Saturday Night Grindhouse Chapter 9: Why We Never Fought Back

The meeting we had after the tumultuous events was very short. My boss and I tried brainstorming ways to bring in extra money but the fact was, without the contract with the city we simply didn’t have enough money to get any of our project ideas off the ground. It was a hard decision for him to make and extremely difficult news for me to hear, but it was decided that I should be on my way and I couldn’t help but agree that it was the right thing to do.

I remember hanging my head as I walked down the steps and back out to my silver Honda CR-V. None of the passersby knew what had just happened but in my mind, they were not only fully aware but they were also pitying me. I was humiliated and I had potentially wrecked a guy’s business all because I thought I knew something about art and fighting the system.

There weren’t many but I did have a small group of friends who understood what it means to be an artist whose work is shit on so badly. Mostly, however, I was surrounded by people who loved reminding me that everyone enjoys the freedom of speech but no one is immune from the consequences those freely spoken words can have. They’re right, of course, but this philosophy was missing the point in my eyes. I had made something special and people loved it … then it was taken away from me for doing what I thought was right.

That night I hung out with some of my similar-minded friends at a high-top table at the O’Charley’s I had worked at in college. I ate fried pepper-jack cheese wedges and shared a pitcher of beer with myself while whining about my situation to anyone who would listen. I was like a pathetic sad sack who just found out his wife had been cheating on him and she now wants a divorce, the house, the kids and the dog. 

Every emotion a human can experience was running through my veins at that point, but I think anger was at the forefront of my outbursts. In between pints of beer I pondered how, exactly, I was going to get even with the government of Kingsport for how they had seemingly wronged me. At that point I was already on their radar so why not just stay on it? In my mind, I had already lost everything so there was no need to be careful anymore.

I was three sheets to the wind when I remembered I needed to do something about my employment. Fortunately the general manager of that O’Charley’s where I had spent so many years of my life was working that night so I asked her if I could come back. She didn’t interview me, she didn’t ask me to fill out an application … She just told me to pick up a shirt that night and come ready to work on Monday. 

How the mighty had fallen. I had gone from hotshot TV show producer to being a server again.

I woke up the next morning with a hangover, my employment covered and a newfound passion for cranking out ideas for how our show was going to make a triumphant comeback. Saturday Night Grindhouse may have been over on MyTown TV but we were far from dead so I spent many hours trying to redevelop our brand.

With two full episodes in the can, I was fully equipped with what I thought was enough to sell my show to some of the other local markets who had shown interest originally. Very much like my experience trying to sell ads for the show, however, I had no idea what I was doing and my efforts paid off in the same fashion – I didn’t get a response from anyone.

Not to be deterred, my pen grew even angrier. During this time I had decided that maybe the previous rendition of Saturday Night Grindhouse was actually dead but we were in a pretty good spot to rebrand and push things a little further. My first rebranded concept was a monthly live event to be held in the auditorium at Northeast State Community College. I had great experiences in that theater and had a good relationship with the director over that department so I figured it would be a good way to get back in front of people’s faces. 

Shannon’s personality was infectious so seeing him in person would far surpass ever seeing him on television! We could have Chaotic Underworld bands come set up in the studio to be the house bands for the evening, Shannon could improvise his hosting with a few scripted stunts and we could still show horror films just without the pesky content filters and family friendly vibes. In fact, there would be no sensor at all! Shannon could say whatever he wanted to say, the bands could play whatever they wanted to play and if we could find some girls who were willing to run around the stage with their tits out, we’d hire them.

Excited by this opportunity, I furiously began redesigning our logo and website, then took to rebranding our entire social presence complete with much edgier phrasing and stronger language. I reached out to several people who could assist in the production and …

…I moved to North Carolina. I followed a relationship to Morganton, NC, where she had lived for almost a year. I felt like I owed it to her to leave my passion project in Tennessee so that we could pursue our relationship so I did. Could I have still organized the monthly events? Yes, but my move ultimately prevented any reincarnations of Saturday Night Grindhouse – it acted as the death knell to the most important piece of television to come out of the Tri-Cities.

Still, I was maintaining our online presence while scrambling to make a living doing freelance graphic design and trying to find a full-time job. I was also working overtime trying to figure out what the next chapter was going to be for our show. Shannon and I eventually decided to try to come back as an online-only show so that we could not only be uncensored but also accept film submissions from independent filmmakers around the globe – the little guys who so desperately needed the attention and distribution afforded to them by platforms like ours.

To build up hype, we began working on a marketing plan that was centered on our ban in Kingsport – Saturday Night Grindhouse: Banned in Kingsport! We Frightened the Mayor! So Scary the Government Shut Us Down! We had even talked about the first show beginning with a grotesque scene featuring Shannon (posing as Mayor Phillips) sodomizing me with indications that I represented art as I lay helpless over a broken-down table covered with raw meat and booze. It was the perfect, horribly unnecessary edge we needed and it was pallatable for our already established audience.

We had our plan, we just needed to fund it. We had no money for travel or props and we didn’t have the proper equipment to shoot or edit it anymore. I remembered how people often asked us if we would ever sell merchandise during the short time our show was on the air, swearing up and down they’d buy anything we sold. So I set out to design a couple of t-shirts and stickers. I had two designs of each and would print them all at home as the orders came in.

But no orders ever came in. I made myself and Shannon a shirt each and passed out a few free stickers but other than that I think I maybe made only one sale. All the people who said they’d flood us with money for merchandise suddenly vanished without a trace once said merchandise was made available. This is a phenomenon I’ve found to be true over the years with all forms of capitalistic endeavors. People love the idea of having something to buy but they ghost when it isn’t free

Without the funds for production, we never got around to making anything new. A short time later we entertained another online show idea similar to the Cult of UHF called Screens and Spleens: TV with Guts! I made a cool logo and some graphics for it but that was about as far as that went. 

It had been months. I wasn’t making any money freelancing and certainly wasn’t raising any funds from our merchandise idea. Additionally, the distance between Shannon and I had taken a toll on both of us. Even if we did find a new home for our show and secure equipment to shoot it with, we’d have to get together for production and the distance between Duffield and Morganton made it seem nearly impossible. I threw in the towel. There would be no comeback. We simply did not have the manpower, the funds or, honestly, the personal passion to pull it off anymore.

After having a few conversations with people who were at one point or another close to the project, it was also around this time that I finally accepted that the public’s interest in our show had waned. While we had an impressive following considering we hadn’t existed for very long, that short lifespan made it so that our support and followers were far from a legion. We loved our group of fans and those who supported us did so with vigor but ultimately they were too few in number to help us grow in any way. Likewise, our social media had a decent-size following but garnered very little in the way of interaction – we were mostly just another voice in a busy (and growing) social media landscape.

I would later find out that a large portion of our once-followers were disappointed that we didn’t seem to fight back anymore than we did. Sure, we made some outrageous statements about the situation and swore we weren’t defeated but we never went much further than that. I think this made our fans view us as weak or deflated. We were trying to sell ourselves as the big-bad horror show that scared the mayor and are proud supporters of dangerous art, yet here we were appearing to be too scared to fight the mayor of Small Town America.

I want to take this opportunity to say that if you were around back then and felt this way (or if you feel that way simply by reading the saga up until this point), I want to assure you this wasn’t the case. I certainly wasn’t afraid of the mayor or his cronies and neither was Shannon. The Cinema Warrior had a lot to say about it but since I was the creator of the show, he left all public relations up to me, which is not only understandable but professional and much appreciated. For a while, I believe even he wasn’t sure why we didn’t make more of a case for ourselves publicly.

To put it simply: Saturday Night Grindhouse was laid to rest with very little pushback or public posturing simply because the process had tarnished both the name of my boss and his business. Sure, I had lost my show and job but the repercussions of my actions reached even further than that. My boss had nothing to do with our show, what I had said or how we reacted. He didn’t know I had a blog and didn’t know I had done the East Tennessean interview. Regardless, he lost his biggest contract and was now panicking as he struggled to find ways to keep the lights on at his office. All this because I decided to make a few statements that made me feel “punk rock.”

No, the only thing wrong my boss ever did was take a chance on me. He gave me that internship during my last year of college, taught me how to use a proper video camera, trained me on how to use a Mac and Apple Final Cut Pro 7, guided me through the entire production process in a way I’d never seen before and encouraged me to keep generating content until we struck gold. Sure, I was getting paid peanuts to do the job but as far as I was concerned, I briefly had my dream job the second I got out of college. Not many people can say that and it was all because he decided I was worth a gamble.

This wonderful, reputable man had nothing to do with what happened yet his name was attached to it all – I was the perpetrator but I was his employee working for his business owned by his name. While I tried to distance myself and Saturday Night Grindhouse from him and his business, it was already established and any further action I, my host or our fans would take would then consequently be tied to him. I felt like I had hurt his business enough and I simply didn’t want to do it anymore.

Otherwise we would have reacted more aggressively. Protests outside of City Hall, interviews with the press, moving forward with the mayoral ass-fucking scene … all of it. But we ceased. Our proposed retaliatory interviews for the local media or peaceful protests never came to fruition. Afterall, if an artist is truly an artist and they find themselves defeated, their only option is to create something else. My boss, however, was not some bullshit hot-shot so-called “artist” with stars in his eyes – he was a small business owner who had his humble empire destroyed by a diva. He’d been through enough.

The fact that every teenage couple who sneaks off for a premarital shag in the woods gets murdered by Jason Voorhees is enough to convince me that even cinematic monsters and killers have a moral compass. Our lack of response to the Mayor and his brute-like bullying was simply us reading ours.

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