August 16-18th I attended the Indie Gathering up in Hudson, OH, my first attendance of any film fest, and it was the best decision I've made in a long time. I met incredible people, saw great films, and tested my acting skills.
I arrived Friday night around 8pm. My first viewing was "The Perfect Candidate" with Joe Estevez and Robert Z'Dar. Hilarious short film. After this I watched the rest of the screenings of the day, which included some romantic shorts, which were amazingly shot and just fantastic stories.
Around midnight I headed to the lounge where I got past my fear of small-talking and jumped right into a circle of people and said "Hi" with a great wave, and I was in! I chatted up some folks about movies and this and that for a few hours, and the conversation came round to Firefly and Joss Whedon quite a few times, and close to about 2 or 3am, I met a woman named Nina and her husband. Nina was also set to compete in the acting monologue the next morning, and she and I were instant friends. The presence and energy of this woman just instantly grabbed me and I went in to asking her advice about my monologue for the next day, which was something I'd slapped together from dialogue from "Thor" and "Avengers," playing the part of Loki as spoken to Thor.
The next morning I woke early and after practicing a bit more, headed down to the screening room where the competition was to be held. Before things got started, I met Mitra a fellow actress, and young Maggie. I performed when my name was up and I think people were generally impressed that I had at least attempted something so distinct as Loki. Feedback from the judges later on and a few other actors tells me that I, of course, still need to practice and work out a few things in performing and auditioning, but on the whole, it was a fantastic experience. When opportunities like this come up I generally back out on cold feet, but I was determined to do it and conquer my fear. I dunno if I've conquered it entirely, but I'm another step closer to be sure! At the end of it all I came in second in my age group and gender (18-39), so I'm happy with that.
After that began the long day of screening after lecture after panel discussion. I attended the acting, directing, and screenwriting panels. They were all quite informative, and after the acting panel, I approached Saba, a French writer/director/actor living in New York and who also competed that morning, and talked with him about acting and asked some advice, which he gladly gave. We talked about acting and filmmaking for at least five or ten minutes before splitting off. I then made the point to go visit the convention room where different tables were set up. I spoke with the people at just about every panel and just took it all in. I then headed to where Joe Estevez sat and chatted with him for a little while about the origin of my name (people were really double-taking and commenting how beautiful and distinct "Stephonika" was when I said my name, which made me very happy), and about my feature I'd done. I got an autographed photo (and one for a dear friend of mine who hadn't been able to come due to work) and snapped a photo. I also memorably chatted up Chris Hahn, who played the monster in Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan which recently aired on Syfy and screened later that night.
Finally around 4pm I headed to the hotel bar with Mitra, who I'd hung out with for most of the day, and finally ordered up some food. Mmm, BLTs! Anyway, Patrick, from L.A., and who'd been an acting judge that morning, sat down near to us and he and I started chatting about acting, writing, and wound up discussing my still unfinished sci-fi movie. He said he knew a few people that might be able to help for just credit and then invited Mitra and I over to a table where he and a group were sitting and shooting the shit about the frustrations of the business (y'know the annoying but very vital finance type stuff, among other things). I wolfed down my food and after ten minutes excused myself to attend a green-screening lecture, which was actually just a lot of stuff I already knew, but afterward I was able to chat up a few other people, one of them from Utah.
Finally the screenwriting panel came. Saba, Patrick, and a few others were on the panel, and it quickly got out of hand in the last half when an argument broke out. Long story short, it got interesting and was the talk of the fest for the rest of the evening and the next day. I was entertained, hahaha! But on the whole, it was also very informative.
The rest of the night flew by. Watched a few other films (among them, Axe Giant) and then the night was filled with talk and discussion in the lounge, where I again met up with Nina and her husband. Our conversation ranged from Loki and Thor, to superheroes, to Natalie Portman and Black Swan, to our mutual love of Jake Gyllenhaal, and onward. I sat in an armchair, and as the night went by, I was talking with the guys behind "Perfect Candidate," among others. Patrick swung by and introduced me to Jordan, a guy who could possibly help me with my film. We clicked instantly, I think, and chatted for a long while amongst the "lounging" crowd. I got a few invites for after parties held up in hotel rooms, and thought I might go later, but before I knew it, I was engrossed in deep conversations about Loki (again), superhero films, horror films (Cabin in the Woods in particular, and relayed my terrifying audience experience with it), and all throughout was discussion on plot, story structure, behind the scenes magic, character, and a blurb about "Buried." It was nearly 4am before we all realized it, and we slowly weeded out and went our separate ways. Sleep felt good.
And then I overslept! Woke up around 11am, hurriedly took a shower and packed up my things, and regrettably must have left behind my very favourite pen because it was missing later that day, and checked out of the hotel before heading back down into the lounge and conference area. That afternoon was filled with more lectures and panels about the legal aspects to filmmaking and guerrilla tactics, both of which were great panels! I met an older gentleman, Kyle, who was typing away on his macbook. I chatted with him for a while, come to find out he's working on a crime novel and has been published a few times as well as written 30-something scripts and won 15-20 awards. I made sure to get his email, and he invited me to email him and keep in touch.
The last event was the awards in the early evening, and my new friend, Nina, won the acting award. So proud for her! A few of the other people I'd met won script and film awards, and it was just great seeing people gaining recognition for the thing they loved. I actually got a little plaque for getting second place, which was a surprise! I really didn't expect that. Afterward, I said a fond farewell to Nina, Joe, Saba, and a few others I'd met over the weekend. Joe was wonderful, congratulated me and wished me well. I didn't want the weekend to end!
Once I got outta there, I got to visit an actor-friend who'd worked on my movie and hadn't seen in two years, which was a blast, and then it was on the road and a long drive home.
I look forward to the next adventure, and in the meantime I will continue honing my craft and keep in touch with these amazing new people. Also, in anything you do, keep in mind Joe Estevez's simple advice: "Be positive."