Sean “The Butcher” Smithson here. Sometime scribe for these here pages at Dread Central, sometime horror host, sometime jungle explorer, sometime exorcist, even sometime astronaut. But this time I’m here reporting on what it’s like to help organize events and program films for a horror convention. Or at least, what it was like for me at this particular con, CryptiCon Seattle 2009.
First off, there was an entire season of bi-weekly meetings, where we slowly zeroed in on having the vendors tables sold (it’s this that mainly pays for the con expenses), hashed out which guests we’d like to invite (and then the rigmarole of who confirms, second choices, etc), and brainstormed ideas for panels and events. A lot of the things came together slow-as-molasses at first, then built to a torrent of hurry-up-and-get-it-done in the final weeks. For instance, two out of three of my tent pole films, which I was hanging the quality of the film programming on, didn’t show up until the day before they were to be screened. So, we had been advertising the fact we were showing the films (Pontypool and Dead Snow FYI, thanks to all the crew at IFC!!!), but it’s never a done deal until it’s in your hands, right? So I was totally freaking out inside, envisioning crazy mail-delays for all kinds of far out reasons, like surface to air missile attacks and alien invasion scenarios. But in the end, everything the board had planned for the con came to pass with nary a hitch. What follows is my personal account of becoming an actual zombie after four days of hardcore work and geeking out.
PRE-CON PARTY AND CONCERT Thursday, June 4 –
There was a launch party organised for the night before the start of the con. Some kind of neo-folk-grim-hillbilly music project opened the show. Shrill, and vocally out of key, which I think [i]may[/i] have been somewhat intentional, they came close to clearing the house out before things even got started. Personally, I got what they were trying to do (think The Gothic Archies and these guys are in the ghetto next to that particularly “shiny” neighborhood) it just didn’t work for them. Guys, if you’re reading, polish things up a bit. It’s not without potential, but it needs a ton of work. Love your music as much as your dungarees and suspenders and you’ll be giving Nick Cave a run for his money in no time. But right now you’re in danger of being lapped on the track of musical credibility by the Jonas Brothers.
As some of the VIP ticket holders and guests of the convention showed up, things started getting more lively. Look, there’s Tom Atkins talking to Charles Cyphers. And see Ken Foree over there, talking to the girl in the orange boots? Well, I did. Neat. Then, The Reggie Bannister Band took the stage. All competent musicians (actually, the bassist had some pretty mean chops), they played what was basically a blues rock thing, with a hippyish/jam band slant. It’s particularly cool, because you can easily see and fell what a good time Reggie has doing it, and that it’s very important for him to express his musical side. It’s not my bag, but it is assured and professional sounding, as well as emotionally endearing. Rock on Reggie! *cue guitar lick*
After Reggie’s set, some of the crew and I adjourned outside to “mentally prepare” for the rest of the night. While tucked away into a quiet corner area outside the club, “mentally preparing” was made impossible, when we were hit by a huge dust-storm. I kid you not. A HUGE dust-storm. For a few miles in each direction, the street was torn up as part of a major reconstruction project. A perfectly placed gust of wind, and all the exposed dirt from the sidewalks leading downtown kicked up a collective cloud that browned things out all the way to downtown, which was about 2 miles away. Could this be a sign of…evil?
But, we abandoned the mission of “mentally preparing” regardless, and retreated back inside, where upon the headliners, The Quintessentials, were beginning to plug in.
Power pop punk genericism with a barely-focused horror vibe. They weren’t absolutely rotten by any means. Tight. Pro gear. Loud and clear. But it’s just so so sooooo done to death. And out of all the bands doing this type of thing, The Quintessentials are anything but quintessential. It’s fourth gen rehashes and really middle of the road. And they need to lose the day job vibe. Again, potentially a good band, but their trip needs to become much more clear and realized.
Really, and this is the way it should have been, the best thing about the night was hanging out with the other people who worked so hard to get the con together, and have an evening where we could take a collective breath before the big event.
Calling it somewhat an early night, my A/V tech Josh White and I headed to local 24-hour eatery legend The 5 Point, and indulged in a heaping helping of the worlds crispiest tater tots and a couple of cheese steaks. Then, I headed home to catch a last round of good sleep before a crazy hectic weekend full of trouble shooting and taurine.
Friday, June 5 – Morning and Afternoon –
I get up early, grab some coffee, jump in the van and head from Kirkland to Seattle. We get to the convention space (Seattle Center, right by the Key Arena for the locals who can picture it) and start running wires to the outdoor ancillary film screening area. My A/V tech Josh White, and assistants Steph and Autumn, got amps up and running, projectors plugged in, and laptops fired up. Steph and Autumn also made an insanely effective movie screen to hang outside.
As I am taping cables down, I look up and see Dark Horse main man (and Dread Central blogger) Scott Allie approaching. He comes up and tells me about the vacation he is just returning from, and that we are his final stop before returning home to Portland, OR. I love seeing Scott on panels, and somehow I had forgotten he was a guest, so this is one more uber cool thing about the weekend!
People are starting to arrive, and fun is starting to be had. A Pinhead buying a signed 8×10 from Ken Foree there, a pint-sized Hellboy and Abe Sapien eyeing the Planet Lovecraft booth there. Ah yes, this place is starting to feel like home.
I dash around inside, getting video up and running in the two lecture areas, The Lopez Room, and the Fidalgo Room. Constantly making sure the film binder was never more then 12 inches away from me, I take the pre-organized content for the night off of discs and put it onto the hard drives. Now all we should need to do is press a “PLAY” key, and we’re off. Check the system, it all seems fine.
Late afternoon rolls around. Time to stand around with my half-numb mind going a zillion miles a minute, while I chain-smoke. Great. Why isn’t there coffee at this place?
Puff puff. Cough. Puff puff.
The doors are opened for VIP ticket holders. Already the place seemed to have a good number of people milling around. It looked like all 250 VIP ticket holders were here and enjoying the benefits of their extra money spent. One hour until doors to the public open and the first of the main room events kicks off.
The ancillary film crew and I check out the outdoor screen. OK, the projector we rented promised to be visible even in direct sunlight. In a word, BULLSHIT.
We fire up the projector and go to play a trailers package. Total whiteout. So no ancillary daylight programming. I can’t believe how many people had actually poured over the second tier film program in the con guide, and were really counting on certain things. Good to know they were that interested, fucked up that I couldn’t deliver anything to their hungry eyes until night rolled around. And up here in Seattle, this time of year, you can read a book outside at 9pm. Grrrrr, growwwwwwl. I was a [i]little[/i] pissed off. Then I figure “Eh, fuck it. It only means less work and less to go wrong.” and enjoy the slite ease in scheduling.
The general public is let in and the place really starts to fill up. I run into the Lopez Room and run a trailers package and a documentary on Mexican horror films (Damn, why didn’t I get the Babysitter Twins to help me introduce that??? Live and learn) I am very surprised by how many people are in the seats, ready to watch. I was expecting 25 apathetic schlubs. Instead I got about 200 very enthusiastic and engaged attendees, gathered and ready to be dazzled.
The trailers actually get applause, and the documentary draws more people into the room. I bail next door to the Fidalgo Room, to watch a few minutes of a Q and A with Howard “Bub The Zombie” Sherman. This guy is one of my all-time favorite character actors, and I put his performance as “Bub” in Romero’s Day Of The Dead up there, literally, with the work of Lon Chaney Sr. It’s awe inspiring, and subtly layered. It’s, in a phrase, fucking bad ass. The Q and A with Mr. Sherman is the usual cover-the-bases discussion. Cool stuff, but nothing new to these ears, and it’s time to get back next door anyway.
I turn up the lights, say “Thanks”, and see the room is easily three quarters full. I think to myself ‘Fuck yes’, then run an episode of my show, Nightmare Alley, which is attached as well to a couple of other short films. I’m free here until 8pm, so I run outside to check the ancillary film area.
Everything looks good to go, so I double check that the trailers/short films/music video package I put together is ready to just be “PLAY”ed. Everything seems copacetic. Now, I can go search out our sponsor from Venom Energy Drink and get myself one of their new, delicious punch flavored go-fast beverages.
I pop into the Lovecraft panel in the Fidalgo room, to watch Dark Horse Comics overlord Scott Allie, HPL Film Fest organizer Andrew Migliore, writer Kelly Young, and director Eric Morgret jam on Mr. Howard Phillips. I sip my drink. I am having a good time now, and am able to enjoy the moment for the first time in the day. Nice.
Why did I just drink that Venom Energy Drink? Now I am totally wired, short circuiting on taurine and nerves wound tight as tennis racket twine. That’s ok though, there’s still time for me to go “mentally prepare” for, well, nothing the rest of the night except for pressing “PLAY” every so often and saying “Thank you!” a whole bunch. Exit stage left.
We have opening ceremonies, and local radio guy, The Reverend En Fuego from KISW, have a chat with honored guest Don Coscarelli. Slight technical difficulties at first, made the beginning of the conversation a bit difficult to hear, but those were quickly remedied. It was a nice, if a bit casual, start to what looked to be a really cool weekend. *Note to self: Next year push for something a little more showy.*
In the Lopez Room, we have the first of our three featured films that weekend. Jim Isaac and Robert Mailer Anderson’s Pig Hunt. I really like this film, and it was an honor to show it this year. The trailer I had been run a couple times earlier in the evening had asses in seats.
While this was happening, local film community guru Warren Etheridge was next door interviewing the insane, and insanely cool Mr. Lloyd Kaufman. I chose this time to also take a stroll through the dealers rooms, which were still open. Wow, after seemingly having trouble filling vendor space, the two dealers rooms were packed with an uncommonly wide variety of memorabilia, shirts, toys, paintings, make-up booths, even a tattooist from the highly regarded The Hidden Hand was working over in a corner. Then there’s the massage table with a vampire masseuse ready to relieve you of your aches and pains.
This place is actually jumping right now. The sun is finally over the horizon, and the outside courtyard is now in heavy shadow.
We start the ancillary film programming outside. A bunch of Hammer trailers fill the space until we screen local film cultists The Beta Society’s most recent project, Junkbucket. comedy thriller about a slasher who slices off people’s “junk” and puts it into a bucket. Hence Junkbucket. Junkbucket = good. This one is also for fans of stuff like Black Devil Doll. Seek it out sick-o’s.
I have a minor heart attack, when an assistant comes out and tells me the Pig Hunt screener is freezing up. What has happened, is every two minutes or so, the frame would freeze for just a millisecond. Saying “Fuck it, let the people decide” I asked the crowd if they wanted me to stop the film or futz with it, and they all happily screamed “No!” and that the film was underway to the point where all the good shit was starting to happen. So, being the true film fans they were, they stuck it out like champs. They were my heroes that night. *Note to self: Next year always re-convert the films to be absolutely player compatible.*
Every place in our section of Seattle Center is basically full. The courtyard, the film and lecture rooms, the halls. Then I realized the dealers rooms have closed, and it’s 11 pm. A little tipsy, I made my way back to the Lopez Room, and closed out the Pig Hunt screening. The promotional posters I had for the film were quickly snapped up by enthusiastic fans. Yay, a success.
Out in the courtyard people stand around watching Nightmare Alley, smoking, and sneaking sips of whatever is really in those now-consumed Venom Energy Drink bottles. I see a couple of punters, teetering on the balls of their feet, with happy half-lidded smiles on their faces. I think to myself, ‘It’s good that pretty much everyone is staying at one of the three hotels near-by’.
Now I am trying to stay awake. Amazingly, the con is still well over half full, and a good number of those people are sitting in the Lopez Room, waiting to see our midnight program of Black Santa’s Revenge and Black Devil Doll. Black Santa’s Revenge went over so well that evening, the audience literally demanded to see it again, twice. And boy, my type of film or not, Black Devil Doll sure has found it’s audience. There were a number of people who left, got something to eat or hit the bar, and came back to see the muthafuckin’ puppet known as Mumbia do his thing. I wound up enjoying it more than the first time I saw it as well, and props to Shawn for making sure we had it to show. It’s cool mofo’s like Shawn that make the world go around.
The day is over. My cameraman Nick is staying at his girlfriends until morning, so he gives me the keys to his pad. He lives nearby, so I go crash at his place. I talk with co-organizer/filmmaker Eric Morgret and HPL Film Fest’s Andrew Migliore in the car, on the way home.
Once upstairs, I steal a Twix from Nick (which I copped to the next day! I still haven’t replaced it though) and “mentally prepare” for sleep. Tomorrow is going to be an early to rise and late to lay day, and I have two panels to run, as well as the bulk of the film programming to spin.
If you’re gonna die, die with your boots on.
Look for Part Two soon!
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