Monday, May 18, 2009

Fango Tango 2009

The Sunday before my horror class I was living the horror movie life style at the Fango Horror Convention in Los Angeles. The whole thing began on Friday morning - it’s a three day event - when I met with my friend Rod at the LA Convention Center at 1pm, the convention began at 2pm but sometimes there’s a line for tickets.

Here’s the scam, in case you want to go next year - the 3 day ticket costs $65, but you can get $5 off coupons for every day and only spend $55. So that was the plan.

Another part of the plan - Rod and I split a room at the Holiday Inn across the street from the Convention Center so that we could drink all night and not worry about getting popped for a DUI. Last year a bunch of us closed a bar every night, and it’s so much easier to just walk back to the hotel and crash, than have to drive home and get up the next morning to drive back. Also, the hotel included parking... and Convention Center parking can be expensive (there was a Laker’s game one of the nights and a Brittney Spears concert on the other night - making parking *really* expensive. Those Convention Center lots have signs with all kinds of prices, depending on what’s going on.)

So, first thing I noticed - the event was even smaller this year than last year... and spread out in a crazy way. They had two rooms with speakers and presentations - a big one and a small one - on opposite sides of the Convention Center! You had to run from one event to the next. The screening room was a shoe box, like last year, and they didn’t have anything that was a must see. I always think this is one of those things they could easily turn into the center ring - we have so many new horror films coming out, why not *preview* the hot new films at Fango?

This year they *did* do my suggestion from last year and have some seminars - the screenwriting class was from Clive Barker. Clive is notorious for clubbing all night and then showing up for morning events the worse for wear, and I wondered how his 2 hour class went... and if he even made it there. By the way, his 2 hour class on writing horror cost more than my full day class a week later. Oh, and there were no fliers or adverts at the event for my class (should have been). A couple of years ago I told Tony I’d be happy to do a 2 hour class for them... but I guess Clive is a better draw than I am. Still curious what his class was like. They also had a class in make up effects and a class in low budget film making.

The dealer’s room was literally half the size of last year - same room with a divider down the middle. That may have actually been a good thing, because all of those vendors who had women with their asses hanging out last year were not there. Last year there were all of these crazy sex/horror things - from start up magazines that featured naked girls and horror movies to websites where you could find a hot girl penpal who would pretend to be interested in geeky horror guys (and probably take off their clothes and pose for a fee). That’s where all of the half naked girls came from. This year, those guys were gone - just a single naked girl/horror magazine. There were still some attractive women, but not a hundred half naked women packing the joint so that people would regret bringing their kids. I know that sounds silly when we’re talking about an event featuring people dressed as ghouls and zombies, but kids know that’s let’s pretend stuff and kids also have that love/fear thing going on with monsters and dinosaurs and scary stuff. The horror stuff is make believe, the tits and asses are real... hmmm, okay - the *asses* are real. Hmm, okay, never mind, it’s all make believe.

Corey Haim was there trying to sign autographs but no one was buying. He was in a film the began with a script I wrote that is so bad it is not even available on video in the USA... but I didn’t ask for an autograph, either.


Sam Raimi was in the big room on Friday with a preview of DRAG ME TO HELL... which I think we saw the trailer for last year. This year we got some clips - including a great one where bugs are projectile vomited. What’s interesting about Sam is that he started out making these dopey little horror movies but now he’s Mr Hollywood. Maybe this is a return to his roots? Looks cool... and it’s about home foreclosure leading to a Satanic curse. What could be more topical?

One of the problems with Fango has always been a sense of disorganization - they need to resolve this. It’s fine for some small show to be a little ragged around the edges, but the show is no longer something that takes place in some small rented hall - this is the Los Angeles Convention Center. Things need to look professional. When the announcing is just babbling and there are long pauses between guests and often the moderator is not prepared, this isn’t good. They should at least get a moderator who can both be prepared for the interview *and* tell jokes or kill time in an entertaining manner if they are waiting on late panel members. Every year Seth Green and some hot babe are there wandering around the dealer’s room - why not hire him to by MC? There has to be some stand up comic who is also a horror fan.

Oh, and another big problem is the way they do speaker autographs. After a guest or panel speaks in the big room, they go behind the stage to an autograph area... and the Gold Ticket holders in the first ten rows all get up and get in line for autographs... leaving the front of the auditorium vacant for the next speaker or panel. Half the audience is standing in line for autographs instead of sitting in their seats - the audience loses out and the speakers may be insulted by the empty room.

Other panels I went to had some problems. Every year they have a “Spooksmodel” contest to find some hot babe to be the Fango LA Spooksmodel (I have no idea what the duties are, and what would happen if one were not chosen some year - probably complete chaos.) The whole thing is just an excuse to get hot women to model for horror geeks. I have never been to the competition... but last year’s Spooksmodel was supposed to moderate the original cast of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT panel, and was about half an hour late. The audience was just sitting there for half an hour without any moderator explaining the problem - because there was no moderator. When she eventually showed up, she was unprepared and asked a bunch of dopey questions. So the panel took over for her and asked each other questions - which was really great. David Hess and Fred Lincoln were like a comedy team.

I went to the panel for my friend Darin Scott’s new movie DARK HOUSE about a Halloween haunted house event in a legendary real haunted house... that goes terribly wrong when the *real* haunts get confused with the fake haunts. The film looks like fun, and stars Jeff Combs and Diane Salinger and a bunch of young actors. But the moderator *only* asked questions to Jeff Combs! It’s like he had a man-crush on him or something. There were about 8 panelists, and all of the questions were directed on *one* of them. This was not only insulting to the other 7 who just sat there, but as an audience member I wanted to hear from all of the other cast members as well. Either Combs or Darin deflected a question to Salinger - who has been in a bunch of movies and TV stuff and was Simone in the first Pee Wee Herman movie! But after she answered, the moderator went right back to Combs... until Salinger finally interrupted and mentioned there were other people on the stage, why not ask them some questions? This got some applause from the audience. Seriously - they need a more professional group of moderators!

I also went to Fred Olen Ray’s panel on the TV show THE LAIR - which I have never heard of, except on Fred’s message boards. It was in the big room, and that was kind of strange, because Fred does little low budget genre films. He directed my robot hooker from outer space movie (and is probably the *nicest* director I have ever worked with). Well, THE LAIR is like a Gay version of DARK SHADOWS that plays on one of the Gay cable stations. Not my demographic. But it seems that Fangoria Magazine is reaching out to the Gay horror audience, which appears to be much bigger than you would think. They have a column on Gay horror, now. I think Dave DeCocteau pioneered that niche many years ago - and while the Fango Convention was running downtown, Dave had a triple feature of Gay Horror Films playing at a cinema in Beverly Hills. Anyway - Fred was funny as usual, and the clips were interesting. Fred said they shot as many as 22 pages in a single day - the budget was low and they had to shoot fast. The average low budget film is probably going to shoot between 5 and 10 pages in a day - and 10 pages is close to impossible. But 22 pages? What does this show look like? Well, the shocking thing was that it looked *great* - in the clips was this really creepy slow dolly shot on a dead body at the morgue which popped up. How the hell can you do dolly shots when you are shooting 22 pages a day? I asked Fred afterwards and he told me his theory of shooting fast (which is the same theory that I have) - most of the shots are going to be standard coverage - a wide shot, then some close ups. But every 5th shot Fred tries to do something interesting and artistic. That way the show has some style. On the robot hooker movie, we always had the camera on dolly tracks and Fred tried to have as many moving shots as possible because low budget films tend to be “sticky” - they look like they were shot on sticks (tripod) with no camera movement. But I’m amazed that Fred can shoot 22 pages (that’s like a whole half hour episode!) in one day and have style, too.


The big problem with the Fango Convention is that it seems like the same old people we saw last year and every year. The novelty of going to a convention and seeing the actors from some iconic horror film or seeing the trailers for new movies isn’t there anymore. Much of this probably has to do with the internet. It used to be cool to go into the dealer’s room and pick through posters and toys - I remember seeing Quinton Tarantino there one year - before he was famous - looking through posters in the dealer’s room. Now you can go on the internet and look at posters for sale all day. And while you are on the internet, you can see behind the scenes stuff from classic films, or even watch interviews and panel discussions. And there is no shortage of info on horror websites - from old movies to new movies to rumored movies. You know all of this stuff *before* you come to Fango - so what’s left to experience there?

Maybe Fango needs to partner with a studio or two and become *the* place to announce new films and show new footage - like Comicon has become? They need *exclusives* - things you can not see anywhere else but at the Fango Convention. Not on the internet. If they partnered with LionsGate to be the *exclusive* convention for their films - that would make it a must attend event. Problem is - why would LionsGate want to limit their publicity to Fango? They have to figure out an answer to that - a way to make LionsGate *want* to give Fango first dibs on exclusive clips and trailers.

Then they need to find some movies to *premiere* at the screenings. And not some crappy low budget back yard movie - a real big theatrical horror flick. See it here first. And keep an eye out for horror films at festivals that have not been released in the USA, yet - maybe turn the screenings *into* a horror fim fest? Right now DEAD SNOW is playing the festival circuit in the USA... why didn’t it play at Fango? Every time I go to a festival, there are horror films playing at midnight... and sometimes movies like CALVAIRE in competition. Why not snag these films and show them as *events* - movies that are not available in the USA yet, but you *can* see them at Fango! Now the screenings seem like an afterthought - a way to use up that extra room they rented.


Though there was no epic night of drinking with fellow Fango fans in the hotel bar this year, there were a couple of gals in the hotel who were going to the convention for the first time, so Rod and I acted as their guides... and we had dinner together and went drinking in some interesting upscale bar downtown for the two nights they were there. I had no idea there were that many cool bars *downtown* (you know, where they shot SOLOIST). Sunday afternoon they caught a plane back to whatever state they came from, and I have no idea whether they will be back next year... or what the convention will be like next year. Half again the size? Maybe a closet with a single chair in it, like that cinema in the multiplex in BACHELOR PARTY?

How do you make a convention exciting in the age of information when people can find out anything just by going on line? Why is ComiCon growing every year and Fango shrinking? Someone needs to figure out the secret to ComiCon's success and apply it to Fango. I'm sure that it has to do with exclusive content - the reason why you go to an event like this is because you can not get the information anywhere else. Maybe they will figure all of this stuff out and next year will be amazing.

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Love Racks! and how to make sex scenes interesting.
Yesterday’s Dinner: A couple of Big Burgers at Carls Jr which I think are better tasting than the more expensive burgers they sell.

Movies: - STAR TREK - I did not go into this film with high expectations - I do not think J.J.Abrams is a genius, and am a non-fan of the writers (THE ISLAND, LEGEND OF ZORRO, TRANSFORMERS, M:I:3)... but the film was okay, maybe even good. Just not great - and I think when you are rebooting a beloved franchise you need something better than “good”. On the whole, STAR TREK comes off as enjoyable summer junk food.

The movie opens up *great* - with a really emotionally wrenching *action scene* where Kirk’s father sacrifices himself so that Kirk’s pregnant mother will live... and she gives birth just as his father dies. A great opening scene that really involved me in the story... of Kirk’s father.

From there we get a scene with kid Kirk that is pointless - okay, it shows that Kirk is a troublemaker kid, but that’s an *external* - the scene doesn’t give us anything like the emotional material in that opening scene, and doesn’t take us inside the character. It’s a cool action scene that is also *cold*. The kid Spock scene is much better, showing him picked on in school for being biracial, and struggling to be a good Vulcan.

One reason why the kid Kirk scene doesn’t work is because it’s duplicate information - we have a nice bar room brawl with Kirk when he’s an adult that gives us all of the same info, plus introduces Uhra, plus introduced Pike, plus is the thing that gets Kirk to join Star Fleet. This is a much better scene, but we are still mostly on the exterior of Kirk’s character - we don’t understand why he’s a brawler. Is it because he didn’t have a father figure... or because he can’t measure up to his hero father? These are two opposites, and would take the character on opposite emotional journeys. There are dozens of other possibilities, as well - we get none of them. We just know the symptom, not the reason - so we can not know what Kirk must accomplish in order to become a whole individual. We don’t know what specific things in life will set him off into bad behavior, and what things will put him on the right track to conquering his demons.

And, the film doesn’t seem to really care.

After the great emotional opening, it’s mostly about cool stuff. We get another good emotional scene where a character’s family member is killed before their eyes, but that’s pretty much the end of human characters in this film - we are on to big summer brainless popcorn film.

A popcorn film with some cool scenes here and there, but a loopy plot that seems completely contrived - and not well contrived. I don’t understand what the hell Nero is up to - he wants revenge for something that hasn’t happened yet and also happens off screen - it’s just an excuse for the action, and not one that makes any sense. And though the planet implosion things was cool - and probably the one shot in the trailer that made me *have* to see this film - it’s complete nonsense. Red matter? Doesn’t matter. The Villain and the Villain’s Plan and even the method of that plan and the Villain’s motivations are the engine that runs the story, and this engine doesn’t work very well. It’s just a house of cards that creates conflict.

One of the critical things in an action film is the relationship between hero and villain - think of Indiana Jones and Belloq or Luke Skywalker and Darth or Itchy and Scratchy... Usually the hero and villain either have the same issue but different ways of dealing with it, or are polar opposite sides of an issue. Whatever point your script is secretly making, the hero and villain are the most important elements in illustrating that point. Here, Nero wants revenge and Kirk wants....?

The film gets some of the relationship thing between Kirk, Spock, Bones... but not the banter. Take any episode of the old TV show and these guys are throwing lines at each other and seem like they're the space version of the Rat Pack. I think the two things that made the original show memorable is the relationship between these three guys - always bickering and yet they are friends. It was a buddy comedy in outer space. Here, not quite as fun.

The other thing that made the original series something we think about today is that the shows were *about something* - made in the late 60s, and they always tackled issues. Even a comedy episode like TROUBLE WITH TRIBBLES is tackling an important issue and making a point about our society. In the movie - no issues, none of that basic use of science fiction as a way to reflect our current social problems. And in most of those old episodes, Kirk usually learned some valuable lesson - yes, you may think that kind of stuff is corny, but it’s a basic part of storytelling. You can do it right - and it’s a deeply moving element of the story, or do it wrong and it’s fake. Here - not done at all! It’s almost as if all of the *character* elements from the original series were left out for some reason. I think that’s what makes this just popcorn junk - it is pointless and the characters are all surface, no depth... except for Spock, who - by nature of his biracialness (not a word) - gets to actually wrestle with his identity. He comes off as the best character in the film, and it makes you wonder why the others are so 2D. Was it because Spock has a built in emotional conflict from the original series and none of the others do? Hey, this is an origin story - so let’s dig into the characters and find out what made them who they would become!

Another thing that made the original series fun when I was a kid was that it took us boldly to where no man had gone before - it had that gee whiz factor. A sense of awe and discovery. Here - just kind of mundane. Everything has a “been there done that” feeling that makes the whole film kind of ho-hum. Some complete wrong headed thinking filled the Academy with aliens and had Kirk nailing a green alien girl between classes... hey, that stuff is supposed to come with exploring alien worlds! The original series would take the Enterprise and her crew to a new planet every week where there was a new crises, at least one new form of alien life (and some hot extra terrestrial for Kirk to nail), and some valuable social issue lesson for Kirk to learn by the end of the show (it was the late 60s). But here we get the alien girl is a given - just another girl. And the alien dudes at the Academy - just another dude at he Academy. Nothing special about them. Nothing special about *anything* in this film. Because the strange is made normal, the film seems old and bland. I know they thought they were being clever with this stuff, but the screwed the film for something that isn’t even a laugh - just an acknowledgment of the original show. They destroyed the *spirit* of the show to make a refence to the show. What were they thinking?

STAR TREK isn’t a bad film, it’s a pleasant way to kill a couple of hours. Some amusing scenes, some action packed stuff (but the action was not directed well - choppy and mushy and not as exciting as it could have been). I liked Kirk, I liked Spock, I really liked Uhura, I liked McCoy, I liked Sulu... I hated Checkov. Way too young to be flying the ship. And I *hated* the lens flares - what’s up with that? Calling attention to it being a movie makes it less real! Bad move. But I still enjoyed it more than a lot of the other films I've seen this year.

Oh, and the audience booed the Transformers trailer. I have no idea why, but it doesn’t bode well for the film. Or, maybe it’s just that STAR TREK fans don’t like TRANSFORMERS. Who knows?

- Bill


Sam T. said...

Thanks Bill for the analysis and perspective. You have excellent points as always and I learn new things every time I read the posts.

I saw the movie on Saturday. I think the movie was directed at that 15-25 year old range that happen to see a movie like the Transformers but not necessarily a pure Star Trek science fiction. J.J. Abrams had to play a balancing act and he accomplished what made sense from a business perspective - get more than the Star Trek fans to go see the movie. The results prove that in this respect he was successful. The movie on its second weekend was only behind the Angels and Daemons by 5 million. Their plan was to hook those 15-25 year olds with a handsome Kirk and a hot Uhura on the first movie. The job of hooking the traditional Star Trek fans and delivering deep philosophical messages was left to the old Spock Leonard Nimoy. Once they have the 15-25 hooked, then they can inject more character depth and a better story with a deeper message later in the second movie. From the interviews that I have read and seen it sure looks like this was the way they planned it all along.

ObiDonWan said...

You should check this out, a parody of a guy making a Hollywood pitch.

mrswing said...

Sam T.,

The sad thing is - they can hook the 15-25 year olds AND make a story with character depth and a deeper message at the same time. So why the hell don't they at least try???

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