Monday, August 8, 2011

A Banner (Elk) Weekend or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Writing Lengthy Entries Nobody Cares About

The Facebook promised that raw frames of the day would resume today, but the Facebook is a filthy liar. Take a bath and be more honest, our Facebook. I figured that while it's not 100% movie-related, I'd be remiss to not do an entry about our journey into the weird, wild land of Banner Elk.

I'll start up front by saying that sadly Marie Rizza couldn't be there with us. She'd been committed to go for a while, and I know she was looking forward to it, but a string of mishaply mishaps led to her having to stay behind, much to our dismay. That left just poster artist and occasional grip/behind the scenes documentarian Jeremy Bertz, writer Sean Gates, and myself.

The plan was to leave around seven in the morning on Saturday. The drive was supposed to take about eight hours, and we needed to be there by four to check into our hotel. We invited Jeremy to come over and spend the night at Sean's, in the interest of saving precious morning-departure time. A Batman Begins/The Dark Knight marathon later, and we were all just aimlessly wandering around the house, or packing our bags. It was about 5:30 in the morning, and we were all just sitting around, doing nothing, waiting for 7:00 to hit.

Then we realized how moronic that was and decided to just leave now and get there early. We were on the road at about quarter to six. Jeremy was the designated driver, since he seems to quite enjoy driving long distances. Sean and I had offered to share the load, but Jeremy didn't seem interested in the idea. So we took advantage of our "not operating the motor vehicle" status and napped in the car at various intervals.

Along the way we hit some mountainy mountains and foggy fog, but we got there without incident, in one piece. Well... in three pieces... Because there were three of us. We didn't like, get mashed together into one organism or anything. That WOULD have been an incident...

It was like Extreme Ghostbusters up in this highway! You're welcome, children of the nineties and nobody else.
So yeah, we arrived in the same number of pieces we'd left in. And found ourselves in the perfect location for the zombie apocalypse to break out. Tiny little town, on a mountain, with no cell service, regardless of the carrier. Luckily for us, the rage virus remained dormant for the weekend.

Since we arrived at about 1:30, and our presentation wasn't until 7:30, we had a little bit of time to poke around the town, and more interestingly, check out the now-defunct Land of Oz theme park, which these days only opens on rare occasions.

You have to drive further up the mountain to get to it, and up some winding one lane roads. We got lost and had to turn back more than once. Once we made it, though, it was... um... weird.

Imagine this being the first thing you see when you get out of your car at the top of a mountain...
The entrance area is all pretty underwhelming, with a beat-up, unmarked path leading you to a little fountain and... Uncle Henry's mountain-top gazebo... Because we all remember that from the books, right? It had a stunning view, though...

Kansas, world-renowned for its mountain ranges...
So we were all being cool and ironic and whatever, making fun of the park and stuff. But then you get to the Kansas farmhouse, and it actually starts to be pretty cool. It was that area that had my personal favorite part of the park, a very impressive Dorothy...

In her adult years, Dorothy was a strange lady. She stopped buying dresses at age ten and had Toto taxidermied...
She instructs you to go into the farm house and look for Aunt Em, but to make your way to the cellar if you hear a storm brewing. Subtle, Go-Go Dorothy, very subtle. So you go through the little house, and you DO hear a storm brewing. Which means it's time to make for the cellar.

The lamp may be a little anachronistic, but they had a microwave in the kitchen... No joke.
I'm not entirely sure HOW they managed to slip me that LSD before I went into the cellar, but man... Most psychedelic tornado in the history of everything.

If tornadoes DID look like this, the Weather Channel wouldn't have such low ratings. Especially on Friday nights...
Once your acid trip is over, you find yourself in a very cool, very slanted and run-down version of the Farmhouse.

They'll probably go with a different interior designer next time...
Upon exiting, you see the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East.

It's always the same old story, you kick back, relax, put your feet up on a rock, and a large house lands on you.
And then you're all up in the Land of Oz and whatnot.

See? I know because the SIGN told me.

You make your way along the Yellow-brick road, and encounter the various characters from the story.

Looks like there's gonna be a RUMBLE! Be cool, boy...
The highlight for me was Jeremy skipping down the yellow-brick road and being genuinely startled by the sudden appearance of the Cowardly Lion.

You can't plan stuff like this... THANK YOU, sleep deprivation.
We then paid a visit to the Cuddly Witch of the West, and after that it was all sort of downhill. They hadn't set up any of the Emerald City stuff, so the last sight was sadly the Wizard's ramshackle hot-air balloon.

It was so boring, it put Jeremy to sleep...
Overall, though, a fairly cool experience, and one I got plenty of video of. We wound our way down the mountain a bit and returned to our hotel, where we gathered up the materials for our presentation. One nerve-wracking drive down an extraordinarily winding road later, we managed to find the Buckeye Recreation Center, where the evening's festivities would take place. Sadly either my hands were full or I was presenting, so I don't have any pictures or videos of the aforementioned festivities.

When we showed up, a little Oz fashion show was just beginning, with people showing off their various Oz costumes or articles of clothing. After the strutting and sashaying had reached its conclusion, everybody piled into the... um... main room thing... Where stuff was going to happen, starting with dinner.

Sean, Jeremy and I wandered around the room trying to find a table with three consecutive seats, to no avail. And by the time we were done searching, we had trouble finding even single chairs we could split up into. Luckily the lovely Jane Albright, convention-organizer extraordinaire, was on hand to arrange seating for us. Apparently they'd had some last-minute attendees, and had found themselves a little short of seating.

The three of us were split up and moved to three different tables, scattered all the way across the room. In the back-woods on a mountain, no cell-service, and split-up... I TOLD you it was like a damned horror movie... But instead of rabid zombies who desired to feast on the flesh of the living, we found ourselves surrounded by rabid Oz fans who desired to feast on the catered Italian food and have pleasant conversations. Seriously, it's like they had forbidden mean people from attending.

We were second to present after dinner, and I think it went fairly well. We started with Sean giving a little introduction while I hooked my laptop into the projector and speakers. It was a longer introduction than he'd planned for, though, since Jane and I couldn't seem to locate the jack for the speakers.

Once we were all set up, I began by showing the crowd the concept scene in its current state and walking them through a little bit of the visual effects process. They all laughed at the appropriate parts of the scene and at least remained quiet while I bored them with CGI wireframes and rough composite shots. Then we showed them a sort-of-completed excerpt from the scene in which Dorothy first encounters the Wicked Witch of the West.

Little harder to gauge the reaction there, since there were no jokes to laugh at or anything, but it seemed like they enjoyed what they saw. I did hear a few people express excitement at the fact that our Witch had an umbrella... So our kind of crowd, I guess.

After that, we had a little Q&A session, and everybody was very complimentary and asked good questions that a better man than myself could have provided interesting answers to. Sadly they were stuck with me, but I tried my damnedest. After our presentation there was a break in the programming, and people came up and told us how much they enjoyed what we'd done, and how much they were looking forward to seeing our film. Like I said, jerks were apparently banned from attending.

And so the trip to Banner Elk was quite a positive experience overall. We met some very nice people, although it's hard to socialize when you're all in a room with the express purpose of watching presenters present presentations. Plus we had to sneak out early on Sunday in order to get Sean and Jeremy home in time to get some sleep, as at least Sean had to work the next day, and poor Jeremy hadn't had much sleep at all the past couple of days. Can't nap in the car when you're the driver.

I feel like I should end this with a clever line of some sort, but I'm fresh out.

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