Delve Deeper

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Aaron Vanek's HPLFF LA wrap-up...

After attending 13 of the 15 Lovecraft festivals in Portland, Oregon, I know how much work it takes to put one on. The slog was slightly easier for the first one in Los Angeles (San Pedro) because it was only for one day, only six films screened. Still, it's a full time job, and one that I am going to repeat for 2011.

I have been talking to various Lovecraft filmmakers and the founder of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival®, Andrew Migliore, for years about a holding a satellite HPLFF in LA. One night, after a few cocktails during a sci-fi themed burlesque show at the Bordello Bar, Frank Woodward, director of the great documentary Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, said "We should do one here." Maybe it was the booze, maybe it was the stripping Tank Girl on stage, but I said I committed.

That was July 8, 2009. Fourteen months and three days later, on September 11, 2010, the Los Angeles H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival opened. In between those dates were many phone calls and emails to get sponsors (came up empty), vendors (we had Behind the Scenes Costumes, SighCo/Arkham Bazaar, the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, and Perilous Press/Mike Dubisch), press (stories in the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, the Daily Breeze South Bay paper, io9 website, She Never Slept and a few other blogs), live entertainment at intermission (Astra Dance), poster artwork (from Paul Carrick), a venue for the after party (Whale & Ale pub), a band for the after party (Theloious Dub, recommended by Frank Woodward), volunteers (Kirsten Hageleit, David King, Christine Thompson, Rafael Nieto, Renee Hammer), a photographer (Amanda Mielke), films (Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown by Frank Woodward; Cool Air by Bryan Moore; AM 1200 by David Prior; The Music of Erich Zann by John Strysik; The Call of Cthulhu by Sean Branney & Andrew Leman; and Re-Animator by Stuart Gordon), filmmakers (the above folks, plus cast and crew like Eric Lange (AM 1200) and Jack Donner (Cool Air), a ticketing agency (Brown Paper Tickets), and of course, the splendid Warner Grand Theater, built in 1931 by Jack Warner (a Warner Bros.) in the historic district of San Pedro, the blue-collar town near Los Angeles Harbor. San Pedro is technically part of Los Angeles, held so the big city can continue to collect tax revenues on the port, but really, San Pedro could be its own town.

I looked at many different theaters and venues, from a tiki-themed drive-in in Montclair to the Million Dollar Theater downtown. There were pros and cons to all, including the Warner. However, the ambiance and feel of the Warner reminded me of Portland, and I am very interested in making the L.A. fest feel like the Portland one. The proximity of pubs, pizza parlors, antique stores and vintage costume sellers in the vicinity were strong plusses. The biggest perk for booking the Warner is that the next-door coffee shop, Sacred Grounds, can sell beer and wine at the concession stand, and patrons can bring them into the theater. Drinking a beer while watching Lovecraft films? Sign me up!

I booked the Warner Grand for the festival from 2pm to 10pm, thinking I had to be out early so the Rocky Horror Picture Show could set up around 11pm. They stopped coming to the WGT, yet I decided not to change the time of the festival. That was a mistake that will be corrected in subsequent fests.

Parking is always an issue in Los Angeles, as it was for the LA fest. However, I spotted a lot very close to the theater, with the unbelievably cheap price of fifty-cents an hour for parking, and free after 6pm. If people arrived at 2pm, they would only have to pay $2 for the day. However, as I was setting up at 1pm, I noticed a band on stage in the parking lot we were going to use—a day fair that I was unaware of. This meant people had to park on the street, which was fine, the price was the same, but the meters were only for two hours, so people had to reanimate their parking meters with quarters every few hours (at least until 6pm).

Some of the other hiccups at the LA-fest: 

- I didn't give vendors enough time to set up. An hour doesn't cut it. They'll have more time for future fests.

- Parking, as noted above.

- Running time: we need to start the fest later and end later. That will be the norm for a while starting in 2011.
Technical issues – this was the biggest oopsie; notably because I wasn't able to have a true tech rehearsal before the show. When I showed up on Friday for the tech check, the projectionist wasn't present, and the theater's video projector was not working. So I couldn't see if the beta deck (rented) worked, nor the DVDs. I should have done this Saturday morning, but was told by management that it wasn't necessary. It was.
What happened is that Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown wouldn't play, and we had to screen Cool Air first, off the beta deck. It was set so the timecode displayed, and we couldn't figure out how to get rid of it. Turns out the directions are on the first page of the manual, which we had to find and read in the dark…while the movie played. The audience seemed to enjoy the snafu, but it set everything back a half hour. After Cool Air, we ran AM 1200, and then, finally, a newly-burned Fear of the Unknown DVD that the producer rushed to us. The aspect ratio was off, however, another problem with the projector. During the intermission, we checked everything to make sure it worked and would play correctly. It was. So for the second part, everything played right, though there was a bit too much time in between screenings. All of this will be corrected for the next fest. There might be new technical problems, but at least the old ones will be solved.

The program book was supposed to be printed on newspaper, but a local vendor (Columbia Printing on Wilshire), lied when they said they could print the program on newsprint. The biggest shock was being told the programs would be ready by 2-3pm on Friday, just in time to bring to the theater before the tech rehearsal at 4pm, and walking into the shop at 3:15 to see the program just starting to come off the machines. The owner started the job at 3pm, not finished it. I had to swing back around that night to pick them up, adding more stress and time to an already long day. Needless to say, they won't be used again, and I don't recommend ever hiring Columbia Printing on Wilshire.

The good things:

- The sound and picture quality on some flicks, notably Music of Erich Zann, was really good, about as ideal as we could get.

- Seeing a sneak preview scene and first glimpse of the trailer for Whisperer in the Darkness on the big screen.

- Meeting attendees from Las Vegas and San Diego, pleased to have the fest closer to home for them.

- The graciousness and patience of the filmmakers.

- The joy of the audience.

- The kindness of the vendors to give us great items to raffle away.

- Nearly breaking even (money-wise) for a first-time festival. I lost only a few hundred dollars. We had about 135 attendees, with another 30 or so guests. That number will rise, I'm convinced.

- It was great to see HPLFF founder Andrew Migliore not worrying about anything and being able to sit back and watch movies with his friends again, something he hasn't been able to do in years.

- The live perfs were awesome, and I was really happy to get Astra Dance and Thelonious Dub.

- The enthusiasm of the volunteers was invigorating.

- The theater is awesome. It just feels good to be in there. And if I may geek out for a bit, Lovecraft was alive when this art-deco theater was built (1931). Plus, the Warner Grand has at least double the urinals and stalls as Portland's theater.

- Hanging out at the Whale & Ale was great, eating sticky toffee pudding and sipping a sweet Speyside Scotch with the Lovecraft crowd.

- And of course, the audience loved all the movies. Kudos to the makers for creating them.

It looks like I'll be doing it again in 2011. I've booked the Warner Grand again, this time over the September 23-24 weekend. There are a few decisions I need to make, such as a two-day or a one-day festival? Should I save some time and space for Lovecraft games and guest authors on panels and readings, or just show movies? But these are all great problems to have. The fact that there will be another festival, undoubtedly bigger and better than this trial run, is thrilling. I hope you'll join us.

If you have any questions or comments, about this festival or what to do for the next, feel free to email me. I may have already thought of your suggestion, but it would be great to hear from another perspective. This is YOUR festival as much as mine (and Andrew's, who has a BIG say in what happens in L.A.). 

Photos are here...

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