Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why "Halloween" Made Me Nauseous—It’s Not What You Think!

A BEMAD ad from the Indiana
Daily Student newspaper.
The only thing that can rival the joy of watching a movie with a few close friends is showing a movie to a few hundred strangers. Of course, these are very different experiences. One is about sharing one’s love of movies. The other is about putting on a show!

When I was a junior at Indiana University in the late 1970s, four friends and I formed an organization that showed movies to raise money for our dorm floor. Using the first letter of each of our last names, we called our group BEMAD Productions. BEMAD showed 16mm films at various locations on the Bloomington campus, charging from $1 to $1.50 per student. Our eclectic choice of films included: The Pink Panther; Start the Revolution Without Me; Fellini’s Casanova; Enter the Dragon; Horror of Dracula; and several of the James Bond films. Our biggest hit—prior to 1980—was a Halloween night showing of Night of the Living Dead.

Most show biz stories center on a tenacious rivalry and this one is no exception. The largest film-showing organization on campus was called the Union Board. It received funds from each student as part of a required “activity fee.” As a result, Union Board was well funded and could afford to show the most current 16mm film releases, which sometimes cost as much as $425 for a one-day rental (vs. 50% of the gross profits). BEMAD, which covered its own expenses, couldn’t compete with those exorbitant prices. Furthermore, Union Board got first dibs on current releases because it booked so many films with the 16mm rental companies.

However, things changed in the spring of 1980. Due to graduations, BEMAD’s active members had dwindled to three of us. We only showed films on an occasional basis and donated our profits to the Film Studies Office in the Comparative Literature Department. Terry, BEMAD’s “booker” extraordinaire, had cultivated strong relationships with several of the rental companies. So, one of them contacted Terry when John Carpenter’s Halloween was released on 16mm. Since Union Board’s schedule for the semester was already set, Halloween was available—but at a cost of $500 for a two-day rental vs. 50% of the profits.

The temptation to “scoop” Union Board was great, but the cost seemed prohibitive. We were particularly concerned with showing Halloween in March instead of October—especially since it had played theatrically for a long time at the Princess Theatre, Bloomington’s $1 movie house. That’s when the film company’s rep suggested that we just put the rental on a credit card. We wouldn’t have to pay anything upfront—and surely we’d make more than $500 to cover the cost. The only problem was that, as poor college students, we didn’t have a credit card.

I did, however, have my father’s credit card…which he gave me for use in an emergency. Didn’t the chance to be the first campus organization to show Halloween qualify as “an emergency”? Besides, I wouldn’t even have to tell Dad because the credit card wouldn’t be charged unless we failed to make $500—and that would never happen!

Everything went smoothly prior to the big night. We booked an auditorium in the Business Building. Advertised in the Indiana Daily Student newspaper. Put up 200 flyers all over campus. Procured two projectors. Got a roll of tickets and money for the till.

By 6:30 on Friday night, we were all set up and ready to reap in huge profits. Twenty minutes prior to the first show time—when patrons usually started to drift in—no one was there. At 6:50, I peered into the auditorium and counted about a dozen people. I sat down on the steps of the projection booth as a wave of nausea washed over me. I envisioned myself explaining to Dad how I had spent $500 on a movie rental using his credit card—and lost about $400! How could I have possibly placed myself in such a horrible, embarrassing situation?

And then…people started to arrive…in big bunches. By 7:05, the auditorium was full and John Carpenter’s eerie music was playing over the credits. We sold out almost every show at the 7, 9, and 11 PM showings on Friday and repeated the feat on Saturday. I don’t even remember how much we made, but it was more than enough to cover the full rental cost and allow for a generous donation to the Film Studies Office.

My friend Terry (right) told our Halloween
story to John Carpenter many years later.
I still keep in touch with three of my BEMAD pals. Often, when we start reminiscing, we ramble on for hours about the time we borrowed a coffin to promote Night of the Living Dead or the blizzard that provided a captive audience for The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D or the time the projectionist (me) watched the flick as the film unraveled on the floor instead of onto the take-up reel. Today, I can even reflect fondly on the night that Halloween made me nauseous.


Dawn said...

Rick, ohmygosh!! You were very brave to use your father's credit card to rent movie for your Halloween show. I dunno.. about your dad, but.. mine would have killed me, for running up such a high bill.

It is wonderful, that you still keep in touch with your partners in crime, I mean BEMAD pals.

David Lobosco said...

The Night Of The Living Dead was film around our area of Pittsburgh. One scene in the movie at the cemetary is where my dad is now buried. Spooky film after all these years!

Yvette said...

Great story, Rick. Obviously you were and are a brave soul.

toto2 said...

This is the stuff that magical movie memories are made of! I can imagine your incredible angst before the crowds finally arrived. Bless your heart! And the story about the film landing on the floor rather than on the take up reel must have been another heart-stopping moment during that experience. Best of all, I imagine you were delighted to write a good sized check to the Film Studies Office, when all was said and done, for the profits of the night when "he came home". Loved these reflections, Rick! Thanks for sharing.

Caftan Woman said...

My stomach did flip flops!

I'm certain that you and your father would have had very different definitions of "emergency". Too funny.

DorianTB said...

*Whew!* Talk about suspense! Rick, I got a kick out of your post about how you and your BEMAD pals snatched a resounding success out of the jaws of potential disaster! I bet your dad was glad everything worked out, too! :-) We used to run movies at my alma mater, Fordham University, and it was great fun. Thanks for sharing your memories!

sarkoffagus said...

Wonderful story, Rick! I know that experience made you nauseous, but I thought it was hysterical, especially since it turned out okay and you didn't lose $500. BEMAD Productions sounded absolutely terrific! Maybe you can reignite it someday soon. Just out of curiosity, how did Fellini's CASANOVA go over with the audience? I watched that in a film class, and a lot of people whined about it. It's good (and not surprising) that HALLOWEEN saved the day! A great start to this month's theme, and thank you so much, Rick, for sharing your memory.

Rick29 said...

Sark, we lost a good chunk of money on FELLINI'S CASANOVA, but we still enjoy shouting "I want my macaroni! (a Donald Sutherland line) at each other. Dorian, I never told my Dad since the credit card was never charged--but I think he would have ultimately understood. He played a key role in my love of cinema. And Toto, it did indeed feel nice to make a sizable donation to a worthy cause.

ScribeHard said...

Of course it was an emergency! One man's calm is another man's crisis. Nice post, Rick.

Citizen Screen said...

Wonderful story from (clearly) very fond memories. Thank you for sharing it. Wish I coulda been there. But I LOVE the way you tell it! Something so special about talent for narrative! It's what makes the classic movies so great, and what makes what you write...well, so worth reading!

Did you ever tell your dad about his too-close-for-comfort expense?


Rick29 said...

No, Aurora, I never did tell my father. Looking back, I think he would have understood.