An Interview with Greg Ropp – By Brian Morton

Ever since last October, when I attended my first film festival, I’ve been looking for another film festival to attend. Now, I know there are dozens of film festivals out there, but I don’t want to go to a Sundance or one of those New York ‘artsy’ film festivals where everyone is pretentious. I want to go to a festival where I can see great movies, with great people who are interested in seeing great movies, not talking about what symbolism is in the films. In my search, I came across the Eerie Horror Film Festival in Erie, Pennsylvania, a festival that’s entering it’s fourth year. So, I dropped Greg Ropp, the president of the fest, a line to see what Eerie is like and why I should attend.

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 BM – This is the 4th Annual Eerie Horror Film Festival, tell us how it all got started in 2004.

GR – We have to turn the clock back about two decades to find the real roots of the festival. In the 1970’s, when I was around ten or eleven years old, I remember seeing an advertisement in Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine for their first convention. Oh man, did I want to go to that! But New York City was a galaxy far, far away back then and there was no way I was going to convince my parents to take me there. So I had to make do with the photos and the coverage in future issues, all the while pledging to get to one of these things one day. In my teens I finally got to attend a few conventions and I was hooked. In 2002 I was asked to work with a local film festival here in Erie and I began to think of ways to combine the film festival experience with that of a convention and a couple of years later I came up with the idea for the Eerie Horror Film Festival. The local fest I was working with at the time gave me the green light to produce my own event and hosted it for the first two years. In 2005 we bought the rights to the Eerie Horror Film Festival from them and have been our own unique entity ever since. It was my goal to bring filmmakers and fans together in a setting unlike anything they had experienced before. We have the celebrities and the vendors one would expect to find at a convention but we also have five solid days of independent films being shown, complete with award ceremonies and Q&A’s with up and coming filmmakers, screenwriters and this year, even video game developers!

BM – For anyone attending the festival this year, about how many films can we expect to be screened?

GR – We will be screening between 40 – 70 films this year, depending on the availability of additional screening areas. We will be adding more afternoon screenings as well.

BM – The festival has screened movies that other festivals have turned their noses up at. What won’t you screen?

GR – Ya know, content has never been an issue with us, though hard-core porn is off limits as is anything that depicts actual human or animal deaths. We have shown films with nudity and heavy doses of gore coupled with themes that have made more than a few viewers shift uneasily in their seats, but these are few and far between as the vast majority of such films are missing one main ingredient; justification of having such content in the first place. If you submit a movie to us that is basically 80 minutes of naked women being tortured and/or just one bloodbath after another, you better have an amazing storyline, dialog and an original twist or two that we haven’t seen before. Most importantly, you gotta have a reason for the content to be there in the first place. Trust me, no amounts of boobs or blood is going to transform a bad movie into a good one. Bottom line is this, we want to see good, solid horror, science fiction and suspense films. The content has virtually nothing to do with the selection process.

BM – Being a big fan of indie horror, what film have you shown that got the most uncomfortable reaction?

GR – While I can’t single out one particular film, it’s safe to say that it’s the subject of sexuality that freaks audiences out the most. Though horror fans tend to be the most open-minded folks in the world and very accepting of, well, damn near any lifestyle, it’s still those journeys into uncharted sexual territories that produce the audible shifting in the chairs during our fests. Carter Smith’s brilliant "Bugcrush", Ben Meade’s "Bazaar Bizarre" and Christopher Broadstone’s "Scream for Me", featured explicit gay storylines, Dylan Bank’s "Nightmare" took audiences into an hallucinatory world of sexual depravity and others, like Jimmy Hemphill’s "Bad Reputation" explored the aftermath of a date-rape. Though all of these films were controversial, it’s worth noting that they were also audience favorites and people are still talking about them. Blood and gore don’t really phase us horror fans anymore…

BM -I know you probably don’t talk alot about this, but about how many films do you turn away every year?

GR – Just like every other film festival out there we turn away hundreds each season. This is the worst part of my job by far and I dread it every year. I realize that each film, screenplay and game that is submitted to us is the result of a lot of hard work and time. Each one of our submissions represents someone hoping to be one of the lucky few selected for screening or for an award and I take that very, very seriously. Just taking the time to submit a project for review shows us that the artist in question is confident with their vision and that scores a few points right off the bat. Unfortunately though, we have to narrow it down to 40 – 70 films in the end.

 BM – Okay, another hard one, of all the films you’ve screened over the years, are there any that stand out? Kind of making you proud to get the word out about it?

GR – Ya know, I was just shovelling snow in front of my apartment the other day when a neighbor came over and said, "Greg, I just got this flick from Blockbuster you have to see. It’s about this serial killer in England who videotapes his murders and it’s sorta funny and sick all at the same time." To which I laughed and asked "Is it called The Last Horror Movie?". He nodded his head. "You’ve heard of it?". Well not only had I heard of it, it won the Best of the Fest award at our first festival in 2004! Past festival selections pop up on NetFlix too and in magazine articles and I can’t help but to be proud that we were part of that particular filmmaker’s journey. All of our selected films over the years are worthy of distribution and some have made it. To pick one or two would be impossible, though last year’s "All is Normal" and "The Entrance" were two I thought deserved an official release. We’ve already received several entries this year that have blown the judges minds. All I wish for now is that one of these films gets bought at our festival.

BM -Having just attended a festival that was in its first year, what was the hardest part of getting the festival up and running initially?

GR – Getting the word out was the hardest part by far. The ideas were easy. The concepts were there, but I had to remain realistic in regards to what we could actually pull off each season. As each year goes by we add more sponsors, guests and categories to our competition. We also learn from what went right and what went wrong from previous fests and build upon what we’ve learned from each one.

BM – What awards do you give at the festival?

GR – Several. Best of the Fest, Best Feature, Best Short, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Student Film, Best Video Games, etc. This year we’re throwing cash in with the trophies and the awards to the top winners in the main categories. All of our selected films, scripts and video games get free All Access Passes to the entire event as well, regardless of if they are nominated for a prize!

BM – Okay, I don’t think I’m alone in this, my wife likes to travel with me, but doesn’t enjoy horror movies like I do, what is there for her to do in Erie, while I’m seeing movies?

GR – Each year it’s our sworn duty to make horror fans out of people like your wife! Seriously. One of the main objectives of our organization is to educate people about the merits of the horror genre. In fact, each year we have people tell us afterwards that they had been wrong in their assumptions about horror movies and have thanked us for exposing them to the many different aspects of the genre. But there are still those who won’t even step foot into a theater once they hear the word horror. For these non-horror fans, Erie has a lot to offer. History buffs will have a field day here, as will shoppers and nature lovers. Our fest is located right near Lake Erie and in the heart of the City. We’re within minutes of a huge shopping mall, stores and theaters and just about two hours from Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Cleveland, if someone really wanted to make an adventure out of their stay.

BM – Who is being inducted into the Hall Of Fame this year?

GR – We’re not sure as of yet, but it’s safe to say that our guests Adrienne Barbeau, Dee Wallace Stone and Tom Savini will be heading that way. We hope to have some more Erie filmmakers in our local Hall of Fame section as well.

 BM – I see on your website, that Dee Wallace Stone is going to be attending this years festival. She’s a great guest to get, was she hard to book, I don’t see her attending a lot of festivals.

GR – Just one phone call and it was a done deal. I haven’t seen her name out there much myself, though I know she has done shows recently.

BM – Are there any events that fans can attend to mingle with the guest celebrities?

GR – We are working on that right now. Last year we had a VIP dinner with the cast members from "Halloween". About twenty five lucky guests got to eat with PJ Soles, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Loomis, Tony Moran and Brian Andrews! The awards ceremony is also a very popular component of our event where celebrities join us on stage and off to present the prizes to our winners.

BM – Of all the guests you’ve had at the EHFF, who has been your favorite?

GR – Wow, that would be hard to say since I’ve had a great time with nearly all of our guests over the years. Some have even become friends. Gunnar Hansen I’ve known for years, even before he was at our fest. He’s an all around great guy. Tony Todd and I hit it off very well and he’s now a member of our Advisory Board. I really enjoyed my time with the Halloween cast, especially PJ Soles, Tony Moran and Charles Cyphers. Joe Pilato was a trip. God, there’s so many great memories and honestly, I couldn’t possibly just choose one.

BM – Who was your least favorite?

GR – So far no one has made a terrible impression on me! Hopefully it stays that way. Haha.

BM – How about some ticket info for our readers? How soon should I get my tickets? How much are they? And what’s the best bang for my buck?

GR – We’ve already had many requests for tickets and passes so we’re going to put them on sale very early this year. I’d say by late Spring. The All Access Passes will provide attendees with the best bang for their buck by far. The passes will get you into every screening, the expo and the Awards ceremony. We will be adding day passes to this year’s fest as well. Individual tickets for each screening will only be available at the box office the day of the show. Though not written in stone as of yet, an All Access Pass will probably run around $50.00 with day passes around $20.00 or so. Individual screenings will be as low as $3.00 up to $10.00 for special presentations. Again, it’s too early to know at this point. Just keep an eye on the sites.

BM – I certainly will keep an eye on the site! For anyone out there who’d like to do the same, the site is Eerie Horror Fest.com, you can get all the info there. I for one am planning on attending, it looks like a lot of fun in a really cool place.

GR – Thanks and I hope to see you, and all your readers, there.

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So, there’s another thing on the list of things to do. Eerie Horror Fest looks to be a ton of fun, whether you enjoy meeting genre celebs, watching great movies, or just checking out the great sites around town. I’m definitely making the trek to Erie, PA this October! Thanks to Greg Ropp for his time, and to everyone in Erie, watch out, the Rogues are coming!