Kaiju Kidd Goes To Monster Con

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Not too long ago I had the pleasure of going to the Famous Monsters of Filmland convention in Dallas, TX. This would be the first convention of its kind from FMF magazine to be in Dallas. For their first convention, FMF started very strong with famous guests from all around and a long list of varying panels and events for any fan of the Universal Monsters, Tokusatsu, Science Fiction and Horror. Lots of fun was had all weekend by both guests and attendees alike. Allow me to share with you some of my experience as well as what other things the con had to offer.

While I did have a wonderful time at the convention, there was one major hiccup that happened over the weekend. On Friday, there was a great deal of confusion regarding when things started and when people should arrive. I and other press reps were there between noon and 1 o’clock, but the events and vendors’ area did not open up until five. Apparently, there was an opening ceremony scheduled for the afternoon that had to be cancelled early on. I do not want to be too hard on them for this for multiple reasons. This is the first Famous Monsters Convention in Dallas so hiccups were bound to happen, the rest of the convention was enough fun that I almost forgot that hiccup even happened and this didn’t affect the masses so much as the press, but they made up for this be giving the press more or less open access to the rooms as they were setting up to get pictures and take notes.

Aside from a bumpy start, the rest of the convention was full of enjoyment despite the attendance only being in the hundreds. This was the first of this particular convention so it, of course, was not going to draw in the same crowds as Dallas Comic-con, A-Kon, etc. Strangely enough, the atmosphere created by this low attendance is one that is very welcoming and cozy. Since fewer people attended, the ones that did interacted with each other a bit more. This created a sense of family among the attendees. This also extended to the guests. In most conventions, it is not uncommon for guests to be swarmed with fans and people taking pictures/wanting autographs. The guests at this panel were usually walking and talking with the attendees and I could tell by looking, that almost none of them looked overwhelmed. The guests were having just as much fun as the attendees and, for the first time in any convention I have seen, the attendees let the guests have some breathing room and personal space from time to time. Cozy truly is the best word to describe how this weekend felt and it was a surprisingly wonderful change of pace from the busyness of other conventions.

Speaking of guests, the guest list for FMF was surprisingly top notch for a first time convention. Many famous people were there including:

  • Shinji Higuchi: Co-director of Shin Gojira. Also known for his work on Evangelion and the live action Attack on Titan.
  • Kaichii Sakurai: Cinematographer for Shin Gojira. Also known for working as an effects coordinator and cinematographer for other Godzilla movies and various tokusatsu films and shows.
  • Sean S. Cunningham: Producer of the acclaimed Friday the 13th series among a few other science fiction horror movies and documentaries.
  • Ricou Browning: The last living Universal Monster. Did the swimming scenes in the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Also worked on Flipper and a few James Bond movies.
  • Michael Dorn: Known as Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Has lended his acting and vocal talents to various games and shows ranging from Regular show to Justice League.

 I could honestly list all of the guests that were here but there were dozens! Voice actors from StarCraft, The Lone Gunmen from the X-Files, various Power Rangers from different seasons, Many great artists, awesome cosplayers, etc. I was even fortunate enough to attend a few Q&A sessions and learn more about a few of the guests.

Ricou Browning: The Creature swims among us

Despite being more of a fan of Japanese giant monsters and the like, I was very excited to hear the stories of another great suit actor and inspiring film presence. Mr. Browning did not disappoint as he shared with the audience stories of his time on set of the 3 Creature of the Black Lagoon movies as well as what he did before and in between films. Mr. Browning was a natural in the water and knew much as he spent part of his life working for the Florida Wildlife Magazine.

Immediately though, people were curious about the conditions of filming the creature. Suit acting is already a difficult art and this man had to endure a suit that was submerged. It was explained that to help with swimming, the suit was made of a thin green spandex and the fabricated scales and larger pieces were hot glued on. There was even an incident where the glue burned Mr. Browning through the spandex, leaving him with blisters on his chest that have still left a scar to this day. Once the glue had set though and the costume was completed, it only took a surprising 10 minutes to put on and 10 minutes to take off. Mr. Browning even shared with us a cool detail of the suit. There were air hoses attached to the arms and gills that, when squeezed would open the gills. Even though Bill Chapman had used this hose frequently when filming the scenes of the creature on land, Ricou Browning felt little need as the gills moved around almost on their own under water. This created a more natural feel to the suit during the water scenes.

The next set of questions were in regards to how the film was shot and if it was difficult to shoot in water. Mr. Browning was quick to point out that there were two main difficulties with filming in Wakulla Springs in Florida. The first major obstacle was the temperature. The water was typically about 51 degrees and the out of the water it was about 49 degrees. This, of course, meant that the actors and crew had to warm up frequently, especially Mr. Browning. The other difficulty was setting up the camera properly. The creators of these films were ambitious and all three Creature films were shot in 3D. For the underwater scenes, 2 cameras were placed side by side in one housing with both on at a slight angle to get a proper 3D shot of what was in front of them. Creating the proper sized housing was difficult enough at the time, but during filming, the housing would often leak. Clearing the water and fixing the camera just became part of filming and would sometimes create 4-5 day delays in filming the first movie.

Finally, Mr. Browning shared with us stories of other films he had worked on and what he had done after filming the Creature series. I’m sure many people know this already, but it was a pleasure and a surprise to find out that Mr. Browning, The Creature From the Black Lagoon himself, was responsible for bringing us Flipper, as an associate producer in charge of underwater operations. Mr. Browning also worked on two James Bond movies: Never Say Never Again as an underwater sequence director and Thunderball as an underwater sequence director as well as an assistant director for the remaining scenes. I was shocked to see that this man had such a diverse and well-known filmography under his belt. It was also hilarious to me that the Creature from the Black Lagoon essentially thought up the concept of the show “Flipper”.

It really was a treat to hear about the life of Ricou Browning from the man himself. If I were to use one word or phrase to describe Mr. Browning, it would be hard-working. This great man shared his honest experience and remained open with us about every detail we were curious about. You could tell that, even at his current age, he put his all into everything he did. I am proud to have heard this man tell us about his life and his experience filming some wonderful and timeless monster movies.

Shin Gojira screening and Q&A panel

Keichii Sakurai

By far, I was looking the most forward to this panel. I cannot help myself; I am obsessed with Godzilla. After a wonderful screening of Shin Gojira, which remains a great Godzilla film, the director, Shinji Higuchi, and cinematographer, Keichii Sakurai, came to the front for a unique Q&A panel. Nobody expected what these two had prepared for their audience at this convention. I am under oath to not offer any spoilers, but the duo had a very special con-exclusive presentation for the fans who attended their panel. I cannot give anything away beyond saying that it was truly amazing to behold.

As far as the guests of honor at this panel, I was pleasantly surprised by just how down to earth this pair was. Most Toho fans will tell you that while the actors are not afraid to have fun with the fans, Toho still likes to keep their nest egg in check and there is usually a sense of seriousness in the tone and actions of directors and people who work higher in the offices of Toho Studios. While there was the whole “don’t tell anybody about what you see in this presentation” thing, it was clear that Keichii Sakurai and Shinji Higuchi were there to have as much fun as the rest of us.

Shinji Higuchi was a very quick-witted and funny man. During the Q&A Ed Holland, Chief Editor of Monster Attack Team accompanied them. The director was asked if his most recent portrayal of Gojira was one that represented purification. While Shinji was thinking about it briefly and laughing, Ed chimed in an almost overwhelmed demeanor stating how heavy a question that is, religious undertones, etc. In his panicky state, Shinji Higuchi leans forward and just quietly says “yes” into the mic and leans back with this proud expression on his face. It was clear he was saying that for fun and to get a reaction with the audience and other

Shinji Higuchi

panelists. This open and fun personality would carry over in the whole Q&A as well as during the convention.

Keichii Sakurai was a little more soft-spoken than Shinji. He was not quiet by any means, of course. He would answer any question directed at him with honestly. Despite his demeanor, Sakurai-san was very modest. I am sure he went red in the face when we were applauding the movie and when one person started their question with praising his work. The audience and his friend Shinji had to assure him that he had become one of the masters of monster cinematography, though he likely still will not admit to it.

Overall, we learned much from their panel. While the olden ways of a man in a suit will always be cherished, Toho and the other wonderful folks who work on it see this CG route as a necessary step for Godzilla. We do not know if there will be a sequel to Shin Gojira, but as it has been going, the American films do seem to have the blessing of Toho studios. While not his final words, the pair was able to leave the audience with some great advice from the old masters that, despite its simplicity, is a powerful message. “Love what you do and who you do it with”. This was answered in response to how they got along so well with everyone from all the movies and if there was any advice, they can impart upon the audience. For many reasons I am glad I was able to hear them talk about life and their careers.

Weekend Activities

The guests were not the only great thing about this convention, no sir. There were plenty of events happening all weekend. Aside from the Shin Gojira Screening, there were screenings of several movies ranging from old classics like The Valley of Gwangi, to modern films and anime. Shinji Higuchi and Keichii Sakurai also had a special screening of the live-action Attack on Titan. I was shocked to even see a showing of the Space Battleship Yamato on the schedule of events. Movies were not the only thing to do of course.

Throughout the weekend D2 Tactical Laser tag had a course setup in one of the rooms for all to play. I can safely say after trying it that I am way too out of shape to do that a whole lot, but man was it fun. All weekend there was also a room dedicated to Dungeons and Dragons with various sessions you can just pop in and play with people. Next door, you had a LEGO room with various creations themed around famous monsters and open stations where people can build anything. They were even giving away free Lego Godzilla packs!

Of course, there were also the staples of any convention, cosplayers and cosplay contests. Several impressive cosplay guests were at the convention including a man named Robert Pruitt with a VERY well done Godzilla suit. There was even folks from SyFy channel’s Faceoff making designs all weekend. Cosplayers and designers from all around gathered to show their stuff and all were willing to advise younger and less experienced designers and cosplayers. These designers were only a small part of all of the other various panels that were at this convention.

Every panel listed was worth going to for one reason or another. From cosplayers and designers you, of course, had panels about related things: Foam fabrication, 3D print modeling and planning by design. Just as there were panels dedicated to design, there were those dedicated to other forms of creation such as writing and teaching history through horror. My personal favorite panels, aside from the Q&A’s, were the novelty ones. You know the ones that can only exist at a particular convention so you feel compelled to go.

The novelty panel that most, at least most in my particular fandom, would be interested in is the Rare and Unseen Kaiju films panel. I was drawn to that panel to see Godzilla vs. The Wolfman and ended up seeing a lot more: A beer-powered Ultraman spoof, some college students’ senior project that had effects that may even make the masters at Toho proud and even a Trailer for a Jet Jaguar fan film! Now I can hold my head up high that I have now seen things that many Tokusatsu fans only wish they had seen. HA!

Last but certainly not least, the vendor’s space. Man there was some great stuff here. I know I said that Kaiju and Godzilla were not everything this panel had to offer but it filled me with such glee to see every other vendor had some Godzilla stuff. Everything was here! From novelty movie posters, to professionally made masks, to collectibles hailing straight from Japan and Hollywood. I knew I was home when I saw X-plus Godzilla figures next to Star Trek collectibles.

Truly, the Famous Monsters Convention was a wonderful experience and I am glad that I was able to attend. I sincerely hope that this convention comes back and that more will join in this event. I cannot stress enough how much fun this was for Monster fans and Science Fiction nerds. This is the Kaiju Kidd signing out form a fun weekend in Dallas, Tx.
For More Tokusatsu Obsession visit the Kaiju Kidd’s blog at Team Kaiju

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