Kathy asked Robert these questions verbally and helped him to articulate his responses.
When did you begin to realize that you had a talent for playing pinball?
He knew he was good when he was little and knew that he loved playing pinball, but didn’t realize how good he was until he entered his first tournament, which was the Canadian Pinball Championships held in Toronto. He went along with his dad on a business trip there and entered the tournament on a weekend. I think he finished somewhere in the top 12, which is pretty amazing for a first-timer. That was when some of the more experienced players began to notice how good this newcomer was too!
Can you explain to our readers why you love pinball so much?
At first he just liked seeing all the lights and seeing the ball move around the playfield and hearing the various sounds. Later he began to enjoy remembering the patterns and realizing that there were different achievements he could get, and each game had its own unique rules to learn, which is good because he has a very strong memory for patterns and rules.
He describes pinball as making him feel very happy inside, especially when things go well, and feeling other emotions such as sadness when things don’t go as well. He also enjoys meeting new people who like to play and talk about pinball as much as he does. He feels his communication, social skills, concentration level, and ability to think quickly and change strategies have all improved because of pinball.
How was the filming process for you?
Most of the time it was a lot of fun. He enjoys the different places and experiences he has had through making the film, such as taking a train to Chicago (3 days each way), a long close-up tour of the Stern factory. Jeff and Nathan like doing things that he finds really fun and enjoyable…they are way cooler people than mom and dad! Sometimes it wasn’t as fun such as when he wore microphones and then worried a bit about what he might have said, or occasionally needing to “redo” shots (mostly for non-pinball things) but these were just minor things. He is very excited, and a bit nervous, to see the final product, and at the same time says he will be a bit sad when it is finished because it has been a big part of his life for the past two years.
Can you explain a little about growing up and your experiences of having autism? Did playing pinball help you?
He has said pinball has helped with communication with other people and with social skills, including being a good winner and loser, with concentration and with thinking fast. He remembers being frustrated with people not understanding him. In many ways he doesn’t enjoy having autism, mostly because sometimes people might see him as being different or not treating him the same as any other people, but he also doesn’t hide it and has realised that through the attention he gets from being so good at pinball that he is seen as kind of an”ambassador” for people with autism and that his success at following his passion and becoming one of the best in the world at something is inspirational.
Jeff Lee Petry
Can you tell me a little about the filming process?
We have been filming with Robert and his family for almost 2 years now. It’s been a lot of time on the road, more than I think we expected initially. It seems like at least every second weekend Robert and his family are traveling somewhere quite distant to compete, whether it’s in Seattle or Pittsburgh or Denver, they are very committed to the pinball community and to Robert’s career, not to mention that its a lot of fun!
It’s been a real privilege to be able spend so much time with Robert (and his family), he is such a genuine, honest guy that it makes filming with him really unique and enriching. We will have definitely come away from the making of this film having made a good friend in Robert. It can be an intense thing to have a camera or two following you around, especially when you are in the really stressful situation of competing at a really high level, and Robert has handled it with total grace and bravery. I think he understands the greater importance of telling his story.
If the Crowdfunding campaign is successful, when and where can we see the film?
The film will be released in the early half of 2016, first in film festivals, on Vimeo VOD, and will probably have a small theatrical run as well.
How can our readers help?
Well, the most immediate help would be to become a contributor to the film by going to our Indiegogo campaign, but you can also be a great help by sharing the campaign and awareness of the film within your communities. We are in the finishing phase of the film and this part of finishing in particular gets really expensive in ways that are unavoidable, so we are thankful to have really supportive communities to help us along the way. It’s also a really great way for people to become part of the making of the film and for people to get behind the story to help it reach a greater audience. The more eyes the better!
We would very much like to thank Robert, Kathy and Jeff for taking the time to answer our questions and we look forward to the film’s release in 2016.
You can follow WIZARD MODE on social media to stay up to date with the film:
Indiegogo campaign page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/wizard-mode-a-documentary