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Film / Special When Lit

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Special When Lit is a 2007 Documentary by Brett Sullivan about Pinball — its history, creators, and fans. The movie explores pinball's past, present, and future, its role in pop culture, interviews pinball players, collectors, and creators, and culminates with a showdown at the PAPA 8 World Pinball Championships in 2005.

The documentary includes interviews with the following pinball luminaries:

  • Tim Arnold - operator of the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.
  • Steve Epstein - former operator of New York City's Broadway Arcade.
  • Steve Kordek - pinball designer.
  • Pat Lawlor - pinball designer.
  • Raphael Lankar - owner of the Paris Pinball Museum
  • Steve Ritchie - pinball designer.
  • Roger Sharpe - author and former licensing manager for Williams Electronics.
  • Lyman Sheats Jr - pinball programmer and top player.
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  • Gary Stern - President of Stern Pinball.
  • Natal Zaccaria - pinball designer, Zaccaria

The movie premiered in October 2009 at London's Raindance Film Festival, and won the award for Best Feature Documentary at the Los Angeles United Film Festival. It was released on DVD in 2011 and is available on multiple digital streaming services.

This documentary features the following tropes:

  • The Ace: Lyman Sheats Jr., who is repeatedly named by other players as the best, and is heavily favored to win the PAPA 8 Championship. He does.
  • Big Game: The PAPA (Professional and Amateur Pinball Association) 8 World Pinball Championship.
  • Collector of the Strange: Some of the collectors veer into this territory, such as Steve Keeler (collects pinball machines and Jaws memorabilia) and Josh "Pingeek" Kaplan (collects and sells videos of pinball games being played).
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  • Competition Freak: Sean Grant, a.k.a. "The Storm", a tournament player who incorporates angry screaming fits into his game.
    "What's really important when you play pinball at the tournament level is to have your mentality straight — to be sharp and to have a killer instinct."
  • Glory Days: Rick Stetta, the 1991 Pinball World Champion.
    "I would even go so far as to say I am special, because of pinball."
  • Kill It with Water: Discussed; shortly after the World Pinball Championships in 2004, the PAPA facility was devastated by a major flood that destroyed all of the pinball machines and much of the building's infrastructure. Despite the setback, Kevin Martin and PAPA rebuilt the facility and restored the collection of games in time for the 2005 Championships.
  • Otaku: Several of the collectors featured in the movie come across like this. The most prominent example is Sam Harvey, a former bowling operator who lives alone and spends his days working on his collection of 400 pinball machines, complete with meticulous logs of owners' histories.
  • Straw Fan: Some viewers feel that the movie casts pinball collectors and fans in this light, particularly the less-than-flattering portrayals of Josh "Pingeek" Kaplan and Sam Harvey. Others, however, have argued that the movie is simply accurately reflecting the Real Life eccentricities of its subjects.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Done briefly with Koi Morris, a synthetic chemist and pinball tournament player who failed to qualify for PAPA 8. He wins the C Division at Pinball Expo 2005.