Boxing is hard. I imagine it would be hard even if I wasn’t a huge fat
load, and even if I wasn’t boxing at midnight on a day when I woke up
at 8am and after I had drank a number of beers. At least that’s what I
like to tell myself.

Monday, September 28th was the best day of
my life, and it capped off with a debate and boxing match, both of
which I lost (spoiler warning, I guess). You can read the previous two
installments in the saga of this greatest day here: Part One, in which
I fired machine guns
, and Part Two, in which I met Eurosleaze genius
Jess Franco
.

After seeing Venus in Furs and
getting the autographs of Jesse Franco and Lina Romay, I headed into
the Fantastic Fest Awards. I had served on the Horror Features jury
this year (in fact, before I went shooting machine guns I had a jury
meeting where we picked our winning films), and I would be needed on
stage to announced the winners. The Fantastic Fest awards are quite
different from any film festival awards you have ever imagined. For one
thing, the winners get a golden belt buckle and a stein of beer. For
another, they must chug the entire stein of beer at the podium.
Substitutions are allowed, and when the winners are not in the house
the presenter or the emcee – Tim League, the big papa behind Fantastic
Fest – drain the stein. That night Tim drained many a stein, despite
the fact that he was just hours away from stepping into a boxing ring
with Dr. Uwe Boll himself.

Post awards (our jury handed two awards to The Human Centipede (First Sequence),
which I think helped it become the breakout buzz film of the fest. I’m
incredibly proud of this, and I hope that the movie goes on to find the
sick and twisted audience it deserves) I headed to the boxing gym that
shares a strip mall with the Alamo Drafthouse and the Highball, Tim’s
new bowling alley/bar/karaoke joint that has changed the very face of
Fantastic Fest this year. At the boxing gym I was outfitted in head
gear and a cup and boxing gloves (but didn’t sign a waiver, something I
had to do last year at the same event. I could have sued!) in
preparation for my debate and fight.

The Fantastic Debates were
a huge success last year, but they were done quite differently. The
format was this: two people would get in the ring and debate a topic.
The audience would choose the winner. If the audience response wasn’t
clear in either direction, the two debaters would fight it out, with a
no-face punching rule. This year the organizers changed it up: this
year everybody fought. And everybody got punched in the face.



I was up first. My topic: “Resolved: Michael Bay Is More Deserving of
the Death Penalty Than the Oscar.” My opponent: Scott Mossman, a local
Austin teacher and the founder of a Google Michael Bay fan site and a
contributor to the Michael Bay blog, Bay-Watch.org. Or so I thought.
See, Zack Carlson, Fantastic Fest programmer, good friend of mine and
sneaky asshole, had actually set me up with a ringer. There is no Scott
Mossman. There is no Bay-Watch.org. There is only John Erler, a
professional comedian who participates in Master Pancake Theater, an
Alamo show where Erler and his partner Joe Parsons make fun of bad
movies live in the theater. I should have suspected this – the idea of
Zack finding this random dude was too weird, and Zack had pulled the
same switcheroo on Matthew Kiernan, the Fantastic Fest Sponsor
Coordinator, the year before.



Yes, I got Kiernaned.



I guess I believed it because the organizers had not intended to have
me debate/fight on that topic or with that opponent. They had tried to
get Alex Billington of First Showing in the ring with me, a debate and
fight that surely would live on in internet infamy. Alex, though,
wouldn’t do it and punked out on the opportunity to settle our beef
with both words and fists (and I actually think Alex would have had the
advantage in boxing – he’s younger and likely fitter than I am, and
much taller than me. I would have ground him up in the debate, though).
I just sort of thought that Scott Mossman was the best they could do at
the last minute.



Totally believing that Scott Mossman was a person, I went up to him in
the locker room as we were getting geared up. The lesson I had learned
in the first Fantastic Debate (when I had debated Twitch’s Todd Brown
about CGI, but had not boxed (thank Christ. Todd would have killed me))
was that the audience wants hilarity, not facts, so I was planning on
getting in the ring and unleashing jokes more than positions, although
I would try to actually make a semi-strong case. I didn’t actually
believe the position I was debating (I was pro-Death Penalty for Bay),
but it’s performance, so I was willing to take the stand and be funny
while doing it. But I feared that Mossman would be unable to keep up
and I didn’t want to seem like a big bully in the ring, so I told him
that anything was fair game, to please feel free to make fun of me at
will, that I wouldn’t hold anything against him or take any offense.
The comedian, keeping character, thanked me for the advice. What a
dummy I am.



Finally the match was on. I was first in the ring, triumphantly
parading down the aisle, full of false bravado. “Mossman” and I had
talked a bit about the boxing, and since neither of us have health
insurance neither of us was all that interested in getting a broken
nose (Congress: please pass a public option so that next year I can
freely get my nose busted. I think the audience, bloodthirsty beasts
they are, will love it), and were both sort of nervous. At least I
think the guy didn’t have health insurance – where Mossman ends and
Erlman begins I do not know!





Mossman took the podium as well, and as soon as I saw that he had notes
I knew I was in trouble. One lesson I hadn’t learned at the first
Fantastic Debates will now be my cardinal debating rule: COME PREPARED.
I had entered that ring supposing I would improv, but now I saw that my
opponent had done lots and lots of research. What I didn’t know was
that my opponent had come really prepared with lots and lots of great
jokes.



I had the opening remarks. You can listen to the entire debate at
Cinematical by clicking here
; keep in mind that my first priority was
to entertain. I actually like a number of Michael Bay movies and I like
Shia LaBeouf, but you have to know your audience, especially when
they’re the ones deciding if you win or lose. And at the end of the day
my take on the Fantastic Debates is this: have lots of fun. It isn’t
like the topic at hand was one that invited subtlety or nuance.



When Mossman’s opening remarks started I knew for a fact that I was
finished. And since the guy had a good foot on me, with plenty of
reach, I knew that I was in trouble when it came to the boxing match as
well. But what are you going to do? I toyed with doing the
pro-wrestling thing and acting super aggressive and angry and ignoring
all of Mossman’s jokes, but they were just too good. His line ‘Saying
that Michael Bay hasn’t won an Oscar is like saying the Steelers
haven’t won the Special Olympics’ is a flat out fucking classic, and
you have to give such a talented opponent the respect of a hearty laugh.



At the end of the debate the audience’s wishes were pretty damn clear:
Mossman had taken the Mind portion of the evening. Now to decide the
Body.



We began weakly, and the audience turned on us. There’s something
primal about being in a boxing ring and getting booed from a
bloodthirsty audience; as someone who likes to play to the crowd it’s
tough, but there’s something deeper that kicks in. There’s a combat
switch in all of our brains, and it’s easy to get that combat switch
turned on.



I tried to get Mossman to tag me in the head, but we were just throwing
pretty ineffective body blows. I was actually giving it a shot, but
couldn’t get in past his arms. I also couldn’t breathe through the
fucking mouth guard; after just thirty seconds of wimpy dancing around
I was sweating and not getting enough oxygen; my chest was on fire and
I imagined that I might meet my end in the boxing ring at Fantastic
Fest. There are worse ways to go.



Finally I managed to get a punch in on Mossman’s face, and that worked.
It triggered his combat switch and he began raining fists down upon me
from on high. Don’t ever box a guy who is a foot taller than you – it’s
going to result in you getting punched upside the head a lot while you vainly try to pop him in the nipples.



I gave it the old college try, but being this out of shape (and having
spent the last week sitting on my ass in movie theaters, eating nothing
but fried food and drinking nothing but Dr. Pepper and beer) meant that
even the thirty second time out between rounds was no good for me. In
round two I just spit out the mouth guard, and finally able to fill my
lungs with hot, sticky gym air, I went at Mossman with renewed ferocity.



He kicked my ass.




That was the decision of the judges. I think I made a comeback in the
second round, but they were counting punches that connected, and I
guess that one flurry when he punched me in the face forty times really
hurt my chances. Slightly dazed from being beaten up by a tall, gangly
comedian, I stood in the center of the ring and accepted my defeat.



But I was just the undercard! After our bout was the topic “Resolved:
Vampires Are So Gay” with Brad McHargue from Horror Squad arguing the
gayness of vamps while Chivonn Anderson, the founder of Hey Homo!, a
gay night at the Alamo, took the other side. Chivonn destroyed Brad in
the debate, ensuring his defeat by recounting the tale of her first
lesbian threesome. And then she utterly dismantled him in the ring,
beating him so solidly that his headgear kept flying off. Brad was
visibly enraging, swinging so wildly that he all but spun around; the
very fit Chivonn danced around him, raining punches upon his form. In
the end the decision was simple: Chivonn won handily.



The third debate had Scott Weinberg of Cinematical and Chris Cargill,
aka Massawyrm of Aint It Cool News, sparring on the topic of “Resolved:
Fuck you.” There was some bad blood between the two critics, so the
decision was to allow them to simply spill it all. Massawyrm came at
Scott with a lot of one liners – very Friar’s Roast material. I thought
it was pretty funny, and some of it was quite mean. While I love Scott
with all my heart, I do heartily approve of mean jokes being slung
around, so I have to give props to Cargill. But Scott rebutted by
simply reading Massawyrm’s reviews back to him, dancing about like an
aggressive Philly street tough, getting right in Cargill’s face. The
audience fell for Scott, and while his later rap portion of the debate
didn’t quite kill, he took the verbal crown. Things weren’t quite as
thrilling in that fight, though, and Scott, a very heavy smoker,
essentially threw the fight by simply laying on the mat in the second
round.



All of this was prologue for the big debate and fight: Tim League
versus Dr. Uwe Boll, who had brought his surprisingly not-shitty film Rampage to
Fantastic Fest. The topic: “Resolved: Indie Film is Dead.” Boll would
debate that it was done for, while Tim was its champion.



Things started poorly, though. Boll stepped into the ring and
complained. He hadn’t realized that the debates were comedy and had
been prepared to do a real fifteen minute debate. His anger, he said,
meant bad things for Tim in the boxing match.



Now, I love Tim League (he showed up to the match in a star-spangled
unitard. Wonderful!), and I was actually worried. Boll’s a trained
boxer and Tim’s a drunk film programmer. The disparity is obvious. And
the idea that Boll was mad made me more worried – I didn’t want Tim to
get hurt. It would ruin the whole party.



But I underestimated Tim. He looked Boll right in the eye and agreed to
a real, comprehensive debate. Which he then went on to completely and
totally win.



This, to me, is Fantastic Fest in a nutshell. It’s fun, it’s crazy,
it’s drunk, it’s silly – but it’s also really smart, really passionate,
really committed to film. In a lot of ways I think this is the film
fest that Werner Herzog would love the most, since it’s equally about
living life and loving movies. It’s a festival that isn’t afraid to
have a good time but understands that having a good time doesn’t mean
being stupid.




Boll and Tim were sort of on different levels with the debate; while
Boll was talking about bigger indie films – ten million bucks, Fox
Searchlight movies – Tim was talking about real indie films,
the movies that cost a few hundred thousand or a couple of million. But
I think that Boll was arguing the wrong thing, since those small-budget
films are fake indies. Tim was talking about a thriving world of
alternative distribution where indie films had a chance to be seen in
ways that arthouse films never had before. Modern indie films, with a
good budget, a smart marketing campaign and some enthusiastic support
from folks like me, can really go big places (comparatively). In the
end, even Boll ceded to Tim.



And then came the boxing. Boll, in a display of graciousness to the
head of the only film festival on Earth that would ever take him
seriously, only punched Tim with his left hand. While the judges called
it a tie, I think it was obvious that Tim walked away the winner of
both the Mind and Body sections of the evening.



By then it was damn late. We headed over to the Highball for some
post-boxing booze, and John Erlman (aka Scott Mossman) came up to me
and we both agreed that we were the best debate of the night. It was
nice getting compliments on my timing and humor from a professional
comedian, and it was certainly a nice salve on my slightly wounded ego.
Still, I think being gracious in defeat is an important trait, so I was
more than happy to tell Erlman that he had soundly trounced me in the
debates.



What a day. I had been going since 8AM, and it was now 2:30. My body
ached from punches and weapon kickback, my mind reeled from
unbelievable experiences and my heart swelled from being around such
amazing people and having them call me friend. It’s unlikely that I’ll
ever have another day where I do so many new things and have so many
strange, wonderful experiences, but if ever such a day were to happen
again, it would happen at Fantastic Fest.

All photos Fantastic Fest 2009 Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Austin Texas davidhillphoto.com