An Interview with Chris and Jim McLennan – By Jordan Garren

Several weeks ago, Duane Martin, the editor of this fine online publication you are now reading, assigned me to interview Chris and Jim McLennan, the amazing (married) duo that were responsible for the first ever Phoenix Fear Film Festival! Somehow, the festival managed to fly under our collective radar and hasn’t received any lovin’ here at Rogue Cinema until now. Jim and Chris were extremely energetic and highly optimistic about their first attempt at putting together a film festival. I truly enjoyed my chat with these two and they had plenty of interesting things to say about their experiences in organizing, promoting, and making it through their Phoenix Fear Film Festival alive! And it looks like things went so well with their first film fest attempt that the PFFF will be returning by popular demand this year! But enough with the spoilers; read the interview to learn more about these cult movie fans and the film fest that they worked so hard to create!

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 Hey Chris and Jim, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedules to do this interview. Before we get to the main subject at hand (i.e. The Phoenix Fear Film Festival) could you guys tell our readers a bit about yourselves? I did a little digging and found at that Jim started Trash City Magazine back in 1989 and through that, met you Chris. Would you give us all a quick recap of how you two met and how you both built up your current Trash City mini-empire?

It was around 1993 that Chris, on the recommendation of Seattle promoter and fanzine editor Jeff Gilbert, sent me twenty bucks as a subscription to Trash City Magazine. (Which I started back in 1989.) September 1997 was a watershed for Trash City, in two major ways. Firstly, the magazine arrived on the new-fangled invention called "the Internet", at Trashcity.Org. Perhaps even more importantly, Chris and I met in person for the first time, during the Las Vegas leg of my holiday in America. She made her first visit to the UK in February the following year, and soon the air-miles were being racked up at the same rate at the emails and postage stamps. Finally, in November 2000, I quit my job, handed over my house keys, and moved to Arizona, where Chris was already running her wholesale beads business. This was originally an Ebay-based endeavor, but has since grown into the financial heart of the Trash City empire. Marriage was proposed in November 2001 (immediately after Luis Gonzalez got his game-winning hit in the World Series!), and we became Mr. and Mrs. McLennan in Scotland the following July!

Trash City Entertainment came about in summer 2004, when Chris was asked to book events at a club called "The Sets" in Tempe. Connections to comedians, wrestlers and bands rapidly followed, and she has since also booked events at the Mardi Gras in Scottsdale as well as an ongoing series of Saturday night events at Big Daddy’s North [now known as TOSO’s bar] on the West Side. I, meanwhile, expanded my online presence with Girls With Guns.Org in February 2003. Also, my blog regarding the local baseball team also came to the attention of SportsBlogs, Inc. and I’ve been running their Diamondbacks site, the AZ Snakepit for some time. Oh, and on a side note, Chris and I were named "Best Alt-Culture Capitalists" by New Times in 2005!

Currently we live in Scottsdale with our two children, Robert and Emily, our two dogs (Cody + Cleo), and are the proud owners of a large unwatched DVD pile, and far more books, CDs, movie posters, medieval weapons, and T-shirts than any sane couple should possess. 🙂

Wow, that’s a lot to take in! Hahaha! That’s very cool how you too met, and it seems like you’ve accomplished so much since you both tied the knot! Now moving on to the Phoenix Fear Film Festival, was this something you had in the works for quite some time, or was it a spur of the moment decision, like "Hey let’s do a film festival, it could be fun?"

It’s always been a dream of ours to have a film festival. Just not something we planned on doing so quickly. Chris had an event scheduled at the venue which canceled and left us with the problem of "what should we do with this date??" It was actually Darrin Ramage at Brain Damage Films, who suggested we do a horror film festival and if you know Darrin like we know Darrin, his ideas tend to get pumped up into action just on his own brand of enthusiasm. We discussed it at length, the how’s, where’s when, etc. and a little plan of action was formatted. Unfortunately, we only had less than three months to sort out all the details, get the word out and set it all up. So to say we were scrambling is putting it mildly.

I can only imagine! In that span of time you had a huge list of "chores" to accomplish. I mean, you’ve got to spread the word somehow with a bit of advertising, arrange to have guests appear, obtain movies for public screenings… the list goes on and on. Did the entire setup run smoothly, or did you guys run into a few snags along the way?

The most challenging part was getting the call for entries out for all the world to see. We had to call in favors from all our friends to send out our request on all their databases. We went through "Without a Box" and "Brain Damage Films" also sent out a release to their fanbase of over six-thousand people. Rue Morgue Cinema also sent out a bulletin to their database. So, initially, we had no submissions and then they started trickling, then streaming, into our office. It was great to see the creativity that is out there. Then, of course, we had to watch all the submissions and start grading them. The other challenge was making sure the newspapers ran articles about this event, since we strategically placed it in between the two major holidays as something to do that was not holiday related and there was some specific targeting to let people know this event was going on. We also utilized MySpace and asked the film makers to help our fledgling event get noticed. So that worked out very well. We wanted to do a lot of things that we were unable to do, like get stickers, slicks, shopping bags and other customized printed items, but we didn’t have enough lead time to get them. We did manage to get T-Shirts made and a huge banner though.

Jumping back to the topic of film submissions, what were the guidelines you set up for interested film makers? Were you taking just about any films you could, or was it all strictly low-budget, locally made stuff?

We didn’t have any real requirements, other than that we requested that films were within the parameters of time (less than thirty minutes for shorts; more than seventy-five minutes for features), we had a submission fee with a discount rate for students. And that was it. We didn’t want just local-made films, we wanted films from all over the world! We wanted this festival to be an International Horror Film Festival. We wanted to give exposure to films that would not otherwise be seen. So we largely avoided films that have any kind of distribution attached to them. One of the films screened was from Australia and another from Canada, and that gave the event a worldwide flavor.

Speaking of the films you had in the festival, you showed six feature-length movies and eight shorts. Out of the bunch, which ones did you two enjoy the most? And which ones seemed to be the biggest crowd-pleasers?

We liked them all and we really enjoyed watching them with an audience. If we had to pick, we truly enjoyed "Caregiver" and "Flesh-Eating Ghouls From Outer Space." The audience reacted well to "Malediction" and "In the Flesh." Also, our premiere film of the evening (which was not a contender), "Great American Snuff Film" has had challenges screening elsewhere, because of the disturbing nature of it. So we wanted to be like the evil kid brother to the other, more commercialized festivals and "Great American Snuff Film" had its premiere at our festival, which we are very proud of. The icing on the cake was having the band "Hardwire" perform right after the screening since the two main actors in "Great American Snuff Film" are in Hardwire – and they were very well received by the crowd.

I bet that was a blast! You really killed two birds with one stone by having those guys come to the event! So, I noticed that awards were given out at the "PFFF" to the winners for Best Picture ("Caregiver") and Audience Favorite ("Malediction"). Those awards looked pretty cool if I do say so myself. Who designed and/or created them?

Chris designed and made them herself. It was actually a piece of rail road tie that was painted with black texture paint to make up the base of the trophy. She hung the three knives in the back yard and spray painted them gold. Then slammed them into the base, threw some red paint on it in just the right spots, and had little plaques made for each award. The award for Best Feature was a golden cleaver, Best Short Film was a little golden dagger, and Audience Favorite was a golden "Psycho" butcher knife. We were very happy with the way they turned out.

Absolutely! Those awards look very cool in the photos I’ve seen. I don’t imagine you have any extra ones to give away for best interviewer of the year? (I suppose not… sigh….) Moving along then, you guys managed to snag a pretty good number of guests from the independent film community, including the likes of Syn Devil and "Brain Damage" (a.k.a. Darrin Ramage). Did they have a good time interacting with the public and are there any that you would (or wouldn’t) ask to return for another Phoenix Fear Film Festival?

More than a few came at their own expense from California and Colorado. They all seemed to have a great time chatting with fans, discussing their films and sharing information, as well as networking with each other. Next year we hope to have more celebrity guests. One of the film makers is interested in creating some interesting puppet hosts for us to share in the hosting responsibilities. So we look forward to that. We will be inviting as many as possible and hopefully, now that we have more time, be able to budget hotel stays and other things that were missing from this one.

So would you both say that this film festival was a success, and will there be a Second Annual Phoenix Fear Film Festival in 2007?

Absolutely – we are thrilled with the way it all turned out, especially since it was done on such short notice. And, having learned a lesson or two, we think the next one will be bigger, better, and ickier.

 What are some of the lessons you learned from your festival planning experience?

Time is not your friend if you don’t have enough of it. Now that we have over eleven months to prepare, we think it will go much more smoothly than this one. We will allow more time between films to interact with the cast and crew. There was so much crammed into the day that it seemed as though we were running a race. We’re toying with the idea of making the next one a two day event.

So if the "PFFF" does become a two day event, does this mean that visitors can expect some guest Q&A panels, contests, and multiple live music acts?

Absolutely! We’ll have mini seminars, panel discussions with film makers, and maybe a "Freak Show" or two! The Cut Throat Freak Show is very good for this type of event. And of course, we are inviting Hardwire back to perform as well as a couple of other great industrial bands, like the STRAND and horror rockers "Calabrese."

Wow, it sounds like you’re already in the planning stages, but as you said, time is not your friend when you’re trying to prepare for an event like this! Now, out of curiosity, since we’re talking about the next Phoenix Fear Film Festival," do you have a list of guests that you want to invite, or hope will attend? (Any chance of seeing Lloyd Kaufman there?!)

Not at this stage. Naturally we have budget concerns, but were contacted by a big theater chain to do our festival over a two day period, so that’s a relief! We do have a wish list for celebrity guests: Udo Kier, Jeffrey Combs, Rutger Hauer, Bruce Campbell, Anthony Wong (!!), Alice Cooper, Elvira etc. There was also this band, "Dead by Dawn," that played while dressed completely as Cenobites from "Hellraiser" (we saw them at a film festival in Burbank) who were very interesting, but it all depends on resources and sponsors coming up to bat for us.

Well I sincerely hope that you manage to snag some (or better yet, all) of the folks on your wish list! If I may make a suggestion, have you guys thought about contacting Tempe Entertainment regarding some of their indie film releases? They’ve distributed some real gems, including Jay Reel’s "DAWN," a great vampire film that’s worth a look!

We were talking about that recently and we saw "Dawn" at the Burbank festival so the answer is YES, we will definitely look to contact them!

Well I suppose I should let you two get back to your very busy lives, but before we close things out, is there anything you’d like to say to everyone that is reading this issue of Rogue Cinema?

We want to invite anyone who is a film maker to contact us about their films since our call for entries is only a couple of months away (April 2007). If any of your readers is interested in being considered for the next Phoenix Fear Film Festival, feel free to contact us for our submission gu
delines. We want to thank everyone involved in the Phoenix Fear Film Festival, including Darrin Ramage of Brain Damage Films, without whom we would not have been able to undertake this event. Everyone at Brain Damage Films went above and beyond – helping, marketing, promoting and getting their hands dirty setting up with us. The film makers for all their hard work and entrusting us with their art. The press for all their support, and the venue, the Paper Heart Gallery, for opening up early so we could set up!

We’d like everyone to know that we are fans first! That was our only motivation for doing an event of this magnitude. We support the arts in our community in many ways and this one was our favorite!

Once again many thanks for doing this interview! I sincerely wish you guys all the best, and hope that the next Phoenix Fear Film Festival goes as well (nay, better!) than the first one did! Good luck and enjoy the rest of 2007 Chris and Jim!

And thank you! We wish all the best to the editors and staff of Rogue Cinema and look forward to working with you this year!

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Well there you have it folks! The first "Phoenix Fear Film Festival" was a success, so prepare yourselves for Round Two later this year! For more information about this great event, visit the PFFF Official Homepage to read a report about the event, see pictures, and more! Also be sure to visit all of the sites that comprise the McLennans’ online empire: The AZ Snakepit, Girls With Guns.Org, Kidtix.Org, Trash City.Com, Trash City.Org, and Trash City Entertainment.