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Gavin's Underground

Lost At The Con

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2011-05-11 -

Of all the media and entertainment minds rooted in Utah, Bryan Young has to be one of the busiest you'll find this side of Park City. Just to run down the list of accomplishments a projects: He's an award winning documentary filmmaker, a co-creator of the 2011 “Best Of” winning blog Big Shiny Robot, owner of his own production company Shinebox Media, a freelancer for The Huffington Post, a voice on the "Geek Show Podcast", a pub quiz host, not to mention one of the biggest "Star Wars" informants you'll ever find. And to add onto all of that... he's now an author.
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Lost At The Con takes a fictional look at the geek convention circuit, stepping into the shoes of a drunken political reporter set to cover an event and the geek-oriented adventure he eventually documents and covers for his bosses. This week the book just went into pre-order with buys pouring in from around the U.S. Today we chat at length with Bryan about his career and everything he's done, as well as discussing the book and a few thoughts on local and national entertainment.

Bryan Young
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http://lostatthecon.com/

Gavin: Hey Bryan! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Bryan: Well, I think the thing about me that anyone who knows me understands is that I'm involved in far too much. Of course I'm putting out two books (Lost At The Con, and Man Against the Future: 17 Stories of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Suspense), I'm the Editor-in-Chief of Big Shiny Robot!, I am the co-owner of a video production company that produces (among lots of other things) the award winning "Big Movie Mouth-Off", and the video versions of "The Geek Show Podcast" and X96's "Radio From Hell", all for Comcast on Demand. I've produced some movies, among them the award winning documentaries "This Divided State" and "Killer At Large", both distributed by the Disinformation Company. I'm also working on a host of other stuff, too, including a screenplay I'm hoping to put into production, some comic projects that are in the incubation stages, and more stories and novels. If you want to get more personal than that, I live in Salt Lake City, have two kids, and spend most of my waking hours working. Oh, and I host the Big Shiny Geek Show Pub Quiz at Lucky 13 every Wednesday night at 8:30PM.
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Gavin: When did you first take an interest in filmmaking, and what were some early inspirations on you?

Bryan: I think my desire to get into filmmaking started by watching the behind the scenes documentary for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” It was playing constantly on TV when the film came out and I must have lied, cheat, and stolen my way into to seeing that movie close to a dozen times to see how it all worked. I made short films through Junior High and High School, but then when I got out of high school, I just had to get into filmmaking. All through school I was devouring every book and documentary about filmmaking and screenwriting. My favorites were usually behind the scenes from Lucas, Spielberg and Scorsese movies. “From Star Wars to Jedi” was one I watched constantly, it was mainly the making of "Return Of The Jedi". After the advent of DVD I was listening to commentaries constantly. I think Roger Ebert's commentary for "Dark City" and "Citizen Kane" are like two years of film school. Add to that Scorsese's "Personal Journey Through American Cinema" and you think you know enough to go full speed ahead.

Gavin: Did you formally seek out any college for film or just dive into it immediately?

Bryan: I sort of dove in immediately. It was something I wanted to do, I was a production assistant on a bunch of movies and commercials, I was an assistant director on some of the locally produced Mormon movies ("Handcart" and "The Best Two Years") and I learned a lot about film production. Elias and I were making our own movies along the way. Right out of high school he and I built a spaceship in my mom's backyard and made "Missy" a sort of Twilight Zone take on an Of Mice and Men kind of story, set entirely in the confines of a spaceship. Then we did a couple of documentaries before “This Divided State” and just puttered around on various projects that never took off. For a while we were part of a collective called "Saturday Shorts" where we'd make a 24 hour film every week entirely on a Saturday. It petered out because it was a lot of work but I loved every minute of it.
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Gavin: How did you first meet up with Elias Pate and eventually start working together on projects?

Bryan: Elias and I met in Junior High. We weren't even in any classes together, but we were both outside of the school and he had an art project he'd sculpted in his hands. It was a bust of Greedo, the bounty hunter Han Solo shot in cold blood in the Mos Eisley cantina. We sort of became friends after that, with Star Wars as a center piece. When we got out of high school, we were collaborating on the script for Missy, made that movie, and wrote half a dozen other screenplays afterward.

Gavin: Where did the idea for “This Divided State” come about, and what was it like for you filming it?

Bryan: For Elias and I, "This Divided State" started as a phone call from Steven Greenstreet. It was a month or two before the 2004 presidential election in Utah County and UVU (then UVSC) announced that Michael Moore would be speaking two weeks before the election. Greenstreet called and said, "This is going to be insane because of all of the conservatives, we need to get down there with cameras." We started shooting, some students (including "CleanFlix" director Josh Ligairi) started shooting, and we ended up helping Steve put all the footage together. The hardest part of being on campus filming it was remaining neutral and quiet. I'm pretty liberal in my politics and holding my tongue in a political debate is not something I do easily. But it was a very valuable lesson to learn. Taking it to festivals was a ball. At one of the festivals we took the film to and ended up winning the audience award (Santa Cruz Film Festival 2005), Steve and I dressed up as missionaries and spread the gospel of the film. It was an odd site since I had facial hair and Steve was chain smoking. We confused a lot of people, but packed the theatre full of people who ended up loving it.
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Gavin: What did you think of the reaction and praise the film got after it's release? And what are your thoughts on it now years later?

Bryan: I'm really proud of all the work we all poured into the film and the reviews and awards were, I think, well deserved. I haven't watched the movie in a while, but the last time I saw it I was very impressed with how well it holds up. It was before HD was easily accessible, but even in standard definition, I think it still looks good.

Gavin: What exactly pushed you from doing documentary film work into journalism and writing?

Bryan: You know, I love doing documentary work since it's essentially long format journalism. My writing and journalism in its current form came as a byproduct of promoting the film. We created a political blog to promote "This Divided State", and that got me invited to contribute to Huffington Post. I have no intentions of leaving documentary journalism, but writing is so much cheaper than filming. I've always loved and enjoyed it, though. I was on the staff of my school newspapers (with Elias, who did a lot of artwork, including a political cartoon that matched an editorial I wrote that got our entire class into a whole lot of trouble) and I actually fancied getting into journalism from an early age.
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Gavin: How did you eventually land the entertainment gig with The Huffington Post, and how has it been for you working for a web-based new organization?

Bryan: Like I said, I was sending press releases to Huffington Post, trying to get them to cover "This Divided State" and "Killer at Large" and they replied back, "We don't run press releases, but your stuff is good, do you just want to contribute?" And I haven't looked back since.

Gavin: When did the idea come about to start up Big Shiny Robot, and what was it like for you and the other putting the website together?

Bryan: When we were putting together "Killer at Large," I got hooked up with Lucas Ackley and he was the brains behind our web presence for the film. We were talking via instant messages all the time and he's as big of a geek as I am. We kept trading links back and forth of geek news and stuff and I was itching to write about this kind of stuff (having already written some bits of comic book stuff for Huffington Post) and he had this web domain he'd registered for whatever reason. We decided we'd just start posting the geek news we found, as well as reviews and previews and whatever else struck our fancies, on this website. Putting the website together was easy for me. I was doing a lot of the writing and Lucas took care of all of the technical aspects. Our goal in the beginning was to create something like the "AintItCool" of Salt Lake City and I think we're getting close to that.
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Gavin: Over the past three years its grown into a geek news source that rivals other major websites. To what do you attribute the success you've had so far?

Bryan: I think the success comes from the fact that everyone we have writing for the site is passionate and knowledgeable about what we're talking about. And we do it with a bit of tongue in cheek humor, never taking ourselves too seriously. There's about half a dozen regular consistent writers and about fifteen semi-regulars and they all put as much heart and soul into it as they can. We're on top of breaking news, which always helps, and we try to write about stuff that we have interesting and unique takes on. Most of all, though, we're just having fun and I think it comes through in the articles.

Gavin: Along with your own video production company, freelance writing and the website, you also written for a couple of comic books. How did that opportunity present itself?

Bryan: I owned a comic book store in Orem for a while, almost in another life. And one of the people I got introduced to was Derek Hunter. He's a great illustrator and would hang out at the shop when he wasn't working on video games and I think more than anything I just encouraged him to get Pirate Club done and self-published. I helped fill out the story and write some of the dialogue, but I think my biggest contribution was convincing Derek it was something he could do and not wait. Then after Pirate Club, I helped Derek with Gamma Rae, which was printed in Image's Popgun Anthology Volume 1. I have more comics stuff I'm working on now I'm really excited about, but it's a little too early to talk about. I believe Elias and Derek are working on some comic projects as well that we'll all be hearing about, they're both incredibly talented guys and I'll read anything they do.
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Gavin: With all this going on already, what made you decide to write books on the side?

Bryan: Well, it started in 2005. I had been working on screenplays exclusively and felt like I needed to be flexing my prose muscles. I hadn't written anything in prose since high school and I committed to myself that I would write a short story every month. With very few exceptions I've hit that self-imposed goal and I think I've grown as a writer considerably. A novel was the furthest thing from my mind, but it wasn't until I read Graham Greene's Dr. Fischer Of Geneva, or The Bomb Party based on Elias' recommendation and something in my brain clicked. There was just something about the elegance of Greene's writing that was simple and structured like a screenplay that I felt like I was capable of writing a book. So I wrote a book a few years ago. It started as a screenplay and I hit a wall and decided to just restart it as a book. I'll be revising and publishing that one sometime later this year or next. But as for why I'm doing it with everything I've got going already, I think the answer is clear: I have to tell stories. I have to write. It's really not an option for me. Maybe it's a cliche, but working on my art is like breathing to me.

Gavin: How did the idea come about for Lost At The Con?

Bryan: Lost At The Con really started as an idea for a character. I thought it would be really fun to send a journalist at the end of his rope who knows nothing about geek culture into the midst of it. I asked myself what someone like Hunter S. Thompson would have thought if he'd have covered Comic-Con. I don't think I answered that question, but it was my exploration of that idea that turned into the book.
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Gavin: The book itself takes a pretty harsh look at the geek conventions and their crowd as a whole. It kinda begs the question... how much of this is reality and personal experience, and how much is made up?

Bryan: You know, I don't think it takes too harsh a look, actually. I think in the first parts of the book, your narrator is a very self-destructive, self-loathing person at his absolute worst so anything he looks at is going to be really harsh. And like anything, it's easy to see the stereotypes in any crowd if that's all you're looking for. But as he gets deeper and deeper into the convention, he realizes there's a lot more in the world of geekdom than he would have expected and it changes him profoundly. Though I've brought my experience of conventions to bear in order to write the book, this is really about a fictional character and how he perceives things and what alters those observations, for better or worse. I really tried to get in the headspace of someone on the outside of geek culture looking in and I think I've done a reasonable job of that. And since it's from that perspective, I think the book has a wider audience because you can know as little as he does about this world and really see behind this curtain and gain some understanding of it. And I hope geeks will enjoy it even more, because they'll get all of the inside jokes the protagonist doesn't understand.

Gavin: Considering the storyline based around a reporter going to a Con, did this feel more like a self-examination of your own job and experiences, or was this more of a way to vent over certain frustrations?

Bryan: Not at all. I started with the character and moved out from there. It's a journey for him. I thought it would be a very fun story to tell and it was, at least from my perspective. I love geek culture and Cobb (the main character) learns a lot about it and himself during the course of the book. In fact, sometimes it was hard to get into the headspace of someone who doesn't know about all of this stuff, but everything in the story was put together to see the most interesting and surprising reactions this character would go through. And to be honest, sometimes they surprised even me.
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Gavin: What was it like for you putting the book together and getting it the way you liked it?

Bryan: Writing the book was a lot of fun. Mark Dago (from Rotten Musicians and The Numbs) and I have been getting together a couple of times a week and carving time out of our busy schedules to just sit and work on this kind of stuff. He's working on his own book and music projects, too, and we spent a lot of time encouraging each other. I also flew out to North Carolina for a writer's retreat with some other published authors (including Star Wars author Aaron Allston and Janine Spendlove, who has a great piece of YA fiction coming out soon) and work-shopped the first chapter, which was both an incredible learning experience and a lot of fun. We were out on a beach house with a gorgeous view of the Atlantic and it was incredible. As far as prepping the book for publication, it's been a lot of hard work, but I can't think of anything more satisfying than holding the fruits of my brain between two covers and being able to have it on a shelf. And on my Kindle. eBooks are the way of the future.

Gavin: What's the general reaction been from people who have read it in advance already?

Bryan: You know, the reaction so far has been really positive. I've heard from a few reviewers some really positive things, but I'll let their reviews speak for themselves when they come out, good or bad. I've had a few readers giving me notes along the way and part of what emboldened me to engage in this whole process is how much they all enjoyed the book. Which is in itself gratifying because the entire time I was working on it I was convinced no one would ever like it. That's always been good luck for me, though. Whenever I was really happy with a piece, people would always be luke warm about it, but when I tortured myself on it and was very sick to my stomach about it and it didn't turn out exactly how I wanted, those are always the stories people like most of mine. I don't know why, but that's just the way it seems to work out.
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Gavin: What made you decide to self-publish rather than find a formal company to put the book out?

Bryan: The first inkling I got was when I was interviewing Michael Stackpole a couple of years ago, he's a New York Times Bestseller and wrote some of my favorite books set in the Star Wars universe, and we got onto the subject of digital publishing and he ran me through the economics of it. If you get a big time publishing house signed for your first novel and you're not going to make a whole lot of money and you're going to be doing all the promotion yourself anyway. You start going through the economics of it, and I can make more money selling my book for eReaders at less than $5 than I'd be able to make selling it to readers for three times that cost with a publishing house involved. It saves consumers money and I'm able to help support myself in my writing. I had thought about taking it to some publishers, then I read about people like Amanda Hocking who just started self-publishing on the Kindle and since April of last year has literally made millions. It never would have happened in a traditional publishing model. Fast forward to me finishing this book and trying to figure out what to do with it, and I talked to Stackpole again and he's been been doing well self-publishing some of his work (including a great superhero noir novel everyone should check out called In Hero Years... I'm Dead) and said that if I was self-publishing and could have all of my ducks in a row and books in hand by the end of June he could get me on as a guest at a con and doing panels. It was like the straw that broke the camels back on the self-publishing front. But the term "self-publishing" has this stigma that I find a little odd. I've made indie films and they get respect. Creator owned comics are the bees knees. But a self-published book? A lot of people associate that with vain whack jobs who couldn't string two sentences together. People think that if they buy a book from a publisher it's been vetted by teams of editors with taste coming out of their ears, but how many times have you picked up a book from one of them and been disappointed? They publish a lot of crap and we've all been burned by them. I think with the quality of writers in the world and ease of self-publishing now, the odds of you getting burned by a self-published title are about the same as from a publishing house of any stripe. And if you're a reader, why do you want a middle man? If you can get a quality book at the same price or less and have it benefit an author you like directly, why bother with the big fat cats in publishing? Same goes for the author. Why would I want people to pay more for my book and have me see less of it?
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Gavin: Along with it's physical release in June you'll also be releasing a series of short stories. Can you tell us a little bit about those?

Bryan: Like I said before, I've been working on a short story a month (give or take) since 2005. I have a deep catalog of them and I've slowly been converting them to eBooks and this is really the first one I'll be collecting by genre and releasing simultaneously in a meaningful way as a physical book. It's called Man Against The Future and is 17 science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories I've written over the last six or seven years. There's a couple of new stories in there, too. I'm really proud of them. They run the gamut of genres and styles and I think it will give people a taste of the different styles I'm capable of. I had one person who read it and was blown away that all of the stories were written by just one person.

Gavin: Going local for a bit, what's your take on our entertainment community as a whole, both good and bad?

Bryan: You know, I really love the community around here. With very few exceptions it's very supportive with a minimum of snobbery. Sure, there is a little bit of snobbery, but you just take the high road and ignore it and sure enough it goes away. As far as the quality of artists in all mediums here, I think we have one of the coolest, most professional art scenes in the country, maybe even the world. People are surprised to find Salt Lake City on the top ten of cities with the most artists per capita, but we take it seriously here. And the stuff that's being produced in our community is as good or better as anything being produced elsewhere, from films and comics to books and music, it's all up to snuff.
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Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Bryan: I think the biggest thing is we need to be ambassadors of Salt Lake City wherever we go and whoever we talk to. I love this city and I love the art that comes out of this place. And I tell people wherever I go that they need to take Salt Lake City seriously. I don't want to name drop, but I've had conversations with some pretty cool people you'd all know of, and set them straight about Salt Lake City and made sure they knew it was a place that could produce great stuff.

Gavin: Seeing how you cover an array of subjects, what should people be checking out around the state in film, comics, writing, etc.

Bryan: In film, I think people need to be checking out "Sons Of Perdition". It's a documentary about the exiled youth of polygamy. I've done a little bit of work helping them promote it, but it's just such a great movie. As far as comics, there are a lot of options locally, obviously Derek Hunter's stuff is worth checking out and it's on the shelves at all of the local comic book stores. And as far as writing, all the stuff I know about hasn't hit the street yet, but there's some great stuff to look out for in the near future. Like I said, Mark Dago has got his novel in the works. My little brother, Jason Young, has written two novels that I hope he'll get his act together on soon. I think I would be remiss if I didn't mention Kat Martin's art. There's a lot of great artists and writers out there, though, that aren't showing anyone their work and my only guess can be is that we haven't created an environment that they can feel comfortable baring their soul. I think that's one of the things about exposing yourself through your artwork publicly and trying to make money at it. You make yourself very vulnerable and there are some in the community who might not make people feel as welcome as others, and I hope that those of us who are more accepting of these artists can drown out the negative voices.
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Gavin: What's your take on the explosion and near dominance of geek culture over the past decade? And are we lucky to have all this, or has it become too inflated for our own good?

Bryan: There are some people, emboldened by Patton Oswalts bizarre manifesto, that seem to think it's a bad thing that people are more geeky now. Personally, I think it means we've won. There's something in me that can't help but like what it likes and if other people like it, too, then so be it. It seems like there are too many people out there who actively worry about how popular something they like is and once it reaches a certain point they stop liking it. It's absurd. I might seem like a shameless exhibitionist, but at my heart I'm a really shy person, being able to talk to people about Star Wars and Thor and stuff I care about helps get me out of my shell. That fact that geek culture has become more popular has enabled me to become more social. So for me it's a very good thing. And I think for all of us who enjoy it it's a good thing. The more people who consume the kind of stuff I like, the wider variety of that stuff will be available.

Gavin: On a national scale, what shows/films/products are you most looking forward to over the next year?

Bryan: I'm constantly looking forward to the next Woody Allen film, and we're getting another one this month. I'm really excited about this years batch of superhero movies, too. I think they all look pretty good or better and "Captain America" looks as though it's so good my head will explode watching it. As far as comics, I'm dying to see Scott Snyder continue topping himself on his run of Detective Comics which if you haven't started reading, you really have to start. Maybe the biggest thing I'm looking forward to is the return of "The Clone Wars" on Cartoon Network. Perhaps it's my preposterous and over-affectionate love for Star Wars talking, but I really think it's the best thing on TV. And there are a lot of people who don't like Star Wars as much as I do that would agree with me. And I can't wait until Slim Cessna's Auto Club plays Salt Lake City again. I'm sure there's other stuff I'm looking forward to, but those seem to be the big ones.
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Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of this year?

Bryan: Well, I'm hoping this year remains as busy as it has been. Big Shiny Robot! is going to be going through a major upgrade in the next few months and every time we upgrade the design and interface, we need to work really hard to knock the quality up a notch. Unless promoting these books takes too much time, I'm hoping to finish the screenplay I've been working on and put it into production. I've been toiling away on it for a while and it's actually based on one of the short stories in my upcoming collection. I've considered going back and revising my first novel and getting it out there. I'd love it, but it's a completely different genre and feel and I'm not sure how I'd market it. It's something like Catcher In The Rye in the style of John Steinbeck set in Utah County in 1997. And I don't mean to compare myself to Steinbeck at all, I don't deserve the praise and he doesn't deserve the insult, but that's just kind of the vibe. I wrote it as a way to help me deal with the grief over the loss of my uncle, who was the identical twin of my estranged father. I might have a couple of irons in the comics fire that might be ready to pull out by the end of the year, too, but you never now. I sort of hate talking about stuff that's in the distance because you never know if it'll really pan out or not.

Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Bryan: I think I'd like to see everyone come out to Big Shiny Geek Show Pub Quiz at Lucky 13. We have a good time and always love to see new blood. And since I host it (along with Shannon Barnson from "The Geek Show" and sometimes Jeff Vice, movie critic to the world) it's a good time for people to come out and hang out and get to know me. Every Wednesday night, be there by 7:30PM.


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