D&D on HPL – The Lovecraft Film Festival Roundtable

October 7, 8 & 9 marks the tenth year for the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival here in Portland. Founded in 1995 by Andrew Migliore, the festival supports the literary works of H.P. Lovecraft (and other weird fiction writers) by presenting film- and television-adaptations by professional and amateur filmmakers.

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Derek: The Lovecraft Film Festival is something I knew about prior to moving to Portland back in 2001. I had stumbled across its website and, in addition to Powell’s City of Books, the HPL Film Fest was one of those things I was most looking forward to when Brenda and I moved to the city. I’ve attended every year since then, and this year’s festival will be my fifth time. In 2003, my movie Casonetto’s Last Song (based on a short story by Lovecraft colleague and Conan-creator Robert E. Howard) showed at the festival. I’ve also tried to help support the festival as best I could by either putting up flyers and posters, hyping the festival through word-of-mouth and writing lengthy articles about the festival for either my own blog or REwindVideo.com (back when I was writing for them). Short of becoming a vendor myself and setting up a table to sell whatever between shows, I’ve experienced MOST of what the festival has to offer as a fan and a filmmaker. How would you sum up your relationship with the festival?


Aaron: Actually, I think this is their 12th year, but the 10th at the same location: The Hollywood Theatre. I could be mistaken though. Regardless, yes, the festival has been around long enough one could start calling it a Portland (or even West Coast) fixture. Strangely, I didn’t really “hear” about the festival until I met you in 2001. I had been in Portland since late 1998 and while I remember seeing a flyer or two, I didn’t attend the festival until 2002. Like you, I’ve tried to help promote the Lovecraft Film Festival every year since 2002. Many days off were spent peppering the greater Portland-area with posters and flyers. I remember dedicating a good chuck of late-September and early-October Geek in the City version 1 postings to the festival and landed them a couple of write-ups in local papers. I did think it was cool to watch Casonetto’s Last Song within the same theater it was filmed in . . . Always wondered how many people realized that. While my own forays into having a short screened haven’t been as successful, I would agree that there is little more I can do to experience anything “new” at the festival. Course, that doesn’t mean I won’t be there every year. That being said, what draws you back year after year to a festival which, admittedly, has a fairly small pool of work to draw from?

Derek: It’s their tenth year, but 12th festival (yeah, that’s confusing). Either way, I can’t imagine it being held anywhere other than the Hollywood, which is part of the reason I wanted to shoot Casonetto’s… there as well; it just seemed to fit. (And you were robbed – your Picture in the House should have been shown, and not just because I rocked it playing The Old Man!)
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I keep coming back to the festival for a few reasons. 1) I’m a huge fan of Lovecraft’s works. It’s a shame that his work doesn’t have greater presence in the horror genre at large (it is getting better, though). 2) As a filmmaker and creative-type myself, I feel a near-obligation to support the amateur and no-budget productions the festival highlights; the people that make these movies are MY people and, besides, their stuff is usually a lot better than the work of so-called “professionals.” And tying back into my first reason, 3) being a fan of “darker” entertainment can sometimes by a lonely pursuit. Before moving to Portland, I lived in much smaller towns (the largest being about 50,000) that wasn’t always the most supportive of a guy who was into horror movies and role-playing games. (The town of 50,000, Cheyenne, WY – best known for an annual rodeo-fest called Frontier Days, and an Air Force base.) I’ve come to view the HPL Film Fest as a time and place that I get to hang out with people who have the same “forbidden interests” that I have, and I’ve made a few friends based on this common Lovecraft link (Craig Mullins of Unfilmable.com, for example).

I learned pretty quick, though, that just showing up doesn’t immediately get you “in.” My first year, I tried approaching some of the filmmakers and I was summarily dismissed. It blew my mind, actually; if somebody came up to me and told me they enjoyed my movie, that person would be my best friend for the rest of the festival (if not longer than that)! It’s taken a number of emails, several forum postings, and four festivals for me to feel like I’ve scratched the surface of this eclectic group.

At any rate, every October I look forward to at least seeing familiar faces, and maybe meeting some new ones as well. How about you? Where does your loyalty to the festival come from, other than my dragging you along, that is?

Aaron: Well, like so many Martin Scorsese debacles, I’ve moved past the robbing of my Lovecraftian opus. Although, you’re not the only one who told me the choice made by the committee was a “poor one.” (Whew, maybe I haven’t moved on . . . No, wait . . . and now . . . Over it.) I think a lot of what you said can be mimicked by many movie fans that grew up in smaller towns. I’ve often wondered if folks who were born and raised in the city develop the same fascination with the horror genre.

One of my primary draws to the festival is to simply hang out with people who are, at least for the time being, at the same level I am at. We’re all struggling in one way or another to have our work seen. Plus, most of the folks who attend the Lovecraft Film Festival are flat out freaks . . . In the best kind of way!

However, your comment about being “dismissed” does bring up an interesting and slightly disturbing trend within this small film community. There are times where they feel like a slightly clique group. Actually, that isn’t fair to say. The folks whom I have rapports with (like the above mentioned Craig Mullins) are extremely nice and welcoming. I think the people who make films for the Lovecraft Film Festival can be grouped into two types. 1) Those that love the genre and subject but also happen to be creative filmmakers, actors and writers. Sure, they have other projects they happen to be involved in, but cranking out one or two solid Lovecraft tales are their way of paying homage to the writer who inspired them. 2) The hardcore filmmaker that use the Lovecraft Film Festival as a stepping stone to “bigger and better” things. The festival is looked at as a necessary (and cheap) evil to get their work noticed and add another notch to the festival belt. I don’t think there is anything wrong with either outlook at the festival. However, I have noticed that those who wish to use the festival to further their own careers tend to be less than open to speaking with festival attendees or other filmmakers (other than ones who look like they can extend careers). Again, nothing wrong with networking, shoot that is what most festivals exist for. Nevertheless, I would hope that the filmmakers would be a bit more welcoming to those who are there to see and learn about their films.

Wow, I’ll step off my soapbox here and get back to the topic at hand.

Finally, the merchants bring me back. I know I said before that the festival has lot of the same thing every year, and it does, but the merchants are always great! With the exception of some of the larger comic and RPG conventions, the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival has the best swag and memorabilia a Horror Geek could hope for! The folks at Catalyst Studios and SighCo really spring to mind as awesome merchants with great products. If only the festival could attract a food merchant. . . or, hell, this is in Portland . . . where is my Elder Coffee Java’thulhu? The Great Cthulhu may slumber in the deep ocean, by my ass needs to stay awake from about dawn ’till 2am to catch it all!
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Derek: I can easily think back to some of the filmmakers I’ve met at the festival over the years and could tell you which ones fall into which of the two categories you mentioned. I would add a third category, though: the filmmaker who’s just starting out and really doesn’t know anyone in “the community.” You can pick them out by the wide-eyed look on their face as they walk down the stairs in the Hollywood. Remember a couple of years ago when we approached one of the filmmakers that was showing his first movie (it was an animated piece, using images he found in old library books to tell the story of ‘At the Mountains of Madness’)? I chatted him up for a few, jotted down his name and asked him a few questions about his movie. Not that I’m trying to brag here, but I think you nailed it when you told me afterward that we just made his entire weekend. Nobody else seemed overly interested in this new filmmaker, even though here he was, at a Lovecraft Film Festival, surrounded by Lovecraft fans, showing a Lovecraft movie. I’ve seen him at following festivals since, but not any more movies from him, which is unfortunate.

As for bringing in coffee, there may be some arrangement with the Hollywood Theater that prevents them from bringing in outside food vendors, but I definitely agree: there needs to be other options. Lovecraft himself was a dedicated coffee drinker, so not having coffee a’brewin’ and available is almost criminal. If nothing else, someone could mix up a batch of Cthulhu Coffee and offer it for sale. But if not coffee, then maybe someone can bring in some Postum; the brother claimed to like it better than coffee! (I think they sell coffee in their concession area at the Hollywood now, but, come on, do you want to buy coffee from someone selling candy bars for four bucks a pop?)

The merchants are great. Some of them . . . Hell, all of them have become fixtures at the fest’. I always curse myself for not squirreling away more money year round because the stuff for sale upstairs is GREAT. The two you mentioned – Catalyst and SighCo – always have great merchandise, and some of the other vendors always bring in a great selection. The book sellers have a good variety of Lovecraft and Lovecraftian literature (some of it from small- or specialty-presses), and there’s a small amount of gaming represented. The HPL Historical Society is always selling their Christmas CD and their collection of PDF props for gaming (complete with a font based on Lovecraft’s handwriting!), and I love supporting them. (They do have the most anticipated Lovecraft movie coming out this time – ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ done in the style of a silent film!)

You know, speaking of gaming, it’s always struck me as odd that there isn’t a stronger gaming presence at the festival. Yeah, yeah, it is a film festival, so the main push should be films; however, Lovecraft’s influence does stretch beyond celluloid and digital video tape these days. Someone’s always selling old Delta Green supplements, and there may be some copies of ‘Call of Cthulhu’ (both Wizards of the Coast’s out-of-print version and Chaosim’s) on some vendors’ table, but I always felt like there could be more of a push. The first year I attended the festival, one of the filmmakers was running a game upstairs (I don’t know what game it was – it wasn’t an rpg – might have something along the lines of ‘Zombies!!!’), but it was obvious that this was more him running a game for some buddies during the festival and less about involving anyone outside of his immediate group. How great would it be if someone ran a Cthulhu LARP during the festival (there is that break on Saturday, and there’s all day on Sunday)? At last year’s festival, someone who was involved in the Dungeons & Dragons Eberron setting was at the festival; I wonder if anyone supporting or demo-ing their ‘Hecatomb’ game will be there this year. Also, Paizo Publishing (‘Dragon’ and ‘Dungeon’ magazine) is selling plush Cthulhu dolls (and Fuzzy Cthulhu Slippers – they are SO on my Christmas Wish List!), backpacks and so on at their website. This merchandise never really shows up at the festival. (Someone else sells a different design of Cthulhu stuffed animals, so maybe they don’t want the competition.)

So, yeah, while the merchandise they sell is great, there could definitely be more. Bring in some variety. I mentioned Cthulhu Coffee – they have some great looking coffee mugs that I’d think would sell at the fest’. There’s a series of action figures either already out or coming out soon based on some of Lovecraft’s stories; a Cthulhu action figure would be one more thing that would make me regret not padding my wallet a bit more before showing up at the festival!

Aaron: Funny, our above nitpicking does nothing but show our love for the festival. Only fanboys (and girls, of which many attend… most of which are hot…and in black…and in fishnets…and are so many other things I cannot mention without getting in trouble), ahem, sorry, only fans that love the festival as much as we would complain about there not being more Cthulhu mugs for which to drink our Dagon Java. The merchants are always very friendly and take their time to speak to each customer who walks up to them. Even the eternal table lurkers are given the proper about of time and respect; I know this, because I can smell my own. If anything, the amount of unique horror swag a fan can find at the Lovecraft Film Festival can become a tad overwhelming.

Regardless of whether we were speaking of the short films, the guest speakers, or the businesses at the festival we always come back to the same thing: The people. All the people involved with the Lovecraft Film Festival are what make the event so special. Richard Beer and his crew at the Hollywood Theatre break their backs making sure that the grand old lady is as accommodating as it can be (with improvements happening every year). All the filmmakers and film fans that come from all over the globe, literally, to display and view art for one long weekend in October. The merchants who unpack and display their wares to a crowd that is notorious for comments like “if only this happened next weekend, I get paid next weekend”. The guest speakers, whom I am certain, do not charge their normal speaking price to share a few ideas and stories with their fellow Lovecraft students and fans. Finally, to Andrew Migliore who probably had no idea the Pandora’s Box he was opening when he first started this little festival. In many ways, the HP Lovecraft Film Festival is still growing. No longer a child, it is able to walk on its own. . . Now it faces the daunting task that all adolescents must face: Finding its place in the adult world.

Will it ever become a Sundance?

Not likely, but that is not what the Lovecraft Film Festival stands for. I do see, in time, the Lovecraft Film Festival becoming a grand event that people plan years in advance to attend and screen their Lovecraftian film. A trend I am seeing more and more as “real” trailers for upcoming features are showing with greater regularity each year. To my knowledge, the Lovecraft Film Festival is one of the few horror themed events that do not exist as an extension of another product. Every film, every small press book, magazine, or CD, every bit of handcrafted merchandise owes their existence to this festival.

That is a very special thing. That is something that needs and deserves support. That is the real reason why I will be there every this year and why I will be there every year after that.

Perhaps, if the stars are right, with a flick of my own someday.

Derek: We say that every year, don’t we? Every time the festival rolls around, we announce to each other that we’re going to have something to show the following year. And I’m sure that will happen again this weekend as well. I’ve got some plans, sure, and you probably do, too, movie-wise, so maybe we’ll both get some screen time at 2007’s fest.

The people at the festival, for all the potential clique-ish-ness, are the biggest draw for me, to be sure. There are some people, like Craig, that I only get to see once a year at the Hollywood, and I always look forward to running into these old friends and fellow Lovecraft enthusiasts. And there’s always the whole “meeting-new-people” thing, too. I was “the new-ish guy” five years ago when I first started going; I’m hoping to meet some “new-ish” people this year.

That’s really it, isn’t it? Andrew may claim that the purpose of the festival is to promote the works of H. P. Lovecraft, but what I’ve gotten out of the festival is at-the-very-least-acquaintanceship with other Lovecraft lovers, most of which happen to have a passing interest in filmmaking. That’s a very cool thing.

This has been a VERY long week for me. When we first started writing this, I was excited, sure, about the festival, but as the number of calendar days between ‘today’ and ‘the festival’ grow fewer and fewer, I can feel the call stirring in my blood. Yeah, the ol’ personal budget’s a bit tighter than last year (and last year was pretty tight!), but I’m really looking forward to picking up The Call of Cthulhu DVD, as well as drooling over all the other great STUFF at the fest’.

And I’m sure we’ll continue nitpicking when it’s all over. I’ll be covering the festival on a nightly basis, and snapping pictures, and there’s always the, “Gee, it sure would have been better if they did it THIS way,” that comes the following week (still wishing they hadn’t switched the order printed in the program for one of the short blocks last year – I missed Enter the Dagon because of that, and still haven’t seen it!), but I’m going to try to sit back and just enjoy the show this weekend. For all the hats I’ve worn at the festival, this year, even though I’ll be handing out business cards and talking about 2006 movie projects, I’m going to try REAL hard to just enjoy festival as a fan.

That’s what brought me to it in the first place.

Aaron: I think that is what brings us all! Hope to see old and new faces this year… Pretty certain I will.