Johnny Meah


The Czar of Bizarre


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Why?

If you're reading this, then you are, perhaps, wondering how exactly the co-producer of "The Blair Witch Project," Johnny Meah, the Czar of Bizarre, and a group of maverick designers, programmers, and producers under the name GMD Studios got together on a project like this?

That's easy - it all started at Orlando, Florida's Enzian Theater.

It was fall of 1995, and I was working for Enzian, a gem of a not-for-profit art cinema, as the Marketing Director -- a fancy title for the guy who makes flyers and lays out newsletters and ads. Hey, not bad for a recent film school graduate (anyone who has a film degree KNOWS how useless THAT piece of paper is when it comes to getting a job)! Back in film school, I had played around with email and decided it would be cool to get the theater online. Hell, it seemed like a good way to get them to pony up for a fancy new 28.8 modem. They fell for it, and next thing you know I'm exploring this thing called the World Wide Web. People were all excited about the possibilities of this Web thing, especially now that you could put PICTURES with your text! It seemed like a natural that I would want to put the theater's flyers online so I asked my ISP for advice and they sent me to Brian Clark and Tammy Kearns, also fresh out of school and starting their own company. The powers that be at the theater gave me enough rope to explore this "computer thing" so long as it didn't cost much, and Brian and Tammy were eager to show off their skills to the world - in other words, a perfect match. We launched the Enzian site later that year, when websites were still a novel idea. Believe it or not, our site launch was the FRONT page of the Orlando Sentinel's Business section that week with full color photos! It was the beginning of great things for all of us.

By fall of 1997, I needed a theme for the next film festival. This was the first time I was able to choose the theme and be involved in selecting the art for the festival's poster. I wanted to get away from the same old movie images every film festival uses (reels, film strips, countdown leaders, etc.) but wasn't sure where to take it. In September, we took our annual trip to New York City for the Independent Feature Film Market. One evening some co-workers and I managed to stumble into Little Italy, right smack in the middle of a street festival. We walked a few blocks, carefully navigating the throngs of people when I saw it: a classic banner line for a side show. It didn't take much convincing to pony up the $2.00 and step inside the tent. Sure, the show was great, but it was the banners outside that really stayed with me - I HAD to learn more about them. Fortunately, both "Freaks, Geeks, and Strange Girls" and "Freak Show: Sideshow Banner Art" were still in print.

Back in Florida, I was determined to use the sideshow theme, but how would I ever get a sideshow banner painted for the festival? The answer was right around the corner when I discovered that Johnny Meah, "the last living side show banner artist," as one of the books proclaimed, was alive and well and living an hour or so away on Florida's west coast! A little bit of fast-talking, a few phone calls, and one giant leap of faith (and permission to spend some money) from my boss, and Johnny was painting a banner for the festival.

While I loved the film exhibition business, I went to school to MAKE movies, not show them. Two of my closest friends from film school had just shot a no-budget film in the woods in Maryland, and they needed to get the film edited, so I left the theater just before the festival and began to work with them.

In January of 1999, we sold that no-budget film at Sundance and that summer "The Blair Witch Project" was everywhere you looked. Success like that is a rare bird, and I knew that I could (and should) use the freedom that comes with it to pursue some passion projects.

Czarofbizarre.com is the first of those passion projects out of the gate for me. It brings together many things I love: art, storytelling, history, and a great sense of fun. More importantly, it is a great collaboration of incredibly talented people, contributing to a project we all love. I hope you have as much fun visiting it as I have working with Johnny and everyone at GMD Studios to make it happen.

Sincerely,

Mike


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