Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Welcome To Fango 2008!

Every once in a while when I’m doing my Horror Class, someone asks me why I feel qualified to teach about horror screenwriting. Fair question. When you look at my credits, it’s mostly action and thriller films, with that odd family comedy. But NIGHT HUNTER started out as horror action (until it was stripped of the horror part) and I have written a bunch of horror scripts that didn’t get made (though a couple got really close - and I was once up for a HALLOWEEN sequel). I’m a horror movie fan, and one of my first scripts was about an OMEN homage about a Satanic cult made up of Pacific Gas & Electric executives who brought death and destruction to anyone who opposed their nuclear power plant plans for Point Arena, California. I have been attending the Fangoria weekend Of Horrors for about 15 years, now - and if you ever bought any of the behind the scenes of horror movies video series called THE DEAD BEAT, check the opening credits... I was one of the three principals behind that series.

If you aren’t familiar with Fango - it’s the magazine for horror movie fans, run by Tony Timpone, and every year in Los Angeles (and other major cities) they have a convention where horror movie stars and horror movie makers interact with fans. When I first began going, it was at one of the LAX hotels, then they moved to the Burbank Hilton, and this year they moved to the Los Angeles Convention Center downtown.

Horror movie fans have changed over the years - when I first began going to Fango, it was 95% geek guys and 5% geek gals and wives who didn’t understand. Then, a few years ago, Goth happened... and now probably over a third of the audience are goth gals covered with tattoos wearing really hot outfits. And last year at Burbank there seemed to be more crossover - with mainstream film fans joining the audience. Part of that is due to horror being hot right now - every couple of weeks there is a new horror film in cinemas - and movie stars are often in these films. For a while, there, horror was a ghetto, and the movies starred people mainstream audiences have never heard of.

When they announced that Fango was moving to the Convention Center, my first response was - Where will we drink? Where will we eat? The Convention Center is in a section of downtown surrounded by an area where you don’t want to park your car. For all the talk about rebuilding downtown, there aren’t really any places to eat... and the bars are scary. There are a couple of hotels in walking distance, but on site the only place to eat is the Convention Center cafeteria - where I paid $9.50 for the worst hamburger I have ever eaten in my life... and I can’t figure out how you can screw up a hamburger. My friend Regent bought a salad he said tasted weird - chemically - so they are able to screw up salads as well as burgers. The 99 cent burger at Carl’s Jr is a million times better than that $10 Convention Center burger...

But I’m getting ahead of myself....

The reason for Fango going to the Convention Center - last year they had to turn people away at Burbank. It was crowded. To get your ticket, you had to stand outside in the heat for hours in a line that stretched around the hotel. Once inside - you might have to stand in back to hear Guellermo del Toro talk - and the dealer’s room was really a whole bunch of rooms... a main room and a half dozen smaller rooms. The show needed more room. But when I arrived on Friday, there was no real line for tickets - maybe a dozen people compared to the hundreds last year. Strange.

Events like this used to have the weekend pass and the day pass, but now they have Gold Passes (first five rows for all panels and free autographs) and Silver Passes (next ten rows and something) and Preferred Pass (next five rows) and then the weekend and day passes... so the Weekend Pass isn’t on a lanyard anymore, it’s a wrist band like the day passes... but you wear it for all 3 days. Meaning - you shower with it. This is not convenient. In fact, it’s kinda gross.

So I wander into the auditorium for the opening ceremony - and it’s empty. It looks *really* empty, because it’s so big, and because there are only a couple dozen people in the first 20 rows. You’re sitting in row 21, and there are hundreds of seats in front of you that you are not allowed to sit in. Maybe it will fill up on Saturday?

They show a bunch of trailers - including Indiana Jones and Ironman and some other non-horror films that appeal to the horror crowd... then the trailers change to low budget horror films that you’ve never heard of. I open up my program to see who the guests are this year... and wonder if I’ve been given a program from 15 years ago by mistake. Okay, there’s Clive Barker - he’s there every year. And Reggie Bannister from PHANTASM. And David Naughton from AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. And the cast of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. And Tony Todd from CANDYMAN. And Angus Scrimm from PHANTASM. And Gunnar Hanson from the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. And... well, a bunch of other people from the past. Plus a bunch of panels from low low budget horror movies (some backyard productions) and the crew from FEAST to talk about 2&3 and “The Girls Of Moonlight” and... well, no one from a studio horror film. No panels from a single film with a budget over $2 million. What the heck is going on here?

So on Saturday and Sunday - all of those front rows were still mostly empty. And no one thought it might be a good idea to get rid of some of the empty Gold & Silver & Premium rows so that they place didn’t look like a ghost town, and those of us who had paid the standard $60 to get in weren’t so far back that we needed binoculars.

They always have a screening room at Fango, that shows a mix of “classic” horror film from the 80s and new films getting a sneak (not uncommon for someone like Frank Darabont to bring his new movie and the Fango crowd gets to see it before anyone else)... that was upstairs at the Convention Center... and the escalator was not on. Took until Sunday afternoon before someone switched it on! So you had to climb the stairs to get to the screening room... which was about the size of the last screen in that multiplex in BACHELOR PARTY. Okay, maybe not that small - but about 30-50 seats. That ended up not really being an issue for two reasons - nobody came to Fango this year, and the movies they were showing were all low low budget crap. The only “classic” film was THE DEAD PIT (most of you have never heard of this film) - which was made on a very very low budget in the Bay Area with my late friend Curt Wells on the FX crew. It was direct to video. Not quite in the same league as the usual “classic” films they’ve shown in the past.

I ventured into the Dealer’s Room, which was where the action was - instead of a main room and satellite rooms you may never even know exist, one big room. The good news for dealers was that they were all more or less equal (though David Naughton had an autograph table in the very back of the room facing the wall - most people probably never got back that far) it also exposed the number of tables for single films - movies made in someone’s backyard that they were selling on DVD at Fango. And this year there seemed to be a new type of dealer - people selling sex. There were pin up calenders and photos and even a T shirt place had a stripper pole and dancers to help advertize their wares. Usually Fango is kind of a family friendly event - even though there are companies selling crawling severed arms and scary masks and props from horror films, the “tween” kids are a big part of the horror movie audience. I was into horror movies as a 13 year old boy. I think part of the reason for this is that kids at that fragile age feel stronger if they can conquer and control their fears, and horror movies allow them to do this. But this year the dealer’s room was filled with strippers and girls with their asses hanging out - and lots and lots of boobs in tiny tiny bikini tops. Now, these things probably also interest 13 year old boys (they interested me at 13), but not with mom & dad standing next to them. And mom & dad don’t really want their kids to see this stuff. I kept thinking that in the old venue, they could have had a PG-13 main dealer’s room with some R rated satellite rooms. Here, you couldn’t avoid the asses hanging out. Even for boys older than 13, it was, um, distracting.

The first row of the dealer’s room was supposed to be the prime real estate... but the traffic tended to flow forward, down the center aisle. So you had to remember to go back and look at the 8 Films To Die For booth and the Anchor Bay booth. Studios - not here this year!

The only thing crowded was the literature table - which was way too small for all of the junk on it. Usually there are give away mini posters and post cards for all kinds of films and services... but this year the table was half the size with twice the junk. Lots of xeroxed movie posters and fliers, and post cards for websites for films that don’t exist... yet. One of the days there was an avalanche of junk, and mini posters and postcards flowed onto the floor. Swell!

On Saturday night we all walked down to the Holiday Inn’s bar and had several drinks. For no apparent reason, actress Tiffany Shepis (NIGHTMARE MAN) sat on my lap at one point. We’re friends, but any time a hot actress sits on my lap is worth mentioning. A fist fight broke out in the bar, and the hotel’s security guy stepped in to break it up... which resulted in the security guard fighting one of the guys... and they fought through the lobby to the elevator banks... and when one elevator door opened, the guy knocked the security guard into the elevator... and then moved in to continue the fight... then the elevator doors closed over them. I kept watching the elevators for one or the other to come down, but when the elevators doors opened, other guests exited. Obviously the two were fighting on some floor up there. Maybe a half hour later, the elevator doors opened and the messed up security guard stepped out. This was like something out of a movie.

Most of the rest of the event was kind of dull, the high points being a panel with Joe Dante and Robert Picardo (from THE HOWLING and many other movies that are favs of mine... even though Joe hasn’t done a feature since 2003's LOONEY TUNES movie) and George Romero and the cast & crew of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD - lots of great behind the scenes stories, including that Duane Jones (Ben) hadn’t been written as African American, he was just the best actor they auditioned... and when Martin Luther King, jr was assassinated they realized that life had mirrored the end of their film... making it more topical than they had intended (the Viet Nam War was always part of the film’s background). These were the highpoints of the 3 days.

So they have this big venue, and nada. Why not have side-bar classes on writing horror and directing horror and make up and FX stuff? There was room for it. I have volunteered to Tony to do my horror class for free every year. Since they had the trailers for Indiana Jones and those other big films with cross-over, why not have a guest speaker or panel from those to bring in a larger crowd? I’ll bet you could get the screenwriter of the new Indiana Jones movie to speak (no one ever asks screenwriters to do anything, and I’ve seen David Koepp speak at other events) and we’re in the publicity push for IRONMAN, so someone could have shown up from that. Why not try to bring in the mainstream audience with big summer tentpole movies... and treat them to the world of horror flicks?

Why not show better movies in the screening room? A couple of years ago someone passed my zombie script to a low budget producer who called me, wanting to buy it... but he was making films for pocket change, and offered me even less than he should have (so I turned it down)... then made a zombie film that seemed *very* similar to mine called EVILUTION. So I figured I’d watch it and see if it was worth suing his @ss over... but after 20 minutes I left the screening room *screaming*!

It was that bad.

The scene where the gang members introduce themselves to the lead in a stilted exposition dump that seemed more like reading character bios from the casting notice than conversation is an example of this film's *terrible* writing.

Suing them would be an insult to my script.

I’m really not sure the idea of *anyone* being able to make a movie is a good thing. I mean, in theory it’s great that anyone can just make a movie... but shouldn’t they try to learn how first? This was a terrible script, terrible acting, terrible direction. Guess what? You can learn how to do all of those things - I have a website where you can learn about screenwriting for *free* and there are places to learn about directing and acting and how to deal with actors. Why not do some plays with community theater to get a handle on how actors think? Why not prepare *before* you make the film? And why don't producers who have no idea what good writing is, *stop rewriting scripts*? I've said this before, but there are lots of low budget producers in this biz who can take a script that might have sold for $500k and turn it into a movie that isn't even worth half that.

One of the strange things about this Fango was that it seemed incestuous - horror movies made by fans for fans seems like a good idea, but it seemed like they were rejecting the studio films completely... which leads to a program of low budget stuff that seems like it was cobbled from pieces of other movies. There was a comedy film they showed clips from that starred all of the people from 80s horror movies doing in-jokes that only fans of 80s horror films would get. This *limits* the audience. Why not try to expand the audience?

Maybe next year they’ll figure it out...

- Bill.

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: How You Tell The Story
Yesterday’s Dinner: Tomato-Beef at City Wok in Studio City.

Movies: I'll talk about them in the next post.


Richard McNally said...

Went from today's SS to THE BASE and read the opening scenes, enjoying your allusion to A TOUCH OF EVIL and the character Vargas--wasn't that Charlton Heston's character?

Ryan said...
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