STORY WRITTEN BY MIKE ARGENTO
firstname.lastname@example.org @FnMikeArgento on Twitter
Aaron Re swiped his player’s card through the slot at one of the skeeball games in the arcade at Frank Theaters at Queensgate Shopping Center and reached down to pick up his first ball.
He felt its weight, cupping it in his hand, and said, “Plastic balls. Wooden balls are better.”
We were here to talk about his feature film, “SBK The-Movie,” billed as “THE BEST MOVIE EVER MADE” and then in small print, “on this subject,” but first, some skeeball.
He explained playing for fun is different than playing in tournaments. When you’re just trying to rack up tickets, you shoot for the 100-point holes in the upper corners of the game. In competition, he said, you aim for consistency, rolling the ball toward the middle of the concentric rings that have different point values, the idea being if you miss the 30- or 40-point holes, you still get 20 points. If you miss the 50- or 100-point holes, the ball rolls down to the 10 point hole, the minimum.
He rolled for the 100-point hole in the upper left corner of the game.
It was his first game of the day, so he had warm up, and he had to get used to the plastic balls.
He scored a 170, pretty anemic, he admitted.
• • •
Skeeball was invented by Jonathan Dickinson Este, a Princeton graduate whose family owned a lumber yard. The first game, built by Este as a gift to his son, was a lot different than the games you see in arcades and at the boardwalk. It was 36-feet long and the balls were made of heavy steel. It took some strength to play it.
The original game eventually evolved into the skeeball we all know now, with a shorter playing surface, usually about 10 feet, and an automated scoring system. The games became a hit at the Jersey shore and skeeball arcades lined the boardwalks in Atlantic City, Wildwood and Ocean City.
The first skeeball tournament was held in Atlantic City in 1932.
• • •
Re — who looks like what you’d think a world-class skeeball player would look like, and not your stereotypical indie film auteur in skinny jeans and hipster glasses — started playing skeeball when he was about 8 during family vacations to the shore. (He grew up in Gettysburg and now lives in Hanover.) The appeal of the game was it was cheap — a dime compared to a quarter for most arcade games at the time. Re developed a real affinity for the game and always played when he could. He still plays, at 45.
It was during a trip to Wildwood about three or four years ago that he embarked on a journey that resulted in making a feature film and becoming a world champion skeeball player.
He was at Ed’s Funcade, playing skeeball, when he saw a sign advertising the World Skeeball Championship, held at the arcade every Labor Day weekend.
And he got to thinking.
• • •
Re had always been interested in creative things. “I used to draw comics when I was kid,” he said, “even though I couldn’t draw very well.” And he fooled around with a Super 8 camera, making little homemade movies. He studied film in college and upon graduation, moved to L.A. to break into the industry.
He found he didn’t like L.A. much. The smog was terrible back then — it was 1992 — and the jobs were hard to come by. He worked on film sets, the workday starting at 5 a.m. and ending at midnight, for little money, not nearly enough to pay the kind of rents that were common in L.A.
So he moved back east, settling in Hanover, and started his own video production company, Hanover Multimedia and Video Service. He produces all sorts of films. One day, Utz might call him about filming a training video for one of its new machines and on another day, he might be contracted to record a dance recital. He does just about everything.
But he always wanted to make a feature film.
And skeeball made it happen.
He looked into it and found that, although skeeball has appeared in some films, there has never been a skeeball movie. There was a movie about Donkey Kong, but none about skeeball.
He figured he would make one, chronicling his quest to become the skeeball champion of the world.
• • •
He knew he had a shot. A few years back, Ed’s had a nightly contest, that the high scorer in skeeball got to take a turn in a cash booth. One night, Re got the high score and when he approached Ed to collect, Ed kept looking past him and asking, “Where’s Vito?”
After a while, it dawned on Ed. “This guy beat Vito?”
• • •
The film follows his journey to the world championships, ending with a showdown with Joey “The Wolfman” Wolf, a kingpin of skeeball. He directed and edited it, taking 20 to 30 hours of footage and whittling it down to the 84-minute final product. It took several edits, he said. After viewing one of the early cuts, he thought his movie about skeeball had too much skeeball in it.
Re didn’t want to spoil the ending for anyone, but he did say he is “the reigning world champion.”
On Monday, April 6, four days after the film opens at Franks Theaters, he will have a rematch with The Wolfman at the theater’s arcade.
• • •
“SBK The-Movie” — SBK stands for Skee Ball King — premiered in Hanover, at the Timeline Arcade, in December. Audiences loved it, Re said, laughing at all the right parts. The documentary is a comedy, he said, but it does have a serious message about shooting for a dream and never giving up, whether it’s about skeeball or making a movie.
He was kind of worried that audiences and theaters wouldn’t get it.
“I thought people were going to look at me like I’m crazy when I’d tell them this movie is about skeeball,” he said. “But a lot of people hear that and smile.”
Ads and trailers for the film play up the comedy. One ad begins, “These three things guarantee a great movie: Explosions! Ninjas! And Ron Howard! Well, this movie has none of them.” The trailer says, “Better than Police Academy 4 and 7 guaranteed.”
Re has realistic hopes for the film.
“I’m sure Vin Diesel will do burnouts around my head on April 3,” he said. His film opens the day as the seventh entry in the Fast and Furious” franchise. “If you want to see flying, exploding cars, I’d recommend his film. Otherwise, come to mine.”
• • •
His second game of skeeball, he scored a 270, still pretty bad, as far as he was concerned. To give you an idea what a good score is, the machines advertised a bonus of 502 tickets for a score of more than 450.
His last game, he rolled a 460. That was more like it.
He collected is tickets and looked at the glass case containing prizes.
“Look,” he said, “I spent 50 cents and won a Wonder Woman shot glass.”