Thursday at South Bay Drive-in FANBOY Comes To Life

by Reviewer Rob

“Yeah I’m down here at the drive in making sure my DCP works (digital cinema print). This is surreal,” ~ Ben Johnson upon seeing the South Bay Drive-In screen where Fanboy would premier.

Fanboy screen at the South Bay Drive-In
Fanboy screen at the South Bay Drive-In

Q: Hey Ben, did you get any help whatsoever from any “mainstream” movie industry sources during the making of FANBOY, even if they were local San Diego ones like from the SD Film Commission? If not how did you acquire things like pro video cameras and shooting locations?

A: “None. Grant owns the camera equipment and I secured all locations,” Ben said.

Always one to share glory Ben immediately offers how cinematographer Grant Reinero was integral in the making of Fanboy, both in its inception and its production.

San Diego’s newly-minted first-time film-maker Ben Johnson has always been a leader. When I first met him he had rented the whole floor above Scolari’s Office on 30th Street in North Park and converted it into an open-bay communal live / work area for him and his friends with small rooms around the border walls. This was what appeared to to be a “collective” living arrangement. The Rooster House, as it was called due to the large image of a male barn fowl on the street-facing outside wall near the front door, was famous among the San Diego music scene and spawned many, many bands and countless infamous stories. Ben had its keys. But that was over twenty years ago. Since then the Rooster House crowd has matured and many have scattered to the four winds. Ben got a job working at The Casbah, San Diego’s ultimate small indy music venue, first as a barback, then as a bartender. Then one day I discovered that he was a co-owner of The Casbah. I was aware that Casbah head honcho Tim Mays had sometimes issued shares of corporate stock to employees because Andrew the doorman had been made co-owner years ago — genius move by the way, to make someone so integral to the bar’s success an ultimate beneficiary of its financial health.

I heard of and saw Ben play in almost half a dozen bands over the years and he was always a recognizable talent on stage, with a true showman’s flair for entertaining, and always had the support of the crowd. When I was working on growing Reviewer Magazine and slogging around town looking for ads sales one time I made my way into Scolari’s Office (while it was still its gritty old dive bar self and not the shiny cocktail lounge version you see today). I was asking to speak to the owner and the bar manager had me speak to his daughter first. She was a tall, tough looking broad, mid-fifty-ish I want to say. I had noticed her around the bar before and she was always very serious. I never saw her smile or look happy until that day when I mentioned Ben Johnson’s name. I’m not sure how Ben arose in the conversation. Perhaps I was name-dropping as a way to make small talk, like ad-sales chit chat. At the time I lived two and-a-half blocks away at Illinois and Lincoln so maybe it was an effort to reveal my local cred. But the moment Ben’s name came up her demeanor changed and she was instantly delighted, all smiles, saying what a wonderful guy Ben was, and that he’s “the best people.” She clearly loved the guy who lived with all his minions upstairs above her bar. So I got my meeting with the old man and Scolari’s Office advertised for a few issues.

God doing Reviewer Magazine was hard work. Being creative and constantly sellable as a newspaper back then was tough. You need a continuous flow of content. That’s one thing Ben has a seemingly unlimited supply of, content. In the years since he’s stopped drinking inspiration has been his companion. On top of Fanboy he’s begun a series of novels and may have them put to the screen as well. He’s unstoppable.

There’s this cult-like element to film-makers though that suits Ben well. David Lynch or Tarantino have the same quality. Those near are his talent pool and he draws from them to use according to their abilities. One thing about this pandemic shutdown and the work-from-home trend taking over the tech world as a whole is it has accelerated the decentralization of Hollywood.

But anyways, back to the review. Fanboy is pure camp. It’s a film about obsession with fame and testosterone fueled madness, as well as a psycho criminal who-done-it, and it’s all set in the pre-pandemic San Diego dive bar indy music scene. The soundtrack expertly constructed by Demetrius Antuña features loads of great local bands and also makes for plenty of creepy background mood effect, especially when Freddy Proehl, Ben’s protagonist, appears on camera. Freddy’s name, “Proehl,” sounds like an inside jokey kind of appelation — a “prole” being a member of the working class, which is what Freddy came up from in order to usurp the drummer’s position in the band Xenos. “Xenos” being Greek for “stranger,” the root word in “xenophobia,” and as we find out there may be plenty to be be phobic about with ol’ Freddy. Another small scripted funny is the movie’s police detectives keep referring to their SDPD lieutenant as “Sir” when that role is played by Ben’s actual mother, who is pretty much obviously a woman.

While watching you’ll be often reminded the movie was shot by a novice and everyone acting in it is an amatuer except for Ben’s mom Ellen Lawson who has an extensive IMDb profile. I’m certain Ben gleaned some experience via her career over the years through osmosis, or if only as inspiration. Ben’s got several other family members acting in it too. His young daughter plays a non-speaking cameo role. I expect his next effort will add to this ensemble. And I do expect there will be another effort soon, pandemic or not. I think Ben once wrote a whole story on Twitter. The dude’s unstoppable.

Phil Goekler, another longtime friend and former bandmate of his, said Ben had been hatching Fanboy four years ago with him in the days after Ben stopped drinking. “I was involved in the very, very, very early stages when it was just an idea. I wasn’t involved from a creative perspective but I’ve always been the business guy. I’m the guy that always helps Ben stay focused on the critical path, making sure the steps he’s moving forward with are in the right order… It was right after he was just finishing up with the first book, and he wanted to talk about trying to get a movie going, and he had just started doing all these film shorts and things like that,” Phil said.

Ben and Phil had collaborated in their band Owsla and now their friendship has extended into the movie making of Fanboy. But it’s not showing sign of slowing down. Phil is one of the support network helping Ben the novitiate film-maker develop pitches for new projects.

I told Ben it all sounded very ‘guerilla’ to me, how Fanboy was shot. His style and how he made Fanboy without attending film-school was like an insurgent attacking out of sheer passion and no formal training.

“That is exactly what I called what we became after the first two marathon shoots. To keep everyone happy and motivated we did 4-6 hour shoots once every 2-3 weeks,” Ben said.

Even so when you see the movie be ready for the rough production quality. Ben told me the sound editing was especially taxing to his patience. Footsteps needed to be added, and there wa a small delay in syncing the talking audio to the movement of lips. There were a million details! I am frankly amazed the project made it to completion. You will also need to watch closely or, if you watch while multitasking in your office like me, subtle story points will slip by unnoticed.

Q: What was the meaning of Pall Jenkins being the litterbug, was it only so Freddy could get back at him for it — or was there a larger plot device at work?

A: “Freddy gets pissed at Pall and they keep being in the same place and time. Freddie wants to get back at him and escalates. The plot device is the video of their roadside fight being shot by the kids, then seen online by the drunk neighbor which jars her memory and she calls homicide looking for Willie Mack but can’t find his direct number because she accidentally knocked his card off the table with her coffee cup. The video of the assault is also seen by the detectives near the end which cements Freddie as the main suspect and they fly to Rock City to apprehend him. So yes Pall’s character escalates the rage in Freddie which ultimately solves the case…” (You’ve got to see the movie because I’m not printing a spoiler here. ~RR)


Here is some info about the premiere:

FANBOY PREMIERE INFORMATION POST!!!! Please read if you’re attending. Hi! To those with tickets to the Fanboy premiere on Thursday 1/14/2021:
WHEN ARRIVING: please pull into the left 4 lanes, leaving the right hand lane open for WW84 which is in the other theater. Our personnel will assist in this regard.
When arriving, PLEASE WEAR A MASK TO CHECK IN. We will check your name the tickets were ordered under and number of attendees off one of our 2 lists (Casbah/eventbrite or Ben’s list) at which time you will be issued a ticket for your car for the dashboard and you may drive to a spot at either theater #1 or theater #2.
FIRST SHOWING on both screens: 6:15
Theater #1 is the larger screen. One car per space (they are very large to follow covid protocol).
In the front of theater #1 there will be a reserved area for cast crew and soundtrack musicians. Unfortunately that does not mean extras because there’s too many of you
and that would be impossible. 😢 .
Theater #2 has smaller spaces. Please park in every OTHER space in theater #2 to
respect COVID protocol.
Other than cast/crew area, all spaces for theaters 1 & 2 are first come first served.
HOW TO LISTEN: Audio is transmitted via FM on your car radio. Your car will need FM for you to hear the movie.
Theater 1- 93.7 FM Theater 2- 89.1 FM
After movie is over PLEASE watch for our friendly casbah staff members’ flashlights so they can help you exit promptly. We only have half an hour to get 270 cars out and another 270 cars in.
ALL CARS will exit on either side of the screen at Theater 1 (the large screen). Please keep your lights off until you are near the exit, as another movie is playing on the final screen and we don’t want to diminish the other moviegoers’ experience.
Casbah security will guide you with flashlights to the exit. When exiting, please turn your lights on.

WHEN EXITING please turn RIGHT on Coronado Ave, then RIGHT again on Saturn, then RIGHT again on Palm which will take you directly to the I-5 entrance.
Please do not attempt to go left on Coronado Ave.
SECOND SHOWING: Cars can line up at gates at 6:30. Like at the first, we will check your name and number of attendees off our list and issue you a dashboard ticket.
SHOWTIME for second showing in theater #1 and Theater #2: 8:20.
There will NOT be a cast/crew area for the late show. Both theaters will be first come first served.
VERY IMPORTANT!!! We want this to be a safe event for everyone involved, so please observe covid protocol at all times! When you are out of your car please ALWAYS have your mask on and keep 6’ from each other. We haven’t seen each other in a while, and it will be amazing to see everyone there, but we obviously want a safe event for all concerned.
Second viewing ends: 9:55
Please exit promptly yet safely to observe covid curfew.
Thank you very much to every one of you for attending this event! We know you’ll enjoy it!
-Ben and Casbah staff

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