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By Mike Watt | October 22, 2003

Actually, the con, for us, began on Thursday. Or, at least, it was supposed to. Amy and I drove up to the great wilds of Akron, Ohio right after work, hoping that we might be able to lend Robyn and Keith (her special friend and partner) a much-needed hand. After a year of planning, strategizing and organizing, Robyn was on the edge of exhaustion. Her guest-list was enormous, boasting a who’s-who of indie microbudget and Outsider Cinema filmmakers and a veritable cavalcade of who-was and who-will-always-be of featured guests. As a result of this truckload of celebrities, Robyn was fighting airlines, hurricanes, fussy managers and other acts of God just to get them there. Amy and I arrived at the truly beautiful Quaker Square Crown Hotel about 9 P.M. and waited for Robyn to call us. It was almost midnight before she did – from the Cleveland Airport. That’s all they’d done all day – drive shuttles back and forth from Cleveland and Akron as guests trickled or poured in. More would be coming in on Friday.
So, at least Amy and I got a good night’s sleep that night.
The next morning we met very briefly with a pair of very disheveled con coordinators. Robyn and Keith had literally been shuttling people all night and had more trips to go. Neither had slept for more than an hour or two over the past couple of days. Very quickly, Robyn went over the table set-up map – scrawled on a Post-It from memory – and they were off again while we went down to the convention center section of the hotel to get things ready for the celebrities, vendors and indie filmmakers that would be arriving in droves to set up at 10 AM.
It took us about an hour, but we soon had the tables designated for the guests. It took all of my trivial knowledge to figure out the necessary geometry – who got along with who, which filmmakers had needed electrical outlets at past cons, where to put folks with inevitable end caps. Fortunately, the deluge was late in coming – only one vendor, Ted, had arrived at the 10 AM door-opening, and he was kind enough to help us re-arrange the room. For the life of me, I can’t remember his last name, but he was selling trading cards and autographed pictures – tall, thin guy with glasses. Say hi when you see him. Buy something, too, cheapskate!
Feeling a job well done, we exited the building to run smack into Ed Neal, who, with a hotel porter, was wrestling his luggage across the parking lot. Now, I’m not about to let the Hitchhiker from the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” schlep his own wares, so I darted out to help.
“Oh, wow, this is perfect!” Ed said as we arrived at his wall-space table. “I’ve got a table, I’ve got a chair. I have this plant!” I reached out and hugged the potted palm tree identical to the half-dozen or so spotting the room. “Until Bob Z’Dar gets here, this tree is going to be my friend!” he said, and proceeded to happily unpack his pictures and really cool Geiger-drawn posters.
And I’m thinking, this is great! If everyone’s like Ed Neal, this is going to be the easiest weekend ever!
As you can imagine, everyone was not like Ed Neal.
Robyn and Keith arrived with a new set of folks, and Amy suggested that I relieve Ms. Griggs and take the next trip with Keith back out to Cleveland to pick up Glenn Shaddix. Amy stayed to help Robyn meet and greet and dote.
Keith and I missed Glenn by about half-an hour due to early-morning rush hour traffic. The quick-thinking and moderately impatient Mr. Shaddix hopped a cab to the hotel. So we made the trek back to Akron to pick up Robert Z’Dar. If you’ve ever spent any time with the “Maniac Cop” star, you know he’s a jovial chauvinist, quick with the dirty jokes and hilarious impressions of “Zombiegeddon” director Chris Watson. Despite a multitude of health problems, he was in a great mood this morning. Bob’s also one of those “guys” – the kind who likes to punctuate jokes with a friendly punch in the arm. Bob is also the size of a grain silo. By the time we arrived back at the hotel, my left arm was numb. And purple.
When I got back, I learned that Amy had spent the entire two hours I was gone – get this – re-arranging everyone’s seating positions. A surprising number of guests were unhappy with the arrangement. There were a few, like the wonderful Jack Donner (“Exorcism”), Don Pedro Colley (“Beneath the Planet of the Apes”), Dick Warlock (“Halloween”) and Dick Durock (“Swamp Thing”), who were not only satisfied with their positions, but were bending over backwards to help Amy sort out the more, shall we say, particular of their colleagues. Of course, Amy’s old friend Reggie Bannister (“Phantasm”) and his wonderful wife Gigi were quick to help settle things as well. And Bob Z’Dar, of course, was just happy to be there. He’s a people-person, that Bob.
By this time, the indie filmmakers were starting to trickle in. Now most of these guys I knew personally, but there were others I knew either through reputation or online only. I was thrilled to finally meet face-to-face Jason Santo and Sherri Carter from Mindscape Pictures (“Bent”). It was also cool to put a face to the name Ryan Cavalline from 4th Floor Pictures (“Day of the Axe”). Within a couple of hours, the guys from Schotten Filmworks (“The Dead Life”) were shaking hands with my buddies at Hero Headquarters (“Project: Valkyre”) and J.R. Bookwalter’s Tempe (“Bad Movie Police”) crew was hanging with the Low Budget Pictures (“Filthy McNasty”) team (which is cool, since the former now distributes the latter). Virtually every major player in the no-budget and Outsider Cinema arenas were present and accounted for at this show – B+ Pictures (“Vamps”), Piranha Pictures (“23 Hours”), On Mark Productions, World Parody Pictures; the omnipresent Eric Spudic and Jeff Dylan Graham – and lets not forget the “Spicy Sisters of Outsider Cinema”: Lilith Stabs (“Boys Gone Wild”), Jasi Cotton Lanier (“Were-Grrl”), and Ryli Morgan (“Runaway Terror”).
It was like a trade-show for the unemployable.
By noon, the room was full and the doors were open. The great and lovely Brinke Stevens (“Nightmare Sisters”) had arrived, as had the indie-film patriarch, Lloyd Kaufman (Troma Entertainment). Out in the upper lobby, just behind the Robyn-manned registration table, “The Evil Dead”’s Tom Sullivan and designer Pat Reese were setting up the Darkage Productions “Evil Dead” museum. It felt, to me at least, very comfortable – like a family reunion. Everywhere I looked, there was a familiar face – people I’d known personally or professionally, and folks I’d admired for years who worked on all ends of the budget spectrum. It was really cool.
“Cool” became a distant concept rather quickly. I was quickly reminded that I was in charge of the screenings for the weekend. Now, Amy, Robyn and I had hammered out what I thought was a fairly complete schedule for the screenings and Q&As almost a month previous. I had been, it seemed, mis-informed. One thing you should know about Robyn Griggs, star of “Another World” and “One Life To Live” – she’s an amazingly nice person. She hates to let anyone down. Therefore, no matter who came up to her, whether she knew them or not, if they had a movie they wanted to screen, she gave them a flat “yes”. Since there are only twenty-four hours in one day, and only eight hours allotted to Twisted Nightmare per day of the weekend, I had to put a stop to her philanthropy rather quickly. After I got “Vamps 2” on, I informed her she could not agree to every single screening request and she acquiesced nicely. She stopped telling everyone “yes”. Instead, she started telling people “Go see Mike.”
Now, it was only thanks to the great and talented producer Nic Pesante of Hero Headquarters that we had a video set up with which to hold said screenings. He used his talent and magic to hook up all of Keith’s stereo, DVD and VCR equipment to the very expensive and fortunately portable LCD projector and got the screening room up and running. As I had no desire to play “movie nazi” for three days, we quickly established a rule that if you wanted to screen your movie, you had to man the equipment. This worked out well but for one exception. What this meant, though, was that there would be close to fifty people in three days with a myriad of shorts and features playing with wires and getting their sticky fingers all over various pieces of high-end machinery. Around noon, I had ceased caring about decorum, however.
Still, in hindsight, Friday went off pretty well. There were hitches, but surprisingly few. There were no innate disasters, miraculously, and the few problems that did crop up were due mainly to a couple of excessively fussy folks who can’t bear to face the fact that their glory days were behind them. The longer they’d been out of work, I’d discovered, the more annoying and demanding they were. One such “celebrity” grabbed my arm and demanded to know why there weren’t more people in the room – or, specifically, at his table, buying his autograph at $20 a stroke. I blamed the hurricane. The traffic. The fact that it was Friday afternoon and most folks were still at work. I did not say – and I wanted to – “Because nobody knows who you are!” I was pretty proud of myself for not saying this. Because at this point, I was pretty well annoyed by the whole venture. But, then again, I’m kind of a prick, inherently, so you can’t really go by me. Everyone else was having a good time. Even Robyn had relaxed somewhat at this point, feeling the pressure of a hundred-plus sets of eyes and expectations on her shoulders.
I have only vague memories of that evening. The room closed up around 8 or 9 pm, if I recall. I know a bunch of us went across the way to the hotel’s restaurant – built out of a train car – how f*****g cool is that? – where we were told that two of the three cooks had been sent home, so the orders were getting backed up. And I remember that Mark Baranowski ordered a slice of chocolate cake that was as big as a Shetland Pony. He passed it around the table, everyone had a couple of bites, and it still wasn’t getting any smaller. I think he made base camp on the fourth layer and opted to make for the summit in the morning.
There were parties that night – one in the room next to us hosted by 4th Floor Pictures, as a matter of fact. Credit must go to the hotel, however, and the construction as we never heard a sound, and actually slept pretty well that night. So that was one day out of the way.

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