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June 2023
Vol. 22, No. 9

Featured Stories

Plot Points: Awards, Laurels, and Fanboy

by Raul SandelinJune 2021

Currents in San Diego’s Film Industry
We are all aware of San Diego’s deep well of musical talent, from the Cascades to Iron Butterfly. Tom Waits to Jason Mraz. Jack Tempchin, Stephen Bishop, Ratt, the Beat Farmers, blink-182. And let’s not forget Queen’s new singer Adam Lambert.

San Diego has a rich movie history as well. If the deer trail that eventually become Route 66 and the California Central Railroad had swung a little further south, San Diego could have been Hollywood. In fact, over 1000 “Hollywood” films have been shot in San Diego, from Allan Dwan and Flying A Studios in the early 1900s to Some Like It Hot, Top Gun, and Anchorman.
Compared to 10 years ago, things have really changed here in America’s Finest City. Local acting and filmmaking schools have opened. Local casting agencies have hung out their shingles, making it less necessary to travel to L.A. to conduct business. KPBS has established various programs for young filmmakers as well as providing the station as a platform for local filmmakers to screen their work.
There is now a double-digit number of niche film fests. The GI Film Festival just ended. There is the Latino Film Festival; Film Out, which focuses on LGBT films; the Asian Film Festival; the Jewish Film Festival; the Black Film Festival; and a host of other festivals devoted to San Diego’s diversity.
There is even Susy Botello’s International Mobile Film Festival. Based in San Diego, the IMFF features movies filmed solely using cell phone cameras.
Some major players have evolved over the past 10 years. Most prominent is Film Consortium San Diego. Established in 2012 by local producer and educator Jodi Cilley, the FCSD has created dozens of ongoing classes, events, and programs to promote local filmmaking. It’s annual festival and awards competition, the San Diego Film Awards, has become the top dog of local film fests. In addition, the FCSD helps promote many of the smaller film festivals while working across the US-Mexico border to help bring the San Diego and Tijuana film communities together.

Now, there’s a new kid on the block: The San Diego Movie Awards founded by longtime local filmmaker Terry Ross. The SDMAs are finishing their first quarterly awards competition. Winners will be announced this month. Two more competitions are planned for September and December before the SDMA’s first annual festival at Balboa Park’s Museum of Photographic Arts in February 2022. The SDMAs plan to hold live events and screenings at the festival next February.
“We wanted a Film Awards that would emphasize the Indie filmmaker,” says Ross. So far, the response has been excellent! “To this first quarterly competition, we received 150 submissions in 20 categories. I’m very impressed by the quality of all the films,” Ross adds.
The quarterly competitions and the festival are open to local and international films. Once the awards, certificates, and laurels are presented this month to close out the June competition, then early bird submissions will open immediately for September.
Many of you will recognize Terry Ross as an organizer of the Julian Film Festival, which ran from 2013 to 2017. More recently, she’s been conducting actors retreats. Pre-Covid, Ross took a group of actors to Italy. The result was the movie Castle in Umbria, which is now on the film festival circuit. This year, Ross is taking a group to France in October. A third retreat (and resulting film) is planned for Portugal in 2022.
The Weekend Filmmaker
Added to all this, there is a plethora of 24-, 48-, and 72-hour weekend filmmaking contests. Now, anyone from any walk of life can find a place to act, write, direct, or crew.
What is interesting is that over the past 10 years, filmmaking has become accessible to everyone. In the “good ol’ days,” production costs and the Hollywood-centric film industry made it impossible to just shoot a movie. Movie-making required thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment plus an ensemble crew, costing thousands of dollars per hour just to pay and feed.
Now, times have changed! I’m not saying movie making is easy. It still takes vision, good writing, talent, luck, and steady-handed production skills. However, the production side has become more user-friendly.
Movie making today is closer to writing a Novel. The auteur doesn’t have to depend on dozens of people and a six-to-seven figure budget to get the movie produced.

Poster for Fanboy

Xenos’ Arabella Harrison and John Cota.

Director Ben Johnson talks to the crew in front of the Casbah.

Save the date!

Technology has also made it easier to produce large-ensemble films on a shoestring budget. Take the case of the local music-thriller Fanboy, which was released earlier in 2021 to local, rave reviews and is on its way to becoming a local cult classic.
Fanboy is the story of a band named Xenos and their star-crossed tour of the California underground club scene. Soon after their tour begins, a creepy, obsessive fan with anger issues begins to follow Xenos from city to city. The fan befriends the band and soon bullies his way to the drum throne. Strangely, the original drummer (who is lying dead behind a house) disappears and a police manhunt ensues. Through all of this, the fan’s behavior grows more bizarre. The movie almost reaches its climax when the police put all the clues together and the fan is arrested. However, I say “almost” because there is a very effective twist at the end that I won’t ruin for you.
Several B- and C-stories from the other band members, not to mention some romantic mischief from a couple of police detectives, and the audience is presented with a well-paced, complex, balanced movie. The script is solid and moves effortlessly from plot point to plot point.
Fanboy is a labor of love for local musician, bartender, and novelist Ben Johnson. It was also a labor of love for many others from the San Diego club scene. Johnson is a journeyman bartender, having worked for Tim Mays at the Casbah and other clubs for 25 years. Write what you know, they say! Johnson shows us an insider’s view of bartending and the underground music scene in San Diego.
His skills as a novelist shine through. Even though Fanboy was Johnson’s first movie script, it beholds a mature level of storytelling. There is an old adage attributed to early Hollywood producer Mack Sennett: “Never be boring.” In this regard, Fanboy succeeds. The audience is always on edge waiting to see what happens next.
Fanboy is one part MTV video, one part Behind the Music band bio, and one part 1940s film noir. Johnson has created an interesting mix of genres. Could we even call it a new sub-genre? Punk thriller? Rock noir? Johnson and everyone involved have taken the film beyond the standard rockumentary or mockumentary.
Technology has made it easier to make movies. However, that doesn’t mean that filmmaking is now easy. It’s still a slog to get a film project to the finish line. And it’s always better to secure as large a budget as possible. Fanboy was made for $9K, which included a new computer and editing software. So, the budget set aside for other outlays was closer to $5K. That is an incredibly small amount of money to make a 90-minute feature film.
To acknowledge the shortcomings, there are moments in the movie when the low production budget shows through. There are a few glitchy edits. At times, the looped dialogue slips out of sync. However, the overall look of the film is great. The scenes are excellently staged, lit, and shot. Cinematographer Grant Reinero expertly stretched the budget to give Fanboy the stylings of a higher-budget film.
Many of the scenes are very creative and well-choreographed. For example, the opening scene is an intriguing mix of dark comedy and physical slapstick. (Again, I won’t ruin it for you!) This is a physical movie with band performances, fight scenes, and emotional outbursts. The kinetic energy created by these scenes more than makes up for the periodic production and editing issues.
Don’t let the low, initial ratings on IMDB fool you! This film has legs. When we talked on the phone, Ben reminded me of George Lucas’s grad student film THX 1138. (Ben has the name memorized. I just call it the “George Lucas grad student film.”) Was THX 1138 the greatest film ever made? Of course not. But did it set the stage for George Lucas’s later body of work, including Star Wars? Absolutely!
Fanboy is an excellent first film and then some. It definitely leaves you wanting to see what Ben Johnson will write and produce next.
In fact, Xenos, the band in the movie, is releasing some vinyl at Tim May’s other hangout—Krakatoa—on Saturday, June 19. The new “maxi-single” is a compilation of the Xenos songs featured in the film, thus making the June 19 event a Fanboy Soundtrack Release Party. Ben Johnson and some cast members from Fanboy will be on-hand to talk more about the movie and what Ben has planned for the future.
San Diego Film History
San Diego Movie Awards
Actors Retreat in France
Fanboy Trailer
Fanboy on IMDB
Raul Sandelin is a local filmmaker, musician, and writer. He teaches writing at Grossmont College in El Cajon.

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