Bragg Brothers | Interview | Pinball: The man who saved the game

Opportunities to see pinball in theaters are rare. So when we found out that a film was being made about Roger Sharpe’s adventure, we contacted the directors. These two brothers, Meredith and Austin Bragg, sign with Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game their first feature film.

A little background on Roger Sharpe and his contribution to the history of pinball: in the 1940s, pinball was banned in several American states, under the pretext that it was a game of chance. All pinball machines were banned, destroyed and some were thrown into the Hudson River.

In New York, it was not until 1976 that the ban was lifted. Roger Sharpe demonstrated that it was no longer a game of chance, but a game of skill. The sentence that changed the decision was: “Look, there’s skill, because if I pull the plunger back just right, the ball will, I hope, go down this particular lane”. And it did. The New York City Council voted unanimously to repeal the ban.

A great man ! By the way, Zach Sharpe, one of his sons, works today at Stern Pinball 🙂

But let’s get back to the point, here is the interview with the duo behind the film!

Hello, nice to talk with you! First of all, can you introduce yourself?

Meredith: Thank you! We were excited to get the interview request. I’m Meredth Bragg, one-half of the writer/director team behind Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game. 

Austin: I’m Austin Bragg, the other half!

Austin et Meredith Bragg - Pinball: The Man Who Saved The Game
Austin and Meredith Bragg, the directors of the film about Roger Sharpe.

Unless I’m mistaken, this is the first time you’ve directed a biopic. Why did the story of Roger Sharpe inspire you?

Meredith: It started as a piece of trivia – that pinball was illegal and some guy with an insanely great mustache helped overturn the law by proving it wasn’t a game of chance. We really didn’t know much more than what was readily available on the internet. 

Austin: One of us wrote it down in a Google Doc we use to share ideas, and then we promptly forgot about it.

Meredith: Then, just before COVID hit, I went through the doc and decided to email Roger. I wanted to see if he wouldn’t mind talking with me. I thought it might turn out to be a short documentary. But on that call I learned about other aspects of his life at that time and realized there was a deeper, universal story that hadn’t been told. 

Austin:Meredith called me immediately after and said “I think this might be a feature!” 

Roger Sharpe
Roger Sharpe demonstrating that pinball is a game of skill. With the mustache!

Did Roger Sharpe collaborate directly on the script?

Meredith: Absolutely. Roger was there at the inception, throughout the writing process, and on set. This project would not have happened if he weren’t on board. 

Austin: Cumulatively we must have spent days with Roger over Zoom, (COVID lockdowns did have a silver lining in that regard…) asking him questions about his life and his circumstances at the time. And much to his credit, Roger was extremely open and honest with us about everything.

Roger Sharpe today. Credit : https://onwisconsin.uwalumni.com/

Are you pinball players yourself?

Meredith: We are now! Just not good ones. 

Austin: I daresay I’ve gotten better, but there really was nowhere to go but up.

If so, where do you play ? (at home, in barcades, elsewhere?)

Meredith: When we were shooting in the Hudson Valley, we’d go to a barcade in Beacon, NY. It’s where we fell in love with Theatre of Magic.

Theater of Magic – Backglass

Austin: Closer to home, we found a great spot in Maryland called Spinners Pinball Arcade run by Joe Said – he was kind enough to let us look around and answer a bunch of questions we had about mechanics and filming machines.

Do you prefer certain pinball machines in particular (old electromechanical machines, 90’s pinball machines, recent machines?)

Meredith: I have a fondness for the EM machines, almost certainly because we lived in that world for this film. Fireball and Theatre of Magic are two of my favorites. 

Austin: I certainly have a soft spot for Bank Shot, but I’ve also spent an inordinate amount of time on Jurassic Park (2019). 

The pinball community will definitely watch your movie, but it is a limited audience… Who is your target audience?

Meredith: We tried to create a film that the whole family can watch, regardless of their knowledge of pinball. It’s certainly not a prerequisite for enjoying the film. 

Austin: That said, we were always aware that the pinball community would have a particular interest and tried really hard to get that aspect of the film right. Having Roger as an executive producer was huge in this regard.

Pinball, the movie about Roger Sharpe

How did you manage to finance this film?

Austin: All praise goes to MPI Original Films, who read the script and decided to take a chance on us. They had given us a shot the year prior on a short film called “A Piece of Cake” and believed not only in us but in the importance of Roger’s story.

Did the actors, especially Mike Faist who plays the young Roger Sharpe, have to learn to play pinball?

Meredith: No one was a pinball wizard when they walked on to set, but Mike certainly played enough to get good at it.

The Bragg brothers make their first film. It's about pinball and Roger Sharpe. Let's lift the veil on the backstage of the film.
Mike Feist, without his moustache.

We haven’t been able to see the film yet, but we assume that you have filmed footage of pinball games. Who played during these scenes?

Meredith: Roger Sharpe was on set a few times, including our final shoot day, when we really focused on the playfield footage. It felt criminal to not ask him to play. So while you may not be able to see it, many of the pinball action sequences are a product of Roger himself behind the flippers. 

Did you encounter any particular difficulties during the shooting?

Meredith: Always! You can’t make a film without some difficulties. Eddie Cramer, who was our on-set pinball tech, dealt with many of them. 

Austin: With the number of machines featured and their age, Eddie had a pretty monumental task on his hands and did an absolutely outstanding job. And we would have had many more difficulties without the assistance of the pinball community, lending us games that we really needed to tell this story correctly.  

Do you plan to make other films about the world of pinball or retrogaming in general?

Meredith: No plans at the moment, but if anyone is sitting on a really great pinball story, we’d love to hear it.

Thank you ! Any last words ? 

Yes! Make sure to visit www.pinballfilm.com and join the mailing list. That’s the absolute best way to keep up with the latest updates about where and when the film will be playing. We’re just starting our festival run and more dates and cities are being added all the time.

Nick_O
Nick_Ohttps://pinballmag.fr
Collector of friends who have pinball collections.

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