In the years prior to Shannon’s favorite social media führer Mark Zuckerberg launching Facebook, we millennials got to be the guinea pigs for a variety of other pioneering platforms including, but not limited to AIM, Yahoo! Messenger and its chat rooms, MSN Messenger, LiveJournal and the chat rooms provided by file-sharing apps Napster, Kazaa and Morpheus.
By the time I started my second year of college, I was already an avid MySpace user. I would spend my days frantically plugging in multiple paragraphs of CSS to give my page a grungy look, holding battle-of-the-bands tournaments in my head to determine who would hold the coveted music slot on my page and holding weekly court proceedings that would determine who my top four friends were going to be.
My favorite thing about MySpace, however, was its blogging platform. I was young, angry and had a lot to say at all times about a variety of topics. By the time I had graduated college, I had switched over to MySpace blogs entirely, graduating from the now-defunct Xanga platform. I enjoyed writing but I wouldn’t say my blogs were particularly good or even well-written. They were usually just my ill-informed and angry political posts about moving to Canada after the reelection of George W. Bush, an angry rant about how punk rock had been distilled by so many shitty pop bands with big record labels or simply a piece of horror fiction (this is, as you may recall, where my story Makes You Do Crazy Things originally lived before it became the short film I Love You that got me in this industry to begin with).
While I had started using Facebook more often in my later college years, MySpace was still the platform of choice for social media marketing by the time Saturday Night Grindhouse came to be. This meant we hit it hard with a fully fleshed-out page, creepy music, horrific photos and almost-daily posts about happenings with the show or the horror industry in general. We gave updates on production, received comments from our fan base and networked with other horror fanatics all over the world.
One important thing worth noting – I always kept it relevant and professional. Well, as professional as you could be while also posting photos of a blood-and-shit-covered GG Allin promoting the show, gifs of exploding heads and jokes about razor blades in apples. We were a horror show, after all. If I ever wanted to post something with real-life controversy, however, it lived on my personal blog.
After the incident with the mayor and the Grindhouse promo, I took to said personal MySpace blog with angry fingers, furiously typing away about what had happened and speaking my uncensored mind about the mayor, his actions, his moral shortcomings, charges of racism and alcoholism, and what I perceived as unfair treatment of my show. The post has long-since been deleted and I don’t remember what all it said verbatim, but I was pissed and writing was my outlet, so I spilled everything into that blog post with vehement vitriol and went on about my day.
It wasn’t long after that both Shannon and I were contacted by a mutual friend who was a journalist for the school newspaper at my alma mater, East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. We’ll call him Big John. I had met Big John at Northeast State Community College through my then-girlfriend whom he had grown up with. I liked him quite a bit and was flattered that he wanted to do a piece on the show. The main interest was me being a recent graduate who was using my degree in a great capacity at the local level.
We met in a corner booth at the Arby’s in Blountville and we talked about everything from how I got into video work and how I got my current job right out of college to where the idea of the show came from, how I met Shannon and how production was going.
And then we got into the juicy stuff — how our promo had been cut by the mayor of Kingsport. Big John was an avid supporter of our cause, had been following us on our social media and kept up with the latest news regarding our production, so he already knew the promo had been pulled and edited. I reiterate – he brought it up during the interview, I did not volunteer the information.
I told the story about the late-night phone call from the mayor but also voiced my opinion about Kingsport’s supposed support for the arts. The mayor and his cronies never missed an opportunity to say they were promoting art in the area but from what I could tell, the only art that was being encouraged was safe and mindless – still lives of fruit and water pitchers, bean-picking and Norman Rockwell bullshit. I explained how I felt like the city only wanted to give the appearance of supporting the arts and the artists who create it, but they were too controlling over what kind of art was allowed, thereby also what artists they supported. I viewed our show as locally produced art and I felt that the mayor forcing us to edit our host out was our “art-friendly” and “progressive” government unfairly censoring it.
Big John’s story ran the week of our big premiere and it was very well written. I don’t know what the analytics on the East Tennessean website looked like but the article didn’t get a lot of attention at the time. There were a few local bloggers and keyboard warriors on message boards that started talking about it but that was about it. In our minds, however, promotion was promotion no matter how big or small. We had bigger things to worry about anyway – it was premiere week.
Maybe I’m wrong but I feel like big TV premieres just aren’t what they used to be. I cut cable sometime around 2009 and have been bouncing between the various streaming platforms ever since. When a new show gets dropped on Netflix, it’s usually not just an episode but an entire season at once. Viewers then frequently binge the entire series over the weekend (or in one night) then talk incessantly about it at the office the next day, often dropping spoilers for those who haven’t had a chance to see it just yet.
I miss when TV premieres meant something. I’ll never forget being six years old when Michael Jackson’s video for Black or White premiered to kick off the hype for his 1991 record Dangerous. To say it was an event to behold is an understatement. My dad invited his neighbors and cousins over to the house, we ordered pizza and sat around the living room TV prepared to watch alongside some 500-million fellow MJ fans around the world. The video was broadcast simultaneously in 27 countries and was featured on MTV, BET, VH1, Fox and the BBC. I had never seen such a spectacle for a music video before or since.
And I wanted the same experience for the Saturday Night Grindhouse premiere.
The hype around the show had grown considerably in the weeks leading up to the big day. People had already recognized Shannon from the short time his face was on TV in the promos and were speaking to him in public. He was already a local celebrity in his own right but it was humbling and an unreal experience to know that people would greet him at stores with Hey! Saturday Night Grindhouse! A pouring out of support for a project that meant so much to us but hadn’t even aired. I was so proud of what we’d put together and was excited to show it to the world.
When the premiere day finally came, I had butterflies in my stomach. This was the biggest thing I’d ever gotten to be a part of and I knew we’d have hundreds of people in town watching. Some had even organized watch parties around it, gathering with groups of friends for an evening of horror and to see their friend Shannon on TV. At the time, I was staying with my grandmother while my Paps lived in a nursing home after suffering a massive stroke. I hung out in the den, set and ready to watch the premiere on her big-screen TV.
At 9:00pm sharp, the screen dipped to black and the sounds of Mannequin Hollowcaust took over. Discolored images of Shannon cutting raw meat, flashes of rotting corpses and a quick shot of Shannon busting the cantaloupe head ran across the screen. Finally, a distorted and grungy logo flickered off and on before once again dipping to black. Shannon walks out carrying his ax, seemingly not noticing his audience before abruptly stopping and seeing his viewers.
He greets the audience, introduces himself as “your fiend and host,” and talks a little about the first feature. This was it — it was happening — and I’m sure there were people all over town that had already gotten a few laughs out of our work. I was elated beyond belief that we’d gotten to this point.
As we continued watching, I started thinking about other ideas for the show, sets I could build, conventions we could attend, magazines we could work for. I’d spent the last decade or so of my life obsessed with the idea of working in the horror industry and at long last I had my ticket. And people were loving it.
Until the last segment, at least.
Everything looked and sounded great. Shannon was spot-on, the movies were entertaining and I remember feeling so much joy when we paused for the final commercial break – the home stretch.
And then my heart sank.
I watched as the final station identification bumper faded out and a completely different show started playing. This couldn’t be happening, not after all our hard work!
I panicked. I was embarrassed and felt as though I was on the verge of my first heart attack. I immediately jumped on my laptop and remotely connected to our programming app to see what went wrong. According to the schedule, the final segment was lined up correctly and should have played. We had the ability to start playing any video we wanted at any time, so I tried to force the final segment to play several times. Each time I tried to force it, the following show would start playing live on the air.
In retrospect, I guess me fidgeting with the programming worked to my advantage. At around midnight, most of our viewers were there to watch Saturday Night Grindhouse, so seeing the station seemingly glitch out would lead most to think something malfunctioned — not that the creator of the show was throwing a tantrum. If you were watching that night and remember seeing the channel freak out, then please keep thinking it was a glitch.
In reality, it was because I was having an expletive-fueled fit of rage swearing, fist-pounding, equipment throwing and sobbing. I called my boss, who was sleeping, and left numerous voicemails that were likely not very friendly to let him know the box fucked up. I messaged Shannon several times to let him know things had broken and I didn’t know why. And I wept. So much time, so much effort, so much passion all ruined. I felt like I had let our fans down and that I had let Shannon down. Never in my life had I experienced such a high followed by such a low and it hasn’t happened again since.
I spent the rest of the night curled up on the driveway, cursing at the stars about our misfortune before falling asleep.
I still don’t know what happened that night. Typically if a file was corrupt, the box would reject it and it wouldn’t show up in the playlist but this one had made it. It uploaded and it was scheduled correctly. I almost just didn’t care anymore because I was convinced that we were over.
Shannon was disappointed but he didn’t seem angry about it at all. In fact, he was very level-headed and was the only voice of reason in the whole thing. “No big deal, we’ll just keep going,” was his attitude and he was correct, though it wasn’t what I was in the mood to hear.
When I woke up the next morning, I brushed off my clothes and logged onto the Saturday Night Grindhouse email server and MySpace pages ready to send out an explanatory press release. I was mortified at the thought of logging on to find angry messages from fans, friends and potential sponsors for wasting their time and calling me out for bullshitting them on the grandeur of a project that failed on opening night.
What I actually found in my inbox, however, were several messages from fans asking what happened and encouraging us to press on despite the technical difficulties. People had gotten to see the majority of the show and not only had they loved it but they wanted more! There was an overwhelming gratitude that we had gone out of our way to represent an underserved demographic in the Tri-Cities and our loyal fans were thirsty for more content.
I just didn’t know if I had it in me to give it to them.