The preparations continue for the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuCon in Los Angeles this month. I have been interviewing a few of the artist vendors attending to share with you a sense of what continues to draw so many to the work of famed 20th century master of horror, H.P. Lovecraft. The festival convenes at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro, CA from September 27-29th. Tickets are going fast!
Today, we're talking with Sean Branney of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, who gives us a glimpse at the terrors and delights that came with trying to film some of the most notoriously difficult stories to bring to the silver screen, The Call of Cthulhu and Whisperer from the Darkness. Come meet them at the festival to learn more, and get your copies of some amazing short films and other .... things.... that defy description.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started on all of this? What was one of the hardest things for you to learn?
Back in the early 80s, my weirdest friend, Darrell Tutchton (still an illustrator who does much of the HPLHS' artwork) handed me a copy of a book and said, "You have to read this story, it's really weird". He was right - it was HPL's "Rats in the Walls" and I read it and became hooked. Not longer after that, I started playing the role playing game, The Call of Cthulhu by Chaosium. I invited one of my theatre friends, Andrew Leman over to play and soon he was hooked. After a while we thought it would be even more fun to get some costumes and stage one of these mysteries out in the real world instead of around a table with papers and dice. Soon we were producing live action Lovecraftian role playing games regularly and the HPLHS was born.
Hardest to learn? I guess it's that if you want to do something really complicated, like, say, to produce a feature film, you really need to sit down in advance and figure out an exhaustive plan for how to implement it. We're good at improvising and making things up on the fly, but when you get to really big projects, a plan is really useful.
What's your favorite H.P. Lovecraft story?
If I could only pick one, I'd probably pick "The Call of Cthulhu." I love it's weird, multi-layered structure and globe-spanning scope. It's one of those that if you can imagine yourself as Thurston and having all of this slowly unfold before you - it would blow your mind. I've always had a soft spot for "The Rats in the Walls" as it was my first HPL story.
What's been your favorite creation so far? What was the most unexpected surprise you've found when making these creations?
I'm most proud of our feature film The Whisperer in Darkness. It's a very big movie made with really limited resources. I guess the best pleasant surprise was discovering there's a planet full of HPL fans who have proved very supportive of the weird stuff we make. When we made a silent movie, we didn't know if anyone would want to see one. When we made a 1930s-style radio play, we didn't know if people would be into that. Turns out, there's a lot of folks out there who enjoy the ways in which we've adapted Lovecraft's stories.
The HPLHS shooting The Whisperer in Darkness in Vermont (l to r: Matt Foyer, David Robertson, Sean Branney and a 1929 Rolls Royce).
Much of the Society's work requires intensive collaboration. What are some of your thoughts on learning to working together?
My colleague Andrew Leman and I have been working together for over 30 years now. Some days it's really easy and fun and some days collaborating is very demanding. I suppose the key thought in collaborating is the golden rule - you want to treat your collaborator the way in which you would want to be treated. When you hit a point of fundamental disagreement, you have to find a way to break the log jam and get the process moving again. I think it's important to respect anyone you're going to collaborate with. If you don't respect each other's ideas, collaboration is going to be difficult.
What's a project you really hope to take on in the next few years? Where do you hope to go from here?
We've got a few movie projects which we're interested in. Many of the projects we're kicking around require pretty substantial resources, so we need to solve funding (like so many other filmmakers). We've got a couple of smaller film projects we may turn to. We've also been having a great time with our Dark Adventure Radio Theatre series. We're about to release our 8th title and I think there's an excellent chance that more titles will be forthcoming in the series.
Where else can we find you throughout the year?
Our headquarters are in Glendale, California and we can always be found at www.cthulhulives.org. We also tend to turn up at Lovecraft events like the HP Lovecraft Film Festivals and we were recently at NecronomiCon in Providence RI.
What's your favorite music to listen to as you all create at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society?
I spend a lot of time editing audio and doing sound design, so I don't tend to listen to anything other than the show I'm working on. If I do put music on, I generally tend to listen to classic/progressive rock.
You can visit the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society at http://www.cthulhulives.org. If you dare.