Lost in Translation: Dragon*Con
by Devi Snively
I felt like Bill Murray in the beginning of Lost in
Translation only instead of being the tallest person in the crowded
hotel elevator, I was the only one not donning wings, latex or a Storm
I had just checked in at the Atlanta Hyatt Regency where I’d come to
attend Dragon*Con, America’s largest annual popular arts convention for
Gamers, Trekkies, and die-hard aficionados of all things sci-fi, horror,
and/or fantasy. Admittedly, I am none of these things really. I am a
filmmaker who had come for the sole purpose of screening my latest short
Teenage Bikini Vampire which was a finalist in the film
competition. So, entering into the very foreign world of Dragon*Con (or
“The Con” as those in the know refer to it as) was quite the eye-opening
After wading through scores of scantily-clad goth fairies, superheroes,
and what appeared to be the entire cast of the Muppet Show, I
finally managed to locate the Learning Center, the auditorium devoted to
the film track of The Con and my new home away from home for the next
seventy-two hours. I found myself among instant new friends –
filmmakers, film promoters, and film lovers alike, all dressed in
standard filmmaker black jeans and t-shirts featuring an array of cult
and horror films ranging from Troma to Hellboy. Ah, home at last.
I would spend the next nine hours glued to my seat, watching a wide
variety of innovative shorts featuring everything from murderous sock
puppets to a fiery claymation hell, as well as any number of fascinating
panels covering topics such as special fx make-up, indie film funding,
and b-movie horror acting. In between sessions I mingled with my
filmmaking peers, exchanging business cards and wild tales of one
another’s adventures in films. Matthew Foster, the fabulous organizer of
the film track (and no, I’m not just kissing ass) occasionally
entertained us with assorted odd shorts, many featuring demented
I honestly didn’t want the day to end, but eventually hunger,
dehydration, and the need to stretch my legs pried me away from the
safety of the Learning Center and back out into the chaos of the bizarro
world that loomed outside. Only now instead of hundreds of outrageous
costume-clad creatures, I suddenly found myself amidst thousands of
The pirate Jack Sparrow tipped his hat to me. Predator leaped out in
front of me and growled. And if I’m not mistaken, a randy hobbit slid
his hand under my short skirt and copped a feel. Before I could turn to
scold him (or thank him for that matter) a relatively harmless-looking
young gent asked me if he could take my picture because I looked
“normal.” My mother would have been so pleased. Always a sucker for an
innovative pick-up line, I acquiesced.
Then a familiar sound greeted my ears. It was the gothabilly tune
"Killer in Texas" blaring out of a nearby speaker. I looked up to see a
booth featuring the band Ghoultown and learned they would be
playing a concert the following night. Perhaps I was not so out of place
here after all.
As I wandered around through the surrealistic carnivale atmosphere, I
couldn’t evade the feeling that everything around me was in fast forward
mode while I was floating through space in slow motion having some
inexplicable out-of-body experience. I felt utterly alone in a giant
crowd of strangers with way too many things to do and see. It was
completely overwhelming, but it wasn’t an unpleasant sensation. In some
ways it was quite liberating. Strangers would strike up a conversation
out of the blue. Stranger strangers would speak in funny voices and rub
their noses on my cheek.
No doubt picking up on my Alice in Wonderland state of mind, a young
fellow with pupils so tiny I questioned his ability to see offered me
some “party favors” in the form of small, oblong, yellow pills. I
declined, feeling sufficiently warped in the head, and was not at all
surprised to see him engaged in deep discussion with a wall thirty
By night’s end it would take me approximately forty-five minutes to
finally squeeze into a dangerously overpopulated glass elevator and
return to my room on the ninth floor. I made a mental note to rely on
the stairs from here on out. Behind the closed door of my dark hotel
room I could still hear the faint sounds of chatter, laughter, music,
and elevator alarms going off periodically. I gratefully undressed and
slipped under the inviting covers of my plush, queen-sized bed, but
visions of sugarplums, among other things, danced in my head and it fast
became clear that I was way too wired to sleep.
Once again I was reminded of Lost In Translation, only now I
related more to the Scarlett Johansson character and wondered if my Bill
Murray might be waiting for me at the downstairs bar. But, as I was to
learn, he was not to enter the picture until the following evening.
I think I managed a total of two hours sleep before sunlight trickled
under the velvet curtains and I remembered there were more films to be
seen. Teenage Bikini Vampire was not scheduled until 5PM
the next day, but whenever I attend festivals I try never to miss the
opportunity to catch as many of the short film screenings as possible.
Short films to me are among the most magical because they are always
little labors of love, made for the sole purpose of the love of film.
They rarely if ever make money and they are generally limited to
festival audiences and the few folks who know where to find them. So
when you sit in front of a short film you always know you’re watching
something extraordinary. And, if the previous day had been any
indication, there was no doubt in my mind that all of the films at
Dragon*Con would be particularly mind-blowing. Who needs sleep anyway?
I crawled out of bed and felt nearly human after a steamy shower. The
elevators were practically empty at this early hour and the only traces
of the previous night’s insanity were a few leftover vampires and some
voluptuous Renaissance wenches scattered around the lobby sipping from
giant vats of coffee and donning equally giant bags under their eyes. I
purchased my own vat of liquid caffeine and nestled in between my new
best friends from the film track, settling in for another glorious day
of film viewings, panels, and decadently self-indulgent discussions
about Peter Jackson and Muppet porn, among other delightful topics. I
had found my own personal paradise.
The day flew by at lightning speed once again, though I still seemed to
be moving in slow motion. It was night before I knew it and the time had
arrived for a panel I was highly anticipating. Matthew Foster had
organized a group of directors to critique his favorite four short films
of all time and this panel happened to include Lloyd Kaufman –
one of my personal heroes. As luck would have it, one of the panelists
failed to show, and before you could say “shameless self-promotion,” I
had volunteered to fill in the slot and found myself taking the empty
seat by Mr. Kaufman himself.
To kick things off, each panelist introduced himself, so when it came my
turn I naturally plugged my film, and I also added that I teach a film
course at Notre Dame so as to establish some semblance of credibility.
At this point Lloyd leaned over and asked if I’d care to go out for a
drink afterwards. Somehow I managed not to wet myself and nodded
timidly. That was unexpected.
Fortunately the films relaxed me considerably and my tongue gradually
unknotted itself. The films were an odd assortment of outlandish humor
and M. Night Shyamalan-esque eeriness. It was a blast to hear the other
directors’ comments and too fun to impose my own opinions on a captive
audience. “Up yours, Roger Ebert!” I mused to myself, triumphant.
After the panel, Special FX guru Tom Savini showed his latest
project and Matt treated us to more demented bunny shorts. I almost
forgot I was nervous until Lloyd approached and asked, “Still up for
He guided me effortlessly through a maze of enthused fans (his not mine
in case you were confused) and we left the packed Hyatt and ducked into
a nearby bar that was all but empty. I hadn’t even stopped to question
what was happening here when Lloyd confessed he was about to offer a
course at NYU and wanted to pick my brain about teaching. I stifled a
giggle, suddenly relaxing. Here I was sipping Cosmos with Lloyd Kaufman
and discussing academia. I wished that randy little hobbit would
reappear so he could pinch me, lest I was having some fantastical
surrealistic dream. We talked for some time about film and teaching,
then parted on friendly terms. He promised to catch my film the
following day, and I watched him go. I was floating on air.
But I was not even out of the bar when my out-of-body experience ended
abruptly and I landed full force back into my skin. . I got the distinct
sensation that I was being watched so I turned around to face a pair of
thoughtful eyes that appeared to be studying me. I recognized those
eyes, only I had never seen them up close before. I stared back until I
remembered that was rude, then offered a shy smile and looked away. Out
of the blue I found myself back in a Sofia Coppola film. I was Scarlett
Johansson sitting across from Bill Murray for the very first time.
He held out his hand, “Nice to meet you. My name is __________.” I
smiled, amused by his modesty. “I know.”
I introduced myself and he offered to buy me a drink. He had seen me
speak on a panel earlier. I had long been an admirer of his work. We
talked about art and travel and food and politics. He defended my honor
when a strange guy came up to me and made weird suggestions. He made me
laugh. He made me tremble. He made me forget to catch the midnight movie
and the Ghoultown concert. Oops.
We were the only ones left in the bar and by now we had settled into a
booth. The bartender had put a movie on the small overhead TV/VCR. It
was Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy. He hadn’t seen it yet. I had
and loved it. We continued to talk about endless topics, occasionally
getting distracted by a meaningful moment in the film. When it ended,
the bartender looked impatient and we decided we had better leave. We
walked around the city a while. The air was cooler and he helped me on
with my coat. “That was a great film,” he commented. I agreed. We
reluctantly parted at the Hyatt. I was quite certain I would not see him
again, but grateful for the brief encounter. I felt inspired.
I re-entered The Con and felt almost at home in the chaos. Back in my
own skin, I suddenly didn’t mind being pushed, shoved, groped, and
propositioned by intergalactic species. I felt hyper-alive and wanted to
revel in all things Dragon*Con. I wandered in and out of different rooms
catching glimpses of all sorts of fantastic spectacles: musicians,
artists, acrobats, strippers, frantic strangers with limbs intertwined,
singing, dancing, merriment. Life was just one big Fellini Film. When
I’d had my fill, I bypassed the elevators and worked my way over to the
stairwell. (Nine flights on foot at this hour would surely induce me to
sleep, I was convinced.) The stairwell was far from empty, and I was
amazed at how friendly were all those who passed. Many invited me to
join them on this venture or that. One fellow backed me into a corner
and told me he loved me before running off. Another stopped and looked
at me for a second. “Something amazing has happened to you tonight,” he
said. I smiled, “Something amazing is happening to us all tonight.”
“Right on!” he shouted and ran down the stairs.
By the time I reached my room I was physically exhausted and was certain
I’d have no trouble sleeping. I was wrong. Perhaps it was because I knew
this would all end too soon and I didn’t want to waste a second of it
with my eyes shut. I listened to the merriment beyond the door and let
my mind wander. I hadn’t felt like this since I was a teenager – there
were no rules, no boundaries, only endless potential and possibilities.
This is what art is all about. Everybody needs to experience this at
least once a year. Ever the writer, I began to compose all the thoughts
racing through my head.
I must have slept at some point, though I certainly didn’t feel rested
come Sunday morning. Again I ventured down to the Learning Center in
time to catch the 8:30 short film screenings. I was greeted by other
film aficionados and happy to feel somewhat grounded for a change. It
was reassuring to see familiar faces and know I had likely made at least
a few friends that would endure long past this magical weekend.
Once again I was blown away by the quality of the films I was seeing and
was downright honored to know mine would be shown among them. I attended
several more thoroughly entertaining and informative panels then decided
to venture out to the Dealer’s booths I had heard so much about at this
point. For those who have never attended such an event, let me say that
the dealer’s booths are an extravaganza of all things kitschy, gothic,
intergalactic, and pop. There is a “walk of fame” where celebrity cult
figures offer autographs and anecdotes about their unusual careers. You
can buy art, clothing, medieval weapons, games, and all sorts of
eclectic paraphernalia. Nerd that I am, I was pleased to find an
impressive selection of academic books about classic silent and horror
films. There’s definitely something for everybody.
At some point I made the mistake of looking at my watch and came to the
dreadful realization that my own film would be showing before too long.
Don’t get me wrong, I love watching my films in front of an audience,
but there is always the chance that the response won’t be positive. And
after having seen the high caliber of all of the other films (and in
many cases much higher budgets and way better production values) I was
feeling somewhat self-conscious. Maybe they’d forget to put mine in I
secretly hoped . . .
I sat in my now familiar seat, third row center in the Learning Center.
It was filling up fast. I saw many of my new film track buddies; I saw
complete strangers to whom I’d pitched my film; I saw Lloyd Kaufman; I
saw . . .Him. I wanted to crawl under the seats and silently creep away.
The weekend had already been more than enough fun, why be greedy? Leave
wanting more, I always say.
It was too late. The auditorium darkened and the projector began to
roll. My film was third in this block. Naturally it had to follow two
stunningly beautiful films that mesmerized me as well as the rest of the
audience. Fuck! Then it was my turn. As I’d feared, the DVD transfer
didn’t look nearly as nice as the original version on my computer. It
was darker and the colors were off. I felt sick to my stomach and this
was but the first five seconds of the film. Then we reached the tenth
second. Somebody laughed. Then more people chimed in. And in all the
right places, no less. They were laughing with me, not at me. In front
of me sat Nikki Taylor Melton, my seven year old actress, with
her mother, Tracey, who has become a good friend. They turned
around and winked at me – eyes glowing. We were a hit. I was relieved. I
could actually enjoy myself again. The rest of the films were fabulous,
and I was thrilled to have been a part of it all.
Later on, I ran into Lloyd Kaufman again. He congratulated me on a
“brilliant” film. It meant more to me than an Oscar ever could. He told
me to submit my film to the Tromadance festival and asked me to spread
the word (www.tromadance.com –
happy, Lloyd?) Complete strangers came up to me as well – asking for
pictures, autographs and wondering what my next project would be and
would I be here next year? I certainly hope so.
There were too many things scheduled for the rest of the night –
Japanese Horror films, a Rocky Horror Picture Show event, concerts,
parties and special screenings. I was at a complete loss as to what to
do next when fate decided for me . . . those eyes again peering at me. That
now familiar twinkle. A connection.
It’s funny. The Dragon*Conners around me had long since ceased to be the
pod people, the aliens, the masked creatures that I had first see them
as. I bonded with so many wonderful new friends over the weekend that I
no longer felt like an outsider, but rather perfectly at home in this
magical fantasy world.
But, for those who are fans of Lost in Translation you will recall
that having fun is not quite enough to qualify as a religious
experience. And I suddenly realized that a religious experience of some
sort was in order. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. Like the Scarlett
Johansson character, I am married. Unlike her, I am happily so. What I
wasn’t necessarily seeking, but somehow found, was my own private muse. A
mentor. A kindred spirit with whom but for a moment I would expand my
mind, get in touch with my senses, renew my passion for art, film, and
life itself. We walked around Atlanta, and eventually found
ourselves back in our bar. We were both sleep-deprived. This time some
corny Nicole Kidman film played on the TV. It didn’t matter. It might as
well have been the highest form of art ever created. I was exalted,
inspired, alive. By getting in touch with him, I felt more in touch with
It was Sunday night and the bar closed much earlier. We
wandered around, then found ourselves back at the Hyatt. He had an
early plane to catch the next morning. This was goodbye. I would likely
never see or hear from him again. His fingers brushed against mine as
though unsure if touching me was acceptable. Then he leaned in and
whispered in my ear, “We’ll always have Hellboy.” Then he was
gone. I did not turn to watch him go. I wanted it to end just like that.
A perfect moment . . . a perfect moment interrupted by Wonder Woman nearly running me
down as she fled from an overeager Mad Hatter-type. Oh, right, I was at
Dragon*Con. I went downstairs to see if I could catch an exclusive
showing of the Japanese horror films (never before released in the U.S.)
but it was filled to capacity, and they were not letting any more people
in. I peeked into a number of rooms, but the various spectacles before
my eyes did not quite seem appropriate for my mood. I found myself
nearing the stairwell. Then I was on the ninth floor. A neighbor was
sipping from a can of Budweiser, looking down over the banister at the
activity below. “It’s more beautiful from up here, don’t you think?” he
I looked down. It was beautiful. The colors, the music, the laughter. I
“You want a beer?” he asked.
“Maybe later,” I responded and headed to my room. I knew what I had to
do. I pulled out a sheet of paper and began to write: “Lost in
Translation - Dragon*Con Style.”
It’s a week later, and I’m back in reality now. I’ve been corresponding
with many of my new Dragon*Con friends via e-mail and earnestly editing
my latest film Confederate Zombie Massacre! in hopes that it might bring
me back to Dragon*Con next year. It suddenly strikes me as a pity that
in the real world people do not regularly wear feathers, wings, or latex.
It’s sad that we can’t just strike up conversations with complete
strangers whenever we feel like it. It’s a shame that we ride elevators
in cold silence. And it’s downright tragic that we can’t spend more time
inspiring each other.
Thank you Dragon*Con, Matthew Foster, Bob Coughlin, Film TrackAttendees/Filmmakers/Panelists,
Lloyd Kaufman, Sofia Coppola, and Hellboy. I am truly inspired!