Days of the Dead, Atlanta: Conventions and the Indie art of networking

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Every year horror fans gather for the Days of the Dead convention, a place where they can commune, covered in corn syrup, while enjoying indie horror films, buying genre kitsch and meeting their favorite movie monsters and scream queens. Beginning in February, the convention tours through Indianapolis, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, giving fans plenty of chances to participate in the blood spattered revelry. But it’s not all murder and mayhem. For the artistic and entrepreneurial horror fan, a convention like Days of the Dead holds a wealth of marketing and networking possibilities.

“I just started getting made up and going to conventions to show my respect, my love of the horror genre,” said Pezzano. “And a lot of people started noticing it, the right people started noticing it and the whole thing kind of spawned into what I’m doing now.”

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Chris Pezzano is decked out in elaborate zombie makeup, gory appliances and tattered clothes, standing behind a booth against a back wall in the middle of a row of vendors. The vendors’ section takes up nearly half of the space allotted the Days of the Dead convention, located in the bottom floor of the Atlanta Sheraton. Most vendors are hawking eclectic horror T-shirts and movie-monster action figures, but Pezzano’s booth, a table filled with large, gruesome, handmade baby dolls stands out among the kitsch. It doesn’t hurt that Pezzano looks more like a convention goer than the typical schlubby salesman.

“The latest thing I’ve done makeup effects-wise was a movie called ‘Dead Still’ for Syfy,” said Pezzano. “I played three characters and made the creepy doll that’s in it. We filmed on location in Baton Rouge for about a month. I’ve been on ‘The Walking Dead’ a couple of times. There’s a local movie, shot here, called ‘Demon’s Rook’ I also helped on the special effects on that one.”

Pezzano has made a niche for himself selling spooky figures, jewelry and weaponry online and at horror conventions, primarily the Days of the Dead and Full Moon conventions. The Huntsville, Ala.-based Pezzano uses conventions as an opportunity to network. His booth is filled with cards simultaneously advertising his makeup effects and the work of his photographer. The gambit seems to have paid off, since Pezzano stays busy. But Pezzano isn’t the only artist that’s found success with this strategy.

“I’ve been doing creepy art pretty much as long as I can remember,” said Eric Brown, the sculptor behind Creature Seeker Studios. “I’ve been actively doing conventions for 5 or 6 years now. I do on average about one a month. Indianapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, North Carolina. I started doing sideshow gaffe exhibits like freak show oddity tent type exhibits and it slowly merged into a creepy, quirky kind of thing so I do horror things but with a comical bent.”

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Brown’s booth is covered with sculptures that range from cute and quirky to strange and spooky. Shrunken heads and mummified fairies sit side by side with killer tomatoes and monster cupcakes. Brown makes custom pieces and props for exhibits, and he is best known for creating Norman Reedus’ zombie ear necklace for AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead.’

“(Conventions) definitely help boost my online sales because I get to meet so many more people, said Brown. “I do Etsy, Facebook and then I have my own website. Just get exposure everywhere you can. Conventions help get your art in front of people that wouldn’t know you’re there.”

Getting people to just see your work is half the battle and the heavy traffic at a convention like Days of the Dead can be just the right match for creepy artists. If the right person takes notice, your art might be hanging from Daryl Dixon’s neck too. But it’s not just the vendors that take advantage of conventions. Even the guests signing the autographs use them as a chance to network.

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“I’ve met so many people throughout the years at conventions that have cast me in films,” said Felissa Rose. “Or you know, I’ve been on so many different projects with people from conventions, actors, like I’m sitting with Tony Todd right now. I want him to act in my movie. I’m going to meet Bill Mosley to talk with him, that’s what it’s all about.”

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Rose started her career at 12 years old, when she landed the lead role for the cult horror film, ‘Sleepaway Camp.’ Now, 30 years later, she is the co-head of the Independent Genre Division at Carolco Pictures, her IMDB page boasts over 50 acting credits and seven producer credits. Having done a variety of large-to-micro budget films, Rose is a seasoned cinema veteran. But her heart belongs to indie filmmaking.

“I hate to sound too philosophical or preachy, but, you know, just do it. Just meet people who have the same passion, just form support groups. And I know that sounds weird, but it’s all networking. It’s all about a team cheering each other on. Just surround yourself with good positive people and make it happen. That’s all I did. It’s like, why am I a producer? I wanted it so badly.”

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Nick Principe, the slasher star of the ‘Laid to Rest’ franchise, has worked several jobs in horror show business, working behind the scenes on television shows, to donning masks and chasing damsels. His story sounds a lot like the others. He just showed up and put himself out there.

“I did props,” said Principe. “I worked as a set dresser on ‘Dexter’ and built props for Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween.’ I did stunt work, stunt coordinator, that kind of thing. The first job I ever had, I was working at a music store. I had only been in Los Angeles like three months, moved there from New England, and I always saw these movie sets with big trucks, trailers, stuff like that across the street at this Armenian church. On my lunch break I went over there and I asked if they needed any help and they said, ‘What are you, a PA?’ and I didn’t know what that was so I said, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ And the guy says, ‘Well yeah, we had two people call out this morning.’ Turned out it was for ‘America’s Most Wanted,’ the TV show.”

Not everyone will luck into a crew filming at the church across the street, but there are some other options. Conventions like Days of the Dead aren’t just fun gatherings for fans. It’s not just a horror thing, or a nerd thing; it’s a movie thing and a business thing. There are some real opportunities to be capitalized on for those that are savvy enough to take advantage of them. So for those creative and business-minded horror fans out there: show up and show off your craft. There are few places where you can guarantee that you’ll be able to put your work in front of so many genre fans and insiders at once.