Pinball Stories #1: My first game, “Genie” by Gottlieb

One of the things us pinball enthusiasts love to do is tell stories about how we acquired games. Each game has its own unique provenance and history, and there’s almost always an interesting story behind them. This is the first episode in an ongoing series were we talk about the stories behind the games and how they came to be. I start the series off with the very first pinball machine I purchased, a Gottlieb “Genie” – before I knew anything about how to repair and restore games. It was the game that got me on this path. I hope you enjoy the story – be sure to subscribe on Youtube! Thanks for watching!

Here are some pictures from early on when I got the game and began to restore it.

Inside Dan Ferguson’s “Lone Star Pinball Museum”

A friend and a true legend in the pinball community passed away this week. Dan Ferguson, owner of the “Lone Star Pinball Museum” and one of the iconic enthusiasts in the region. Dan was a fixture at all the Texas pinball shows and had one of the most amazing collections of games and memorabilia anywhere. Eight years ago was one of the first times I got a chance to take a peek inside his infamous private museum, that was typically only open by invitation (and was an inspiration for our own PinChurch facility).

Here’s is a video I shot of a quick walk-thru of his amazing place. We miss you Dan!

2018 Houston Arcade Expo (pre-show-opening) Walk-Through

This is a quick walk-thru of the 2018 Houston Arcade Expo (HAAG) before the show opens. To give you an idea of how much work is involved in getting everything set up. I apologize for the shaky camera. And it looks like YouTube has disabled their video stabilization ability (boo!) so I can’t stabilize it online. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this short video!

Behind the scenes, using pinball machines in a movie set

If you ever wonder how these things work in the movies and television series, here’s some insight. Why are some games modified? What happens when there’s a scene involving a game, that *gasp* gets smashed?

A few years ago, I was involved in bringing some pinball machines out to a movie set for a series done for HBO/Cinemax called, “Quarry” – it was a very cool story based on a series of fictional books, about a Vietnam Veteran who comes back from the war and is shunned in society and becomes a “hit man.”   The series was set in the 1970s and the filmmakers wanted various pinball machines and coin op devices which we supplied.

Here’s a promo trailer featuring some of the scenes and pinball sounds:

Here’s a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the set design and work that went into re-creating a vintage carnival arcade, and some of the things the set designers have to do for legal reasons.  I wasn’t able to show this video at the time the show was in production, but the series has since been canceled so I don’t think there’s any issue in sharing it.. here’s a neat glimpse behind-the-scenes…

2017 Houston Arcade Expo Walk-Thru

Once again, our group descended upon Houston for one of our favorite events of the year, the 2017 Houston Arcade Expo. I apologize in advance for this really crappy video.. I should know better than to move the camera around too much, but I was excited and wanted to capture things as fast as I could so the video isn’t super long. I’ve used Google’s video stabilization which creates some artifacts.. if it’s too bad, let me know and I’ll try to fix it. Otherwise, enjoy a quick glimpse into a very cool festival featuring arcade and pinball both old and new!

Pinball Machines on a Movie Set (behind the scenes)

Yesterday was a very long and interesting day.. I have been occasionally renting pinball machines for various movie productions – there’s a lot of stuff coming out in the next year or two my games will have cameos in and that’s pretty cool. But yesterday I was actually tasked to help support the crew in managing a large array of games for a specific scene, not just involving games, but someone smashing a pinball machine.. yes not something I thought I’d ever intentionally be involved in, but this was written into the script and with or without me, they were going to do it, so if there was a way I could make this process as non-destructive as possible, I was determined to find a way…
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I ended up not simply making sure the games were ok, but advising the production team on continuity issues, and helping them address plot lines and scenes that made sense given the setting – it was a ton of fun, without a whole lot of breaks. I was actually consulting with the directors on what certain characters should do in the scene. I also played the machine for the “inside shots” of the pinball activity, so when they show close-ups of gameplay, that’s me playing while the wide shots will show the actors. I guess I was a “pinball stunt double”.. lol Hey can I get a SAG card? 😉

Boy do I have a ton of respect for these movie production teams. They are really hard working, incredibly-well-coordinated people. They created a 1970s-era carnival/amusement park. The set decoration was crazy.. it was called “Dixieville Amusement Park” — and talk about bizarre timing.. the place was decked out with Confederate flags everywhere, along with a giant gorilla near the road and a big billboard that had a rebel flag on it. They caught a lot of flack from the locals and ended up having to post police near the road and put up a big sign that said “Movie Set”.

Set in the 1970s, the show is based on some books by Max Allen Collins

Anyway, It was a lot of hard work getting everything set up, and then having this scene where a pinball machine was to be smashed. I worked it out so that one of mour members sold his Gottlieb Big Shot (which was really in pretty poor condition and just barely worked) to the production company. Obviously none of us were happy about giving them a machine slated to be destroyed in the filming, but I negotiated a deal where they give the game back and we can restore it so we can claim that nothing was actually destroyed. All I can say is.. wow that was stressful…

In order to avoid IP conflicts, they made phony backglasses for some of the machines. Luckily we had several machines with the same configuration so they made these 70s-esque vinyl on plexi backglasses that looked pretty cool. They covered the “Gottlieb” names with a bogus amusement company and they even color-matched the playfield paint to cover any human characters that might show up in filming.

During dress rehearsal, before they even started filming, the actor picked up the front of the machine and dropped it two feet to the cement floor. I just about had a heart attack thinking the game would be ruined during rehearsal!

So after every scene I had to jump in like an EMT to assess the patient’s condition.. lol.

Then they started doing the actual scenes – they had six pieces of specially-cut plate glass to put in the machine to do the filming. They shot 3 scenes from one angle, the game held up amazingly well. The first scene he picks up the game, drops it down, the glass doesn’t break, then he grabs an old ashtray and smashes it into the glass. Take two, same deal, except a different ashtray because the first one was destroyed. This time he hit the lockdown bar, the glass doesn’t break and the ashtray cuts his hand and he’s bleeding. In between every take there’s a team of people who come in and remove the glass, vacuum the playfield and reset everything, while I’m tinkering with the insides of the game trying to get it to start up again.

The production company replaces the recognizeable backglass with something original to avoid any IP claims.

The production company replaces the recognizeable backglass with something original to avoid any IP claims.

After every take, something went wrong with the game, but I was able to keep stuff held together, game wouldn’t start, bonus kept counting down forever, one scene he tilted the game and the playfield lights went out and he kept pretending to play- I advised the crew that was a bad take- pinball people would immediately laugh at the actor pretending to play the game after it tilted.. lol – I disabled the tilt, score reels wouldn’t reset, the chimes broke off and were bouncing around in the cabinet, there was so much glass everywhere, little pieces of cabinet were everywhere… I honestly don’t know how this thing held up. It was mind-boggling how much abuse the game was taking and I was having little mini-heart-attacks after every scene.

Then they switched camera angles and re-did the scene from the opposite end. A one camera shoot of a two-camera scene because they couldn’t do them both together without the cameras being in each other’s scene.

And I was like, “Wait.. what? You have to re-create the same smashing sequence from a different angle now that has to match up with the first one? Good grief!” But these guys apparently do this all the time — I just wondered if they were used to the unpredictability of pinball?
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So on the second run, the actor picks up the machine — and I’m watching it on the monitor, and the machine disappears and we hear a large crash. I run in the room and he’s literally ripped the back legs off the game, so it falls apart and the glass break is completely different. Oh no!

The grip team comes in and starts going, “what are we going to do now?” So I get the pinball dolly and we hoist the machine up and they start pulling out their cordless drivers and screwing some 2x4s into the back of the machine and re-attaching the back and the legs… I look over and they’re using deck/drywall screws where the 5/8″ bolts were to hold the legs on… about that time the director comes over and asks me, “So this will hold up for the next scene?” And I freeze like a deer in the headlights… knowing, there’s no way this is going to hold up, but I don’t want to be the person to tell the director what he doesn’t want to hear.. lol So I just give him a kinda, “mmmm I dunno what do you think?” kinda look.

Meanwhile we’re having discussions on how to properly break the glass. When the ashtray doesn’t work, they decide to go with a hammer, and I’m like, “Um, they’re not going to be working on pinball machines with a hammer.. not a good thing to use…” so I suggest we take a lockdown bar from another machine, plus it looks heavy duty and I show the actor how to pick it up and how to smash the glass so he doesn’t cut himself. We do a few scenes with the lockdown bar as the “weapon” and it looks.. BAD ASS… He picks up the machine… drops it, smash, the legs go out, the camera is behind his shoulder — it’s a very dark, film noir-type shot, and you can see the two henchmen around this silhouette of him holding the lockdown bar like he’s going to beat them with it, and then he smashes the game glass so hard it pulverizes like it was tempered. Every scene becomes more and more intense, and for a moment I even forget it’s a film. Now I can’t say anything to the actor because I actually think he’s going to kick my ass he was so serious in the scene.. lol

tape that is painted to match the background is used to cover up recognizable areas of the playfield

tape that is painted to match the background is used to cover up recognizable areas of the playfield

Unfortunately, now they’ve used 5 of the 6 pieces of glass, and all the shots in the second scene have the machines legs collapsing.. so the two scenes don’t match. Now they decide to re-shoot the first scene and they get one take… and now we HAVE to make the legs collapse. Talk about pressure. So We’re putting this game together and after every shoot I’m like, “I cannot believe this game is still working!” I get them to loosen the leg screws, we advise the actor to bear down a little harder on the game because this is the last take and it has to collapse and he’s like, “Oh don’t worry! It’s going to collapse!”

They shoot the last scene, down to the wire, no second chances, and he nails it. The director is overjoyed. Everyone breaks, and I can fucking breath again….

Then I’m told, “Ok, now send the second camera crew in to get some inside shots of game play”….

Shots of gameplay? Of what?

You are now wanting shots of gameplay of the game you just destroyed nine times?

Are you freakin’ kidding me?

“Six minutes until lunch”.. They’re vacuuming the cabinet out and removing glass – it’s smashed on the ground.. they break for lunch and I’m looking at this broken game realizing it has to be back operational, and playable, in 45 minutes…

Yowie… That was an experience. But I ended up getting the game operational and we did a bunch of different shots with 4 different lenses of various parts of game play. Every time the ball drained, there was a good chance the game wouldn’t start again, but we managed to get the shots… In the end I was throwing the ball around with my hand at various targets to get certain shots they wanted to cut in to the main sequence.

I have a newfound respect for Gottlieb EMs. They take a licking and keep on ticking!