How did I get to go to ShoWest? Well, it began a few years ago, before AICN came about. I was just a newsgroup fella that posted info there all the time. The big story at the time was ID4. This was about 6 months before it was released. I had read the script about 6 months prior to that, so I was tired of all the 'bad' rumors that were going around.. So I started correcting the rumors, telling it how it was. I even made a prediction that the film would gross over $850 million worldwide. Nobody agreed, but after awhile Dean Devlin showed up on the newsgroup and wrote me some letters. He seemed genuinely surprised about my enthusiasm, and didn't have as much faith in ID4 as I had. We wrote back and forth. Sometime in there I created AICN. Through it all, I've been on friendly terms with Dean.
He has been a bit upset over some things I've printed about Godzilla, but he loves my enthusiasm for the project. He and Sony almost had a coronary when they found out I had seen the entire creature. And when I described him, well he was perturbed, but at least I didn't have pictures. So everytime he wrote me, I kept asking (in that adorable way I do) when I was gonna get a peek of how Godzilla moves, etc,etc... Well, about 2 weeks ago, Dean writes me a letter asking if I'd like to go to ShoWest. My eyes read the question about a dozen times, and then I thought.... YES! I mean, ShoWest is the place where all the cool people show up and show theater owners a glimpse of their products and they begin thinking about ordering their films. I've been hearing about this place forever, and have always wanted to attend. And Dean had my ticket.
The problem was, between the Atlanta Film Festival and South By SouthWest, my scheduling booket was packed. The luck was with me, because literally the day I returned, was the day ShoWest started, and the day before South By SouthWest was the last day of ShoWest. Dean's assistant begins organizing all the details and booking flights, rooms, transportation, etc. It all begins taking shape. So here's how it went:
0500 hours, Tuesday the 10th of March
Dad wakes me up. I curse him, as is natural at this time of the morning. I begin getting my gear together. God it's early.
The car arrives to take me to the Airport. It's very considerate to send the car to pick me up, but given I only live about 5 minutes from the Airport... well, it seems a bit ludricous. Nice leather seats, cute driver, new car smell. I could fall asleep in he....
I arrive at the airport and get my tickets for the plane. Wow, they are first class! I've never flown first class before. This kind of wakes me up a bit. I wonder what first class feels like. Will it turn me into a suit wearing, chain drinking, guffawing lummox like I usually see in first class? Will I hold my drink between two fingers and sip gingerly? Are the stewardesses prettier that wait on first class? My mind is aflutter with anticipation.
Boy, I bet these first class seats would be comfortable if I were thin. I mean they are really plush, but they don't lean back as far as the seats in coach do, but they are also less crowded. As soon as I hit my seat, the steward (yeah a dude) asks me what I want to drink. Coffee, my brain needs coffee. After my coffee I fall asleep.
0730 hours (mountain time)
Phoenix, Arizona. A pretty nice airport. Once I arrive I have to rush to the next gate, that'll take me to Las Vegas. Airports that look like malls scare me. Do people go to the airport to buy Lava Lamps?
0800 hours (mountain time)
I leave Phoenix. Once again I'm in first class, but I swear to god, stewardesses of the living dead are serving us. You know how Sylvia Sydney looked in Beetlejuice? That's what they looked like, they're voices sounded like they were coming out of a kazoo, they had sad eyes. This sort of places me in a melancholy mood.
0920 hours Las Vegas Time
I arrive. Instantly I can hear the sounds of slot machines. Then I see a dude with a "H. Knowles" sign. That's probably me. He carries my heavy bag for me. Heh heh heh, wow this type of service helps facillitate a lazy existence like my own!! As we approach the 'moving walkway' I hear Andrew Dice Clay telling people to move out of the way via the loudspeaker. Be afraid.
We get to the car and the driver begins to take me to Treasure Island, where I will be staying the night. I head in, and moozie on up to the desk. This REALLLLLY cute lady in a REALLLLY cute outfit comes up to help me. I give her my name, and how the room is prepaid for, and well... well... you see... they don't allow new check ins till after 11am. ARGH!!! I make a case that the event I'm here for starts at 11am. There is no sympathy in her eyes. So I take my bags and head back out to 'the car' I tell the driver my situation and he tells me to check my bags at BALLY's, that is where ShoWest is, and pick em up after the event. Man, I just love people smarter than me.
1030 hours (Las Vegas Time)
I walk into Bally's. Man... this place is huge. And NOISY. It is driving me insane, so many blinky thingees, cha chang cha chang cha chang, the crying, the cheers. Where on earth do I go now?!!!? I'm confused, sensory overload, so I step in a corner and pull out my instructions. Let's see 'Go to the main ballroom' Alright, that's fairly straight forward. So I head off to the main ballroom. About 150 feet in front of the main ballroom is the security check point. Really big mean and ugly dudes in suits with earpieces. They don't need to be messed with. Suddenly I get the feeling I'm in a wretched hive of scum and villany. As if to prove my thought, a security guard asks me to show my i.d. So I pull out my driver's license. "No, no, your badge, show me your badge."
"Ummmmm.... (God it was so tempting to reference Treasure of Sierre Madre at this point) I don't have a badge, I was told by Dean Devlin (his stare is completely blank) to go to the main ballroom where I'm on a list of guests."
"So you don't have a badge?"
Oh man, I'm doomed.
"Sir, you must have a badge to procede further"
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!! God, I hate this sort of thing. It aggravates me so much!!! I know I'm suppose to be here. ARGH!!!
Steam is coming out of my ears, I mean, Devlin flies me out here, and I can't get past the security check point. I think of making a run for it, but then I'd be beaten into a large pile of flesh and broken bones. So I retreat. I see a sign on a door that reads something along the lines of "Badges We Have em" My mind thinks back to a few moments before and realizes that I need a badge, so I go in this room.
It is a stark ugly room, people in suits surrounding me, they all have badges. I feel like an extra from the Fisher King stuck in Michael Douglas' building in Wall Street. I don't belong. This is horrible. I go up and relate my tale to a jar head on the other side of the table. Blank stares, I wave my hand in front of his face and say, "You will give me a badge Now...." He keeps staring. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. This guy's mind is so weak that it doesn't understand the suggestion. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Meanwhile, the suits begin recognizing me, flocking around me. They all have business cards in their hands. Like some sort of corporate card handing scene reminiscient of the Barbarella Doll attack scene they came towards me. At first it was scary, but then they began introducing themselves.
They weren't bad guys. These were theater owners, you know, people that own theaters, like the one you go to. Some of these guys own a lot of em. They come up and talk about how much they love me, and how they use my site as an indicator of what movies to rent. THIS PETRIFIES ME. They all begin asking... Armageddon or Deep Impact? I give a 10 minute lecture on the subject, ending with a recommendation of Armageddon. My god, I wonder what that conversation causes. Do these people really listen to the site? I'm scared.
I exit the room. I am still no closer to getting in. So I call my daddy, who is in Austin, a town with significantly less blinking than the town I'm in.
"Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad, help me... help." He picks up. He sounded distracted. "Dad, you need to page the following number and punch in the following number"
"Why there is no why, do or do not! Stop asking questions just do it... do it now!"
Dad sounds confused, befuddled. No doubt thinking I got picked up by a Las Vegas cop for propositioning Winona Ryder. Well, I just hoped he called. So I wait by the pay phone waiting for it to ring. Seconds to minutes. It felt like forever, until I finally... give up. It ain't ringing. I'm dooooooomed. No hope. I decide to make a run for it.
The security dudes are there, but now, there are more of them. I see this one lady with a lot of paper and a badge that says SONY on it. So I move along the velvet covered razor wire, to where she is. "Excuse me, " I say, "But Dean Devlin invited me out here, and I don't seem to be able to get in."
Then, as if moved by the passionate plea in my eyes, this goddess moves her hand to the electrified death rope, and removes it. She allows me to pass. I feel like kissing her right then and there. But, man, I got to get to see GODZILLA!!!
So I thank her and run. The security dudes never saw this. Hahahahahaha, damn dumb troopers! I feel like Gene Kelly in an English uniform running to rescue June Allyson. I am now in charge of my own destiny.
I enter the main ballroom. At the top of the stairs, there are more guards. OH SHIT. At the bottom there is a lovely lady with a clip board. At the sides of the room there are these really pretty people in white sweatsuits with the Columbia/TriStar logo on their left breast. The lovely lady approaches me, I give her my name, she looks on her clipboard, and THERE I AM!!!! Yahoooo, I'm in!!!! She gestures to the white sweatsuited people and a dude leaves the ranks to join me.
"Take him to... THE GREEN ROOM"
What the hell? Oh my god. I'm going to the Green Room. All the stars are in there, the directors, the people. My heart begins racing a thousand miles an hour. The bunny rabbit dude is leading me down the ugliest hallway ever, kinda reminiscent of that one in Midnight Express. There are more guards at the end of the hallway. At the door of the Green Room, I give my name. They check the list, I'm on it, and the lady says, "Go on ..."
"Excuse me Mr Knowles."
What!?!? I turn around and the biggest meanest ugliest of the security people lays a hand on my shoulder. He reminds me of the Gorilla in a Tux in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
"I can't let you in there."
"Um, Dean Devlin invited me, flew me from Austin, and he wants me in that room," I say hoping the magical Dean Devlin name will work.
"Columbia/TriStar does not wish you to be here, your privileges have been REVOKED! Escort this man out of the hotel," he says to a big goon looking like Mr T, without the mohawk, same intensity though.
FUCK ME, NO WAY!!! BLOODY HELL. SHIT PISS GODDAMNIT SONUVABITCHES. I HATE ALL OF YOUS. SHIT!!! Man, I'm so pissed. You could of steamed a side of beef off my forehead. I was hot and it had nothing to do with my leather coat. Every James Bond movie in history plays through my head, Bruce Lee pops in. Perhaps I am supposed to kick all these guards' asses, then John Calley would come to me and say, "Your fight with the guards was magnificient, your skills are Extra--or---din---AIRY!! And I am going to ask you to join us!" I take a look at the guard. He'd squash me. I'm a pussy, I'll admit it. He's packing an UZI 9mm I know it. I could take em, if it were a simple pistol with six shots. I'm fat, I can take 6 shots, but an UZI holds alot of ammo. And I think it would tear me in two large pieces.
As we approach the stairs, I approach the lady who had the people in white escort me. I tell her I'm being kicked out, and I didn't slobber on Julia Roberts or Michelle Pfeiffer or anything. I was just minding my own business. So, I'm escorted out.
I reenter the hotel, I undo the ropes, and return to just the other side of the ballroom's doors. When the flood of theater owners come, I'll blend in, disappear, become... one of the crowd. Dammit, I'm seeing Godzilla.
Just then, that Mr. T. guard dude shows up. I get in the Karate Kid Crane Stance. I'm kicking ass, when he says, "Mr Knowles, I'm very sorry, we were mistaken. I'm to take you to the Green Room." He doesn't even look me in the eyes. He knows I'll kick his ass. Wait. He just said I'm getting in! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahhaaa. VICTORY. Yeah, I'm the big guy. ahahhaahahhahahahahaa. I am the champion, no time for losers , ahahahahahahaha. Jubilation.
I am now escorted into the hallway again. The big goon that laid a hand on my shoulder steps towards me. I get in the Crane Stance again. He begins getting awfully humble. Wow this Crane Stance works! Apology after apology. Poor man, not his fault. Guard dogs are told what to do. He just had a bad master. Trained him wrong. He looks like someone hit him on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. But, I'm not gonna rub his face in it. I just say, "thanks, have a nice day," and walk in the green room.
Wow, Jack Valenti, he's real. I never thought he was real. This is the guy that gives more filmmakers strife than me. I always thought of him like satan, you know. Something a lot of people dread, but who most people don't believe is real. I wonder if those eyebrows are real, they look awfully crepe to me.
Bryan Singer, cool. I go over and talk with Bryan a lot. We talk about APT PUPIL and GODS & MONSTERS. And for some reason, X-MEN never came up once. What the hell was wrong with me. Dammit. Oh well, that's another conversation. (yeah, like when will I see him again.) Then I see all the cool people flooding in, like Matthew Broderick, Antonio Banderas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Julia Roberts, Joel Schumacher, Nicholas Cage, Catherine Zeta Jones, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Hank Azaria, Susan Sarandon and on and on and on.
I'm out of my territory. Now I know why the guard wanted to get me out of here. This is really real. First let me say that when you see Entertainment Tonight coverage of stuff like this, let's just say it doesn't come close. First off, everyone is in focus. And you control the camera angles in which you see everything. All these people have smells, lovely smells, masculine smells. And they look really really good. Oh shit, Vanna White. Oh man. That's funny. What is she doing here?
I decide that I should stop looking like a geek, and should be talking to the only other geek in the room. So I head towards Dean Devlin. He's talking to Matthew Broderick. I am so impressed with the concept of talking to Matthew Broderick. He's the guy most responsible for me wanting a computer. WARGAMES was the film, man. I always got good grades, but I wanted to hack in to the local school and change them. Ya know... just in case. Dean's eyes seem to light up when he sees me, and I walk on up. He introduces me to Matthew and we exchange a few pleasantries.
We begin talking about the GODZILLA thing I'm about to see, and Dean seems very pleased about what he's put together. I ask him about what it is like to have like THE movie at something like this, how nerve wracking, etc etc.. He seemed fairly calm, but he says, he is really nervous because this is the first time he's seeing it on FILM. Because, while he has seen all this footage, it's all been on an AVID system, on a small screen. He's really eager to see it. Then he and I begin checking out the crowd, we really are more alike than one would think. Man, they sure were cute. Wow. Anyway... About this time a guy makes an announcement that says we should take our seats now, to see the show.
So I head out instantly. I mean schmoozing and all is fine and dandy, but dammit, I want a good seat, and that room holds 5000, meaning.. there are a lot of bad seats. The middle section has the first 6 rows taped off, meaning, I can't sit there, so I sit in the row directly behind that, at the exact middle, centered on the podium. What a seat. Perfect. People begin filing in beside me. Theater exhibitors the lot of em. There is this guy next to me, I overhear someone call him Mr Arizona. Later I find out this guy owns like all the screens in Arizona, something like 200+ screens. Man, that's a lot of theaters. He looks at me and says, "You are Harry Knowles aren't you?" Caught. We begin talking back and forth, then this lovely lady comes and sits between us. She has a bunch of theaters that show vintage films, art films and just a couple of mainstream things. So we all begin talking about the Sony flicks, the summer films, advance ticket sales, reserve seating. The row behind us begins listening in.
For about an hour we talked, everything was a bit late, but that was fine as we had good conversation. Then the Board of Sony/Tristar/Columbia takes the stage. The main guy began introducing the execs. When they got to Christopher Lee's name the crowd was pretty loud. Seems everyone likes him. See, I told y'all in that memo, he was a good guy. Then they left the stage... I think. And Vanna White took the stage in a gorgeous white gown.
She began talking, yes, she does talk. I expected her to have a little bicycle horn and an overcoat, but she wasn't pulling a Harpo at all. In fact she spoke with a rather pretty voice. It turns out that last year, Alex Trebek did a Jeopardy-esque introduction for each of the films. So it began. Vanna said, "Spin that wheel"
On the big screens on either side of the stage a big wheel of fortune style wheel begins spinning around. It would land on a clue. A short and 'lame' clue, like "He'll take a bite out of NY" and then the Wheel of Fortune board comes up and WHOA!!! It would say GODZILLA. and then Matthew Broderick, Hank Azaria, the babe (I can't think of her name right now), Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin. Roland Emmerich says something like, "Hi, I am German and am not going to try to speak English to you, so here's Dean." Then Dean came out and did a nice little introduction of the three stars, and said that instead of a clip, they were going to perform a scene from Godzilla. Then Matthew Broderick, the girl who's name I wish I could remember, and Hank Azaria step up. Look into the air, and scream real loud. This was a real good scream, better than the ones in SCREAM but not quite of the Fay Wray variety. Pretty piercing though.
Each of the 17 some odd groups came out and did a little something for the audience, plugged the release date of the film and then took a seat on stage. The most effective live performances were the Godzilla one, the Mask Of Zorro, which featured a David-Letterman-esque style adventure involving Antonio in full costume on horseback in the middle of the desert getting instructions from an Elvis-impersonator on how to get to Las Vegas. He then came riding through the streets of Las Vegas on his mighty ebony steed, he dismounts in front of Bally's, begins running through the casino taking off his clothes, none of the gamblers noticed, and then... APPEARED ON STAGE. This got a good laugh. Then Vanessa Williams and a latin hunk, whose name I purged instantly, take the stage dancing. Oh man. Vanessa was looking soooo good. They were lighting the room up, and they were actually singing in the song they were dancing to. Very impressive. This move was called something like... Gotta Dance or We Gotta Dance or Dance We Gotta. Hey, I was here to see Godzilla, not remember names of Dance films.
After they were all done doing the various intros for the 17 some odd films including I Know What You Did Last Summer 2, which the stars and the producer called I STILL KNOW, Ben Stine took the stage and rushed them all off in his deadpan style. As I theorized, the empty rows in front of us are filled by stars, directors, producers, etc. Right in front of me were Joel Schumacher, Nicholas Cage, Joaquin Pheonix, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Hank Azaria, and some others. Then Ben Stine began his part of the show.
Ben Stine had one of those metal extendo-pointer thingees, and a bunch of charts and stuff that detailed the last year of wild success for Sony. He delivered his statements with his typical monotone deadpan. However, every so often singing exhibitors interupt with "We know what happened last year, what have you done for us lately" This happens for quite some time. Then they are all on stage, this is when Ben Stine calls a halt to the singing. He calls upon John Calley to help ease the pain of the exhibitors. A big booming voice says, "The part of John Calley who is usually played by John Calley will be played by Leslie Nielson."
Then the stage just went crazy. Well Leslie Nielson was up there. The Rockettes, which are everything you have ever heard. Those legs... those legs are just.. aaaamazing! They kept kicking high, so high you could see every taut muscl... Anyway, then out came the dancing Starship Troopers bugs and troopers. Then everyone had wedding veils (My Best Friend's Wedding) and it kept getting... crazier. The audience was eating it up. This had to cost a fortune. This was a lavish muscial number, with fantastic costumes, Ben Stine, Leslie Nielson and... Robert Goulet!
What purpose does this musical number serve?
Well, that's a question I heard echoed throughout the people around me. Many wanted to see the trailer reels and go gamble, massage parlor, food buffet, chicken ranch... etc. However, I think the musical number was meant to put a smile on the exhibitor's faces, and in that respect... yes, it did work. I smiled, but it's not like it hypnotized me into saying, "I MUST SCHEDULE ONLY SONY FILMS!!!" Of course, I'm not an exhibitor...
As the stage cleared, the trailer reels began. It started off with a short Godzilla teaser, which basically showed Godzilla footprints. However, you know that shot in Forrest Gump, when he meats Lt Dan the first time? When you see the endless stream of helicopters in the background? Well they have a similar cool shot in this. Broderick seems to be playing his part... dead on. Remember when he found out the entire world was going to die, because he didn't want to play a nice game of chess? He seems to be in that mode.
The trailer ended with a thing asking for patience. The exhibitors on either side of me were... mumbling, mutiny. They wanted to see some 'Money Shots', they needed to be convinced. They felt teased enough. They wanted to see exactly why this movie is supposed to kick every audience members' ass. I told the ones on either side of me that we would see more on the other end of the reel.
I saw a whole lot of trailers, but I didn't have a notebook with me dammit. So I can't remember them all.
The trailer that got everyone trembling was MASK OF ZORRO. Whoever, cut that trailer deserves an award. It kicked some serious ass. It looked soooooo good. The one thing I could notice is, the swashbuckling scenes are done right. Not a series of cuts, but rather long shots. Shots that show Antonio from head to toe, doing what Zorro does.
Why is this good? Well, because the key to good sword battles, action, dancing on film is showing the entire actor doing it. That's why Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan worked so well sword fighting. Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Jet Li, because you can see them doing what they are supposed to. Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Ruby Keeler, Eleanor Powell. Once again, you can see them doing the dance. It's real important. And here, with Mask Of Zorro, they seem to of gotten it right!!
The 8 MM (aka 8 Millimeter) trailer was just a teaser. Camera going into an office, a secret room opening up. A 8 Millimeter projector and a film. Then a very Fincher-ian art film begins. Really kinda cool. But hell, according to the trailer, that film isn't supposed to be out till Spring 1999.
I STILL KNOW. Well, if you have seen the video of I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, you've seen it. It's kinda cute, but who knows how the film will turn out. I haven't seen hide nor hair of the screenplay, which isn't by Kevin Williamson.
The trailer for the Chris Columbus flick was pretty good, not much to it, but it did create a desire to see it.
Les Miserable looked incredible, and I'm dying to finally see that thing. They did a smart thing delaying it, lest it be destroyed by the awesome might of Titanic. The production design, the performances.. it looked good.
The APT PUPIL trailer chilled the audience. It grabbed them and gave them a tremble or two. Creepy. Nothing like evil old people to send a shiver. Beautifully photographed, Ottman music is a delight as always. The performances seem to be good, with Ian looking like the best intellectual bad guy since Lecter. Fall. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Who can wait that long? I just hope the AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL talks Singer into screening it here first. Yeah, that's the ticket. Yeah....
MADELINE, that little girl's fantasy book. Well, it's a movie now. It scared me. Something about seeing all those cute tiny little girls walking in two perfect single file lines behind a nun played by... you know her name.... Ok, I'll give you a hint. She played the pregnent sheriff in FARGO. That's right. Francis. She looks great in this. But then she always is great.
Then there were all the other films. Nothing looked awful or bad. Which shocked me. I really wanted to have something to harp about, but they didn't give me any ammo.
After the trailer reel, they had one more. The LONG trailer for GODZILLA!!!
When it was known that this trailer was about to start, the audience of theater exhibitors started buzzing.
I took a glance at Dean Devlin, in the row in front of me. He looked fired up, he couldn't wait to hear the audience go nuts. He and Emmerich and Azaria and Broderick all started looking at each other, as if to say... "Here we go!"
I'm not gonna go scene by scene. Mainly because I can't, like I said, I didn't have my pen and paper. Dammit. But here is what it felt like to be watching this.
The one thing I was most curious about with GODZILLA, was tone. I've had the script forever now, and it could be done two ways... Just like the script for BATMAN & ROBIN. You could direct it as a self-parodying nightmare piece of crap.... or.... you could scare the shit out of your audience and cause shrieks of glee. Emmerich and Devlin took the 'scare the shit out of their audience' route.
For example. You know the atypical Godzilla shot of people running in wide eyed terror trying to just get out of the way. How they would run, stop look over their shoulders, point, scream, and keep running? (As homaged in LOST WORLD) Well, here is how Emmerich and Devlin decided to do it.
First off you feel the impact of what feels like 10,000 pound bombs pounding into the earth nearby. The sound of which went through my sternum and vibrated my backbone. It literally tickled my backbone. It was soo cool. As the impacts came closer. People were thrown off their feet. Some falling to the ground. As Godzilla's feet came into sight, they begin running. With each step the people are thrown into the air, cars bounce up. The people scramble to get on their feet, but as each successive foot comes down (only two feet by the way) the crowd becomes more erratic. The feet pound faster, closer and closer. People trying to get up, trying to get out of the way, but soon that deep shadow falls overhead and then.... Doooo da dooooooooooooo, doooo da doooooooooo... TAPS...
This sequence blew me away. Just seeing the feet coming down, the tail hitting into the 10th floors of highrises, glass spilling into the street. It was horrific. It was dark. It was waaaay fucking cool. There was some cool helicopters in the concrete jungle of New York that were so dang cool, that saliva dripped. The female exhibitor was clutching her knees tightly, eyes peeled back, with a big smile. The King of Arizona, also seemed shot full of adreneline. Devlin, just was smiling. Hee hee. This stuff kicked ass. There weren't really any spoilers, except for one thing that exploded, but why say it. Why take that thrill away. Not I!
After the screening, everyone was ushered into an eating room and pigged out. Everyone was buzzing about GODZILLA and MASK OF ZORRO. Those trailers made a very strong impact. I have to agree.