Updates » January, 2012

The Movie Premiered at Sundance, Dave was There

Monday, January 30th, 2012

At midnight on January 23rd, the film adaptation of John Dies at the End debuted in front of an audience at the Sundance Film Festival, a little more than 10 years after I started writing the story and giving it away for free on the internet. I was totally there.

There’s no point in me talking about how great the movie is, as my opinion is obviously biased. So instead I’ll just link to these glowing reviews from Entertainment Weekly and Ain’t It Cool and Film School Rejects and others you can find HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and whatever you can find by Googling “John Dies at the End” “Sundance” “Review.” These people aren’t fans, they have no reason to lie to you.

From left to right, that’s Robert Marley (Tai Bennett), me, Fred Chu (Jimmy Wong), Shelly the Girl Who Turns into Snakes (Allison Weissman), David Wong (Chase Williamson), Amy (Fabianne Therese), not sure (I think it’s Riley Critchlow, but it’d be really weird if I’m wrong so maybe I just shouldn’t guess at all, let me know if you’re out there), Arnie (Paul Giamatti, who is also Executive Producer), director/screenwriter/horror legend Don Coscarelli and John (Rob Mayes). Not shown is Clancy Brown who for some reason was never photographed with me. I know I have a photo with me and Detective Lawrence “Morgan Freeman” Appleton (Glynn Turman from The Wire) wandering around elsewhere. I’ll find it.
Anyway. Sundance.

Like a month before, I had gotten word from Don Coscarelli that this was going to happen and that they could probably get me a ticket to the screening if I wanted one. Which I did. We agreed that we’d also try to arrange a time for me to meet everybody, because it would be the first time that had happened (I never went to the set of the movie while they were filming, because I was writing the sequel and it would mess with my head to start imagining Chase and Rob instead of the two guys I normally picture when writing Dave and John).

I said they could “probably” get me a ticket because they were impossible to come by – there were four showings and on the Sundance site, all four showed sold out as soon as they were announced. And this was the premiere, the showing where all the cast and crew and industry people would be there. So passes for cast and crew and family were capped and obviously people who actually worked on the production would get dibs over somebody like me.

But I did get a ticket, probably thanks to some strings getting pulled. My wife didn’t, so she made the trip with me believing she wouldn’t get to see it. She was just there to make sure I didn’t fuck it up, and to see the mountains.

So, the first thing you need to know about the Sundance Film Festival is that it’s the Sundanciest Film Festivalest thing you can imagine. If some sitcom did an episode about Sundance and shot the whole thing on a sound stage designed entirely by looking at Sundance post cards, they’d nail the real thing. It’s a gorgeous, tiny ski resort town in the mountains swarming with beautiful movie industry people and hipsters.

I mean, literally when we pulled into town after having gotten off the plane, the very first thing we see is William H Macy crossing the street, like they force him to just wander around the entrance like an Indie film mascot.

We hear through the grapevine that they would release about 30 tickets the day of the show (I guess tickets freed up by visiting LA types who had already frozen to death in the mountains) and that they’d go to whoever gets there first to the box office. They opened at 8, so on the day of the (midnight) showing my wife gets up at 6 am to go down there and finds people fucking camping there from the night before (in the mountains, in January). Still, she got either the last ticket, or one of the last.

I tell this whole story about the tickets because I want to point out that we were just there as tourists — I live in rural Illinois, it’s not like when you sell film rights to something that you’re suddenly being helicoptered around with academy award-nominated actors and walking on red carpets and shit. I figured having a ticket to the premiere and a chance to shake hands with the cast was like having a back stage pass. Like I’d won it in a contest or something.

Later in the morning, we get the call that Don Coscarelli wants us to drop in at lunch because some of the cast and crew will be there and it’ll be a chance to meet everybody before they all rush off and do actor things. So, in what had to my wife have seemed like an elaborate hoax, we go in this cafe and Paul Giamatti and several actors she’s seen on TV jump up and say “Oh, wow, great to meet you!” and they start high fiving me. And, from then on we were pretty much allowed to tag along with the cast and crew the rest of the day while they did press stuff.

(John, Amy, Det. Appleton, Dave, Don, Fred, Arnie, Shelly, Marconi)
So there’s a series of press events and then a cocktail party at 9 and at each, the  doors are guarded by security people or Sundance staff stopping all the fans, but letting us in, each time making me feel like a spy who has infiltrated the operation. They gave away free stuff at each event, and my wife was able to get three JDatE sock hats, a furry Sundance ear flap hunting cap and a full bottle of vodka.

Hours roll by and everyone is getting steadily more nervous – remember the screening is at midnight so even after the Big Day arrived, everybody had another solid 16 hours to worry about it. It’d be like if as a kid instead of getting presents on Christmas morning, you had to wait until midnight on Christmas day. And you weren’t sure if you were getting any presents or not.

“I want you to act like I’ve been really mean to you.”
So finally the whole gang, me my wife and the cast and the crew, get to the theater with another excruciating hour until showtime. We see that there’s one line for the people who have tickets, but there’s another line for the people on the waitlist, to get a ticket for somebody else who didn’t show. That is, a line of people standing in the snow, in January, in the mountains, hoping for a chance to get a ticket.

So the cast went down there and started handing out JDatE sock hats. The people in line recognize Paul Giamatti and just go nuts. Keep in mind,  by the time the movie started, they had stood out there for 2-3 hours or more.

So by the time the movie starts, the crowd is ready to go. It’s like a concert. Paul goes up there first and gives a little speech, and then Don goes up and tries to prepare the audience for a “weird” movie (I’d find out later that only about two dozen of the 300 or so people had read the book – the rest were coming in cold).

Finally the movie starts, and there’s the prologue, the riddle with the axe, done in a breathless montage with the camera whipping around and freeze framing.  And when it ends with the dead guy saying “that’s the ax that killed me!” and Dave (narrating) says, “is he right?” The audience erupts into cheers (some people actually stood up). It goes into this CGI credit sequence and they’re just screaming over that whole thing.

Some of you have only read this far because you’re looking for plot details – I assume this is all book fans reading this – but 1) I have no sense of how much I can divulge without getting in trouble and 2) I’d rather you just go in with a blank slate anyway. To enjoy a story you have to let it just take you away, if you’re sitting there with some checklist in your head of which characters or scenes need to be included then you’ve turned off the part of your brain that actually allows you to be transported. It’s the difference between actually enjoying a cookie versus just nervously counting chocolate chips. You know from IMDB that Jennifer Lopez isn’t in it (it’s Amy the whole way),  you know from common sense that at 108 minutes it doesn’t include everything from a novel that takes several days to read. All I’ll say is that if you’re not smiling when this is over, you’re dead inside.

Shelly and the Detective
So I found myself in an awkward social situation I had never faced before: I had to use the bathroom really bad like 90 minutes into the movie they made about my book, but didn’t want to get up and give the appearance that I was walking out in disgust.

So I stick it out and the moment it ends, I get up and go and when I get back to find my wife, the producer and publicist grabs my arm and say, “They need you on stage.” And that’s when I found out they were doing an audience Q & A, and further found that I was apparently supposed to be part of it. Somebody captured it all on video:

Part 1:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zqc4lEJJ2L8

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_c6Ttd1iVU8

Then it was over and I came home to the cold, disapproving gaze of our pet rabbit. He hates me.

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11 Responses to “The Movie Premiered at Sundance, Dave was There”

  1. bvilleneuve says:

    In an incredible coincidence, just as I finished reading this post, my own pet rabbit who hates me hopped over and started drinking water while glowering at me.

  2. nailhead04 says:

    Wow that sounds so awesome! Way to go dude. Can’t wait to see it and read the sequel!

  3. erikgerm says:

    Thank you, David. This review was everything I needed to hold me over until I’m able to get my hands on a ticket to a screening. Congratulations on your success!

  4. Congratulations! I’ve been watching for reviews of the movie since it premiered, hoping that Don Coscarelli would be able to faithfully convert your inspired lunacy to the big screen without losing its edge. Sounds like it worked. When might a commoner like myself be able to see it?

  5. rtylka says:

    Wow Dave, you’re much taller than I thought you were. Now I guess I’ll find out that John is really a midget…

  6. kingthunky says:

    Hey! I just wanted to say congratulations – I’ve been reading JDATE since back when I first found PWOT via Jay Pinkerton’s site, and I’m really pleased for you.

    Good luck with everything, and kudos for having the tenacity to see it through. Reading what you and JC have achieved over the past years is pretty inspiring, so well done to you both.


  7. siv0r says:

    So cool! I’m really looking forward to seeing it! And congratulations! Exclamation marks! Excited, disjointed phrases!

  8. John says:

    Congratulations, man! Can’t believe it was that hard for you to get in!

    Now…I’m dying here! Can’t find any word on when the movie will be released in theaters!

    Anybody got anything yet?:)

  9. Gman says:

    You are so fucking hollywood, Wong.

    Any news on when I can get this film in front of my eyeballs?

  10. RileyRose says:

    Hey man, it is me in the picture :-)

  11. Leather Lumberjack says:

    I am so fucking excited to see this. Hearing you say that the penis door knob is in fact in the movie completely turned my crappy day around. If it’s that inclusive with the book’s details then it has to be awesome. Can’t wait to see it.

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