Kyle Kuchta was just another college kid trying to make his film thesis to graduate when he combined his love of filmmaking with his fascination with horror conventions. Fresh from it’s world premiere at Rock & Shock Weekend, the FANTASM director was gracious enough to give some of his time to talk with Icons of Fright about the process of making “a documentary about horror fan devotion and the events that keep them devoted.”
ICONS: Congratulations on your premiere at Rock & Shock! How did it go, was it amazing?
KUCHTA: It was amazing. I love that convention, so it was nice to be back home. It was a little overwhelming but it was good nonetheless.
ICONS: How was the reception from the audience?
KUCHTA: People really, really seemed to like it. There was a good amount of people who were just trying to see the documentary. Rock & Shock was the second convention I had filmed at and at that point I really wasn’t sure yet what I was making. I was talking to people afterward who were in the documentary and I felt kind of bad because some of the vendors I interviewed were disappointed because they didn’t get to say what the convention community or family feeling is like or what conventions mean to them, but I went into the documentary not knowing what conventions mean to me. The main point of what I wanted to do was to show people what horror conventions are and make something for the convention goers and veterans to see and say, “This is home.” But the reception was really good. People really got it.
ICONS: Good to hear! FANTASM is a documentary about horror conventions, so I’m curious to know how old you were when you attended your first convention.
KUCHTA: I was fifteen and my mom took me to Rock and Shock. I don’t remember how I found out about it, but I think it was either a Fangoria advertisement or a post on Dreadcentral. Those were my two outlets I stuck to when I was that age, because I didn’t have anything else. I lived in CT at the time, so I was about an hour from where Rock and Shock was.
ICONS: Oh, that’s not bad at all.
KUCHTA: Not at all, so we went there and when I was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, and then didn’t come back until I was filming FANTASM when I was twenty.
ICONS: When you went the first time, who was the big draw? I know right now everything is Daryl Dixon and THE WALKING DEAD, but who grabbed the attention of fifteen-year-old Kyle Kuchta?
KUCHTA: For me it was THE DEVIL’S REJECTS cast. I think the film had just come out and I had this T-Shirt I had Sid Haig and Bill Moseley sign. It was originally George A. Romero, but that was when he cancelled his convention appearances. I finally got to meet him recently and after waiting all this time, it was really cool. But it was mostly the REJECTS cast. There was a decent amount of the cast there, so that was the draw. But then there was Doug Bradley and Michael Berryman who was considered there for the REJECTS panel but I had my THE HILLS HAVE EYES stuff for him to sign. I think Dee Wallace was there but it was that whole crew that made me want to go.
ICONS: I just met Michael Berryman and Dee Wallace at Cinema Wasteland at THE HILLS HAVE EYES REUNION and they are two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. If you haven’t gone to Cinema Wasteland, you really need to go.
KUCHTA: Everyone says that to me! I still haven’t gone, but I should. I’ve heard great things about Wasteland. I had a lot of people who were trying to get me to film there but I couldn’t get there, unfortunately.
ICONS: When did you decide, “there’s a story here” with convention life? Sorry about that question, I’m sure it’s one you get asked all the time.
KUCHTA: (laughs) It’s okay. Like I said, I went to college and I couldn’t go to a convention for a while. I went to Syaracuse and there weren’t any in that area until ScareACuse.
ICONS: Ah! I hate horror portmanteaus!
KUCHTA: Luckily, it’s not called that anymore because they had to move it to a casino 45 minutes away so now it’s “ScareACon.” The first year they had ScareACuse it wasn’t that great. It was the first one I had been to that really wasn’t anything special and I was trying to figure out “What is wrong here?” And then I wanted to figure out “Why am I so upset that this isn’t good?” I was torn, I went by myself and didn’t have anyone to meet up with fan, guest, or vendor wise, and I was just wondering, “Why is this so shitty?” Luckily, they’ve gotten their act together and they’ve got a great show now. They definitely grew and didn’t die out, but that all happened my junior year at Syracuse. My senior year started and I needed to start thinking about what I was going to do for my thesis. I had no idea what I was going to do. Everyone was already talking about their scripts and I was like, “Oh God! I don’t know what story I feel strongly about.” I started thinking about conventions and the one that was just awful and I was trying to explain to people why that one convention was awful and what makes a convention great and how they’re the highlight of my year, so I decided to show people what makes a good convention. FANTASM started out as just a general overview of what makes a good convention and the bare bones of what a convention is. For my thesis it had to be 20 minutes or under. I vouched to make it longer. I made a 20 minute version that I really, really like, but it wasn’t the whole story that I wanted to tell.
ICONS: Do you look towards conventions more for guests, films, or something different?
KUCHTA: It’s interesting because if you had asked me that before I filmed this, I would have said the guests. But, when I started the doc it was supposed to be observational. When I finished FANTASM it was more about the community and how welcoming and close to each other we all are. Tight-knit isn’t the right word because we welcome new faces but…I don’t know a better word.
ICONS: I totally get you! Cinema Wasteland is the one time of the year that I get to see some of my friends that I don’t see all year except for at Wasteland. It’s almost like, “I don’t care what shitty movies are playing, I get to see my friends and geek out for a weekend.”
KUCHTA: That’s exactly what it has become. I’ve met so many people filming and outside of the filming aspects. When I went to Rock and Shock for the premiere, I was walking up to the convention center and there were eight people there, of the top 10 people I wanted to see, eight of them were standing right there. Not guests, like friends I knew were going to be there and they ALL showed up on the corner as I was crossing the crosswalk to get to the convention. And that’s what it’s like for me now. I mean, I love going up and talking to Adam Green when he does his HOLLISTON thing and Doug Bradley is always an awesome guy to talk to and I love that, because that’s the foundation of why we go to conventions. People who were in and worked on these movies I love are right there and that’s pretty cool, but I get to see my friends. Talking on twitter and Facebook is one thing and it’s fun and nice but that’s not being with them. It’s not hanging out with them at their booth if they’re a vendor or catching a drink or lunch with them. It’s just not the same.
ICONS: So, conventions can be pretty pricey. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m kind of a jerk. I refuse to pay the sixty-dollar autographs and wait in three-hour lines. I’m a cheapskate, I admit that, but I want to know what is the most amount of money you’ve spent on ONE item.
KUCHTA: That is not a cheapskate or jerk thing! But you’ll have to ask my mom. I didn’t have any concept of how much anything was when I first went to a convention, nor did my mom. My mother, she’s just too much sometimes. She really, really spoiled herself and me. She got her array of autographs and stuff from vendors and it doesn’t make it right, but I can’t even guess how much she spent that first year. The most I ever spent myself…damn. Not on an autographed item, but I did buy a print for $80. That’s really just it, I’ve spent a lot on entire weekends, but on one item, I really haven’t gone nuts. Probably the most expensive autograph I’ve gotten was $50. Wait, Robert Englund was $30 when I met him. Maybe I haven’t spent $50!
ICONS: How did you decide whom to interview? Was it more who was available or was it more of a “I need to have Joe Lynch’s opinion!” situation?
KUCHTA: Kristy Jett helped me.
ICONS: Dude, she’s the best.
KUCHTA: She really is. She got me started, because I didn’t know anyone but I knew Kristy and Kristy knows everybody. We were on a panel discussing Horror Culture at Rock and Shock and we made a joke that we all knew each other because of Kristy. Like, she just goes around conventions like fairy dust and sprinkles it on people and makes them friends.
ICONS: She’s the reason Zach [my significant other] and I are together. She’s the patron saint of horror love, friendship, and fandom.
KUCHTA: That’s awesome! That’s Kristy for you. She got me in touch with all of the right people. I knew I needed to talk to guests and vendors as well, so I reached out to Heather Langenkamp. I knew I wanted to talk to Joe Lynch because he also went to Syracuse and he’s a big fan and went to conventions as a guest. I wanted to talk to Tuesday Knight as well because she had been on the scene and Tom Atkins because, well, he’s Tom Atkins. Justin Beahm from Fangoria suggested I talk to him and I didn’t know if I could. (laughs). Kristy really got me in touch with a lot of vendors and guests because she knew who had been at it for a while and who would be willing to talk to me and who had been a staple vendor on the circuit. As I got more comfortable, I would reach out and talk to people. But yeah, Kristy helped out a lot. She just knows all the people that conventions mean a lot to, because she’s one of them. She’s really the best. She’s like the queen of horror conventions. She’s not a just a guest, not just a fan, but she’s one person that’s so prominent in the convention circuit. I don’t know if there’s even a name for it. Just, everyone knows her. She’s THE horror convention girl.
ICONS: Who do you think was the most fun to interview?
KUCHTA: Justin Beahm and Jack Bennett were really good to talk to. They’re both super knowledgeable and well spoken. I wasn’t sure where they were going to fit in, but I knew that they had a lot of information. Jack’s interview ended up being something like 40 minutes long. We really got to talk about a lot of stuff. Justin’s interview was close to 30 minutes; they were just a lot of fun. Joe Lynch was a lot of fun because he’s a really animated guy, and then Ben and Kristy from Fright-Rags. I didn’t interview them at a convention, I actually went out to Fright-Rags central to talk to them. It was dope.
ICONS: I know you relocated to the West Coast, how does the convention scene differ from the East Coast?
KUCHTA: I went to Son of Monsterpalooza and it’s a lot more special effects and makeup based. So on the East Coast you’ll get more DVD and T-Shirt vendors whereas on the West Coast you’ll get more makeup and mask vendors. It’s really cool to see the artistry and there were live demos, which were awesome. There are a lot of screenings, which I love and there’s a ton of Haunted attractions out here.
ICONS: So when to the non-cool kids get to see FANTASM?
KUCHTA: It’s in the festival and convention circuit right now, but I’m not sure when. I’m shooting for March or April.