World's First Pipe-Smoking Movie

di Mark Irwin


Case N° 130430

by Mark Irwin


     If you grew up with a passion for old movies like I did, there’s nothing quite so wonderful as making pipe-sitings. Bluray and flat-screen TVs have helped tremendously with this casual obsession, bringing the pipes into a crisp focus that allows us to indulge our favorite marques—

     - “Is that a Dunhill Eddie Robinson is smoking in The Stranger (1946)?”
     - “Hey, lookit that Oom-Paul the head-shrinker is smoking in Cary Grant’s My Favorite Wife (1940). That thing’s positively serpentine! And the blast on it!”
     - “Didja catch that old Looney Tunes, Wholly Smoke (1938) on the DVD Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 5 (2007) What a great ‘pipe-shop comes to life’ cartoon!” 
     - “Pa Kettle—now there’s a Cob-Hero for all time! He wins a pipe-tobacco slogan- writing contest in Ma and Pa Kettle (1949), then spends most of his free-time in the sequel, Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950) sampling free pipe tobacco and smoking some great-looking cobs with his Native American pals.”
     - “Is that a Peterson the farmer’s smoking in the first episode of Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl (2012)?”

I could go on, but the sad truth is that these sitings bring me so much joy because there’s actually so little about the joys of pipes and tobaccos in the movies, at least until now. 

     American Director/Cinematographer Chad Terpstra is in the planning stages of Father the Flame, which will be the first feature-length documentary about our favorite subject, and you can help. He’s a very busy man, but over the course of a few months, I managed to hook up with him for this Neatpipes Blog exclusive. Here’s what he had to say:


Where did the idea for “Father the Flame” come from? 


     It started on a whim. I had just finished working on a feature film in the Detroit area and was walking past a the tobacco shop with my wife on our way to dinner when I decided it was time to try a pipe. She thought it was a funny idea, but ended up helping me pick one out. 

     A couple years later I was surprised to discover several of my friends also smoked pipes. One friend, Rush, told me about his friend’s uncle (Lee Erck) who was a pipe maker in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and that we should do a short documentary about him. We tossed the idea around for a while until one day we looked to see what other movies had been made about pipes. We searched on Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo and elsewhere online and couldn’t find any movie of any kind about these interesting cultural, and in some ways, spiritual artifacts. 

     We committed to starting the project by arranging to meet and interview Lee at the Chicago Pipe show 2012. Our mutual friend, Scott, who is also a pipe smoker and film editor took that footage and cut together an amazing trailer. From there the project snowballed (or stoked) its way to becoming a feature film, which we hope will achieve worldwide distribution. 


Who do you see as your audience? 


     We’re aiming for the general public, specifically those who have a curiosity or maybe a sense of nostalgia about pipes. From what we’ve learned about the pipe community it’s about relationships more than just the objects themselves. That means we’ll be exploring the personal side of the craft as well as the technical. In that way we expect that pipe enthusiasts and pipe-newbies alike are going to love it. 


What’s been done so far? 


     So far we have the trailer we made from the Chicagoland International Pipe show in 2012. We also went to Lee Erck’s house/shop that summer and shot for two and a half days. We got some amazing footage and interviews and will continue to edit excerpts as we fundraise and spread awareness of the project. 


Will you and your crew be at the Chicagoland show next week? 


     We are planning to attend the Chicagoland show. Thanks to the generous support of Frank Burla and Craig Cobine, we have reserved a table and will have materials to hand out to help spread awareness about the film. We’re excited to get to know more people in the pipe community, talk about the project, shoot more footage, shop pipes & tobacco and have a great time! 


     Can you talk a little about Lee’s place in the film? 


     Lee was our first entry into the pipe community and to us seems to represent well the spirit of the community: personal connections and mutual respect in the craft. He will be somewhat of a touchstone to the personal side of the story as we travel around the world listening to many experts and other pillars in the trade. As Lee says, there are many roads to Rome. He’ll show us his road and talk about those on other roads that he knows and admires. We want to talk to a lot of people to get a variety of voices. 


Who’s involved in the project’s production?


     We have a core crew of four people: myself (Chad Terpstra) Director/Cinematographer, Rush - Producer, Stellita Terpstra - Co-Producer/Legal and Scott McCambridge - Editor. 

     On the shoot up north we had the talented gaffer skills of Chandler Forbes, sound expertise of Kyle Cambell, camera support of Jason Grinde and production assistance of Sarah Shepherd. When shoots come up we’ll likely be rounding up the same characters for support. 


What’s the timeline for production? 


     We’re still at the early stages of development so it’s hard to say what the timeline is right now. At the moment we’re preparing the budget, outline and treatment and will spend the much of the year raising funds and shooting more. We had to take a break in the Fall because our crew expanded by one adorable little co-producer, but now we’re back on track. 


What can the pipe-smoking community do to support the film? 


     The majority of our financial strategy is based on donations. The easiest way to donate is to directly send a payment via Paypal at the address Every little bit helps. 

     Other than that the simplest thing the community can do is keep spreading the word and following/discussing the project on Facebook In today’s movie making world having a prebuilt social media audience is key to funding and distribution so the more people we have on the Facebook page and talking about it the better. Also follow us on Twitter: 


     Thanks again, Mark and Luca, for taking the time to listen to us and sharing the project! 




63 pipes in current rotation
16 unsmoked pipes
01 Radice Chubby "55" on reserve
01 pipe I look at compulsively: AeroBilliard contrast stain, wavy-top
Average time spent daily looking at pipes: 06 minutes
Average time spent daily thinking about pipes: unkown
Average time spent daily smoking pipes: 2 hrs, 1 min