Get the inside scoop from one of the masterminds behind this spectacular gathering of horror.
Why don’t we start off with you telling us a bit about the Days of the Dead convention?
DAYS OF THE DEAD is a by the fans, for the fans, convention which had its inaugural show July 1st – 3rd, 2011, at the Wyndham Indianapolis West, in Indianapolis, and has since grown to include yearly shows in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and soon Louisville. Our main goal is to put together an event similar to those we grew up loving, where it’s more of a social gathering of like-minded fans and not just another impersonal cash grab show that has become all too common across the country. Aside from giving fans the opportunity to meet their favorite celebrity guests, DAYS OF THE DEAD also features extensive film and special event programming, a huge vendor room with all manner of memorabilia, and after parties that go late into the night, creating a fun and festive atmosphere that makes for a weekend full of things to do for horror fans.
What is your primary role regarding this event?
I wear quite a few hats with the show, but most notably I’m most known for being the “face,” so to speak. I’m usually the one to answer all of the emails, handle the marketing of the show, do the press, and all around make sure that as many people as possible not only know about our show, but are excited to come and party with us all weekend long.
Obviously with events this big you need a great team of people behind the scenes and for anyone interested there are a few brief bios from the team members on the DOTD website. How did you guys all end up coming together?
Rick Lara and I have been friends fora bit (ever since I moved up to Illinois from Florida in 2008) and where involved in creating the From Dusk Till Con website (more on that later). I came to know Bill Philputt through From Dusk Till Con when we were doing some press for another convention he was briefly involved with. It’s very much a family and friends affair with our core staff, though throughout the years we’ve picked up some important players: Jason Hoover (who runs our film festival) is a filmmaker whose work we screened at our first film festival and who told us he could run it better – we gave him the chance to put his money where his mouth was and he’s gone on to turn our film programming into one of the most respected in the country. Larry Lutze and Chris Blair were costumers who came to all of our shows whose work we love and who we’ve given control of our costume contest and FX Challenge, respectively. My girlfriend runs the volunteer operations after being a patron at our first ever show, and many of our other areas, including security, fleet, celebrity handlers, photo ops, and vendor relations, have now been taken over by individuals who started out as fans of the show and just ended up becoming adopted by our travelling circus.
This convention debuted in Indianapolis early July of 2011 and since then grown to include five cities. I consider that to be a fair amount of growth in just a short period of time. Did you set out to grow the convention that fast?
We set out just hoping that enough people would care to come to the first one that we didn’t lose our asses. A few weeks after the first show was in the books, someone we knew who works closely with a big haunted house in Atlanta proposed we should do a show down there and offered to help us get it rolling – seven months later we were doing a show in Atlanta. About a month before Atlanta happened, an offer came from a hotel in Chicago who had heard about us from our hotel in Indianapolis – we announced our Chicago expansion the weekend of Atlanta and it’s been happening every November ever since. After Chicago, we stood firm that three shows a year was enough for us and that would be it, but an opportunity we couldn’t refuse presented itself in Los Angeles and so we found ourselves there the following year. Fast forward five years from our debut and we’re about to launch our 20th show in Louisville, making it a total of five cities.
Is there a specific set of criteria you use when selecting new cities to host the Days of the Dead Convention? Are there any cities you are currently trying to move into?
Bill is originally from Indianapolis and has a ton of friends, family, and resources there so that made sense as a launching point. Atlanta was chosen due to business relationships that presented themselves at the time. I live about an hour outside of Chicago and Rick is originally from the area, so that one made sense as well, and Los Angeles is where Bill was residing at the time we launched that show. Louisville made sense to us as we have a lot of fans and friends in the area, and some of our strongest street team support comes from there. Overall, I would say that aside from population size and making sure there is a strong presence for horror in a particular city (i.e. local haunts, clubs, film screenings, etc.), being able to have people we trust on the ground is extremely important. Some promoters feel comfortable doing a show remotely and relying on the internet to do all the work for them, but there’s something to be said for being able to have promo materials and posters in neighborhood businesses and creating relationships with the locals on a personal level. Social media is a great tool, but nothing can replace putting a flyer into someone’s hand and directly inviting them to come out to the show. Maybe I’m old school, but it’s never failed me in almost 20 years of promoting.
Starting up a convention in your home city or even just one city I’m sure is quite challenging. What kind of obstacles do you face when moving into new cities?
The number one thing is finding those pockets of “our people” in every city and engaging them. All the business type stuff is pretty much the same everywhere you go, but finding the horror subculture and getting them on your team is really what counts. Some cities have had bad experiences with conventions in the past and are wary of a new player coming into town. It’s important to get everyone on the same page working towards the common goal of putting on an event that not only celebrates horror fandom, but also makes everyone feel welcome and include. Without local support across multiple fronts, any show is dead in the water.
This will be your first year hosting this event in Louisville, What do you think of the city and can you see any unique advantages to holding this type of convention here?
I spent the weekend in Louisville a few months ago when we came down to look at the hotel space and absolutely loved it. It definitely seems like a city tailor made for what we do. All of the record stores, tattoo parlors, and comic shops we stopped in were extremely excited to hear about the show and the community seems to really embrace creativity and a little weirdness. I think Louisville “gets” us, as cheesy as that sounds. Not to mention you guys have a ton of great places to eat which I’m all about (shout out to Luchador Tacos, Ramsi’s, and Dish on Market, just to name a few). Louisville is definitely ready. We can’t wait.
When reading a bit about you I caught that you are the Co-founder and Editor in Chief of From Dusk till Con. Do you want to tell us what that’s all about?
From Dusk Till Con is a website starter by myself and DAYS OF THE DEAD partner, Rick Lara, about two years before we got into the convention business. I’m originally from Miami, FL, and when I moved up to Illinois, I met Rick and realized we were both into a lot of the same things – most notably horror movies and horror conventions. Both of us had made many friends around the country from our travels to horror conventions and thought that having a place on the web that tied all of that together would be a great way of sharing our experiences and highlighting the things we liked. What was originally intended to appeal to a few dozen people soon ended up being a hub for tens of thousands of fans monthly. With the help of some additional contributors, From Dusk Till Con became a one stop portal for reviews and interviews in the worlds of music, film, and pop culture. There’s even a weekly radio show broadcast on Mixlr.
It seems like both of these projects could be full time jobs by themselves. How do you find time to successfully manage both?
Little to no sleep ever. Ha-ha. Well, that, and just having a great team of people that I can rely on to take care of things efficiently and like total pros. The core DAYS OF THE DEAD crew is pretty small, but everyone has a very specific area of focus they specialize in and when everyone comes together it’s like Voltron. In terms of From Dusk Till Con, I’ve had to turn over control of that site to come very capable individuals over the past couple of years, including Michael Exler (of East Coast Horror Group) on the radio aspect, and Adam Holtzapfel (former Man-B-Que contributor) and James Orrell (who freelances for several online websites) on the written side. All have done a fantastic job keeping the ship piloted and have continued to grow the site while I’ve focused by administrative attention on DAYS OF THE DEAD.
So you manage the “From Dusk Till Con” site and are the go to guy for Days of the Dead. What else do you have in the works?
I’m currently planning on putting together a YouTube Channel to compliment the content on From Dusk Till Con, as well as have some original stuff that I’m interested in on a personal level that may not necessarily jive with either of the other two projects. Nothing too serious, just a little something to serve as a creative outlet of my own. Having things to do outside of DOTD and FDTC act as a good palette cleanser for me, since those two are often good for taking up the large majority of my time.
We certainly thank Adolfo for his time and giving us such a great interview. We can’t wait to check out the convention and look forward to seeing everyone there.