Saturday, November 6, 2010

Long time, no blog

Wow, it's been a long time.  I wrote most of this entry a month ago, but I've just been too busy to finish it up.

Sorry folks.  Looks like I'm getting off to a bad start with this blog, but I at least have good reason. While I was planning this blog to just be articles and reviews about film, I'm going to divert from that and post about what I've been up to this past month.

Looks like I'll have to take that "popcorn sales associate" off of this blog's description. On August 26th, I got word from the owners of the Warner Theatre (where I've been employed since 2006) was going to close on September 5th, 2010.

This was devastating news for so many different reasons. As a filmmaker and movie geek, I was sad because now there was no place in Morgantown (or even West Virginia) that played arthouse and foreign films and the theater where I had screened and premiered every film I've ever made was going to be gone. The Warner was also the main location in my "Faces of Schlock" segment "Mike Wuz Here." As a person, I was sad because I had to find a new job to pay to the rent and college students had just returned to town, so my prospects were a bit slim.

I spent 27 hours at the Warner during the last two days, because no one else could work or maybe did not want to. It was rough at times, but I had already grown very sick of hearing people come in and tell me how sad it was that we were closing and ask what they could do to save it. Unfortunately, they were mostly people I had never seen at the Warner in the four years I had worked there and they apparently didn't understand that a business like a movie theater can't survive unless people actually, you know, come to the movies.

In fact, I'm so sick of talking about why the Warner was closed, ways it can be saved and who's responsible, that I'm not going to do it. But if you're an eccentric millionaire who wants to keep the place open, contact the owners before they sell off all the original fixtures.

My last day there was really interesting. After getting home from a 15 hour shift the night before, I had a brilliant idea: Michael Raso of Alternative Cinema and The Film Photography Podcast had sent me two rolls of expired (in Nov. 1982!) Kodachrome 8mm film several months ago. Since Kodachrome is only going to be processed until the end of this year, I knew I had to shoot something soon. After giving up on about three different short films I was thinking of shooting on the film, I realized that it would be perfect for a documentary about the Warner. What better way to capture something that's going to be gone forever in 2010 than with a film stock that is going to be gone forever in 2010?

My friend and fellow "Faces of Schlock" director Andrew Shearer had suggested that I make a documentary, but I didn't want to do it because I was too close to the subject. But then I realized that there was a very specific subject I could focus on: the staff tradition of "signing" the Warner on your last night. I came up with how I was going to sign it at the same time I realized that making a documentary about the tradition would actually be interesting.

So, I came to my last day of work armed with Kodachrome film, a Eumig C3 8mm camera, Sylvania Sun Gun for lighting, and a Canon HF M300 HD camcorder for areas that would be difficult to shoot with the 8mm camera (or if the film was too far expired). I was going to make a short film on expired 8mm film and HD video while working my final shift at the theater, which was a rough 12 hours straight. It was a crazy idea, but I pulled it off... unfortunately, not without injury.

As soon as I got some time off in-between shows, I started shooting exteriors of the Warner. For interior shots I needed, I loaded the Eumig and put it on the same tripod mount as the Sun Gun. Just to explain, the Sylvania Sun Gun is a '60s-era movie light that is insanely bright and provides the correct color lighting for film. It also gets insanely hot and could probably blind you if you look at it directly for more than 10 seconds.

Well, I was trying to film shots in the Warner's concession stand/ticket booth (affectionately referred to as "the box") and some people came in the door. I had to take care of them, so I had to move the tripod out of the way to get to the counter. Well, the tripod was broken and tilted the light right down on to my arm, leaving one of the nastiest burns I've ever had. The customers then walked out without saying a word. I had to wrap my arm up, continue shooting and finish out the shift, despite repeated urging from others that it may require medical attention. I never went and it's already healed, so I think I made the right choice.

The film actually turned out quite neat. Despite expiring 27 years ago, it still yielded very good detail, but the colors were all tinted purple and there were some scratches (probably due to an unmaintained camera more than the film stock). It does give it an interesting look, though. The purple look reminds me of how aged 35mm film prints look... for example, the print of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" we screened at the Warner was purple and reeked of vinegar. I got the same results, but without an unfortunate odor. It appears that I can color correct the film to make it look a bit more proper too.

Expired Kodachrome 40 (with color correction test) from Justin Channell on Vimeo.

However, the telecine from Dwayne's Photo is a bit too soft for my taste. The real film print has better detail, but do remember that the wonder and reputation of Dwayne's is more on the chemical side of photography than the video and digital side. I can accept that their 8mm/Super8 transfers are mediocre, considering the fact they're the last lab to do Kodachrome and their film processing is practically flawless.

The middle of the day was pretty neat. There were a lot of people coming by to say their farewells and we even put out some sidewalk chalk to let people write messages. I wrote the owners' business number in front of the doorway underneath the words "For any complains, please call," which I might not have done if I had realized the owners were coming later to help and observe. The best comment comes from former Warner-ite and "Faces of Schlock" actor Chris Rhodes, who wrote "Find a new place to take a shit and pass out while you wait on the bus."

A lot of people were coming in to take pictures, including Jacob Young, the director of "The Dancing Outlaw." We had been playing the new Jesco White documentary "The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia" for about two months and I had always wanted to do an event with Jacob's films, but that unfortunately never happened.

The end of the night was pretty rough. We had a lot of people turn out for the last shows, but I also had to deal with our "extra help" which actually made dealing with the crowd even worse. Imagine filling two concession orders at once and having someone hand you money for a drink order they just filled and ask why you haven't helped anyone else. I felt like leaving right then, but I'm either that dedicated or that stupid.

After everything was settled, I ducked into "Dinner for Schmucks," which was officially the last movie that ran at the Warner Theatre (beating all other titles by about 10 minutes). I ended up getting emotional and had to hide in the projection room. After a few minutes, I turned up the projection room monitors and watched the movie to try to cheer me up. Upon deciding it was godawful, I was feeling good enough to go back down, but as more and more people asked me what was going to happen with the building and so-on-and-so-forth, I finally just started being very blunt, bitter and honest with people.

I finally left a few minutes after the extended help had to ask me what to do with a pile of trash after they had swept it up. There were two empty dust bins about three feet away. I'll let you figure out what the correct answer is on your own.

It took me a few days to really get all the sadness out, but it didn't help that the day after the theater closed, I took a terrible job selling cell phone covers at a kiosk in the mall. I ended up working one 11 hour shift (which they required) and spent the last four hours not selling any phone covers, being constantly hassled about said lack of sales and fighting tears when I thought about how good I really had it at the Warner. So yeah, that wasn't for me and I didn't go back... they didn't even take my Social Security information, so I'm not expecting to be paid. But also, keep that in mind if you're thinking about taking one of these insanely shady jobs.

What helped cheer me up was my birthday celebration. I usually don't do much, but I decided that I really deserved it. I had multiple celebrations with friends and family, but the best came when I found out "Basket Case" director Frank Henenlotter would be at the Horror Realm convention in Pittsburgh, PA a few days after my birthday. I had kept in touch with Frank since booking "Basket Case" for a midnight show at the Warner a few years ago, which is one of my favorite films and an event I was really proud of (despite a lackluster turn-out... but the people who did come had a great time).

Getting to meet Frank definitely helped bring closure to the whole ordeal, when he explained to me that working in a movie theater is a "magical experience" and that I should be glad that I even had the opportunity to do so. There's nothing quite like having a director you admire make you realize the most positive outcome of your situation in person.

Since then, I've been serving banquets and such in the kitchen at the Hilton Garden Inn. It's not the greatest job, but it's decent money and less stressful. I just got another job as a bank teller, so hopefully having some financial support will help my film endeavors a bit more.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this, Justin. Especially the part about Frank Henenlotter. And he's totally right.