Why is this here?

I'm a filmmaker currently touring the DIY Feature A Genesis Found around the campuses of colleges and universities across the Southeast. This is the personal account, for better or worse, of its successes and failures.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday Hiatus!

Just so you all know-- the 2010-11 Southeastern Campus Tour for A Genesis Found is pausing for a month or so, now, to coincide with school closings and the holiday season.  We'll be back up and running by late January.

I know I'm not really the best at keeping this blog updated in a regular fashion, so expect me to be even more sporadic until the tour resumes-- but I'll try and drop a line a few times in the time between, to update you all on where we're heading in our next batch of tour stops, or if anything interesting happens.  Hopefully we'll also have another comic strip up featuring John Patton Jr. by month's end.

Thanks for reading, and Happy Life Day!

Catchin' Up part 6: Georgia... Georgia...

The final screening of the 2010 portion of the tour was supposed to be a cakewalk-- an easy screening, just before Thanksgiving, with the bulldogs over at UGA in Athens, Ga.  Athens is only about a three hour drive from where I'm from, and I'd been through on other trips mere weeks before-- so, naturally, I assumed it'd be a breeze.

Much like Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Oxford, Knoxville and most campuses in the SEC, Athens is the quintessential state-university-in-a-college-town-whose-economy-owes-its-success-and-continual-growth-solely-to-the-school.  In other words, it's a college town and not much else.

The Immortal UGA -- The Ghost Mascot Who Walks
Initially founded on the banks of the Oconee River as a trading camp in the 18th Century, Athens literally owes its existence to UGA-- it was born out of the Georgia General Assembly's establishment of the University in 1785. 

The town wasn't "official" until 1805.  As the University grew, so did, exponentially, the town's industry-- in fact, so many Mills began popping up in the area it became known as the "Manchester of the South" after the famous English mill town.

As with many of the school's on this tour, Athens was a strategic locale in the Civil War, mostly because of UGA, and also because the Confederate New Orleans Armory was relocated there shortly after the war began.

The town continued growing, ever steadily, its government changing considerably after Reconstruction, and by the 20th Century, it was quite larger and quite different from its intial 18th Century form.

Aside from the continued growth, innovation and importance of UGA, Athens is also known, in modern times, for its thriving arts scenes-- especially its music scene.  Band members from such groups as REM, Widespread Panic, and the Drive-by Truckers call the town home.

REM eating BBQ -- They're from the South all right
Since the town does have such a thriving art scene, spreading word about the film was pretty easy to do.  There were a lot of folks to contact, so it took several days-- but, overall, there were plenty of outlets, plenty of interested folks at those outlets, and, theoretically, plenty of interested folks receiving those outlets, in a town known for cherishing regional art and artists.

I'll confess, I usually try not to get my hopes up, or get excited about these screenings.  Part of this is that, since it's a DIY tour, and I don't particularly enjoy touring, there's little "fun" to these things-- it's all business.  And, since no one is hiring me to do them, and I'm having to create my own opportunities, it doesn't really feel, I don't know, I guess, "official", in some way.  But, since I'd been constantly improving at tour promotions for each new screening, and Athens did have such a great scene, I was kinda half-hoping-- and half-expecting-- a pretty big crowd.

A very overused stock photo
The morning of the screening I, as usual, got a bit of a late start.  I have no excuse.  Regardless, even with the three hour drive ahead and the lost hour from the time zone change, I left with enough time to make my 6:30 call no sweat.  After all, I'd made the drive several times before, and I'd taken into account every wild variable I could think of, hadn't I?

Well, no.  Because I didn't take into account freaking Rush Hour.  In freaking Atlanta.

As you folks know, Atlanta is the biggest city in the traditional Southeast (ie not including Florida and Texas); and since most of the roadways in the South are not over wrought with the same kind of painful traffic that exists in most Northern states and Northern metropolitan areas, us country bumpkins always forget to take afternoon-drive-big-city traffic into account when taking a leisurely stroll through predominately rural Georgia.

At the time I was just barely on schedule at my 80+ mph pace, so as I came to a stop in the middle of I-285, I realized giving my contact a heads up that I was probably going to be late was a good idea.

I make it my policy to make sure every host contact has a DVD screener of the film, on file, just in case something like this happens-- it had already come in handy once, when I missed a screening down at Pearl River Community College in Mississippi.

So, I gave my contact, a Grad Student and head of UGA's Anthropology club, a call, explained the situation, and we seemed to be on the same page.

Just a quick note, while we're sitting here in traffic-- Atlanta is pretty notorious for being "poorly" designed (at least its interstate transitions are), and the roads are regularly nightmarish this time of day.  The fact that I didn't count on that just goes to show you why it's generally a bad idea to schedule these things by yourself, folks.

Just had to say it-- Go Bravos!
Anyway, as expected, when I finally rolled into Athens it was about 8pm local time-- with the screening supposed to have started at 7.  Still, when I last spoke to my contact, he assured me that we were good-- that he had the DVD screener and that he'd start it if I wasn't there by 7-- then I'd be there for the Q&A after the fact.

So I was in no real rush when I got into Athens-- which was a good thing, since I missed my turn several times.  Finally I found campus and started looking for the Anthropology building.  One thing that struck me immediately was, for a major state university, the campus sure was deserted.  If only my alma mater had had this kinda parking on a Wednesday night.  It felt like summer on a much smaller campus.

Inane observations would have to wait, though-- cause then I got a call from my contact.  Apparently there had been a miscommunication-- he thought a different disc, that had come with my promotional bundle I'd mailed to him, was the DVD screener-- not the preview screener I'd initially sent him.  Meaning he didn't actually have a copy of the film.  So he-- along with the rest of my "guestimated" huge audience-- had been sitting and waiting for me for over an hour.


So I immediately picked up the pace, found the room, ran up the stairs-- and was greeted by half a dozen or so students.

So you know what had to have happened, right?   At 7 I had a huge, interested crowd-- who'd bailed because they were told they'd be waiting indefinitely for some no name Bammer filmmaker who had underestimated Atlanta.  Wonderful.

So, with a few brief words to my contact, we got underway.  All eight of us.

Let me say this-- I don't mind playing to small audiences, that's part of it, especially around here.  So if that was all we were going to get, it was all we were going to get.  But I HATE missed opportunities, and the last thing I wanted to hear was that I'd lost what I'd hoped to be one of the biggest audiences of the semester because of poor planning.

I feel ya, Big Al... I feel ya....
So, once it was all said and done, my contact invited me out for a beer to thank me for coming out and bringing the flick.  I don't drink, but I suggested the next best thing-- Jimmy Johns.  So we hit one up downtown.

He was a cool guy-- an anthropologist and working folk musician in the Athens scene-- and we talked a little everything-- movies, music, social anthropology, the economy... football-- hey, even among us intellectuals, it's still the SEC.

I eventually got it out of him-- that was all the audience that showed up.  Whew.  So, now, I guess the more important question was, with the seemingly unending supply of support and interest coming from  promotional outlets in Athens, with the town being home to a major state university, and with the town crawling with folks interested and willing to get involved with independent arts, why were we only able to attract such a small crowd?

"Because it's fall break."

Apparently Thanksgiving's a two week celebration for the Bulldogs.

I guess, ultimately, I didn't really have this screening thought through, when I planned it.  But, that's part of it, I guess.  Next time I'll be sure and check my dates against the academic calendar.

That should also explain the veritable ghost town called campus.  I thought it was just because of their football team.

We made a bowl!!!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Catchin' Up part 5: Homecoming

Probably the easiest stop on the tour so far has been our "homecoming" screening at the University of Alabama Huntsville.  Not only are Wonder Mill and myself based out of Huntsville, but the film has its own special connection to the school-- Louis Salmon Library, the main library on campus, doubled as Hoole Special Collections library (from the UA campus) in the film.

Hoole Special Collections ala UAH

Frankly, organizing the screening at UAH was way too easy-- not that I mind a few of these screenings just kinda conveniently working themselves out without me hustling folks, but I gotta admit one e-mail request with an immediate "can do!" response doesn't build much character.  Regardless, it was on the schedule following a couple of weeks of excessive traveling, so it was a welcome respite.

Part of the reason booking the campus was so simple was because we were able to host the screening AT Louis Salmon Library, in a room literally feet away from where we shot.  The good folks there were excited about having us back for a screening and got us one of our most fun and, frankly, comfortable venues of the tour.  But more on that later.

First, you know the drill-- the history of Huntsville, AL in three to four sardonic sentences.

Many a Fanning knew the sweat and stank of the Cotton Field.  Just not me.

I have a lot of roots in Huntsville and the outlining area-- it's where my father is from, and where the Fannings sharecropped til his generation.

Established in 1805, the city was first incorporated as Twickenham (and hence the namesake for my Adult League soccer team - the Twickenham Rovers), and first thrived from strong railroad and cotton industries, which would remain thriving into the 20th century.

One interesting note about the town's pre-20th century days is that it was actually, initially, opposed to secession in the Civil War (this is fitting, now, since the town's current culture, due to the many engineers working there from all over the country, is an eclectic mix of traditional southern culture and modern urban/non-regional identity); but the opposition didn't last very long.    

Huntsville, aside from its thriving agricultural industry, remained pretty modest in size and quiet in the national scene for most of its first century of existence, and into its second.  However, all that would change with the onset of World War II, when the city became home of Redstone Arsenal.

Redstone, which still largely influences the town's make-up and culture today, was briefly closed in '49, then re-opened as a missile research facility the following year.  The place finally became a national jewel, though, when, in 1960, Marshall Space Flight Center was opened on the Redstone campus-- and into town came a handful of German Rocket Scientists "refugees", including one Werner Von Braun-- and the city's namesake as 'The Rocket City" was born.

Just don't ask him about V2s.  Or the English.
The Saturn V, the largest rocket ever built and the means by which man reached the moon, was designed in Huntsville, and parts, including the boosters, were tested in the city.  It remains the city's crowning achievement-- the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, located in Huntsville, even has one of three actual Saturn V test rockets still in existence today on display in the heart of the city.

The Mighty Saturn V-- at the USSRC!
The space program ties and the arsenal still heavily dictate the town's culture, known for its progressive atmosphere and heavy saturation of engineering firms, engineers and other notable left-brainers.

One other tidbit worth note about Huntsville-- baseball greats Walt Weiss, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco all played AA ball together, for a time, with the Huntsville Stars-- then a farm team of the Oakland Athletics.  Though I'm not sure there were ever pre-steroid days for Canseco, this was certainly before Big Mac had forearms like Popeye.

Looked more like Olive Oil in his Huntsville Days
Another Cliff Clavin fact I gotta mention here-- Alabama-born comic book writer Mark Waid used the town (or at least the name, though the town's presentation was not entirely congruent with how it really was at the time) in a Batman story, published by DC in Detective Comics Annual #2 in '89.  As a native and a Batman fan, I've gotta admit the story was special to me.  I spent a fair amount of my childhood battling imaginary Klan members (instead of the Joker or Two-Face) because of it.

Get them Shameful Southern Stereotypes, Bats!
Another treat to having a screening in your hometown is having some family and friends in the audience-- well, I say treat, though I couldn't shake the nerves, going into this one.  I don't get nervous at these things anymore, usually-- mostly because there's not much of an audience to get nervous about.  But I guess that was exactly the fear going into this one-- that the only folks who'd show would be folks I invited.

But, apparently, being pretty well saturated in the Huntsville community paid off, and we wound up getting a pretty big, excited, and largely unfamiliar crowd at, again, the most comfortable venue we've yet played.

We were playing in a "Super Classroom"-- and unlike "Super Star Wars", this wasn't just a shameless (though addicting and fantastic) platforming cash in on the then trendy "Super" adjective.  The room was decked out in dozens of executive-style leather computer chairs-- comfortable, executive-style leather computer chairs.  So comfortable I figured most of the crowd would be out by the time the ever-dreaded cave scene rolled around.

Super = Killing Robocop lookin' villains as Luke Skywalker; Not So Super = Seeking Missiles and no lightsaber to defend yourself 
Luckily, the crowd, all young, stayed awake (at least as far as I could tell).  It was actually one of the more excited and expressive crowds we'd played to, laughing at (generally) appropriate times, and reacting to reveals appropriately.

I was suspicious Ben, who as a rare treat got to come out to the screening, had paid 'em, at first.

Also making the screening a true "homecoming" were some friends from the day job, Ben's parents, my ever supporting parents (including the "Arkie" that's the namesake of this blog) and my wife.

A genuinely nice night-- nothing to whine about, really; just a relaxing celebration and a night of story-sharing 

My next stop, however-- the final of the semester-- was another story....

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Catchin' Up part 4: Capital City Comics Meet-and-Greet

Little deviation from the tour recaps here to talk about one of the film's more exciting media tie-ins!

As I've mentioned on this blog before, actor/artist Kevin Maggard (see him in The Nocturnal Third) and myself are currently working on a serialized comic strip, Southern Truths featuring John Patton Jr., which details more events in the life of John Patton Jr., the archaeologist whose actions would spark the events of A Genesis Found.

Anyway, as part of a nice, promotional treat for Kevin, and for the strip, Capital City comics in Montgomery, AL, showcased Kevin as one of a few local artists at its recent grand opening, where he was able to set up a table, pass out some comics and DVDs, and get some folks on our mailing list.

Kevin also had a pretty brilliant idea for direct fan interaction, and organized a "contest" of sorts-- folks who joined our mailing list would be, with their permission, translated into comic form and included as extras in our next strip, which features John in his school days at the University of Alabama.  Though this is all well and good and a clever use of resources (after all, we'd need plenty of extras for the campus scenes), we encountered one, unexpected hitch-- the strip, set in the 1940's, takes place at a then non-integrated Alabama, where no student is over the age of 35-- so naturally a majority of our volunteers would be middle-aged African-Americans.   Several with dreads.

These guys look like they're from the 40's, right?
Of course, with so many campus scenes I'm sure we can find a place for everyone that's both non-racially discriminating while still being historically accurate (I told Kevin it was his problem since it was his idea, haha), and we're very thankful for everyone who stopped by.  It's still a great idea, even if it would have worked better for a non-period piece.

Regardless, here are a few more pics Kevin passed on to me from the event (unfortunately I was at a wedding and couldn't make it-- congrats Jackie!).  And keep checking for strip number three launching this month!
Hey, Kevin-- Sneak me out some of them DC Showcase volumes behind ya, huh?
Birth of a Salesman