Hero Complex Film Festival: Top 10 moments, a backstage diary

June 11, 2012 | 9:03 a.m.

The 2012 Hero Complex Film Festival is history now but before we move on (yes, Comic-Con awaits) we wanted to share an email that came in from James Gelberg, a bright and remarkably poised 15-year-old who attends Valley Christian High School in Cerritos. In his freshman year Gelberg  started a Classic Film Club and asked if I would stop by for a club screening of “Batman”  for a Q&A with the members. That led to a great visit, and when Gelberg asked if we needed an eager volunteer during the festival I told him he could help out with our expanded trivia contests by keeping track of questions, handing out prizes, etc. This is his account of the weekend, which started with an already-scheduled school trip to San Diego and then a mad dash back to the festival at L.A. Live.

james gelberg Hero Complex Film Festival: Top 10 moments, a backstage diary

High school student and film fan James Gelberg at L.A. Live. (Photo credit: Jeff Gelberg)

If you’d told me a year ago I’d be riding three hours on a school bus to San Diego to play “Bohemian Rhapsody” with my high school band on the USS Midway, then, after a three-hour ride back, be shaking hands with Malcolm McDowell, I’d have thought you were crazy. And yet, I did it. Without a doubt, the 2012 Hero Complex Film Festival was the best weekend of my life. To say I was like a kid in a candy store would be a grave understatement. To me, I was a student of Starfleet Academy, seeing how things operated on the USS Enterprise. I got to work with some of the nicest, most respected people I’ve ever met. Plus I got to meet some of my favorite celebrities.

When I arrived at the Regal Cinemas at L.A. Live., I saw the expected hordes of fanboys and fangirls, but I also saw an ocean of yellow and purple. Turns out the NBA and NHL playoffs happened to fall on that weekend, and were taking place next door at Staples Center. It complicated the parking situation but it also added to the excitement. It was a weekend for big hopes and big crowds and a lot of energy.

The Hero Complex team, led by Geoff Boucher (hmmm … a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper), set up shop in a greenroom right next to the theater for the weekend. It was a chilly, little yellow room flowing with never-ending Coca-Cola, cheese and  fruit plates  and the world’s warmest refrigerator. I helped Geoff and his family add some posters of the weekend’s coming attractions, and I have to say that gave the space a, well, heroic touch. This room became headquarters for the weekend.

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Zack Snyder, left, and Robert Kirkman answer questions on the first night of the 2012 Hero Complex Film Festival. (Alan Heitz / Los Angeles Times handout)

It was the room where I heard Edgar Wright explain what kind of actor he’d need to play Kolchak in his upcoming revival of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.” The room where I listened in Bear McCreary (composer for “The Walking Dead,” “Battlestar: Galactica” and many others) told Andrew Stanton about the inspiring influence “Wall-E” had on him. The room where Nathan Fillion took out his iPhone and showed us pictures of the eclipse earlier that day, a video of him swimming with sharks, and his trip to Bora Bora, right before getting a text from Joss Whedon (!) wishing him good luck with a stage interview.

In a weekend filled with great moments, I had to make a list to make sure I remember them in the years to come. Here they are as a Top 10:

super wax pack hartter Hero Complex Film Festival: Top 10 moments, a backstage diary

“Super” starring Rainn Wilson was one of the 2012 Hero Complex Film Festival screenings. (Sean Hartter / For Hero Complex)

10. Shaking hands with Malcolm McDowell: One of the most intimidating things I’ve ever done was to walk into a room with just four or five people in it and one of them was Mr. McDowell. He was sitting on the room’s leather couch, just chilling and looking relaxed in a shirt with rolled-up sleeves, jeans  and a big belt buckle. Then I was introduced to him and it wasn’t so terrifying.

9. Coming up with trivia questions with Geoff Boucher: Movies are my passion. I grew up with a dad who, instead of taking me to baseball games, took me to the theater. When we were coming up with questions for the audience, I was right at home. One of them I remember: What actor appeared in all three of these films? “Goodfellas,” “Out of Sight” and “Coming to America”? The answer is here.

8. Having a crowd on my side:  Before the screenings, Geoff Boucher and I would go into the 400 seat theater brimming with eager fans of the upcoming screening and hand out some great prizes for trivia answers. One time Geoff even introduced me to the audience and there was scattered applause and someone shouted out, “Go James!” It was a pretty fun moment.

7. Beating Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg at a trivia question: We were all sitting in the greenroom — six or seven members of the event team and Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, who were the next guests.  Before going out, we did a little pop culture trivia, but the crowd was so sharp that the questions were up in the air for maybe two seconds before someone snagged the answer. I thought, I have no shot of getting any of these. But there was one: “In the movie ‘The Dark Knight’ which actor says the line: ‘I am the Batman'”? “Aaron Eckhart,” I said as quickly as I could. My prize? The approving nod of the room, including Mr. Pegg.

6. Meeting “Dwight” himself: One of the funniest people onscreen and off, Rainn Wilson can make you laugh within the first minute of walking into a room. He showed up, came in and shook my hand. With his beard and his hat on, he was a genuinely nice, cool and hilarious guy.

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The Sunday night finale of the Hero Complex Film Festival: “Serenity” (Sean Hartter / For Hero Complex).

5. Robert Kirkman wishing me well: I didn’t talk to many people my first day, but I did get to spend a little time with Robert Kirkman, known for his droll humor. I got a glimpse of that as he was departing, when he reached back shook my hand and said, “Good luck with growing up.”

4. Getting to tell Simon Pegg that “Paul” was my first R-rated comedy: I was standing in the walkway of the theater with “surprise” guest Simon Pegg, who was shielding his face while waiting for his cue to run onstage. It was the rare moment when no one was talking to him. I turned and said, “I have to tell you, Paul was the first R-rated comedy my dad let me see.” This led to him telling me about how the studio wanted to tone the film down, how he loved the idea of Paul and how much fun it was to make. The coolest moment of Day 1!

3. Nathan Fillion saying “well done” on starting a Classic Film Club at school. I watch “Castle,” I’ve seen him guest star on my favorite TV show (“Lost”) and he’s one of the funniest Comic-Con panelists ever. So it was no surprise to me when he turned out to be maybe the nicest guy ever. When Geoff mentioned to him that I had co-founded my school’s Classic Film Club, he turned to me, smiled and said, “Well done.” That was worth starting the club.

2. James Gunn telling me to steer clear of pot: The Hollywood insider I talked with the longest was “Super” director and screenwriter James Gunn. After another round of greenroom trivia, he told me he’d had some short-term memory loss due to smoking weed when he was my age. Then he put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, “Do not smoke pot.” My parents will be glad to hear I’m taking his advice.

1. Having the opportunity to talk with Andrew Stanton: Out of everyone I met over the weekend, the person I looked forward to meeting most was Andrew Stanton. To me, “Wall-E” is a perfect film. The older I get, the more meaningful and beautiful the relationship between Eve and Wall-E is. So when I got to meet the man behind the movie, I was exhilarated. We talked briefly and then I watched him on stage as he talked about how magical “Star Wars” was for him as a young person and I could connect the dots between the Oscar-winner on stage and the 15-year-old version of him that was probably a lot like me. The weekend turned out to be the best time I could have ever asked for. There’s something special about being exactly where you know you belong.

— James Gelberg


hero complex film festival 2012 poster Hero Complex Film Festival: Top 10 moments, a backstage diary

HCFF: Simon Pegg: Romero deserves sainthood

HCFF: Andrew Stanton’s Pixar family photos

HCFF: Weller: Movies now lack ‘RoboCop’ morality

HCFF: Rick Baker’s ‘magic scissors’ make history

HCFF:Snyder: Romero fans scarier than ‘Watchmen’ fans

HCFF: Zombie!: Zack Snyder, Robert Kirkman

HCFF: Robocop, reloaded for 25th anniversary

HCFF: Pixar Sunday: ‘Wall-E,’ ‘Brave’ preview

HCFF: Jim Lee unveils Film Festival poster


2 Responses to Hero Complex Film Festival: Top 10 moments, a backstage diary

  1. @Kcat10 says:

    Well done, indeed, James. Nathan Fillion has excellent taste, and you've given us an excellent article. Thank you!!

  2. Hartter says:

    hahah Gunn is the man "Do not smoke pot"

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