As I type this, I am in the passenger seat of a rental van, traveling from St. Louis, Missouri to Orlando, Florida. I?m on the road with three partners-in-crime who work with me at my production company, Wicked Pixel Cinema. We are Orlando-bound to attend the world premiere screening of our most recent movie, DEADWOOD PARK at the Freak Show Film Festival, part of the Screamfest horror convention...
My name is Eric Stanze and I have been invited by the kind folks at FEARnet to contribute a running journal of my experiences as a motion picture director. These are not tales of Hollywood red carpets, drug-fueled celebrity pool parties, or exchanging witty banter with Jay Leno. Instead, you?ll read here tales of a normal guy making his living in the horror movie biz.
I?ve been making movies since I was a teenager. My two last student films (one from high school and one from college) were my first two films to be picked up for worldwide home video distribution. At this point, not even legal drinking age yet, I stopped thinking of movie-making as a hobby. Instead, I started pursuing this as a career, which led to the next decade and a half of noteworthy accomplishments and heart-breaking setbacks (more of the latter than the former). This is a constant and agonizing uphill battle, full of sacrifice, risk, pressure, and very hard work. Still, I have a most unique life, and for that, I am very grateful.
My first ?professional? movie was a horror flick called SAVAGE HARVEST. I then made ICE FROM THE SUN, and SCRAPBOOK, which were horror-ish. As SCRAPBOOK entered post-production, I quit my day job working for a St. Louis video production company. I finally had enough momentum rolling to make filmmaking my full time job. I had entered this industry with no money, no industry connections, and no experienced mentors to guide the way, so the battle was all uphill. Length of time from officially entering the industry to the day I quit my day job to be a full-time filmmaker: nine years.
Following SCRAPBOOK, I endured a three year stint producing exploitation movies for companies in New York, France, and the UK. This really helped me in my early stages of being a full-time filmmaker, but over time, these quick ?n? dirty productions became less profitable and the already crushing workload got even worse. So I left that behind to focus on my own production company again.
We shot DEADWOOD PARK in 2004 and 2005. Underfunded post-production moved along at a sluggish pace and the movie was completed in 2006. The movie was released on DVD in the U.S. October 9th this year. (It hit DVD in Canada October 16th.) The movie has never been screened in public, but in two days that will change as DEADWOOD PARK hits the silver screen at the Freak Show Film Fest and competes against independent films from all over the world.
Jammed into this rental van, along with us four human beings, are all the pieces of our Wicked Pixel Cinema vendor?s booth. In addition to screening DEADWOOD PARK, we will operate a booth, selling our DVD?s and some t-shirts. Scott Muck will organize and operate the booth, and when I try to pitch in and help, he?ll tell me I?m doing it wrong and I should just come back when my autograph shift begins.
Barely out of St. Louis, our road trip turns surreal as we enter some truly bizarre weather. Hellish winds, angry hail, and buckets of rain batter our rental van. The sky turns charcoal. We can only see a few feet in front of the headlights (though Muck, in the driver?s seat, continues driving 70 mph). Those with more sense than us exit the highway. We continue driving straight through this storm. For ten minutes, we are the only car on the highway in either direction. Being consumed by the thunderstorm, barreling down the highway, with no other human in sight, the trip is feeling very otherworldly.
The storm passes. A rainbow emerges in the sky. We can see both legs of the multi-colored arch. Muck has never seen both ends of a rainbow before. He seems impressed by this spectacle of nature.
The sun is down now (we?re driving straight through the night). We?re being treated to an amazing lightning storm. Soon, it will be my turn to coffee up and take the wheel. I?ll drive the 10pm to dawn shift.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Exhausted by the 16 hour drive, we roll into Orlando, Florida and find the hotel where the convention and film fest are being held. We are immediately impressed with how well organized the Screamfest con is. As predicted, as soon as we start setting up our booth, Muck tells me to go away and rest up in the hotel room while he and Jim set everything up.
I keep forgetting the film festival is a competition. I know what DEADWOOD PARK is. The movie is a creepy, atmospheric horror tale that tells a big story. I know horror conventions have a party atmosphere. I suspect that those attending this film fest want rampaging zombies and action-packed explosions of gore. DEADWOOD PARK won?t fit the bill. At least the title of the movie will be getting out there, even if fan reaction is luke warm and if we don?t win any awards.
The Toe Tag booth is right next to the Wicked Pixel Cinema booth. I meet Fred Vogel for the first time. We talk for awhile and divulge that we are both fans of each other?s movies. I?ve admired Fred?s work for a long while, so to hear he?s even seen any of my flicks is a thrill.
Another visitor to our booth is Alan Rowe Kelly, director of I?LL BURY YOU TOMORROW. He informs me that he?s seen all of my movies and is a big admirer, which impresses me because I?LL BURY YOU TOMORROW made such a big splash when it came out. Alan is very friendly and encouraging, wishing me luck with DEADWOOD PARK at the film fest.
After close, we dine out with the FEARnet guys and gals. I call it a night and go to bed. Tomorrow?s a big day.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Saturday is busy. I?m meeting fans at the booth and signing many DVD?s. I break away to go see the film fest?s screening of 100 TEARS, which is a fun, gore-packed movie. After eating a terrible $13 salad in the hotel restaurant, it is time for DEADWOOD PARK?s screening. The movie begins at 9:30pm, following an excellent short film by Brett Bortle called THE BUFFALO MURDERS. Also screening at this time is FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 in the auditorium right next door. This has quite the negative impact on attendance for DEADWOOD PARK.
Our DEADWOOD PARK screening is disappointingly only two-thirds full, and the F13 party next door is very loud. Screaming, laughing, and cheering from the FRIDAY screening drifts right through the wall and becomes a big distraction for those watching our somber, spooky, and much less boisterous ghost story.
I?m already nervous that DEADWOOD PARK isn?t convention-geared entertainment. I?m bummed that FRIDAY 3 has pulled interest away from our first-ever screening of DEADWOOD PARK. I?m irritated that those who came to see DEADWOOD PARK are now watching it with FRIDAY 3?s raucous audience supplementing our soundtrack. As DEADWOOD PARK plays, I sink in my seat, absolutely sure my audience is pissed that they got stuck with DEADWOOD PARK instead of FRIDAY 3. My stomach knots up as I start thinking up excuses to get out of my Q and A, which is scheduled immediately following the screening.
When the movie ends and the credits begin, something completely unexpected happens. There is applause and cheering. . . not from the screening room next door, but for DEADWOOD PARK! I hesitantly make my way to the front and begin the Q and A. Almost everyone who came to see DEADWOOD PARK has stayed to ask questions. I am shocked to find myself being questioned by sincerely interested people and complimented on making such an enjoyable movie.
After the Q and A, more people approach me and tell me they loved the movie. I?m actually getting embarrassed now. Alan Rowe Kelly was at the screening and he enthusiastically congratulates me when I walk out into the hall. Alan takes me and my crew to the hotel bar and buys us all a round to celebrate.
We drink, we hang out by the hotel pool for a while, and I hula-hoop for the first time in fifteen years. I?m feeling good. We didn?t pack the screening room, and we likely won?t win any awards, but those who came to see DEADWOOD PARK made sure to inform me that they loved it.
Eventually we make it back to the hotel room. (All four of us are in one room to save money.) Using earplugs to escape Jim?s earth-shaking snoring, I soon fall asleep.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
The highlight of the afternoon is busting a bootlegger who is selling illegal DVD-R copies of my movie SCRAPBOOK at the convention. We were actually tipped off by a fan. Then the lovely FEARnet ladies helped us track down the bootlegger and his SCRAPBOOK knock-offs.
Then the convention and film festival come to an end. I go to the awards ceremony for the fest to root for 100 TEARS, THE BUFFALO MURDERS, and Toe Tag?s THE REDSIN TOWER, as well as to support all the other talented and hard-working filmmakers at the film fest.
The festival winners are announced. I?m somewhat surprised to hear ?Best Cinematography. . . DEADWOOD PARK!?
I go up, collect the award, and give a quick ?thank you? speech. Cool. We?re not going home empty-handed! A pleasant surprise.
The last award to be announced is the main prize, the Best Feature of the fest. The movie is announced. . . and the winner is DEADWOOD PARK!
I was just happy to be included in all this, and now DEADWOOD PARK wins Best Cinematography and Best Feature. A very, very pleasant surprise.
Leaving Orlando, bound for St. Louis, we are again driving through torrential thunderstorms. After an hour or two of menacing weather, the clouds clear and the rest of the trip is pleasant. Muck is craving Dunkin? Donuts, so we stop. I just get coffee. I?ve never had Dunkin? Donuts coffee before and I conclude that it is quite tasty.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Attending these conventions can be fun, but it is also exhausting. Everyone on the staff looks beat up and burnt out as we roll back into St. Louis after the 16 hour overnight drive. Still, we know this kind of ?politician-style? promotion of meeting new people and talking up our movies works. Shaking hands and winning fans not only drives our sales up, it is the way I prefer to find my audience (versus, say, a deceptive ad campaign). It all fits into the grand plan of getting DEADWOOD PARK into the hands of the fans who will enjoy it, and laying the groundwork for the next movie we make.
Thanks for reading.