The Stuff of Nightmares…

…often makes for good films: in particular, horror films. It can also make for great documentaries, and had a camera crew been following the HorrorCon team this past weekend at Monster Mania 19, they might have captured behind-the-scenes gold.

In anticipation of unforeseeable problems ahead of our four-day convention shoot – the second and last of our production – I reserved a room at the hotel on Wednesday night. The convention wasn’t scheduled to begin until five o’clock Friday, but I was hoping to get a few scenes in the can that had managed to escape our grasp in previous outings, on Thursday. I figured a day in advance would put me in good position to hit the ground running. First order of business: secure shooting privileges at the hotel pool for a very important scene involving our west coast contingent. Forget all the communication about obtaining permission that I’d been having with the hotel since March, I still had yet to finalize the details. There was never going to be any other way but last-minute, well after I’d booked the airline tickets for my actors.

The meeting with my liaison was short: I was to find out “yay or nay” sometime in the following days. Not exactly what I wanted to hear, so I grabbed my key set PA, Albert Vai, and headed out back to work on an alternative solution outside of the fenced-in pool area. Luckily, the hotel has a grassy “backyard” with benches and some castle-like hardscaping that would more than do the job. It would be dark, but we had lights, and the new space opened up some convention views through several large windows. I felt confident we’d get permission to shoot there, especially if we were turned down for the pool area that I had been asking about for the better part of five months. And I was right; the next day I learned that we were allowed two hours in the pool area before it got dark – no good for our needs – but for a fee I could have the more pastoral, benched setting until 1 am. Done.

Then came Thursday morning, and a phone call from Kelly saying she couldn’t get on her flight. As it turns out, it was my name on the ticket thanks to a miscommunication between myself and the online booking site I had used. Double the price later, Kelly was on her way through the air. I would find the money, I thought to myself. The important thing was she would be here for three key scenes. Once again, crisis averted and we were soon up and getting some great footage.

Until the power outtage. Imagine, if you will, a 14-floor hotel filled to the brim with conventioneers slowly beginning to boil from a lack of air-conditioning. I managed to climb the twelve floors to our food room in case I needed to avoid any spoilage, even if I had little idea what I was going to do about it. And there I sat, alone, wondering if the power would return so that we may continue our quest, or if the blackout would last several days as it had once before. You might think I was beside myself with frustration as I watched the angry, black clouds begin to dump their contents on the full parking lot below, but that wasn’t the case. I had expected multiple weather delays as the forecast was filthy with scattered thunderstorms, and this was just another example of unwanted circumstances asserting themselves beyond my control. If I have done everything I can in my power to get the job done, I only lose valuable energy worrying over things outside my power. Depressed? A little. Despondent? Never. And I even took a cool little elevator ride in total darkness save the red floor numbers ticking by that had me wondering if I would get stuck between floors with a few other folks who had also braved the idea. The hotel wasn’t pleased with us, but what they needed to understand was that, for a horror fan, this was an experience to relish for years to come.

Luckily, power was restored in a little under two hours, and my already tired crew was ready to rock. We got some incredible footage both inside and outside the convention, and this time around I felt we were given a little more slack. We still had issues with the fire marshals, but after the other calamities, they seemed to leave us alone. We were the least of their worries, and before long we were crossing scene after scene off of our list. Some outdoor night shooting over wet pavement capped the day’s take, and I’m pretty sure everyone felt satisfied with what we’d accomplished. Even the next morning, after learning that one of our cast spent the night with stink bugs in the economical lodging we’d reserved, and for some of us, shared, smiles greeted the sun. It was going to be a very long day that would finish well into the night, and all we had to be was perfect.

And we were, for the most part. After another bit of pre-planning with the sports bar/club across the street had fallen through forcing us to explain our presence to no fewer than five “managers” (all of whom were extremely nice and helpful, I must add), we made our way to their second floor to shoot our bathroom scene. We wrapped on-schedule, collected our things, and headed back to prepare for the big scene by the pool. We had three hours to get what we needed, and I thought it might be just enough. It wasn’t. There would be bargaining and begging with security guards to squeeze out another two hours but we did it, and literally crawled back to our rooms with barely enough energy to remove our sweaty clothes. But we slept with the knowledge that, if all went baseline normal on our last day, we would nail the remaining scenes and get out early.

If I’ve learned one thing from this production, it’s to never, ever expect things to go easily. Sunday started off well, with our stealing a few quick shots of various booths in the vendor’s hall. We met some delightful people, and I was happy to be able to include their original art and other passionate ventures in the shoot. For a few, blissful hours, we circulated among them, and I was reminded on many occasions why I was making this film in the first place. I love horror conventions, and admire the talent, hard work and determination that goes into every booth. Vendors don’t push their sales, or – ironically – play the victim if they’re not doing well. They’re a peaceful, happy bunch by and large, and it was a joy to give them a shot at a little screen time.

After lunch, it was time to set up for the last two scenes of the day. We had most of the afternoon and evening to get them, and we were set up in record time in the one room in the hotel we knew better than any other: room 1243. Sure, we were beginning to show signs of pronounced fatigue, but everyone was willing to grind it out and I was feeling more hopeful than ever. In doing so, I set up myself up for some profound disappointment. But hey, I can’t help feeling good about things. That’s the kind of guy I am. How was I to know that an interpersonal conflict among us would result in a totally avoidable fracas that would see one person sent to urgent care and our entire shoot stutter into an irreversible stall? I’m told that these things happen. To that I say no, weather and electrical outtages “happen”. It was in my power to stop it and I will not be so naive again.

So all in all, the shoot was a success; just not the success it should have been. We dodged many bullets, and while we may have crossed the finish line bloodied and weary, we crossed it nonetheless. As always, there is pictorial proof on the HorrorCon Facebook Page. Coming up: we go back to the beach before the turning of the leaves.

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