Greg Maletic is not your typical filmmaker. He just a few years he went from the co-founder a successful software company, to a job at Disney Imagineering to writing, directing editing and producing his documentary Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball, which is coming to DVD on April 8. I had the chance to talk with Greg over the phone about his film.
I'll get the obvious one out of the way first. Will the fans of King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters dig this movie?
Greg Maletic: I really think so. It obviously lives in a similar world, but it's almost the flip side of King of Kong in a way, profiling the designers instead of the players. The designers are different kinds of people than the players are, so it's kind of a different take on that same world.
Can you talk a little about the software company you founded and your work at Disney's Imagineering before you started this movie up?
Greg Maletic: Sure. In 1996, I had worked for Apple Computers for two and a half years and Apple wasn't doing too well at that point in time and everyone was kind of abandoning ship. A friend and I started up a Java-based software company and we called it Zero G Software. We did developer tools for Java so they could package up their software and send it out to anyone. We did that for about 8 years and then sold that company to Macrovision in 2005. In the meantime, as the company was maturing, it didn't need my guidance as much, I decided to pursue some independent projects. One of those was a documentary, which was Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball and through that process, taught myself, not only how to make a film, but how to draw. The drawing part also got me some jobs with Disney Imagineering where I did some work with the Hong Kong Disneyland project. I created a bunch of posters and signage and a commemorative opening day stamp.
So in that process of learning of how to create a film, did you just get a whole bunch of books or what was the learning process like?
Greg Maletic: Yeah. I watched a bunch of documentaries. That was a big part of what I did. Of the two that I liked the most, one was The Kid Stays In The Picture, with Robert Evans. I really liked the lush atmosphere it creates where it almost looks like a fiction film. They really make it feel like an original movie instead of a documentary. The other part was, on the objectivity side, where, in that documentary, the only person that ever speaks is Robert Evans himself, who is the subject of the film. Normally, most documentaries, they have everybody weigh in on a topic and you try to reach a consensus on what it was. I kind of took, from that film, the idea that it didn't have to be so objective, and I followed through in that mind where we talked to the people on the Williams team and we don't speak to any outsiders. I kind of liked that because it made me feel really intimate with that team, that you're a part of that team. So, I just watched a bunch of films and then just connected with a bunch of interviews with my friends, initially, just to film them and to make sure I knew how to light it and how to do the microphones and how to edit it. So I practiced a lot before I actually went out to Chicago and did all the pinball interviews.
Were you a lifelong pinball player from the get-go, and how does pinball appeal to you, as opposed to other forms of gaming?
Greg Maletic: Well, I wasn't really a lifelong pinball player exactly. I did like playing it when I was a little kid. I'm 39 right now, so when I was a little kid in the 70s, I did play a lot of pinball, but once video came about, I pretty much forgot about pinball and started playing Space Invaders and Pac-Man and stuff like that. I didn't really rediscover pinball until, I think it was probably 1999, when I happened to see a Revenge From Mars machine in a French cafe and really thought it was amazing. That really ignited my thought to make the film and also got me re-interested in pinball again. In terms of pinball being unique to me, I guess what is unique is the combination of physicality and technology. Also, the fact that what happens in the game is basically random. You're never going to experience the same thing twice, unlike a video game where there's a little more memorization involved in how you go through those things. Pinball is really a set of skills that help you through, but can't really guarantee any results. So that kind of randomness and the physicality of the game is what really sets it apart.
Why do you think that the rejuvination of pinball, the Pinball 2000, failed when it was supposedly on its way to succeeding?
Greg Maletic: It's sort of a hostile environment for coin-op gaming in general, not just pinball. Neither one have done very well in the market over the past 10 years, with the influx of both home video gaming and the Internet. That being said, the thing that I think really killed Pinball 2000 in particular was the fact that Williams was a public company. Williams was making so much money off of video slot machines that their investors just wouldn't simply let them spend the effort to reinvent what they perceived to be a dead market. So, the investors just didn't have any patience for it and the results were strong, but not so strong that they eclipsed what Williams were doing in the gaming market. So, they basically decided that this wasn't going to pay off and they switched to video slot machines exclusively.
Was that game that you discovered in that French cafe, Revenge From Mars, one of your personal favorites, or what are some of your personal favorite pinball games?
Greg Maletic: Revenge From Mars is the game that is profiled in the documentary and, when I got back from France, I bought one on eBay. I happened to find one and got really excited and just went and bought it. That was the first one I bought, well it's still the only one I have but I'd like to buy more in the future. I think it is exciting because of the technology it represents, and it's just a really fun game to play. As for other ones that are favorites, let's see, the Addams Family machine is really legendary from the early 90s, designed by a guy named Pat Lawlor. It's the most successful game ever designed. It sold about 25,000 units, which doesn't sound like much, but pinball games usually sell 5,000 units so it was an astronomical success. That game is very fun and really started a big string of hits for them. The follow-up was Twilight Zone and that's definitely a great game as well.
Do you have any other documentaries on the horizon? Any other subject that you're thinking about delving into?
Greg Maletic: I don't right now. I'm still marketing this one and seeing how this works out. This was sort of a labor of love and I'm kind of figuring out now and seeing what's possible and what's not, and I'll use that to factor in whether I do another film and what it will be about. Right now, I'd love to do another one, but I don't have anything planned at the moment.
Do you hope that in some point in the future there is a rejuvination of pinball or do you think this film might have anything to do with that? What are your hopes for this film in general?
Greg Maletic: I would love for it to have something to do with the rejuvination of pinball. I think that's a pretty tall order. I mean, pinball is definitely not dead yet, but it isn't exactly thriving either. I mean, the common reaction after seeing the film is to go play a pinball machine, so the more people I can get to watch the film, the more people that I can get to watch the film, the more people will want to play a pinball machine. It'd be great if it could spur something on. What I really think is that it's just a great story about a bunch of guys who tried to succeed and they were the most talented in their industry and they were completely motivated. They were trying to save this product they loved. One of the things the film shows is the elusiveness of success. These guys were spectacular and had a great idea and they still failed at it, unfortunately. Even if pinball ultimately doesn't make it, I hope the movie will survive as the story about technology and obsolecense and how difficult it can be to succeed when the odds are against you.
Well that's all I have for you, Greg. Thanks for your time today.
Greg Maletic: All right, great. I appreciate it.
Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball will hit the DVD shelves on April 8.