Blimey... Where do I start? I thought being on set of a movie I wrote was the most surreal, bizarre thing that had ever happened to me. I was wrong. Being up on stage, in front of several hundred people, with the actors and director, with a radio mic, was even more surreal and bizarre. Until the moment I stepped off the stage, when- but I'm getting ahead of myself. Rewind.
Thursday morning, I had six hours before I needed to leave the house. I'd showered, dressed, and was more or less ready. But I still raced around the house, panicking, convinced I'd forgotten something. Really nervous. Went into town, met Jo, had a meal, tried to calm down, failed. Even when my mates from Dublin arrived - they flew over for the screening - I was still freaking out. I had nothing to be nervous about - apart from the thought of getting up on stage in front of a massive audience and talking. The charity screening as part of the FrightFest, a horror festival I've gone to for years.
We made our way to the cinema, it was nearly time. I was panicking really badly, shaking, breathing too fast, heart racing. Jo actually considered slapping me, I was that bad. Finally got to the cinema, saw some of the actors, got kissed and hugged by some of them, and got to our seats. It's okay, I thought, I've got 96 minutes until the Q+A, so-- and then the PR lady approached me, and said they were doing an intro, would I like to go up on stage with them all? I nodded, smiled, said "that'd be great!", and she pretended not to notice the thin stream of diarrhoea that was running down my left leg and pooling in my shoe.
The intro was announced, along with the names of the director and cast. I decided that if they didn't announce my name, I wouldn't go up, because I didn't want some security bloke to wrestle me to the ground for trying to crash the stage. But Chris went straight to the mic and shouted "where's James Moran, the writer, get up here". I looked at Jo and my mates, took a deep breath, and felt myself standing up and running to the stage, but at the same time imagined myself still in the audience, sitting and thinking "who's that bloke getting up?" I could see people looking at me, people whose faces I know from previous FrightFests, people I've chatted to outside the cinema about the movies we've just seen, people who had no idea that I'd written a movie. I got on stage, and Chris was telling the audience about my FrightFest history, and I think I got a round of applause, I'm not sure, I was hyperventilating slightly and staring in shock at the audience. I've never seen an audience from that angle, I've always been part of it looking up. Luckily the intro was very quick, and we all ran back to our seats. My heart was still pounding, and my mates were giggling at me, and then the movie started, which was a relief.
Best. Audience. Ever.
I knew they would be, the FrightFest audience are bloody clever, know their horror, know their movies, they got every reference, every joke, every horror gag where we tried to subvert things, clapped and cheered after every kill, it was fantastic. Massive round of applause at the end, and again, I thought, right, THIS time if they don't say my name again, I'll just hide.
The lights come up, and they announce the names. I don't move. My mates are saying "get up there", and again Chris is calling out for me, so I run up to the stage, absolutely terrified, and am handed a radio mic - I try to hand it over to someone else, but they back away from it as if it's poisoned, so I'm stuck with it. Standing there, with the actors and director, and the applause is still coming, it was magic, like nothing I've ever experienced. Okay, I thought, nobody will ask the writer a question, when there are handsome and exotic actors here, so I'll just move to the back, and--
--and, of course, the first thing out of Alan Jones' (co-organiser of FrightFest) mouth is a question to me. And somehow, despite the terror, I force myself to answer immediately. I crack a joke, get a big laugh, and, learning from my mistakes before, I carry straight on with the actual answer. He asks me another question, I crack another joke, get another laugh, and do another proper answer, which seems to go down well. Apparently (I hear later) I looked confident, relaxed, and perfectly at ease. I have no fucking idea how I managed that. But when I was up there, knowing the audience loved the movie, were happy to see us, and were nervous and excited about us being there, it made it okay. I was able to chill and enjoy it. Plus, the lights were quite bright, so it wasn't immediately obvious that 400 (edit: it's actually 832) people were staring at me. It was amazingly cool, I can't begin to describe how weird it felt though. The final question came, a good one which got everyone talking, and I was the last one, so I cracked another quick joke, did a quick final answer, and then we called it a day. I got off stage, and started heading to my seat.
And that's when the weirdest thing happened. I thought, they're all going to be looking at me, 96 minutes ago I was an anonymous bloke in seat N16, and now suddenly I'm a filmmaker, I'll probably get some stares, which is fine, and--
--and there's a bloke standing in front of me, FrightFest brochure open to the Severance page, with a pen, holding them both out to me. "Excuse me, would you mind signing--" and that's all I heard. My mind was going "holy shit, he's asking for my autograph, oh look, he's got Chris and the actors to sign too, now he's completing the set, that's nice, I can't believe he's asking me though, my signature is worth nothing, I'm nobody, and oh my God there's someone standing behind him waiting for their turn, this cannot get any more bizarre." Jo and Emmet (my Dublin mate) saw me, and began silently screaming and pawing at Sal, my other Dublin mate, who was looking in a different direction saying "oh look, it's Kim Newman", until they grabbed her head and turned it. My brother was there, gobsmacked, and speechless for once. I had lots of other mates in various different seats, equally gobsmacked. None more gobsmacked than me. I get to my seat, and someone leans over to shake my hand, saying "well done, great movie", a complete stranger. I thank them, still finding it hard to believe. We file out to the lobby, and still people are coming up asking me to sign their brochures. Absolutely unreal.
Outside, people are heading to the aftershow party. I have an invite for me plus one, so I tell my friends and brother that I'm not going. They tell me to get myself to the fucking party or else, that they'll all wait in the pub, enjoy my moment and all that. So me and Jo head off. A moment of hilarity when it turns out I'm not on the list - but then it turns out I'm on a different list, and all is well. If I'd actually been turned away from the party, I would have found it hilarious, a typical Hollywood-style story, and much more interesting than "and then I actually was on a list". We go in, chat to the FrightFest DrunksTM who are lovely horror fans that I've bumped into before as an audience member, and try to explain to them how weird it is to suddenly become a different person in the eyes of several hundred people (and myself) purely by standing on a stage for 15 minutes. We then go down to the Severance area, and chat to Tim McInnerny and his lovely wife and lovely posh sister, and have a great time. Drink is drunk, Chris arrives, who has had a drink or seven, and there is much hugging and mutual giving of compliments. We stay about 45 minutes or an hour, then head back to the pub to be with our mates and my bruv. Much booze is drunk, they all clap me loudly when I walk in (cue many confused "who the fuck's that?" looks from the other drinkers), and a fun time is had by all. We move to the amazing Garlic and Shots on Frith Street, where there's a tiny little crypt room that we can all fit in, seemingly reserved just for us. Corin gets us all a Bloodshot, which seems to be a glass of Tabasco Sauce, chillies, garlic, and FIRE. We down those, gasp like dying fish, and reach for a beer to cool our flaming throats - but oh no, it's garlic beer! With chunks of garlic! We're starting to figure out why it's called Garlic and Shots. Cause we're clever, and stuff. We get a round of normal beers and JD and Cokes, and after scarcely half an hour I'm able to speak again. Two plates of garlic bread turn up, which is eaten immediately, and much more booze is drunk. Eventually we fall out of there, pile into taxis and trains, and crash and burn.
The next morning we hit the local caff, for a huge fryup, and I buy all the daily papers - they're the only reviews we don't see in advance, so we have no idea what they'll be like. But they're surprisingly good. Mirror gave us great coverage, even the Daily Mail liked it, although I was hoping for a "ban this sick filth"-style outrage. Mind you, he did call me "Paul Moran", so that makes up for it. Most of the rest were pretty good, apart from the Grauniad which gave us a hilariously sniffy review which was longer than their reviews of stuff they liked. It was very much "oh, MUST we make crassly commercial films like this, how dreadfully tiresome", and then proceeded to say how much they enjoyed You, Me and Dupree, which is well known for its anti-commercial, kitchen-sink drama. God forbid that we go to the cinema on a Saturday night and get entertained, civilisation would collapse! But I was hoping for at least one sniffy, snobby review, so I'm happy.
Also happening that morning was one of those parent/baby "Baby Club" screenings at a London cinema - you can bring your newborn baby in, they leave the lights on, so that new parents can see new releases, with the understanding that there'll be lots of other people with babies there too - for Severance. Yes, as I ate my fryup, at that very moment, babies were being forced to watch the horrific events that I had written. I was poisoning fresh, new minds. Result.
Friday night, we all went to see Pan's Labyrinth, which is a work of genius, a beautiful, magical movie that took us to another place for 2 hours. Saturday night me and Jo went to the Enfield Cineworld to see Severance with a normal audience of punters that didn't know me. Full house, went down really well, and everyone was talking animatedly as they came out, which was a huge buzz. Sunday I met up with my sister, who had just seen it with her mates, and they all thoroughly enjoyed it. Monday I had a 4 and a half hour Curfew meeting (preparation for the big one on Wednesday), and Monday night we went to see The Host, a crazy monster movie from Korea. Great monster action, hilarious gags, went down a storm. And last night, I slept.
Today, I'm back in my dayjob, doing corrections to an online computer course and entering them into a database. Back to the real world. I'm exhausted, haven't stopped since Thursday morning, and just want to sleep for a week. But I'm buzzing inside, still excited and delirious about the whole thing. Ever since I was struggling with the ending of P45 as it was back then, I always thought, wouldn't it be great to be on stage at FrightFest, hearing the audience clap the finished movie? It's an absolute dream come true, and it couldn't have gone more perfectly. Magic.