Video Glitz Is Edging In“. It was the first I had heard of Stern, and I was shocked to learn that they were the only company left in the world still manufacturing Pinball machines. A lot of the memories came flooding back, particularly ones regarding Medieval Madness. I continued to read more articles like this – “Game Over“. The more I read, the more I was convinced that Stern’s days were numbered and Pinball was about to become obsolete. More importantly: Pinball was about to die and nobody cared. So I began developing a film around it with the idea that at least somebody will be there to see it off.
Then the fall of 2008 arrived. It was a bedlam of economic turmoil: industry declines and the massive retreat of consumerism threatened the entertainment industry on all fronts, and I believed this was the death knell for Pinball. I reached out to Tim Arnold, founder of the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, after hearing him give an interview with Shaggy from the “This Old Pinball” podcast. Tim was an interesting guy, and I knew he’d be a good connection to have as my film idea was developed. In November 2008, I visited him in Las Vegas to get an idea of the status of the Pinball industry and to gather more information about certain key members of the Pinball industry. Tim showed me some numbers from the Stern production line that month, and it looked grim. Rumors of mass layoffs at Stern also fueled the fire that was burning down the only standing house of Pinball.
Alas, that’s where my Pinball adventure was to end. In March 2009, we dropped everything to go make “The Woods Belong To Us” in Oregon. The time was right for that film, so we had to act on it. While working on that film I hardly thought about Pinball. We were neck deep in mountain bikes, trails, biting flies, allergens, and golden dirt. All we could think was “free riders, single track, sweet jumps, and stoked”.
I think David Lynch said it best though: ideas are like fish.
As we soldiered on through production on Woods, one evening I decided to check in on the state of the Pinball industry. I came across a Twitter account called Pacific Pinball and picked up on an exposition happening somewhere in California. It just so happened that we would be spending two weeks in California to finish filming Woods at the same time.
Well, I guess my adventure wasn’t over yet. It only took me about ten minutes of research before I fired off an e-mail to the Pacific Pinball Museum asking for more information. A few days later I was on the phone with one Larry Zartarian, and we spent about 45 minutes waxing poetic about Pinballs, pinheads, and whether or not the Pinball industry would be pushing up daisies within the next year. Larry was adamant that this would not be Pinball’s fate, even with the collapse of our economy. I told him I was game, and we’d come down to film them and include them as part of our Pinball film.
In late September 2009, we left an unusually warm Oregon for the sunny mild breeze of the San Francisco Bay area. It wasn’t long after we arrived that we met Mike and Larry, who introduced us to all of the people you’ll see here in the film. I’ll let the film speak for itself, but we had a great time and met a lot of really nice people.
It was at PPM3 that we learned about Special When Lit, and decided that their documentary covered too much of the same ground that we wanted to. However, those filmmakers never interviewed the PPM, so I hope our little film can fill in the gap they left with that oversight.