Fear & Loathing at Fantastic Fest 2013/2009, Part 3. The Important Things We Forget, the Stupid Things We Remember
Within the film world, there are essentially five categories of people. There are the chosen few, those needles in the haystacks fortunate enough to find success, financially and creatively. There are the grunts, the workmen who are almost just as lucky to have found their way into some niche trade within the field that may afford them stable employment, but offers absolutely zero personal satisfaction. And then there are the has beens, the almost some bodies, and the never wases who cling on to the scene like wet shit to a hairy ass crack.
You'll find all five at any given film festival, but the latter three always outnumber the first by a
There are the older veterans desperately trying to find a way to remain relevant in the digital age. The guys in their late fifties whose only claim to fame was working big parts on semi popular late 80's films, the kind of guys who served as line producers on something like The Golden Child or wrote the screenplay to a recognizable but mostly forgotten mid 90s STV flick like Starship Troopers 2. Or maybe they were a special effects supervisor on something like The Relic. These are the guys who relish in sharing their Eddie Murphy stories, who move around the party inserting themselves into conversations proudly announcing that they designed the tazer rifles used in the opening scene of Jurassic Park. They wrote that awful movie about the talking dog that you might have liked when you were ten and watched repeatedly on cable on Saturday afternoons.
The market is so over saturated with product, that merely being involved with something that has some type of mainstream name recognition can easily misguide someone into thinking they have an edge that's not actually there.
You'll overhear the has beens tell the same stories over and over again to every person they attempt to network with at the festival.
The almost somebodies are the types who may have made an independent feature that won favorable reviews from little known film bloggers on the festival market five years ago. They were never lucky enough to secure any type of major distribution and their films went nowhere. They were probably stuck self releasing it, printing a limited one thousand DVD run. They were able to sell sixty to a hundred of those copies to friends and family gracious enough to buy them out of sympathy. They were never able to raise money for a follow up feature and they're currently working two minimum wage jobs to make rent which doesn't even afford them the time to develop another project. But they continue to show up at the festivals, handing out screeners of their film that everyone already saw and passed over four years earlier, hoping to win a second chance for their personal labor of love.
And those who never were, they're the nameless film bloggers, the aspiring screenwriters who can only try to exaggerate their accomplishments by claiming to have had multiple scripts opted for pocket change although none have never been granted a green light. There are the P.A.s hoping to branch out into directing, the DIY horror directors who want to evolve from doing soft core snuff porn, the DGA members who've been toiling away as second seconds on non union shoots waiting for their chance to actually become a fist AD or get their seat in a director's chair.
I guess I'm a part of that last group, that guy who's been bumping around on the peripheral of the game map never making his way onto the board.
Mistake number one was attending a film school during the onset of the digital revolution, learning antiquated equipment that would already become archaic by graduation.
Mistake number two was moving to New York and crewing in professional film and television shoots expecting an actual hierarchy where there would be room to move up. The thing about P.A.s is that they're batteries, used up until they're dead and can be replaced by other hopeful kids willing to work grueling hours for little pay with a false hope of advancement.
Mistake number three was settling into an industrial video production gig with state government out in bumblefuck Pennslykentucky.
Mistake number four was moving out to Austin on a complete whim.
Just about everything that is cool and innovative has a half life of about seven years. Austin was on year five when I made my way there. The majority of those who I met during my stay were fellow transplants from New York and L.A. , they were all people who thought that they were fleeing the soul crushing media machine for something more pure, something with tangible opportunity. Word of mouth can be a brush fire; it starts off small and hot before consuming entire forests, taking out entire habitats with it.
Austin today is not the Austin of early Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater, it's not the Austin of Willie Nelson. It's become the Williamsburg and West Hollywood of Texas.
I remember my first day with Fantastic Fest when I was introduced to its founder. At the time, I didn't even know who he was. I knew of the festival, but not him. It hadn't become his show yet where the majority of press now is mainly bearded film geeks all trying to convince the internet that they've became friends with him.
The festival used to be a celebration of geek counter culture, but with its quickly rising popularity, it's become such a trendsetter that it has replaced the counter culture and become the mainstream.
It's the cool kid table now and everyone wants a seat.
I remember my immediate supervisor warning me when I first scored my internship working as concierge for the festival. I was the liaison between the festival and their many VIP guests.
My job was making sure that someone was at the airport, most likely me, to pick up filmmakers flying in from Japan and Korea. I had to make sure that George Romero found his way back to his screenings, to handle John C. Reily's hotel reservations, to drive and escort some of the most influential people in the film world.
The job didn't pay, but the possibilities for opportunity were limitless.
So my boss pointed out, "You see all of these waiters and waitresses working around here? We have over a hundred of them between our three main theaters. All of them have film degrees, many of them are award winning short filmmakers, some of them are brilliant, and accomplished. But they're here busting their asses as servers. There are guys here who've made documentaries funded with Fullbright grants in refugee camps in Calcutta. There are women in their thirties with seven years management experience that are hustling hamburgers and beer to jerk off college kids. They're all hoping to make a good impression on the right people here. They're all hoping for an opportunity, the type of opportunity that you just got, that you actually stole from one of them. We had promised your internship to a waitress here last spring but everyone liked your resume, and Tim likes your editor. So now you've been in Austin for two days and got the type of internship that many here having been working towards for months if not years. Don't be surprised if you're not exactly popular with the wait staff."
But she was wrong, or at least, at first.
Everything was going smashingly in the beginning. All of the pieces of my life seemed to finally be coming together.
But then somebody dropped the puzzle box and it might have been me.
Simple miscommunications turned into fatal career mistakes and I found myself being kicked out of the internship.
I found myself blacklisted and stuck doing what most kids with film degrees do, working a string of low paying menial temp jobs.
First world problems.
Eventually, I found myself living out of my car, and then I found myself driving home during the snowpaclypse of 2010. I found myself nearly dying on the road. I found myself running my own screening series back home where there is no film community. So I lost a lot of money. I tried organizing a fully fledged week long international film festival and that cost me even more. I found myself living with family back doing freelance corporate video gigs before settling into Cash for Gold and whining online on the side.
And now, I find myself back here.
The thing about filmmakers and film industry folk in general is that we're all living in the past. We're all like characters out of a Haruki Murakami novel, only we're not as poetic. We're even worse than the former high school star quarter backs who marry their teenaged cheerleader sweethearts only to get divorced at twenty five and grow up to be failed real estate agents and used car salesmen who fill their time drinking and pining over yesteryears.
CHAPTER 8: LA MOUSTACHE
I'm staying at the iconic Austin Motel on South Congress Street. I've always fantasized about spending a night here and it wasn't until I sold a bunch of overpriced marijuana to some jackass stoner celebrities at Toronto that I could afford it.
I'm staring at my reflection in the bathroom mirror and I don't recognize what's in front of me.
A violin pizzicato concerto solo plays in my head as I run my fingers along the smooth, freshly shaven skin on my face. It's kind of like the big scene in a French new wave melodrama where the character comes to a major epiphany after suffering a major existential crisis.
You see, I've finally shaved my mustache and chin strap off. For the first time since I can remember, I have absolutely no facial hair.
It's a disquieting sight, to find your reflection and not recognize it. I don't look like myself, so am I still myself?
In addition to the violin, the mantra from I Heart Huckabbees begins to play on a loop in my mind.
How am I not myself? How am I not myself? How am I not myself?
I have two other selves running around town and I need to protect all of us by altercating my appearance. This isn't Cannes or Toronto, I know far too many people here, and the very seams to the fabric of the entire universe may very well come apart if I were to interact with my 2009 self.
I had gone out earlier and blew some more of my drug dealing cash on a pair of authentic cowboy boots from Cavenders along with a cowboy hat to match and a vintage bright pink western snap button shirt with a sterling silver cow skull bolo tie. I've even been able to score a pair of over sized aviator prescription sunglasses that makes me look like some sleazy hippy hating sheriff in a film from the mid 60's.
I can either be described to be dressed like a parody of the native Austinite or a character from a Corey Mcabee film.
I had always wanted a real pair of cowboy boots from Cavenders and an authentic vintage western shirt, but like the room at the Austin Motel, I could never afford it. Who knew that cowboy boots cost $400 while genuine western shirts usually run for $150.
I thank the god who doesn't exist for easy drug dealing cash. I really don't expect to make it out of here, either Austin, or the year 2009. So I find no reason to be frugal with what money I have left. If I'm going out, I'm going to go out looking like a gay cowboy clown, cause fuck it, life's a joke so you might as well die laughing.
I get dressed and drink three Lone Stars and half a pint of Jim Bean for breakfast. I spend the hour chain smoking half a pack of Newports while walking in circles and practicing my fake Israeli accent. For all intent and purposes, I'll have to be traveling under my alter ego, Uzi Silverstein for the next few days.
And I feel both drunk and confident enough that no one is going to recognize me so I pack the rest of my stuff and head out.
I make my way over the Gold's Gym on William Canon Drive. I used to have a membership there and spent most of my time outside of work trying to sweat off all those drunken Fantastic Fest party nights.
Sure enough, I find my 1999 Saturn Station Wagon outside in the lot when I pull in with my 2013 Cadillac.
My 2012 Philadelphia driver's license actually works to get me in. It's a good thing that the woman working the front entrance didn't bother to look at my ID more closely.
It's a huge gym and brand new; everything is state of the art. But it only takes me a few moments to spot myself up on the second floor hitting a heavy bag.
Fucking idiot. I was training for the Fantastic Debates. Half jokingly, I had told a few of the higher ups that my roommate in college was a medium weight boxing champion, which was true. He used to bring me to all of his ghetto abandoned warehouse gyms where he would train for his matches. He taught me the fundamentals of the game and I sometimes served as a sparring partner for him.
In my own work outs, I have always continued to utilize those lessons, and to this day still practice on the speed and heavy bags.
I know how to throw a punch, I know how to take a punch, I know how to move, and I do have some legitimate experience fighting. But I'm no boxer.
But the fact that I had some real world experience and wasn't an out of shape, out of breath, pot bellied film critic gave me a mighty edge over everyone else contending with the now iconic Fantastic Fest event.
So I played that up and I was asked to take part in the debate. I was thrilled. I was just the intern, a nobody, not even part of the scene yet, and there I was, going to be a part of the big show.
Being a sometime on and off critic for ScreenAnarchy, I was asked if I had any interest in boxing Uwe Boll, at the time, he was getting a lot of press for going around and boxing different film critics who've trashed his many awful films. And he was kicking all of their fucking asses.
He was way above my weight class, but I had a better shot than anyone in taking him down. At the very worst, at least I would offer a real fight.
My 2009 self is up there right now training for that fight, but it's not going to happen.
The organizers who had egged me on to do it were just kidding around, I was too naive to recognize their sarcasm.
I'm going to show up to the debates tonight with all of my boxing gear and they're going to stare at me like Carrie having her period in the school gym shower room.
And it's going to get even more awkward after that because I was the concierge, I was the one handling the accommodations for all of the VIP guests. I had already been talking to Uwe Boll personally about the fight. He was excited to box someone for real. He was excited to box me.
But for this year, he's the biggest celebrity that the Festival could convince to fight and debate. And therefore, he had to be Tim League's adversary.
It's going to end up being a poorly staged fake match and Uwe is going to complain about it and that's only going to bring more ire to myself from the staff.
I'm going to look like a huge idiotic asshole tonight and it's going to be horribly embarrassing.
And then tomorrow or the next day, I'm going to be fired.
So I'm at the Gold's Gym, and I'm going to risk the entire universe to save myself. Sorry, but I don't care if I'm responsible for a paradox that creates a giant black hole that ends all of your existences.
I'm the quintessential self entitled 21st century digital boy. I'm the center of my own universe and I don't want to be homeless for Christmas in 2009. I don't want to nearly die on my drive back to Philly in 2010. I don't want to live with my mother for the following year and start working at a Cash for Gold Shop.
I don't want to end up in North Philly where I can't go out to buy cigarettes at night without having to be strapped with a loaded piece. I don't want to date Gina again, or be hurt by Emmy, or kill Mike Dugal, or watch my father kill Neumann, or anything that's happened since I left this place.
So I head to the locker room of the Gold's Gym.
It's odd what we remember and what we forget. I've traveled so much, met so many important people, and yet, I can't remember their names anymore. There are dozens of women whom I dated who I can't remember a thing about, one night stands that pretty much never happened as far as I'm concerned.
Although, they really did happen.
And yet, despite all of that, I can still remember my fucking locker number and the combination to the lock at the Gold's Gym where I worked out four god damn years ago.
I have a small piece of notebook paper with some vaguely not so cryptic advice written on it.
"Do not take your boxing gear to the Fantastic Debates tonight, you're not in it."
"Double check your work schedule, it may have changed. DO NOT GO SEE NINJA ASSASSIN TOMORROW."
"If you still get fired, do not try to defend yourself or prove anyone else wrong. Just apologize, and take the blame for whatever you're told whether it's true or not."
"Ally wants you fired; you stole her job, you will find nasty emails CC'd to everyone with lies about you in them. Ignore it."
"Do not wash your roommate's Jeans thinking that you're doing her a favor."
"Remember to lock the pantry door at the house, your roommate's stupid dog can turn knobs and open doors. It will eat itself to death, and you will be kicked out of the house."
I was tempted to list a whole slew of names as well, women to avoid to dating, men to avoid working or collaborating with, places to avoid, and food to avoid. I could save myself so much trouble, but it's usually best to kiss, keep it simple stupid.
I slip the notebook paper into the side gap of the locker. The fact that I'm still conscious and cognitive moments later should mean that this action had not actually ended the world.
Honestly, I'm a little disappointed.
I quickly leave the gym and waste the afternoon barhopping along 6th Street and catch a few films at the Alamo Ritz.
CHAPTER 10: WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A STAR FUCKER PARADE & A HUMAN CENTIPEDE?
It's the night of the big debates, hundreds of actors, directors, producers, and critics have been jammed into the small gym that's located directly in between the High Ball and the South Lamar Alamo.
Although, I guess for those who are reading this now, I should say, the gym that used to be located directly between the High Ball and South Lamar Alamo.
The cowboy and Israeli film producer combination has turned out to be a big hit for the night. No one's heard of Uzi Silverstein since he doesn't even exist, but everyone wants to talk to him. They all want to keep Austin weird, and you don't get any weirder than drunk gay cowboy clown Uzi Silverstein.
And since I'm drunk, I decide that I really want to start fucking with the future for shits and giggles.
I share a few beers with my editor and tell him I have an idea for a martial arts film that takes place entirely in a dilapidated housing development building where one lone police officer has to fight his way up fifty floors full of gangsters, drug pushers, and other generic henchmen in order to take out the drug king living in the suite at the top.
I congratulate Ti West on his success with the premiere of House of the Devil and tell him how I'd really like to see someone like him try to reinvigorate the home invasion genre with a film that plays out like an ultra violent version of Home Alone and I wonder if You're Next might become a better film two years from now.
At one point, I see my 2009 self standing on the boxing ring stage, helping out with the tech set up. He's smiling and laughing. Later in the night, he introduces Tim League and Uwe Boll to the stage for their big debate.
This didn't happen, which means I was successful. I changed the outcome of the night. My 2009 self must have read the note in my gym locker and heeded my own advice.
And yet, I'm still here. If I succeeded, I should never have moved back to Philly. I never should have reconnected with Gina, which means she shouldn't hold any contempt for me in the future, which means she should never have sent me back in time out of spite.
Why am I still here?
I watch my 2009 self standing by the ring while Uwe and Tim awkwardly dance in circles around each other both trying to improvise a choreographed fight in their minds with no way to communicate each other's next move.
Tim looks happy. He's pleased to pose for the all of the flashing cameras. Uwe looks pissed that he can't take a swing for real.
My previous self looks content to still have his internship though. And that's when I feel someone tapping their finger on my shoulder. I turn around to find Craig Christodoulou sitting behind me.
He's shaking his head and smacking his tongue against the roof of his mouth making that tsk tsk sound that generally makes me want to hurt whoever's doing it.
Obviously, this is far from over. I couldn't have expected to undo all of my mistakes with one simple note.
Craig asks, "What did I tell you two days ago?"
I know the answer but don't want to repeat it to him for his pleasure.
So Craig responds for me. "I told you that I'm here to fuck things up for you."
I wait for him to continue and he's glad to.
"So, you may have prevented yourself from getting fired today and that did create an entirely new timeline of events and decisions for the rest of your life, but I slipped a highly potent hallucinogenic into your soda earlier, there might be a roofie in there for good measure as well."
I raise the beer that's been resting between my legs and tell Craig, "I don't drink soda."
Craig makes that Tsk Tsk sound again and points over at my 2009 self and explains, "You're not, but he is."
I don't think I've ever met a Craig who wasn't a prick, which is partly why I hate it so goddamn much when people mix my name up and call me that. Please, forget my name and just assume that I'm a John, or a Mike, or even a fucking Peter, but don't call me Craig.
Christodoulou snickers as he continues to whisper in my ear, "Oh, it's going to take another ten minutes for the high to kick in, but when it does, you're going to go stark raving mad. You're going to take the mike from League and spout all sorts of nonsense out at the audience; you're going to be running around the after party shirtless trying to make out with Olivia Munn. You're going to end up calling Robert Rodriguez an asshole. You're going to throw up on yourself before passing out in the middle of the parking lot, bro. Your boss Jenny is going to be tasked with handling your fucked up ass. She's going to dump you in a taxi to take you home tonight. You won't remember any of it. You're going to come back to work tomorrow hung over and lost as a lamb, and you're still going to get fired, and then I'm going to continue having my fun."
I've learned that the best way to handle a bully is to act like you're not scared, or intimidated, or even angered by them.
So I laugh when I say, "Couldn't you have given me a spoiler warning. You just ruined all of the fun of seeing that without any expectations."
And I can tell immediately that it worked, Craig is pissed that I'm not.
So he grabs my arm and tells me to follow him. "I have something even better to show you."
He guides me out of the gym and back into the Alamo next door. He walks me over to one of the theaters now showing a midnight screening of The Human Centipede, First sequence.
We've entered just in time for the scene where the Japanese man who is the head of the centipede shits into the woman's mouth which has been sown to his asshole behind him.
The film hasn't become an international meme yet, audiences are experiencing this for the first time completely unaware of what they're in for.
But oddly enough, the theater appears to be completely empty. I don't spot a single person seated inside.
I don't understand the purpose or importance of this until Craig joyfully points it out.
The theater is indeed sold out, but the audience isn't in their seats, they're on their knees in the rows, all of them. They're all naked, and they're connected to each other ass to mouth like the fateful characters in the film.
Craig has somehow rendered the entire audience into 12 separate human centipedes.
I've seen and experienced a lot in the very recent past and little of it has come to shock me anymore.
But this time, my jaw hits the floor. I turn to Craig who now has a small digital camera out in his right hand and is taking pictures of the naked strangers all withering in silent pain, it's hard to discern their muffled cries from those coming from the theater's speaker system.
I ask, "How?"
While he continues to snap pictures away, Craig glibly answers, "I'm a demon hell spawn. I can do just about anything. I thought this would be fitting. All these chicks and dudes, they all want to be part of the movies, they want to think their connections to this junk is deeper than others. So I gave it to them, I made them part of the film, yo."
I spot one of the actual actresses from the Human Centipede movie in the front row now part of the real Human Centipede and I feel sorry for her.
I remember her being a pain in the ass at the festival, she was demanding and entitled, and a generally rude and inconsiderate person. She was very L.A. But I remember feeling sorry for her even then when I actually saw the film for the first time.
Isn't it bad enough that her breakout role was The Human Centipede? I mean, I knew then, that a film like this was worse for your career than porn. The stigma of porn continues to fade, audiences can forgive and forget sex videos, but they'll never forget the woman who was sewn to the Japanese guy's asshole who ate his shit before shitting into another woman's mouth. There's no moving forward from that. If she ever lands another decent role, every article for that film will always reference Human Centipede from this point forward. That might be fine if your aspirations are to become the next big scream queen, if you're comfortable going the horror convention route making a steady paycheck doing low rent slasher flicks. But that wasn't her. She was your typical L.A. transplant head shot carrying waitress aspiring actress hoping to be the next lead on a new C.S.I. or Law and Order spinoff.
I ask Craig why he's taking pictures.
"I'm putting them on your face book wall."
I tell him, "Don't you think this might take precedent over me tripping balls and acting like an ass? I think this might kind of overshadow me groping on Olivia Munn at the after party."
Craig pauses and just stares at me blankly for a few moments. He's not exactly the brightest bulb on display.
I'm just happy that he's not smiling anymore. He looks genuinely disappointed.
Talking to himself he says, "Huh. Yeah, I guess this might make the news. People are probably going to be freaking out when they find two hundred naked strangers all sewn to each other right?"
Craig turns around and walks out of the theater.
There's not much for me to do but follow him. When we're back in the lobby, he looks at me, snaps his fingers, and says, "There. Undone."
What the fuck is this, the worst episode of Bewitched never aired?
From inside the lobby, I can see my 2009 self walking around in the parking lot shirtless through the big glass doors at the front of the theater.
When I glance over at Craig, and I can see that he's smiling again.
TO BE CONTINUED