While studying Popular Culture at Berea College I have had the good fortune to not just learn, but to actively document culture, including a sweeping photographic study of Appalachian life that captured 1000s of portraits of Southern Appalachians in 5 states in a project called A Portrait of Appalachia, as well as a three album collection of regional music in Louisville Kentucky called the Summer Cassingle Series, and probably the most complex and successful project, Celebrated Sounds, a 5 hour educational audio series exploring the history, myth, and legend of Appalachian music and culture.
After doing culture collecting projects in the mediums of sound and still photography, I wanted to learn how to produce documentary films before I graduated. Over the summer of 2014 while in Louisville working on The Summer Cassingle Series, I joined a Pinball League called Rogue League (named so because it was outside of the standard structure and affiliation of the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA). Some of the most talented and unique players I had ever met played in these tournaments. One of them was Nate The Viking, a charismatic eccentric man that bears a resemblance to a stereotypical image of a Viking. Nate The Viking and his friends would get into these theoretical discussions on the nature of pinball and the almost supernatural abilities of the top players. It was Nate that suggested someone do a documentary on the league.
In January of 2015 I returned to the League and told them I was taking a Documentary film class and wanted to make the subject of my project pinball and asked if I could shadow several of the players through the League on their way to the National Championships held in March. Everyone agreed including the bar that held the weekly tournaments and the organizers of the Louisville Arcade Expo that hosted the Championships.
In January I began driving in from Berea on Fridays and filming the Friday night tournaments, and conducting interviews on Saturdays. By Valentine's day I had gotten to be close friends with the Bar owners that They began hiring me to DJ on some weekends and it helped augment the cost of driving in every weekend. They even offered me a job when I graduate in May.
The organizers of the Louisville Arcade Expo helped me set up interviews with the President of PAPA and several of the top international players, and they even offered to pay for my room at the hotel during the Expo. But around late February something changed. tThe job offer (which I desperately needed) was off the table. The players at the Rogue League stopped talking to me and the Bar told me I was getting in the way. Things started getting very tense. By the time the Expo arrived in March I was a full blown pariah. When I arrived at the expo, one of the organizers refused to give my pass, and my name had been removed from the hotel registry.
The entire experience was very upsetting but I had no choice but to continue to film. Many of the interviews I had set up did not happen; organizers, pinball bar owners, top players, refused to talk. I did what I could, and managed some interviews. Most of the Rogue League people still talked to me even though there seemed to be some announce. In the last 15 years I have documented many sub-cultures and most are happy to have their passions recorded, I have never experienced this sort of behavior before, especially since it was members of the community themselves that suggested a documentary be made.
What I came away with was hours of footage, dozens of interviews, and no cohesive thread through it. It pained me to have to continually watch the footage over and over watching the people get more and more angry with me, and have no idea what to do with it.
Finally it occurred to me. It was mostly the professional associations that blacklisted me, and the Rogue League, while annoyed, still put up with me. The Professional companies were saying the goal was to introduce pinball to everyday people, but it seemed to be shutting them out, either with this exclusivity or high pricing, or unwillingness to deal with outsiders, meanwhile most of the people I interviewed said it wasn't these associations that got them into pinball, but the small leagues at the local bars and restaurants.
After reviewing the footage I saw a clear pattern and finally could edit the film with a theme.
The film was designed to have 2 parts; the first was the 'Pro' section covering the professional side of Pinball, showing how exclusive it is, with high pricing and how much it costs flying around the world playing tournaments; and the second half was the 'Amateur' side showing the unsanctioned leagues, and regular folks enjoying the game. the bridge between the two showed how some Pro players got disinterested in the professional world and now only play unsanctioned bar leagues.
I began the film with interviews of top players who fly all over the world; and end the film with someone learning to play pinball for the very first time.
The finished product is just under 30 minutes, with over 100 original shots, and an exclusive soundtrack. Three of the songs were written by myself and my band, Team Totoro, and the score was written by a Rogue League player, Ethan Senn, who creates his own pinball scores to listen to while he competes.
The Soundtrack is available through Bandcamp and I also created a movie trailer and exclusive music video for the title track; PINBALLSIN'.
The Title comes from the term serious pinball players use, 'Pinballs' to refer to the game, like how one would say 'I like Video games' adding the 's' for plural; they would also say 'I like Pinballs' or 'Pinballs Games'. It makes sense, and yet most people use the plural without the 's' like "I like pinball" or I like pinball games." So like one would say "I like gaming" for playing video games; "I like Pinballsing" instead of "I like Pinballing" or "I like Bowling" so I called the project PINBALLSIN'. An early working title was Pinballs Deep. People seemed to like it, but I like PINBALLSIN'.
The film was edited on three programs, Final Cut Pro, IMovie, and Movie Maker, with probably 80% being Final Cut Pro. the other programs came in useful for the musical montages and text cards, as my computer can only run Final Cut 7, which is a little more difficult to navigate than Final Cut 10.
I had never used Final Cut before, and only used IMovie a little bit, but now I can navigate Final Cut which is a good skill to have, now that I am on the job market. The music was composed on Garage Band 09 and the graphics for the cover and promo images on Photoshop.
Overall, I seemed to have lost friends and opportunities over this project, which is unfortunate, and I have learned that audio only seems to go over better than video documenting. I still like playing pinballs though, and that will probably never change.