Remember PEZ? Those sugary, hard yet chewable rectangular candies that come inside a hard plastic dispenser? For many, PEZ is just a fond childhood memory.
But type PEZ in any search engine, and you’ll see that PEZ today is also a big business for adults.
A new documentary called PEZheads -- The Movie lovingly explores this quirky but fun hobby. In creating it, filmmakers Chris Marshall, Chris Skeene and Kendra Skeene went to conventions, toured the PEZ factory, visited the Easton Museum of PEZ in Pennsylvania and talked to PEZ collectors, including Robby Takac from The Goo Goo Dolls.
All three filmmakers live in Savannah and their documentary will be screened at the upcoming Savannah Film Festival. Connect Savannah recently caught up with the Skeenes to discuss all things PEZ in this e-mail exchange.
Connect Savannah: What is the PEZ factory like? Did they give you free samples?
Chris Skeene: The PEZ factory was a lot of fun. It’s a rare treat to get a factory tour. So beyond it being fun, it was a very special event for us to film. We had PEZ candy before it was compacted into tablets (it tasted very good) and then PEZ candy right after it was compacted and was still warm (also very good). PEZ has all of the dispensers that are currently available in stores to give away to visitors and we were able to get any of those that we wanted.
Connect Savannah: Did your own interest in PEZ collecting lead to this documentary?
Chris Skeene: Yes, it did, but it took the interest of our friend, Chris Marshall, who is the director of the film, to make it happen. We were sitting in my apartment having dinner one night when Chris started to ask question about the hobby of PEZ collecting. My answers would spawn new questions from him as he realized that there is a lot of history in PEZ collecting and that the serious collectors know more about PEZ dispensers than PEZ. The president of PEZ admitted that last part himself. Chris then just said, “We should make a documentary about this!” Kendra and I thought he was kidding. A couple months later Kendra and I were going to our first ever PEZ convention and asked Chris if he was serious about the film and if he wanted to come with us. He did and that was the beginning.
Connect Savannah: What made you start your own collection?
Chris Skeene: When Kendra and I started dating, I noticed that she had a few of them on display in her apartment, so I gathered up the few that I had and gave them to her. Then, as I was shopping, I would see one for sale that she didn’t have and I would buy it for her. I soon realized that it was a cheap way to tell her that I was thinking of her (cheaper than roses) so I kept it up. As her collection grew I started to keep track of the ones she had and the ones she didn’t. I would then search for ones she didn’t have rather than waiting to casually find them. Not long after that, I started to buy dispensers that she didn’t really care about. We then realized that I had also become a PEZ collector.
Connect Savannah: How long did it take to make the film from start to finish?
Chris Skeene: The filming took about a year and half, from February 2005 to September 2006. Chris and I were both in SCAD, and Kendra and I had jobs, so there was a lot of real world distraction. But we found time. For example, we wanted to film at the largest PEZ convention, which is in Cleveland, so after class on a Thursday, we piled in the car and drove straight to Cleveland overnight. We spent Friday and Saturday filming and then on Saturday we drove overnight straight back to Savannah and went to class on Monday.
Connect Savannah: How did you find people like Robby Takac to interview for the film?
Chris Skeene: That was a lot easier than you think it would be. There’s a PEZ collectors newsletter run by a guy named Richie Belyski. We contacted him early in our pre-production to get advice on some of the conventions and collectors that we weren’t familiar with. He had Robby’s contact info and sent him a message about us.
One day I received an email that said “I’m Robby from the Goo Goo Dolls. I hear you are looking for me.” The same thing happened with Vinnie from Less Than Jake. One day I got a phone call from a number that I didn’t recognize and there was a person who said, “This is Vinnie from Less Than Jake. I hear you want to do an interview.”
Connect Savannah: Kendra, were you surprised when Chris began collecting PEZ?
Kendra Skeene: Well, Chris has collecting in his genes. His mom, dad, and grandmother are all pretty big collectors of random stuff. So it doesn’t surprise me when he wants to collect ANYTHING. But with PEZ, he started out buying them for me, so he had the excuse that it was my collection. When he started buying PEZ for me that I told him that I didn’t want, I made him admit that it was also his collection, which was pretty funny. He didn’t want to own up to it. Now he embraces it. He tells people it’s his collection, and is really proud of “his” collection.
Connect Savannah: Chris, you have a PEZ man that looks just like you.
Chris Skeene: After our first PEZ convention, Kendra thought it would be fun to make a fantasy dispenser that looks like me. She bought the dispensers that she would need to steal parts from -- a PEZ boy and Jack-Jack from The Incredibles -- and before long it looked like me. I don’t really remember how it became one of the logos for the movie. I think it started out by Kendra and Chris joking around with the dispenser and their jokes happen to look good.
Connect Savannah: What do you look for in a PEZ dispenser?
Chris Skeene:- What I look for when I buy PEZ depends on what I’m buying. If it’s a new dispenser, then there’s not as much to look for, unless I hear that there is a variation, then I look for that. Sometimes PEZ will begin to produce an item and then change the paint on it or they will have to change the patent information so there will be the old version and the newer one. Most non-collectors would never notice these changes, but collectors tend to obsess over them. If I’m buying a vintage item, I look for different things. First you look to see if the stem has feet or not. No-foot stems are older and more valuable, with a few exceptions. Then I check the paint on the head, the patent number on the stem, which helps date an item or possibly decide its value, and I make sure the head spring and the inner spring are nice and springy. I also check to see if there are any cracks in the stem or head.
Connect Savannah: What’s the most unusual item in your collection? Your favorite?
Chris Skeene: My most unusual item to other PEZ collectors is a mock-up I was given by the president of PEZ. It’s an early version of the Star Wars collector set that came out a year or so ago. My most unusual item for non-collectors is a PEZ gun. PEZ used to make a lot of guns that shoot PEZ candy and the advertisements would show kids holding the guns up to their mouths and shooting candy.
I have a few favorites. I love the PEZ that looks like me that Kendra made. But of real dispensers, I have a vintage cow that I got on eBay for a great deal so I love it. It’s worth about $500 and I paid about $5 for it. I also love an old Bozo that I got in the same eBay deal. It has a die-cut stem and great paint, but I think I will have to sell it.
Connect Savannah: What advice would you give to collectors?
Chris Skeene: Don’t collect PEZ for the value or as an investment. You’ll be disappointed and in the end you won’t enjoy collecting. A lot of people have gotten burned that way. And only collect what you like. A lot of collectors are refusing to buy the Bratz dispenser or the Orange County Choppers dispensers because they do not respect what Bratz stands for or do not respect the OCC guys, who are the first real people to ever be made into PEZ dispensers.
PEZheads screens Tuesday, Oct. 31 at 11:30 a.m. at the Trustees Theatre and Thursday Nov. 2 at 2:30 p.m. at the Lucas Theatre.