Friday, July 13, 2018

Raindance Film Festival: Confessions of a Sandwich Sign Man

I was hoping my parents never found out about this... But I can't live like this anymore; I can't live with hiding who I really am. I am coming out now for the entire world to see. 

I will admit it... I was a sandwich sign man.

In front of the Vue Theater at Raindance Film Festival Sept. 21, 2017, London, England. (Photo by Vertic Arts Gallery)

Sure, you've seen us before. You know, you consider all of us losers, those near homeless guys who stand on the street sandwiched between two cardboard signs selling this or that... 

We are thought of as the deepest depths of a loser class; a job with a pay minimum lower than the minimum paying job. The lowest of the low. The worst of the worst.

But that was my job; sandwich sign man, and I am damned proud of it and this is my story.

I did it my way.

By some miracle of God (or most probably a clerical error) a film I made with friends was selected by one of the most famous film festivals in the world; the 25th Raindance Film Festival in London. Sure, you've heard of it. Who hasn't?

The festival ran from Sept. 20 ~ Oct. 1, 2017, at a venue called The Vue Theater in Leicester Square (the British spell things in a strange way, so let's just call it "Lester Square.")

I kissed the wife, kid and dog, goodbye then packed my bags and was on a jet airliner, on my way to England, the land of many giants of world history: Churchill, Cromwell, Isambard Kingdom Brunel,.... Eric Idle. 

I arrived at the theater hoping to promote my film by pasting posters all over the place. I had been in a punk band in the late seventies so I was used to ripping down other bands posters and putting up my own. I figured I'd do the same thing at Raindance.

But, it wasn't 1977 anymore. The theater had those new-fangled electronic posters on the walls; they didn't use paper posters anymore. Paper posters were verboten.

Gee! I had arrived a few days early to promote and then was told I can't promote as I had planned... Dejected, I hung around the festival and tried to get free food and drinks.

While I was floating around the venue, I made several good new friends. They were there for the festival with their films too. I asked them how they were promoting and they all told me that they weren't. Not at all. I thought this was odd. It wasn't what I was told by my movie sensei, Stephen David Brooks director and filmmaker (whose most recent work, Flytrap, has won a dozen awards at some famous film festivals such as Chelsea in New York!) 

Let me rewind here a second. When I found out we had been selected for Raindance, I called "Stephen sensei" and asked him what I should do. Since Stephen has won more awards than my mom has Tupperware, and has been to many festivals, I figured he'd have a tip or two. He did! He was the one who told me to take posters to hang in the theater. He was the one who gave me all the good advice for little promotional goodies to bring. He was the one who told me, "It is the filmmakers' duty to get butts into seats to view the films." 

I didn't realize that. I thought the film festival would fill the seats! But no! It was the duty of the filmmakers to sell tickets!

Anyway, while I stood around in London at the theater, wondering what to do for promotion, some of my new friends told me shocking news: they had been to some film screenings and, in a theater that seats 200 people, there would only be three to eight people in paid attendance!!!!

What?! Only three people? Only eight people?! I was shocked... Well, no... Not so much shocked, but scared!

My life flashed in front of my face. I thought about my wife. She's a smart woman. What would she say if I had spent three years of my life making a movie, spent $2000 going 6000 kilometers to the other side of the earth only to have it viewed by four people (including me?) 

By the way, the number four also means "death" in Japanese. I could see my death. If only three people came to see my film after all this rigamarole I'd have to kill myself by hanging from the London Tower! (Say! That's a good promotional idea!)

So, with that, I decided that's what my mission was: I had decided to sell out our screenings or, if I couldn't, to at least give it the good old samurai try. 

I think that is the attitude of a professional.

I decided that since we couldn't hang posters, I'd take my biggest poster and make a sandwich sign. Then I'd stand in front of the theater wearing the sign every day. 

I went to an art shop and bought the supplies for making the sandwich sign. I then went home and constructed it with more loving care than mom making Christmas dinner. The next morning, I went back to the theater with my sign and put it on and I stood there; in the heat and the sun... 

I hadn't decided how long I was going to stand there in my sandwich sign, but across the way, I noticed another guy hawking tickets for a discount ticket store. This guy was standing there like a statue with the tickets in one hand held way above his head. I tried that for a while with my small sign, but after just a few minutes, my arm was exhausted. This guy across the way was doing it for hours on end and he barely moved. I began calling him, "Ironman."

My legs hurt after a little while, so I began fidgeting around; I also had to take a break every two hours. Not Ironman, though. He took no breaks that I saw. Ironman stood like Nelson's statue at Trafalgar Square; tall and stoic. Nelson, as you might know is the famous British admiral who is known for winning the Battle of Trafalgar Square... (snicker!)

From that day on, Ironman was my inspiration. Because of him, I would stand in front of the theater with my sign for five or six hours every day at the start, but I got up to eight hours a day. Ironman, on the other hand, was out there for at least 9 or 10 hours. He was a real pro. A real inspiration to all of us who had to stand there advertising the old fashioned way; the way of real men.

With Ironman (not his real name). Sept. 23, 2017

There were several things I learned from being a sandwich sign man; first off, we are faceless and considered a curiosity by most passersby. Think about it, no one looks at our faces, they see some guy standing there with a sign. It's like the view of a time machine into a better time in the past. So I wondered why other filmmakers are so self-conscious and embarrassed that they refuse to promote their own films in this way? Nobody really cares what we do. Nobody watches us as much as we like to think they do.

There really is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Also, people think sandwich sign man is an expert of the local geography and knows where everything is located. I was approached by literally dozens of people every day asking for directions. Of course, when the beautiful girls all approached, I tried to help but, yeah, I was basically useless... I didn't even know my way back to the subway station.

With beauty queen and dancer/filmmaker Tim Lo. 

With Kosia Sawicka. See? I told you all the hot women wanted to know sandwich sign man! (Photo by Hendrik Frentrup.)

I was, though, a curiosity to the other people at the film festival. Some said sandwich sign man inspired them, some laughed; others ridiculed me (really). One time two young filmmakers walked past me, pointed at me, and one said, "That's what we should be doing. I wonder how much that costs?"

Being an old punk from the late 1970s early days of punk, I thought, "It doesn't cost anything. It's free. Have you guys never heard of D.I.Y.?" Even Joe Strummer of the Clash never forgot his D.I.Y. roots and often made the pin badges and items for the band by hand - even after they were really famous.

On the day that I was informed that the World Premiere of my movie, "Ghostroads - a Japanese Rock n Roll Ghost Story" was sold out. I felt redeemed. 

Ours was one of the few that sold out. In fact, both our regular screenings were doing so well (thanks to sandwich man?) that a third screening was added. I was told that the third screening being added was only the sixth time that's happened in the 25 year history of the Raindance Film Festival.

Maybe Sandwich sign man is an embarrassing job. Maybe it is low class... But there also is an old saying, "He who laughs last, laughs best." When I found out we sold out opening night, I had a hearty laugh.

Sandwich sign man caught on video Sept 22, 2017

A lot of people think sandwich sign man is a pretty easy job, but it isn't what it seems. It is quite difficult to stand outside in one place for several hours. A sandwich sign man has a sort of unspoken agreement with the public so beautiful women are often approaching us and asking for directions. Our sandwich sign is a sort of mark or sign of trust: It says, I'm here. I'm me. Go to the restaurant I'm advertising or "Go see the movie that I am hawking"... 

It also shows the mark of someone who just might not be what he seems.

Thanks, Raindance Film Festival. I can truly say that I have done something that very few people will ever experience in their entire lives: I was a sandwich sign man in London's Leicester Square.... And it was a fab experience I will never forget.

Thank you Elliot Grove, Suzanne Ballantyne, and the fab David Martinez! And all the great Raindance team!

Ghostroads - a Japanese Rock n Roll Ghost Story (trailer): (


I Interviewed Johnny Rotten - the True Story.

1 comment:

Andrew Joseph said...

I've never talked to a sandwichboard man. I don't have any distaste for them. I've just never had need to.
I'm glad things are going well...
Pity you didn't come to Toronto for the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) this past September. I could have talked to a sandwichboard man.

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