It was probably sometime between noticing Kathie Lee Gifford was sitting right behind me and the woman in front of me with a tray of chicken and waffles was offering to get me anything I wanted that my wife, Erin, turned to me and said:
"Whose life is this?"
I looked around the room at the afterparty--at the DJ rocking it way too loud, at the black ties and the short skirts dotting the reserved table areas and the free bar, at the pretentious Evian water in front of me (I'm not clear on how or why a bottle of water could earn the label "pretentious," but I do know it fits). I looked at all of us--at me and Erin and Travis and Amber and Chris and Rich and Steve and Tyler and all of us from, of all the dusty places on the Earth, Fresno--who came down to LA to celebrate a movie we made. There was just one answer to the question.
Whose life is this? This is our life now.
* * *
The fanciest of evenings started out, as it so often does not, in a McDonald's parking lot. The plan was to find a hotel bathroom to duck into so Erin could put on her new dress and shoes. She says my work with Tremendum is going to do great things for her shoe collection. That, of course, was always my primary goal. Happy feet, happy wife.*
*Not an actual saying, but already I can hear thousands of women across the country shouting "BUT IT SHOULD BE!"
The problem was we weren't in Fresno anymore. "Ducking into" a hotel in Hollywood is not something a person actually does unless they want to pay an exorbitant parking fee. Which we did not.
So, while a man a couple cars away sang a duet with Whitney Houston from the not-so-private space of his rolled-down-windowed car, Erin contorted herself all sorts of ways to apply her hair and makeup and then made a hasty retreat to the McDonald's bathroom and whatever state it was in to change into her stunning white dress and crisp new red shoes.
While she did that, I hopped onto Instagram to check the buzz. I discovered a shot of Amber getting ready at the Hotel Roosevelt with the help of a personal stylist. These are the perks of being the wife of one of the Directors.
In a clever move, Warner Bros. Marketing held the Hollywood Premiere in the auditorium at Hollywood High School, just down the street from the Roosevelt. Erin and I rolled into the parking lot at the same time as Sound Designer Brandon Jones and his lovely wife, Emily. This was nice because they are cool and we now had someone to hang out with. When you're lost in Hollywood (where everyone's just a little lost, I don't care how well you know Sunset Blvd.), you want someone to hang with. More on that later.
Brandon was more than a bit worried about how his perfectly calibrated sound design would hold up in a venue not designed at all for exhibiting a movie, but he needn't have. Warner Bros. knows what they're doing. When doors creaked, they dug into my spine and twisted it, and when doors slammed they straight up stopped my heart.
As with any Premiere worth the limos Warner Bros. paid to cart the cast around, there was free candy, soda, and popcorn waiting for us in the lobby. We--Erin, Brandon, Emily and I--skipped the Black Carpet entirely, having never seen it. I'm told it was on the other side of the building and we were conspicuously led away from it. Something to do with us not being "stars" or "able to reach millions of Twitter followers" or "known, like, at all." I dunno. Haters gonna hate, I guess.
Inside the auditorium we took our seats in the Tremendum Guest area. This identified us as both important and very much not very Hollywood at all. Tremendum is Fresno, through and through. We wear that badge with honor and pride. Behind us were the true Hollywood folk, with seats designated for New Line Cinema, Warner Bros., Blumhouse, and, to our surprise, some of the Kardashian clan just two rows back.
We expected Kathie Lee to be there as her daughter Cassidy plays one of the leads in The Gallows, but Kris and Kylie Jenner were a nice addition. However it's distributed, a small movie like this is still a small movie that needs the support of word-of-mouth to be successful. Kris and Kylie have millions and millions of followers. They were on their phones in the lead up to the start of the movie, and then on their phones again afterwards, telling people all about what they saw. That's pretty cool of them.
The movie started without ceremony, with only the dimming of the lights to indicate the shutting of the up we all needed to do right quick. Luckily, The Gallows grabs your attention in a hurry with a sustained, VHS shot of the original, 1993 production of the play, The Gallows (Hey! That's the same name as the movie!). It... doesn't end well. A student is killed and so you're on the hook for the rest of the story before you've even opened your Milk Duds.*
*Anybody else pour their Milk Duds into their popcorn? I'm convinced that's the only way to eat Milk Duds.
Hands down, this was the best audience I've seen the film with. Better than the test screenings, better even than the Fresno Black Carpet Even last week. They were so, so into it. They laughed at every single joke, they were quiet during the quiet parts, they screamed during the scary parts, and they exhaled with relief during those few moments when the characters avoided danger (not that they stay out of it for very long). People were into it.
One of my favorite moments of the screening came about halfway through, during a particularly tense moment, when Dean Schnider, one of the producers on The Gallows, moved to the seat next to my wife to better creep up on his mom from behind. He didn't do much--just whispered in her ear--but it was enough to make his mom jump 10 feet and scream at a moment when the rest of the audience was completely enthralled and waiting for the next horrible thing to happen. They all probably wondered why the rest of us were laughing so hard.
The audience was with the picture right up to the end. There's a moment before the finale that puts you in the main character's shoes and makes you fear for them in a big way. The audience reacted so strongly to what was happening and the choice that character makes (you'll know it when you see it) that they overwhelmed the soundtrack. Important stuff was happening in the sound mix and you just couldn't hear anything because people were THERE, shouting and screaming and exhaling and inhaling with the maximum amount of drama. It was a great synthesis of audience and film that you can ONLY get in a theater. It was awesome.
I looked over at Chris and Travis and they were practically falling-out-of-their-chairs giddy.
The Premiere sealed it: The Gallows is a great time at the movies and it's an audience picture, through and through. If you're on the fence about seeing it at all, you're crazy. Not only is one of the most frightening movies in years, but it just plain ol' delivers the goods. How often does that happen?
* * *
I have never been to a Hollywood Afterparty, but my wife and I had been to the Roosevelt Hotel before. It was years ago and we had a Groupon. A Groupon. This is the place where the very first Academy Awards ceremonies were held and where many celebrities stay when they're in town (that first time, we waited for the valet to bring back our car while standing side-by-side with Kirsten Dunst and Forrest Whitaker), and somehow they were doing a Groupon promotion. We enjoyed our stay at the time, but we felt wildly out of place and intimidated.
Not so this night when we were escorted behind velvet ropes* to an exclusive party adorned by cafeteria lunch plates. That's not a joke. That's honestly what we ate on:
*Okay, I don't know if the ropes were velvet or not--but they were ropes and, thematically-speaking, that was appropriate in a way all other previous velvet-roped events have only ever pretended.
Watching Chris and Travis work the room was extremely satisfying. They were wanted commodities and could hardly walk two feet without getting stopped by this manager or that YouTuber. Besides the actors (sorry, guys, their faces are just prettier), they were the most popular people in the room.
Erin and I made our way with Brandon and Emily to the back corner of the room with PA Rich Mirelez and Gallows Investor Steve Hrdlicka to find the Chris and Travis booth/enclave right next to Cassidy and her mom and their entourage. At first, the staff at the Roosevelt tried to steer us away because Chris and Travis were nowhere in sight. Rich set them straight.
From our privileged position I enjoyed just taking in the scene, eating all the food that would not stop coming, and not trying too hard to mingle. Alcohol was free and free-flowing (though Warner Bros. saved some serious coin at our table as my wife and I, and Chris, Travis, and Amber are all Mormons). The lights were dim, the servers dressed all fancy, and the DJ rocked. The chandelier above the bar was insane, for some reason.
I know why Erin and I were intimidated all those years ago--this is a different world of movers, shakers, and entertainment bakers, and it's easy to think it's the top of the world. This is Hollywood. It's chief export isn't entertainment but culture. The Western World (and, increasingly, the Eastern World) defines itself--either in emulating or in response to--by what comes from Hollywood's glittery shores.* And there we were, young, unknowing, and among them, not knowing quite how to behave or even if we could sit in the chairs in the lobby for fear of intrusively overhearing some dealmaking nearby.
*Note: There are no shores in Hollywood. But there is no small amount of artifice, so let's pretend together there are shores because it makes the sentence sound better.
But sitting there the night of the Premiere, watching the supertanned and the cell phone addicted, the morning show hosts and the actors and actresses nearby, I saw clearly how they were all just people at a party. People who were just a little lost as I was, trying to secure the next person to talk to and find their place among so many.
One minute the white-haired guy with the nice shirt and the $1,000 dollar teeth would be slapping palms with some Executive whosit-whatsit, and the next minute he'd be sitting and nursing a drink in the corner, wondering where he should go. To find his place. Just like the rest of us. It was all very human and reassuring.
I'm new to all this, so forgive me for the boneheaded realization, but Hollywood people? They're just people.
I wanted to talk more to the actors--Ryan Shoos, Cassidy Gifford, and Pfeifer Brown--than I did, but I did get to have a great conversation with Reese Mishler, the fourth lead of The Gallows. Reese has probably met a million people (rough estimate) in the past few months, but somehow within all of that he's managed to remember my name and be pretty cool to me and my wife each time we've talked with him. I told him I'd love to work with him in the future at some point. Instead of brushing me off, Reese got in my face and made me promise that I 'd do my darndest to make sure that happens. He may have even threatened me bodily harm if I don't.
He and all of of the actors seem profoundly grateful for the opportunities Chris and Travis have given them through this tiny little movie. I get the sense that if Tremendum came calling for just about anything that they'd come running. People in Hollywood brag often about how everyone on set was "like a family" to them, but in this case I know it to be true. With a crew and cast this small, how could it be anything but? We've all been through the fire together.
I was impressed that, amidst all of this partying and schmoozing, Travis and Chris still made serious time for their Tremendum crew. Erin and I spent a good portion of the evening with Travis and Amber in particular, eating food and just sitting back and being amazed by it all.
But still, the biggest takeaway of the night, for me, was just how enthusiastic that crowd at the Premiere really was. Horror films are an intensely tricky business. Found footage films even more so. But having now seen The Gallows so very many times, I'm confident in saying that this sucker delivers. The backslapping and the congratulations and the celebrating that took place this night were all well-deserved and well-earned.
Ultimately, the audience will decide. As Chris and Travis said on Facebook, The Gallows is now "handed over to the world." We can't friggin' wait for you all to see it.
Brock Heasley is a writer with Tremendum Pictures and could not be more excited about our upcoming projects. Maybe one day he'll even tell you about them.