Interview: Beyond Fest Founders Christian Parkes and Grant Moninger
Now only in its 6th year of existence, Beyond Fest in Los Angeles has grown exponentially and is now the highest-attended genre festival in the country. American Cinematheque programmer Grant Moninger and Beyond Fest Co-Founder Christian Parkes, through a lot of hard work, have managed to deliver a two week horror extravaganza that caters to an LA community that had been surprisingly underserved until Beyond Fest opened its doors in 2013.
It was a tough road at first, but Moninger and Parkes are already gearing up for the 2019 edition that I hope to attend now that this festival is a strong, constant blip on my radar. Both gentleman spoke with me for a few minutes during the fest, discussing how they hooked up, their plans for the future and they dished out some advice for anyone looking to start a film fest of their very own.
This year’s fest included a 13-film David Cronenberg retrospective with David Cronenberg in attendance, marking his first return to Los Angeles in 10 years. The two biggest fall horror releases, Halloween and Suspiria, also premiered.
Beyond Fest continues until October 9th and there are tickets still available tonight for the West Coast Premiere of An Evening With Beverly Luff with Aubrey Plaza, Craig Robinson and Jim Hosking in attendance.
DC: How did you guys first meet and start brainstorming what would eventually become Beyond Fest?
GM: I’ll do the intro to this one. I work and program at the Cinematheque and one day this guy comes in off the street and pitches a genre fest for three weeks, which is something we wouldn’t do. We didn’t really know him from Adam but we got to talking and he said he had the band from Goblin lined up. Goblin could play and we could show Suspiria, Tenebrae, that kind of thing and I was sold. So I said, alright, if you bring Goblin here we’re doing it. Maybe you could take it from your side, Christian?
CP: I’d been going to the Cinematheque for a bunch of years, they used to have this horror program there but it would do old stuff, classics like King Kong would be one day and the next day would be Takashi Miike’s Audition. So there was this real clash but it really stuck with me because LA is such a fragmented city and I really loved this strange piece of programming that pulled people together. I went into the Egyptian and, as Grant said, I kind of rolled up and said I’ve got Goblin. But the reality was I actually didn’t have Goblin, it was a bit of a bluff. I had the phone number for a booking agent who was apparently going to bring Goblin over. Then I called the booking agent and said I’ve got the best theater in LA and he was like, ‘Who are you?’ That was the first year. I was really hesitating as I was about to send the wire transfer. I had just sent the wire transfer and I just thought I hope somebody comes. Tickets went on sale a week later and sold out in a minute.
GM: Richard Donner came through that year, too, for The Omen so it was great for him to do that year one.
DC: You don’t really realize sometimes that LA’s horror community was maybe starving. Obviously, there’s a lot of options but to sell out that quickly is a testament to the horror community there even though there are a thousand things going on every night.
CP: You tapped into something really valuable there. There is infinite competition and it is impossibly difficult to get people out to a theater. It’s even harder to get them out to a rep theater and it’s even harder to get them out repeatedly to do this. So we’ve been really fortunate in as much as the programming and the spirit of the festival has built an audience in which people are willing to come out and try some movies that they might not have tried before. It’s as much a social thing as much as it is enjoying the films that are playing. We have been really fortunate in the way people have responded.
GM: When it was created it was just a name – Beyond Fest. We had to convince people that Beyond Fest was a thing. We kept saying Beyond Fest, it sounded good, so people started getting into it. But we didn’t know it was going to create the community that it created until that first year where we saw the people that we’ve seen in line all the years since and made such good friends. There’s a great Beyond Fest community that we couldn’t have even envisioned that the spirit would be this great and so connected with the talent and the fans that we bring in.
DC: When did you guys originally partner with Hulu and Shudder? This is the sixth year of the festival, right?
CP: Yeah, exactly. Shudder’s been with us three years, maybe four? They’ve been an awesome partner from the beginning and it’s been great to see their platform grow and their stature grow. They’ve been awesome from day one. And the cool thing is, their fans the same as all of us…and they want to support genre film which is what they’ve always done. It’s an honor to have those guys involved. Hulu came on this year. They’ve got this thing they launched last year called Huluween in which they convert part of their platform and dedicate it exclusively to cool horror content. Content they’ve acquired or now this year they’re actually custom making new content.
GM: Hulu has the Huluween theater which is our largest theater of the fest where Cronenberg or anyone else is. And the Shudder theater gives us an opportunity not just to show classic films or big, huge studio pictures but independents or foreign films that might not be seen doing West Coast premieres. It’s a great way to embrace young genre filmmakers.
DC: I’ve been a part of smaller fests before and it’s so much work. What advice would you give for other fans or programmers who want to start running their own film fest at some point? Is it best to just lie and say you can get Goblin?
GM: Start with a lie!
CP: My recommendation is run. No, it’s funny. Someone was complaining on social about something. So many people are super positive but there’s always a few of them that just complain about whatever it is. I just said I appreciate what you’re saying but this is what we’re doing and you can create your own festival. And the guy was, like, I don’t have the resources that you do. And I said to him, when I started this I walked into a theater and I just said to a theater I’d like to program in your theater. It started there. Anyone can do it, you’ve just got to have something of interest that a theater is gonna want to put on a screen and then you’re going to have to be able to bring people in and get them to go.
At the end of the day, that’s the key. No theater is going to let you screen unless you’re able to bring people in. It’s super cliché but JUST START DOING IT. You can’t expect to sell out shows the first year out. The first year of Beyond Fest was awful. With the success of Richard Donner, Night Breed and Goblin, there were fifteen shows that were poorly attended, it made no sense what we were doing. We were afraid to even introduce the film. We took the learnings from the first year and applied to the second year and made it better. All we want to do is just make it better and give the best experience possible for fans that are coming and paying their money for tickets.
GM: We’ve started programming now for next year. Everyone involved at Beyond Fest are workaholics and it’s a very small staff, which if you’re starting a new festival it’s great because the quality control all goes to us. So every print that gets out there, we take a look at and try to project the best thing we can to our Beyond Fest family. Starting small is good because things don’t get lost.