Date: 16th September 2009

After more than three years of shooting, editing and post production, a new documentary about the pinball community is about to receive its theatrical premiere.

Special When Lit is the work of Brett Sullivan, Clayton Jacobsen and Emily Rickard from post-production house Steam Motion & Sound who visited countless pinball shows and tournaments to get a true feel for the way collectors, competitors and industry insiders feel about pinball.

Some of the faces of Special When Lit
Some of the faces of Special When Lit

After more than a year of editing and post-production, the 97 minute documentary will premiere at the Raindance Film Festival in London which runs from the 30th September through to the 11th October. It has been nominated for the Best Documentary award.

Pinball News visited the Steam offices in London's Soho for a sneak preview of excerpts from the movie and to talk with Clayton and Brett about its making.

The idea came about when the trio were looking for a longer-form project to complement their regular work creating 30 second commercial spots for TV and cinema. One of their early ideas was a drama about a washed-up pinball player, so in order to know more about their lead character they joined the UK's pinball scene and visited the UK Pinball Show in Birmingham. What they found lead them in a different direction as they discovered a sub-culture keeping the pinball dream alive.

But what had happened to pinball? Where had the machines which were once so ubiquitous disappeared to? Who were the people still enjoying and promoting it? This was to become their subject matter for a documentary aimed not at the fans themselves, but at anyone who ever dropped a coin in the slot and remembers how popular pinball used to be.

The eventual direction of the project crystalised following the interview they shot with game designer Steve Ritchie.

"This is the story of rise and fall of a pop icon" is how Brett described the movie. "It's surprising nobody has told it before".

As an indicator of pinball's former mainstream position in popular culture, the documentary opens with a prime-time news report introduced by anchor Dan Rather all about pinball. This launches into the title sequence which takes elements from the artwork of popular games and turns them into an excellent three-dimensional montage, leading to the title of the film.

(In case you were wondering, it's a Getaway playfield)

The title may seem an obvious choice for pinball fans, but its secondary meaning illustrates the way the interviewees came alive and "lit up" when talking about how special pinball was to them.

The movie mixes numerous interviews shot specially for the documentary with selected archive footage to illustrate how pinball's fortunes have risen and fallen over the years. There is no commentary track. The entire story is told by the interviewees and supported by the library material.

The cast list is not confined to the usual suspects from the industry. There are many interviews with the die-hard fans who keep the dream alive through their collections of machines, by visiting pinball shows and by playing in tournaments.

Josh Kaplan and Koi Morris

Raphael Lankar
Raphael Lankar

Sam Harvey
Sam Harvey

Brett is the Director, Producer and created all the movie's original music. Before getting involved in the pinball scene he was very much a video game fan rather than a pinball one. As he, Clayton (Producer) and Emily (Line Producer) travelled the world - often turning up at the same events as Pinball News - he became not only more curious about pinball's demise, but also turned into a fan and a collector.

The Steam office now has four machines set up; The Getaway, Scared Stiff, Terminator 2 and Twilight Zone, while both Brett and Clayton have pinball machines at home. Brett has an Attack From Mars and a World Cup Soccer while Clayton owns The Addams Family, Medieval Madness and Judge Dredd.

Just about the whole team at Steam worked on the movie alongside their regular commercials work. All the shooting and post-production was done in high definition and edited in Final Cut Pro. In all, over 250 hours of material was shot for the documentary.

Special When lit will get it's initial screening on Friday 9th October 2009 at 4:30pm at the Apollo Cinema, 19 Lower Regent Street, London SW1Y 4LR. The initial tickets all sold out within a couple of days, so Clayton & Brett are trying to move the screening to a larger auditorium.

Following its Raindance premiere, the movie will then be shown at various film festivals on the international circuit to gain exposure and try to get a distribution or broadcast deal. In due course, it is expected to be released on DVD/Blu-Ray although there is no timescale for that at present, so the film festivals are the place to catch it for the immediate future.

Further details of the movie can be found on the site and through the team's Facebook page.


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© Pinball News 2009