It was on writing an article in triskelepress.com that I learned the industry behind fanfilms. Comicons across the U.S. had their own festivals and other geek festivals had their own to encourage this artform. None of the films could gain profit through monetizing or other, but they were willing to go bigger and flashier every following production. I felt almost as though we could have helped this industry grow with our own program someday. And for the sake of dipping our feet in the idea, we premiered it at Ninja-Con 2015. The room was small, private, but the enthusiasm was sincere. As humbling as the experience was, it did not do justice for the filmmakers. Thousands of dollars were spent, quality cast and crew, sincere animators, and so well dressed for just a side event in Ninja-Con 2015 – oh how unprepared we were for this level of class! They deserved better.

Months later, I made a promise to give a little more than just a panel for these fan filmmakers. And that remedy was to go European.

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Live Reading Ensemble: Joy Darash, Whitton Frank, Rose Hill, Jan-David Soutar, Katie Hemming, Ryan Burwell, Darrel Guilbeau, Cutter Palacios, & Cynthia Aldrich

NAME CALLING

Festivals nowadays are seen as large congregations of exclusive business and parties and mingling for people of all sorts to join in on all the fun. This mainly results in an immense gathering of loud music, and people dressing in offensive costumes, perpetuating a subculture that wasn’t meant to be mainstream to begin with. Call it a convention, a conference, or festival – the name does not suite its title anymore, but an idea for cultivating niches.

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(Filmmaker) Ryan Arciaga & Nate Filichia (Lock/Jaw)

This, of course, was worrisome for me, as actual festivals have reached a point of either elite or complete public access in Los Angeles, California. Book events are free, while videogame events are expensive, film events keep growing either too big, or too small – private society or no, the business was taboo; and if I were to take on the challenge, it would need something classier than a box office.

In Europe, people fight to keep the arts alive. When the recession happened, actors resolved their dilemmas by using their own apartments as a stage for their shows. Patrons were more than happy to become intimate and congregate for something new and stimulating. Film was no different: lofts were common places for screenings, parks were available for old film shows, and the list goes on. So as long as it was respected as an art form, the flare and extravagance of a big show became irrelevant.

BAD TIMING

November 2015 was suppose to be the red carpet rolled out for the FanFilm Awards. It was to be at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC), where Ninja-Con annually premiered. Personally, it was suppose to redeem the original panel event, so to bring the filmmakers back for something better, but fate had other plans…

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Jonathan Cook & Darrel Ferguson (Nominees for Best Script)

To begin, the venue had reconstruction scheduled on the exact month. Secondly, rescheduling for the same venue during wedding season, I knew, was a nightmare. I couldn’t blame the coordinators for the mishap, so much happens in the background of the JACCC that my optimism for the event, without a hiccup may as well have been mine own fault to blame. I’m sure I received note of it somewhere online, but what can I have done? I can list the excuses, but the truth of the matter was, as they say, “the show must go on!”

If not a garden to impress the guests with, then a gallery to welcome them as artists! As European as I can try to make the experience, the fact of the matter is we still needed to be found as an apparent event. A loft or park would take an aware society to gather for this festival. The FanFilm Awards was new, unknown, and without such a group. Gamers, Otakus, and other Geeks have so many other prettier places to spend their time at, and wouldn’t care much for an artistic endeavor such as this. Bring the theatre geeks, bibliophiles, art collectors – perhaps we would stand a chance, as a serious curated gala. But maybe I was being too harsh, even pretentious for admitting such cynicism to myself, at the time, but optimism had defeated my will. Hence, I became a Prick, and pricked away for better or worse. No detail was left unfurnished. If the venue had gone amiss, I took it upon myself to micromanage the rest of the operations in judging films, updating the site, inviting special guests, and chatting it up with the Nominees on twitter. I cannot recommend anyone to produce a show like this. Not like this…

PEER PRESSURE

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Danny Gonzales, VP

When I had completed even just half of the production, more complications had occurred: producing the awards, printing, red carpet rituals, you name it, and it maimed me.

Now, you might ask, isn’t the Azure Lorica Foundation filled with Staff and Board members to manage these details? The answer clearly is yes, but the deal about the organization is that until the program is earning a sustainable income, the organization cannot guarantee support. And that’s not to say that projects are snubbed, but that many other projects have had their failures, and it all stemmed from one main source: finance. If there is no income, then how do you produce? Will there be revenue, and where is it going to? Does the quality of the production match the quantity of traffic? Rent, insurance, etc. – all the terrible details we all wish we could do without! Danny Gonzales, our Vice President, had to deal with the same, when he began in Azure Lorica, to produce Ninja-Con. The struggle is real.

And truth be told, the FanFilm Awards was fueled only by my faith in the project, and my resources were being exhausted. A financial report was in order.

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Stefanie Warner, CEO

Stefanie Warner, is the founder, CEO-President of Azure Lorica, it was thanks to her designs, organization, and influence that led to the Foundation to becoming a solid company. But unlike Danny, whose influence spreads to crowds, Stefanie is strategic for pinpoint connections. Both stepped in, when I placed all my cards in the table. I had invested in managing IRS forms, sponsorship and donations from corporations and government programs, but manning the corporation was not the same as manning the operations. But with one report, one phone call, and one meeting, the CEO-President and the VP cleared the road. The awards were being hand carved by Stefanie’s father, the logistics covered by Danny and his crew, and soon the festival was moved to The Brewery – the largest art colony in the world!

All that was left were the filmmakers to be welcomed as the great artists they deserved to be.

LOSS OF SLEEP

Everything is easier said than done, when help arrives. Confidence and morale is raised, and soon one forgets that wars are won with pens not swords.

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(Best Actress) Manette Antill & Chuck Steinmann (Best Screenplay)

Three days right before the festival, I gave up on sleep. Emails took over my life, blog posts were not published on time, and the magazine project I simultaneously took on during the rescheduling of the festival was meeting it’s deadline later than expected. The rush took over my days, the sun and moon were nothing more than just another reminder that decisions were not made one time, and that being employed was just another word for hindrance to this labor of love. Calling in sick was no lie. But rest was not something I was ready to welcome. Not just yet.

After seventy two hours of editing, replies, blogging, and second guessing the schedule, nomination list, and so on, I napped. It seemed like forever, but the sunset had already come when I laid down, and it wasn’t too far from the horizon when I awoke for the festival.

When I arrived, people came gradually in small numbers. This evening shindig was our Press Night. Vain as it sounds, I believed I was the only one losing sleep over this, but at the event, there the Staff were with bags under their eyes, looking as fabulous as they could for the party. Diana Keeler, one of the judges for the script nominees had read over twenty scripts overnight, Danny had accounted the equipment and volunteers through the night, losing sleep throughout the dawn til day, and

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Amanda Martin, Ms. California – Royal Int.

Stefanie made time, juggling work, inspecting her father’s sword’s quality, and my incessant obsessions with the magazine and festival. We were tired. But we all knew that the hardest part of show business is never the struggle of the show, but making it look easy. So, like magic, the dreary slump of insomnia had transformed instantaneously to ecstatic greetings, enthusiastic conversations, and improvises exchanges of wit and connections.

I would like to mention that Amanda Martin, Miss California of the Royal International, was a godsend. Her countenance and manners made for a gorgeous hostess and guest for the Press Night. Her presence gave the event such an ambiance!

The volunteerism of Elysia Funtiveros’s photography, and the Press support from Datafist had built such a magnificent presentation that I cannot thank them enough for such a wonderful contribution.

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Eugene Cordell & America Young (Filmmaker)

Lock/Jaw, a nerd punk band had played that evening, and after a set of three songs, the party had to silence. The police came to inspect the noise control, and we returned to chatting over cocktails and dessert. The party ended slowly, and the night soon closed with anticipation.

EXPERIENCING THE “iTIS”

Coming too early, we attempted to setup for the festival and ceremony. It looked like a very casual hang out, screening movies all day long with friends – in which we mean really friendly guests from the industry: actors, cinematographers, and amazing celebrities (like, The Library Bards, America Young, and many more). One could get star struck by just walking in the screening room. If not by their fame, then by their enthusiasm as artists being with like minded creatives. It was a sight to see. Hugs all around!

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Bonnie Gordon & Xander Jeaneret (Library Bards)

I was on alert all day, manning the projector, introducing fanfilms from local and foreign production groups, and greeting whomever joined us in the room next for each screening. Famished described me best. I horded food in my mouth, as if it were my last, when at last I had eaten lunch. Vince Vecino, one of the new Board Members, whose contributions as a performer in the company, made sure that neither Stefanie or I neglect our stomachs, which sadly has become a habit since our first theatre productions in NoHo, in 2007.

I call this odd symptom “Produceritis” – where productions take precedents over everything, and the addiction only grows as you perpetuate more productions.

In fact, as the day went on, I felt my body ready to collapse from the lack of sleep and regular nutrition, that by the time the awards were being distributed, I had to ask volunteers to manage it for me by the second half of the session to take a momentary break. My pride needed a rest, and the festival glowed as a luminous star thanks to the Library Bards – Bonnie Gordon and Xander Jeaneret were magnificent hosts! Their songs and dance gave us the brilliance of the moon for that one night. Brava!

EPISODES OF NOSTALGIA

After the screenwriters had their interviews, and all our winners made their speeches, I was invited to make mine. I barely remember what I had said, except: “…you make life so much better!” And closing with “To the FanFilm Awards 2016…Goodnight!”

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Live Reading Ensemble: Joy Darash, Whitton Frank, Rose Hill, Jan-David Soutar, Katie Hemming, Ryan Burwell, Darrel Guilbeau, Cutter Palacios, & Cynthia Aldrich

A roar from the audience blasted that evening, lasting hours of congratulations and hugs and so many photos and new friendships made. It was like a dream, and I wish it never had to end.

By the next morning, I was in disbelief that what I had experienced was real at all. It was a magnificent show, with whose careers the Azure Lorica Foundation helped boost. After all the mayhem of producing such a beast, we were then responsible to keep our end of the bargain. For taking part in the FanFilm Awards, all winners are rewarded with a full year of marketing support. This included the support from our other events, blogs, magazine – all of it! Our programs have ways of advertising and promoting these films, and being on YouTube, the challenge wouldn’t be half as hard as building the festival. Call our bluff, but graphics, blogging, and word of mouth is second nature to us already in this organization. We use our talents at our day jobs, but in Azure Lorica we are free to practice it the way we want to direct it. Not a bad trade when it doesn’t feel like work at all.

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Raymond Montemayor (Best Animation), Stefanie Warner, & Eugene Cordell

As a Producer, I must say, I had a lot of fun making this project happen. I felt loved by the foundation, and am thankful for the sensibility of its members in managing the appropriate steps to create such a beautiful service for those working hard in the Entertainment Industry. Not everyone can be so fortunate to be recognized for being another Kardashian. Many of them get stuck in the office for fourteen hours a day, just to pay the rent, and then some. Producing these films tax them with late hours and extra sources of funding, and sometimes will never be congratulated for their hard work – no validation, thankless, and unrecognized. And for everyone who entered the festival – screenwriter and filmmakers – I toast to your marvelous films! It ain’t easy, but it is well worth the labor. You have my deepest respect. Thank you.

I’m looking forward to making next year’s even better. The thought of going through it again sounds scary, but I think it’s worth the insomnia. I get to feel like an artist again, fulfilled to the brim with inspiration and creativity, surrounded by like minded people. Which in the end is what we love about LA, right? We don’t live here for the traffic or freeway accidents, nor do we work here for the Beer or Sushi. No. We all return and stay in this busy city of broken dreams because we know it’s where we can be who we are: the bibliophiles, the cinephiles, the gamers, the writers, the dreamers – experimental and exotic, extreme and strange – whatever the oddity it takes to be that artist, we are and will be. There is no such thing as testing the waters here. The minute I tried, it sucked me into a torrent of opportunities. And that is why we do what we do. And the FanFilm Awards is just the beginning.

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