We had the good fortune of connecting with Chris and Jim McLennan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Chris and Jim, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
We have several businesses that we run. But the most thought provoking one has been, for the last 14 years, our film festival/convention – The Phoenix FearCON. As fans of films and film making, we used to attend film festivals for years. Every time we would go, we would talk about what would make this festival, or that festival better and we started making a list: “If we ran a film festival, what would it be like?” We would add to that wish list each time we went to another festival. Until 2006, when we decided to go ahead and do our own film festival with the intention of exploring independent film and film makers. Our intentions were not just to show their films, which, if you look at statistics, a very large percentage of films shown at festivals are never seen or heard from again and we found that statistic very unfair. At Phoenix FearCON, we have partnered up with several Film Distribution companies, who distribute on a multitude of platforms globally. Our partnership with these companies has given us the advantage of offering the winners of our festival a promise by our partner companies to distribute their films worldwide and get the recognition they so clearly deserve. We have improved the business plan for the FearCON over the years, to include a very interactive experience for horror film fans, and made the festival very like a convention. We’ve included Workshops, Panel Discussions, Interactive Photo Ops with CosPlayers and Sideline Entertainers as well as a wonderful Marketplace full of unique vendors to sell their wares and collectibles to their specific target audience. All of this in addition to screening 8-10 Feature Films and 20-30 Short films. It made for a long 2-3 days, but it was well worth it in our eyes. In addition to their prize of a distribution contract, Chris makes the trophies herself for each of the categories, so filmmakers who win the event have a tangible, unique reminder that their hard work, the blood, sweat and tears that went into making their project was important and won’t be forgotten.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
We are focusing on our event, Phoenix FearCON IX, which is going virtual for 2020. Since 2006, Phoenix FearCON Independent Horror Film Festival has been a community driven event focused on the independent horror film maker, and the obstacles they face trying to get their film projects noticed. In addition, we aim to make our events interactive, so that there are not just film screenings. We invite local performers and local celebrities for performances and meet/greets with their fans. Our volunteer staff work tirelessly and without compensation to make sure the FearCON is the best event visited by our guests and film makers. FearCON originally started out in 2006 as the Phoenix Fear Film Festival, showcasing local and international independent horror films at the now defunct Paper Heart, a small art gallery. We have since grown to a large venue and have been a vanguard event, dedicated to strengthening the general understanding of horror genre film culture by providing audiences independent, cutting‐edge, original films – and authentic representations of horror from around the world. In 2020, with the Covid-19 pandemic wreaking havoc with anything entertainment related, we had to make a decision to either postpone the event, or try going virtual. We decided to go Virtual this year, keeping safety in mind and hoping that all the fans will still have a great time. We’ve added interactive components, like live streaming performers, panel discussions, workshops and, of course, film screenings of independent horror films, looking for their fan base and for the possibility of winning an award, which includes a contract for international distribution from one of our partner sponsors. What we’ve learned along the way is that it is imperative that you are able to roll with the punches, to think outside the box and to be able to give your fans an event they will always remember. Covid-19 put a dent in the entertainment industry, but we refuse to let it take us down.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
When we’ve had friends come out to Arizona to visit, we hope it’s during the cooler temperatures like in the early spring or the fall. That way we can appreciate all that this wonderful state has to offer and enjoy the weather to boot. We like to go downtown and walk around, especially around Roosevelt Row during First Friday. We like, when we’re downtown, to visit the FilmBar and see what they have going on. It’s an independent art house cinema with a bar and an intimate theater. You never know what little gem they’ll be playing there. We love to eat at Angel’s Trumpet Ale House when we’re downtown and we love to go the Chase Field to watch the Arizona Diamondbacks play ball. Jim writes for the AZSnakepit.com – a fan site for Diamondbacks fans – so baseball is near and dear to us. Outside of downtown, we like to take our guests up north to visit Prescott, Jerome, Sedona and enjoy the views from the higher elevations of this amazing area. We always hope there are some events happening at Sun Studios, usually in the fall. They have some fun events like IZW Wrestling – live WWE-style wrestling entertainment and we are huge fans. There is also Early Bird Special Improv Comedy and, of course, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. If our guests have never seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show, we will make sure they get the full VIP treatment as a “virgin”. We are hoping the entertainment venues are able to open this fall, safely, so that we can enjoy ourselves again soon.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Since we’re going to be talking about our event, The Phoenix FearCON IX, I want to shout out to the people who are most instrumental in helping us with this massive project: First of all, Jim McLennan – the co-founder and festival director of the Phoenix FearCON. Who, since 2006, has been instrumental in making sure that the site works, that the films are mostly in focus and basically keeping me sane. Shout Out to Darrin Ramage of Sun Studios of Arizona, who gave us the initial idea of doing a Horror Film Festival way back in 2005 and supported our event with sponsorship and venue space. Final Shout Out to Jay Michaels, who, this year, has immersed himself into the FearCON world as our host and Public Relations guru, as well as connecting us with a variety of guests we have never had before. This is our first year of not doing the FearCON in person. We are going virtual and Jay has been a guiding light and a patient listener to all our fears.
Photo Credit: Phoenix FearCON