By Brianne McConnell
For Meredith and Austin Bragg, for as long as they can remember, being creative has been a calling. But during the past year, the northern Virginia brothers’ business of filmmaking has launched to a new level.
The movie making duo, who live in Alexandria and Arlington, respectively, are the creative minds behind the recently released feature film, “Pinball: The Man Who Saved The Game.”
The movie, which is the first feature film the brothers wrote and directed, is set in 1976. The biopic follows the story of journalist Roger Sharpe, a man set out to show that the game of pinball – which was illegal in New York at the time – was about skill and not chance.
Meredith Bragg said the idea for the movie all started with a photograph back in 2020.
“There’s a famous, in the pinball circles, photo of Roger playing. He’s got this crazy mustache, and all of the council is around him and it’s just such a funny picture,” Meredith said.
The brothers said the idea of the decades-long pinball ban and Roger Sharpe’s effort to legalize the game was just one in a long list on a document the brothers call “ridiculous, weird ideas” for stories they want to tell. They weren’t sure, though, if it was going to ever be a movie.
Meredith Bragg said it was not until he emailed Roger Sharpe during the start of COVID-19 closures that the relationship and story took off.
“This was at the beginning of lockdown. No one is leaving their house and we spent countless hours talking with Roger and not just him, [but] his wife, his kids,” Meredith, the older of the two brothers, said.
The brothers said it was after that call they knew they had a feature film to write.
The Bragg brothers spent months digging into Sharpe’s life and the world of pinball. While they loved what they created, they still weren’t sure their production company, Moving Picture Institute, was going to greenlight the film.
MPI told the brothers they did not want to do a biopic or a period piece because it would be too expensive to produce. “Pinball” is both a period piece and a biopic about Sharpe. However in the spring of 2021, the film-making duo got the call that their script was coming to life – and the brothers had just a few months until production would begin.
The risk of writing their first feature film was now paying off. And that theme of taking risks plays a key role in the film.
“It’s what we gravitated toward,” Meredith, who lives in Alexandria with his wife and two daughters, said. “It’s what resonated with us, like, ‘Oh we understand this.’ Even attempting this is a risk on our end and took a lot of sacrifice from jobs [and] family and so it spoke to us in a way we could tell it because we’re not, we didn’t come to this as pinball people.”
While the two may not have been pinball people, they have always been creatives.
Austin Bragg, an Arlington resident, said he and his brother have always been what he calls “comedy nerds.” The brothers attended Yorktown High School in Arlington and spent their younger years writing sketch comedy.
After finding some success with sketch comedy in college at James Madison University, the two returned to the area and began writing five-minute television shows, one of which, “The Defenders of Stan,” was picked up for a pilot by Warner Brothers.
When the pilot did not go anywhere, the brothers began making short films, winning local film festivals, including Washington, D.C.’s 48-hour film festival. “A Piece of Cake,” a short film the brothers co-wrote and co-directed and premiered at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, was nominated for Best Short Film. The two have also had their short film work screened at the Cannes film Festival in France and they won a documentary award from George Lucas, according to apieceofcakefilm.com.
The two kept finding validation in their work while following their passion, but the two were doing the creative work for little to no money while working full time at Reason TV, the video arm of the politics and culture magazine, Reason. Meredith is director of special projects at Reason TV, while Austin is a senior producer focusing on viral comedy.
The brothers have always worked in a creative space, previously holding jobs at Arlington Independent Media, The Washington Post, local production companies and doing other freelance work. In addition to being filmmakers, the two also hold the important titles of “husband” and “father.” While balancing family and full-time jobs, the two said they always have an itch to do what they called “weird stuff.”
That’s when they went back to their document of ideas and “Pinball” was born.
The movie, which blurs the line between documentary and feature film, stars Roger Sharpe himself as a narrator, describing his life while an actor portrays it. The brothers shot the film in just three weeks in the New York Hudson Valley.
“We definitely got thrown into the fire but it was great,” Meredith said.
As for what’s next for the filmmakers, the brothers are hopeful they will get to create another feature film, but they said the project has to be right.
“If this is the only thing we get to do, it’s not so bad,” Austin said.
“I think the best feeling for people who do this kind of work or for any creative, is when people I have never met say nice things and think what we did is something worthwhile. We’ve definitely had that,” Meredith said.
The Pinball movie is currently streaming on several platforms including AppleTV, Hulu and PrimeVideo.