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The Life and Death of Creepshow ‘05 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Written by Mike Watt   
Aug 13, 2005 at 02:00 AM
We’ve all heard the saying: ‘look before you leap’. Where do you look when you’re taking a leap of faith?

A little less than a year ago, Amy and I were approached to help out on a convention called Creepshow. The guest of honor was to be George A. Romero, and there was going to be a televised roast for him, bringing all his friends and co-workers together to honor him. In addition, the show would boast signings, screenings, a costume contest, and vendors as far as the eye could see. The company who conceived the show had worked on a number of horror and comic book shows for almost ten years. There was a lot of experience involved, and Amy and I, acting as Happy Cloud Pictures, were looking forward to getting in on the ground floor of what was sure to become a staple in media conventions.

While we were officially “partners” with this Other Company, Happy Cloud Pictures was initially to do little more than promotion and marketing. The Other Company was booking the guests, making arrangements for flights and other considerations, and while we would have input into the venue and hotel locations, the seed money was coming strictly from this Other Company. We did put up the money for the official website and bought the domain name, footed the bill for flier printing and distributing literature at other conventions we attended throughout the year.

Just before Christmas, 2004, it all started to fall apart. We just couldn’t admit it.

On paper, the business plan was solid. It all made sense from a professional marketing standpoint. On the strength of the guests – which, by October’s Chiller, included such luminaries as Anne Rice, John Carpenter, Wes Craven and Clive Barker! – it was conceivable that we could easily pull in a sizable crowd of whatever city we chose to host the show. The Other Company had determined that Philadelphia was a prime location, able to draw in traffic from New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh.

We had a minor setback in October. The Other Company had booked and placed a partial deposit at the Valley Forge Convention Center, which is a beautiful location connected to a swank hotel. As things turned out, either The Other Company had never confirmed, or the Center had double-booked, thinking a Star Trek Convention was somehow the same thing as Creepshow. Regardless, we lost the Valley Forge location.

Changing venues for a show isn’t a small deal, but it isn’t the end of the world. Many first-time conventions have been forced to change their location before things started to set in stone. It isn’t a great message to send to fans and your guests, but it happens. It would be worse to have to change the dates of the show. Travel plans can be rearranged for location, but folks who work full time dislike having to change the dates of their scheduled vacation days.

So losing Valley Forge was a pain, but it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. We did some checking around and found a center in Allentown, PA, just half an hour or so from Philly. This center was basically an old Builder’s Square whose space was used to host boat shows. It was a cold, stark, yawning fluorescent-lit cavern. The closest hotel was over two miles away, which meant shuttling the guests back and forth from the center. But it was cheaper than Valley Forge, which meant we could book more guests.

We hit a snag almost immediately. The Allentown center was located directly between two churches. Community standards are pretty high in this depressed former steel-town. They wouldn’t allow any public display of nudity. It was in the town’s by-laws. Fine. We weren’t planning any Tijuana Donkey Shows anyway.

They explained. It also meant that nothing of an adult nature could even be sold. Not even vintage Playboy Magazines. As we had a number of excellent pin-up artists on our roster, many of whom would be bringing their models (many of those were either current or former Playboy models), this was unacceptable. They wouldn’t come if they weren’t allowed to sell anything! And what about our indie filmmakers? Our small-time horror guys whose movies relied on gratuitous nudity and/or violence? Well, that was okay. Those are movies, and the community wouldn’t necessarily see them.

Which meant there would be fine, church-going, God-fearing spies in our midst come opening Friday, just aching to shut us down before the crowds could really come in. This wasn’t an inference. The people in charge actually told us that!

But, yeah, they really wanted our business. Just don’t invite those models. Or people who sell “those kinds” of magazines.

Yet right across the street was a 7-11 that sold Playboy and Penthouse.

Uh huh.

So that was out.

Around this time, it was getting increasingly difficult to reach the Other Company. Personal problems were being had. Cell phones were turned off, or out of range. Plans to meet with The Other Company were cancelled, sometimes within minutes of our actually meeting. We were supposed to meet up at October’s Chiller to promote the show further. The Other Company had fliers made up, had a portable credit card machine at the ready.

October’s Chiller came, and Amy and I were standing alone. The Other Company was having car problems, the weather was bad, and the Turnpike was closed. The sky was falling. So at 11am on a Saturday morning, Amy and I found ourselves creating fliers in a hotel business office, spending fifty cents per minute on a computer that you started with a ripcord. We had people looking at our flier, with our Romero, Carpenter, Craven, Rice and Barker line-up, then looking at us going, “This is a joke, right?” At the time, we didn’t think so.

Then we got word that George Romero wasn’t coming. The official excuse was Land of the Dead post-production. George was a political prisoner being held by Universal Studios in Canada until the film could be finished and delivered sometime in June. We suspected something else at work here – things I’m not at liberty to discuss here – but there was more to this cancellation than met the eye.

All of a sudden, our guests started dropping exponentially. With The Other Company unreachable, I had no way of contacting, say, Wes Craven or John Carpenter, but I still have plenty of industry contacts thanks to my years working at Femme Fatales and Cinefantastique Magazines. I flexed my journalistic clout and started tracking down our other guests to get confirmations or something – anything – in writing, as it became clear that we only had The Other Company’s word that we even had any of these guests to begin with. I never saw any contracts, but I never once doubted The Other Company’s word for things. After all, they’d been in the business for years! People that I knew, knew them!

I called Anne Rice’s personal assistant. She had no idea what I was talking about. 2004 was a bad year for Mrs. Rice, as has been reported through the legitimate press. She was canceling all engagements and personal appearances anyway, so even if she had agreed to attend Creepshow, she wasn’t going to now. My suspicions were becoming confirmed that either The Other Company had gotten in on a few bad handshake deals or they weren’t telling us, Happy Cloud Pictures, the entire truth of the matter.

Then I got an email from John Carpenter’s office, canceling due to pre-production on the remake of The Fog. So he did know about it and had agreed to come. So… okay, I now didn’t know what the hell to think.

All I knew was, we had a show slouching towards its premiere date, but I was minus any headliners. The guests I had were all either personal friends, or folks who were personal friends with The Other Company – none of whom could reach TOC either – and were all solid draws for the show. But there was little to make our show stand out from the others. We had lost our hook, our prestige.

And for some reason, Happy Cloud Pictures decided to keep plugging away. Despite having no seed money to operate, we had found and booked another venue, this time in Ft. Washington, PA, half an hour from Philly in the opposite direction. So we figured we were still in the ballgame. We talked to others in the business who had worked shows, discovered that prices on the booths and tables set by The Other Company were way too high. We restructured, lowered the prices, extended “early bird” registration prices for a month, then another month. When we first came aboard, Happy Cloud argued roasting Tom Savini, rather than Romero, as we were leery too of Land of the Dead’s schedule. With Romero out of the way, we were set to go with Tom!

Things started to look up. Yeah, we had very few vendors, our guests were getting restless, and folks were skeptical that the show was even going to happen.

Then I got an email from Savini: he’d been cast in a movie that began shooting at the end of May. This email was just one down from one of our last big vendors, canceling his reservation.

And Amy and I looked at each other: what the hell were we doing? We were becoming ulcer-ridden insomniacs for a show created by someone who couldn’t even return a phone call. Was the whole thing bullshit? At that point, we honestly did not know. It’s hard to say yes, taking into consideration the Other Company’s experience and reputation in the con circuit. But it’s hard to say no, looking at the guests who hadn’t heard of the show, but were being advertised anyway.

So on Monday, February 28, at 11:15 AM, Happy Cloud Pictures made the call: Creepshow ’05 was dead.

We can’t level all the blame on The Other Company. Though we demanded to see the signed letters of intent from the big guests – which, towards the end, also included Stephen King (roast speaker only, no autographs) – we should have bowed out when those didn’t come. When the promise of the seed money transferred to our business account didn’t come the first time, we should have bowed out.

But see, Happy Cloud Pictures has this horrible habit of trying desperately to keep promises when they’re made. When we say we’re going to do something, we really do our best to do it. There were a few personal friends who begged us not to keep this show going when The Other Company flaked out the first time, but we kept on keeping on. Because weird things would happen: a tax return would come back as the exact amount needed for a deposit, or The Other Company, after weeks of silence, would contact us out of the blue with promises to make things right. Or help would come from unexpected sources, making us think we really could get this wrecked train back on its tracks.

But in the end, it just wasn’t our dream. We were killing ourselves for a dream dreamed by The Other Company, and they no longer wanted to make it a reality. So what the hell were we fighting so hard for? Pride? Our company’s reputation? Or was it hubris? Were we just trying that much harder to be kings of the hill? Probably all of the above. At this end of the industry, it’s hard to get noticed. Everybody has a movie today. Every indie production company is just jumping up and down and waving its arms, yelling “look at me!”, the gestures being lost in the crowd. We wanted to splash and we wanted the splash to be a big one. Big enough to get the attention we were craving.

But this wasn’t the event to do it. If we’d kept going, we’d just get washed away.

Once we finally faced the facts that the show was better off dead, rather than feeling sheepish, we felt relieved. There was some grief, some mourning for the wasted time and money. But mostly, there was the feeling of opened space, of bars lifted off windows and rocks removed from bent shoulders.

If we still want to do a show, we can. There’s nothing stopping us from doing so. Others have tried and succeeded. It just takes a superhuman amount of work and planning and common sense. But the next time we try, it’ll be on our terms, with guests we book, without wondering “did The Other Company make that call?”

I don’t know if it’s true that you can’t trust anyone in business. I do know that everyone has their own best interests at heart. I don’t know, exactly, what was to be learned from all this. “To thy ownself be true” maybe. I just don’t know where you’re supposed to look before you take a leap of faith.

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