Things got off to a rocky start when the flight was 2 hours late taking off. This meant that we missed the connecting flight in Toronto, and nearly had to wait until the following day for the next one. But we managed to get put on an earlier flight, by the simple technique of lying on the floor, crying, and soiling ourselves. I recommend it if you're ever in a similar situation. So instead of one connecting flight, we had to get two, and got to Austin about 3 hours late, which wasn't too bad. While on the first flight, I entertained myself by putting a toilet paper seat cover on my head, so that I looked like some sort of demented, washed-out sunflower. And because you know you want it, here's a pic of that pivotal moment:
We got to Austin just in time for the outdoor screening of Mad Max 2, in the car park of the Alamo cinema, which was glorious. Vehicular carnage ahoy, and much beer was drunk. I was there with the scribo-bloggosphere-o-tron's Jason "Arnoppapadopoulos" Arnopp, Sean "the reasonably sensible one" Hogan, and Jay "I hate Macs, blogs, and all rational thought" Slater. Ian from FrightFest was there too, scouting for possible FF movies and trying to drink all of the beer in Texas. Here is some of the booze we had - beer with a small Jim Beam chaser:
Mr Arnopp looks on disapprovingly, as well he might. What you can't tell from the picture is, he's not wearing any pants, and is sitting in a bucket of frogs. True story. If you've read the blog posts about my last trip to Texas, you'll know all about how cool the Alamo cinema is. If not, then go here and read them (scroll down to "Austin, the arrival" and work your way up), I'll wait here. Go on. Okay, they've gone, I'm not going to wait at all, it was just a trick so we could be alone! The fools! The Alamo is the coolest cinema on the planet, each row of seats has a table in front, and a channel so that they can come and take your food/drink orders. It all works marvellously, and I wish they'd open a London branch. One of the best things is their STRICT no-talking policy. It's fine to laugh, cheer, clap, or whatever, they encourage that - but if you talk or let your cellphone go off, they come down on you, hard. If there's a noisy table near you, you can place an order card in the slot by your seat, and let the staff know. The management then comes and warns the noisy people. If they continue making noise, they get kicked out. No arguments. There are adverts before every single movie reminding you of this, and they're hilarious. Every one of the ads ends with "If you talk during the movie, we'll take your ass out." It is SUCH a breath of fresh air.
Movie highlights: "I Think We're Alone Now", a documentary about two people who, shall we say, really really REALLY like Tiffany. Yes, that Tiffany. Yes, they're stalkers. But it comes from a place of love. It's one of the most terrifying things I've ever seen, but at the same time, you grow to understand them a bit, and really feel for them. If you get a chance to see this, you must, it's mesmerising. Another great doc was "Not Quite Hollywood", about the Ozsploitation movies - low budget genre movies from Australia. Mad Max, Turkey Shoot, Road Games, Razorback, and a whole load of ones I'd never heard of but have to track down. The doc was gritty, funny, and had all the raw energy of the films it celebrates. Great fun, and a real crowd pleaser. "The Burrowers" was a really good horror Western, a nice slow burn with some really great characters and cool moments. "Alien Raiders" was a great example of low budget horror done properly, using effects sparingly and relying on tension, atmosphere, and some clever twists. "Spine Tingler", a documentary about the late, great William Castle, was enormous fun, and detailed all the fun promotional tricks and tactics he used to get people to see his movies. "JCVD" is Jean-Claude Van Damme's comeback movie - the story is fairly standard, and it goes a bit odd in the final act, but that's not the big deal, the big deal is Van Damme's performance. Jaw-dropping. He plays himself, and opens up on screen in a way that's quite hard to watch sometimes. He is absolutely amazing in it, it's one of the best performances I've seen for quite a while. And I never thought I'd say that about him. Lots of other cool stuff, but the above movies were my favourites.
Other highlights included the War On Terror question popping up in every single Q & A of the fest, a question that has dogged us all for several years now. "I was just wondering, some of the subtext seemed to be saying blahblahwaffleblah, and I wanted to know, is it a reference to the War On Terror?" No. It isn't. Please stop asking that fucking question. The final time it got asked, the audience actually sighed as a group, and someone just said "No," quite loudly. That person may or may not have been me.
Another nice thing that happened a lot, was people recognising me and saying how much they loved Severance. Made me feel proper famous, so it did. While DVD shopping, I picked up a second-hand copy of Severance, because I gave away all my copies, and I want a Region 1 version as it has a different cover. I know. Buying my own movie. Second-hand. Cheap-arse. Anyway, in the queue, our Alamo mate Devin pointed at the DVD and asked the guy behind the counter if he'd seen it. "What did you think?" asked Devin, smiling. The guy said "It was pretty good, I liked it. Thought the pot-smoking thing got a bit dumb after a while though." We all burst out laughing, and Devin pointed at me and said "He wrote it." The poor guy went bright red, and immediately said "it was very gory though, it was great". We all had a chuckle about that, though I felt bad for the guy, he looked quite embarrassed. Sorry, DVD-shop-bloke, if by some amazing coincidence you're reading this.
There were lots of parties, events, and cool moments with all the wonderful people there (hello Scott, Will, Jen, Liz, Ashley, Rae, Ian, Devin, Kier-La, Tim, Karrie, Brian, Eric), but the highlight for me was the last day, at the Alamo with most of the hard working cinema crew who were now able to relax and drink. We had a great time, they're all really cool people to hang out with. Special mention must go to my mate Rae, who got me a TARDIS notebook like the one in Silence In The Library (Doctor Who, season 4, The Moff). She really wanted one, and had to get it specially made, so she got one for me too, which was extremely cool of her. Here's a pic of the book:
Also on the last day, we went back to Red's Indoor Range, to shoot some more guns. Red's is an extremely cool place, with friendly and polite staff who know their stuff inside out. This time we had a .44 Magnum, a Colt .45, and an AK-47. Oh. My. God. The thing about guns is, they're terrifying instruments of death and destruction, but at the same time, they're incredibly exciting and fun, if used safely. If I lived in a country where they were easily available, I'd probably have several in each room, ready for (a) any psychotic, armed burglar who tries to break in, and (b) zombies. The Magnum was unbelievably powerful, the Colt was almost as strong but easier to handle, and the AK-47 was very cool but totally inaccurate at anything over 20 yards. Here is a video compilation of me firing guns and feeling like a big, sexy bastard:
Take that, evil exec who fucked me over so that I lost out on a huge deal several years ago! Take that, two-faced exec who lied to me, betrayed my trust and then didn't even have the balls to phone me and let me know that the whole project had gone down the toilet! Take that, dumbass production company who had no idea what a principal photography payment was, and thought it was "extra money" that they didn't need to give me! Take that, fuckwit "producer" who faffed me around, changed our agreement, tried to get me to write a script for nothing, and then acted like I was holding everything up! Take that! Take all of my bullets!
As we were shooting, the guy next to us had brought in his own guns to calibrate the sights. One was a fucking huge Weatherby Vanguard bolt-action hunting rifle with a scope on top and 7mm Remington Magnum bullets. It was his first time with this new beast, and he was very proud of it - he saw us all admiring it, and jumping whenever he fired it. We thought the AK was loud, but his was like a cannon going off. And then he loaded up a bullet, cocked it, and asked me if I wanted to give it a go. Fuck yes! Like a fool, I gladly jumped in and accepted. I couldn't turn that down.
I settled into the seat, lined up the sights, and carefully squeezed the trigger. I was so worried about the kick to my shoulder from the stock, that I wasn't paying attention to how close my face was to the scope. I fired, the rifle jerked backwards, and the scope caught me right in the face, above the right eye. It got me right on the bone under the eyebrow, drove my glasses (my proper glasses) back into my face, cutting my nose slightly, and bending the glasses alarmingly. My head flew back, and it felt like I'd been punched in the face - because, in a way, I had been. And because you know you want it, here's video of the moment itself, courtesy of Mr Arnopp:
I managed to bend the glasses back to their normal shape, but my eye already had a nice lump swelling up. Four days later, it looks like this:
Ouch. One of the other shooters came over to see what had happened, and when he realised, simply nodded wisely, and said "Ah, you got scoped," as if it were some ancient ritual that a boy must go through to become a man. I was okay, just a bit shaken and taken aback by the power of the thing. The rifle guy was glad that I was okay, and when he brought the target forward, he pointed out where I had hit it (phone shown for size comparison):
Right there. On a tiny target. From one hundred yards. Oh yeah. I am ready for the upcoming zombie apocalypse. The rifle guy pulled out a big hunting knife, cut out the section I hit, and handed it over to me. I was in pain, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't feel fucking cool. I felt like I had earned their respect, even if they were probably all thinking I was a feeble, pale, Limey bastard. So the lesson I learned that day was: be careful with guns. They could have someone's eye out. When I texted Jo later on to tell her of my adventure, her response was "I told you not to take guns from strangers..." This is the bullet I fired, so you can marvel at how ridiculously huge it was:
After that, we all went and got extremely drunk. And then I came home. The Fantastic Fest is an amazing festival, great people, a great vibe, and superb movies. I hope I can keep making movies regularly, so that I have a good excuse to go every year. And maybe next time, I'll try not to whack myself in the face with a huge rifle.