Thursday, Sept. 19 - My wife (Vee) and I drove
the 60 or so miles from our home in Lake Arrowhead to Temecula,
arriving just before the 7 p.m. screening of "We've Got Johnny,"
the first of three at this festival.
Following the so-so response of the audience in Big
Bear the previous week, I wondered how we would do. Would "Johnny"
amuse people, or confuse them? I tried not to care too much because
we had reservations at an Embassy Suites hotel, where the booze
is free during a nightly "manager's reception." Suckers.
So we get to the theater/shopping complex that is home to the film
fest and we went to this little building to register. The clerk
we met was somewhat gruff because the air conditioning unit had
gone out. Little buckets and cups were spread along the floor, catching
drips from the problematic AC system. Vee wandered away to see what
stores were nearby.
"What's your movie's name?" the lady said.
"'We've Got Johnny,'" I said quietly, as if everyone
in the room had seen the Big Bear screening.
A woman from the back of the room said, "I saw that! I loved
it!" Suddenly, the clouds parted and everything was sunny.
I looked around for Vee, who was nowhere to be seen. Damn it!
"Could you say that again when my wife returns?" I said
and everyone chuckled because I am a dork with a huge forehead.
Vee soon returned and we received the passes that allow us access
to all of the festival's screenings and events. They hang from a
necklace-type thing around your neck and say, "Filmmaker."
The folks here went to the extent to list the movie's name with
which each person is affiliated, so with one look someone can see
the movie's name and know you're to blame. Yikes.
We wandered into the theater where "Johnny" was scheduled
to play with five other shorts. The festival has six theaters playing
features, documentaries, animated stuff and shorts from 11 a.m.
to 11 p.m. for four days.
The Big Bear folks put "Johnny" with a bunch of morose
shorts, which I hoped wouldn't happen again here. It didn't. Everything
was funny or, at least, off-kilter.
"Johnny" played second in the batch, following "The
Eyeglasses," a 15-minute film from Russia that looked better
than its story was.
Before the movies started, a young man read the credits to each
of the movies. No one said anything in regards to "The Eyeglasses,"
so when he started talking about "Johnny," I didn't introduce
myself as the screenwriter/co-producer. That was a faux pas because
every other filmmaker there stood up to let the masses (well, about
40 people) praise them -- even before their movies were screened.
"The Eyeglasses" proved to be a great segue for "Johnny."
It was offbeat and well made. The theater itself was perfect. The
sound was amazing and the picture was clear.
As we know, "Johnny" starts off a bit slow and there
usually is no audible reaction for the first minute or more. No
The laughs came as soon as Sue starts her rant about Johnny Appleseed
and starts reciting her apple facts, and the laughs continued throughout
the entire movie. Lots of applause at the end.
"This is one of the top 50 moments in my life," I whispered
to Vee in the dark, and not just because she had her hand in my
lap either. Hey Now!
The biggest laughs were probably for the "Bitch" stuff,
but also for Steve Fluet's Johnny Appleseed jig, Del's cameo with
the "Johnny 3:16" sign, and the rants by Dario and Anna
Maria (who I love a little more with every viewing). There were
just a lot of laughs at everything.
The crowd was into the story, but the big difference was the clarity
of the picture and, particularly, the sound .
There was an audible groan at the "schlong" reference
from a woman next to me with her kids!
Movies that followed "Johnny" were:
- Killing Michael Bay - a very funny 15-minute
story about two nerdy digital filmmakers who kidnap the director
of "Pearl Harbor" because his type of movie is ruining
American cinema. Check out killingmichaelbay.com.
- The Taste of Victory - a cat and mouse game
of speed and skill between a mysterious woman driver and a drifter.
It looked good, but the story lacked a little something, (mainly,
- Phreakers - a well done 15-minute movie about
two amateur phone scanners who tap into local frequencies to listen
in on their neighbors. It was a good, fairly ambitious start for
these young filmmakers. Check out phreakersthemovie.com.
Second Showing Summary:
"Johnny" showed with "The Eyeglasses" and "Killing
Michael Bay" at 3 p.m. Friday.
Before we went in, I saw one of the guys who made "Phreakers."
I told him I enjoyed it and was the "writer of the Johnny Appleseed
"Oh, man, that was great!" he said. "You should
turn that into a feature-length mockumentary."
Vee and I skipped "The Eyeglasses" and went to an adjacent
theater to see "Tomato and Eggs," a 5-minute movie about
a traditional Japanese mother and wife struggling to understand
America's effect on her distant husband and their contemporary American
We caught the very end of "The Eyeglasses" and I was
immediately concerned because the sound was WAY down from the night
before and the audience was about half the size.
The response for "Johnny" was OK. "Killing Michael
Bay" suffered the same fate. It drew the best laughs the previous
night, but response this time was fairly tame. We should have had
the sound cranked up.
Saturday -- A "Free" Day
No "Johnny" showings today, so we spent much of the day
watching other movies.
- Surprise - a short about a guy who is psychic
(but only knows things "two minutes ahead of time")
whose latest girlfriend dumps him in a diner because she is sick
of him telling her what's going to happen next. This was a better
premise than movie.
- Taste of Dirt - a short about intolerance,
racism and schoolyard bullies. Oh, boy, was it bad. I think it
was a student thing, so maybe it was done by students who take
the short bus to school.
- Postcards from Paradise Park - a feature about
a New York City advertising executive who loses his wife, then
his job and settles in at a trailer park full of eclectic characters.
Pretty good flick. I saw the star in the men's room and he pissed
for a really long time! I was going to greet him, but I got tired
of waiting for his stream to run out.
- Repossessed - a short which stars JoBeth Williams
(she of "Big Chill" and "Poltergeist" fame)
as a real estate agent hosting an open house at a haunted house.
It won one of the major awards in Big Bear, and it was good, but
it wasn't the best short here.
- That honor would probably go to Ubuntu's Wound
- a 32-minute movie about a black South African who flees his
country in fear of his life after his wife is killed by a white
secret police officer, only to bump into the man 17 years later
while living in Los Angeles.
That night we attended the Black Tie Awards Gala, which was a nice
event. It was outdoors and the weather was just perfect. I wore
a suit, thinking only a few people would actually be in black tie.
Actually, only a few wore suits. Oops.
My personal highlight was seeing Sean Astin ("Rudy,"
Sam Gamgee in "Fellowship of the Ring"), who was there
to receive an award in place of his mom, Patty Duke, who couldn't
make it because she was hurt at her ranch in Idaho. He gave a nice
talk about the importance of movies in general. We left right after
eating because we had to get up early to take advantage of free
hot air balloon rides the festival had arranged. We didn't see musician
Billy Preston or Shatner get their awards. Hell, we didn't even
This alone was worth all of the work doing "Johnny."
We flew on a free 45-minute flight over the Temecula vineyards right
at sunrise Sunday. Six of us went up with the pilot. We had never
done this before and enjoyed it big time. I told the lead dude I
would like to "become a member of the 400-foot-high club,"
but he said that he was married.
Our group of six showings was the first batch of movies shown on
the festival's final day, so I expected a huge crowd. There was
only about 10 people in the theater, though, 5 minutes beforehand.
I went out to the lobby to greet some friends who had come to see
"Johnny" on the big screen. When I returned to the theater,
I was stunned to see that about 50 people were now in there.
The sound level was fine for "The Eyeglasses," but "Johnny"
started off way too low so I ran out to tell a festival worker (as
did a guy from "Killing Michael Bay," which was to follow
"Johnny" again. They finally got it loud enough about
4 minutes into it. Until then, there had been some laughter but
then people started really enjoying it. HUGE laughs for Flu and
"Johnny 3:16." Good laughs for all of Sue's stuff, Dante
and Anna Maria. The best reaction yet to Professor McIntosh's statement
about Johnny being loved "for bringing alcohol to the frontier."
Utter silence at "schlong." The applause at the end was
We left before they presented any awards, so I don't know what
was named the best short.