The plan was simple. After Chris Patton and his friends had filmed a few fake zombie movie trailers on a whim back in 2009, they set up the living room and projector to showcase their homemade movies. The only thing that was missing: an audience.
With an empty couch and a blank screen, Patton and his friends did what any budding filmmakers would do, they tricked their friends into coming over. That night they began a tradition without even knowing it, and the film festival Trailer Wars was born. Now looking toward the end, the group reflects on their beginning.
“There were just three trailers at that first one,” Patton said. “The people that came voted on a winner and we were back in that living room the next month with a new theme.”
Today the film festival calls the Pickford Film Center home every two months, but after 46 events in the past six and a half years, the gang has started to prepare to set down the camcorders and close their once living-room tradition — the war is over when event 47 comes around on December 2, according to the Trailer Wars website.
At the conclusion of every Trailer Wars, the winners come down on stage and announce the theme for the next round. The tradition began when the winner, self-named Imperius Rex Films, won with their film “I am Zombie” and picked the category for the next round, which was action.
After the conclusion of Trailer Wars five, won by Sawyer Survoivin for his short titled “Legend 2: Darkness Shines,” that once spacious living room was becoming too cramped, Patton said.
“Things [were] getting too packed and sweaty,” Patton said. “We asked around town to different galleries and spaces to see if we could do Trailer Wars there, but everyone said no.”
But to Patton’s surprise, the Pickford Film Center in downtown Bellingham didn’t turn them away and Trailer Wars got the OK to be shown on one Wednesday every other month.
The crew that once gave Trailer Wars life have begun to settle down with kids and jobs; there is not much time left in the day to make trailers, Trailer Wars veteran Chris Palmer said.
With no screeners and no fees to pay, anyone can get their creation shown to an audience who wants to see it, good or bad, Patton said.
Today, when stumped by a shortage of trailers, the original Trailer Wars crew and self-named “lifers” are called upon to keep Trailer Wars afloat, Abbott said.
Most of the time, someone will have a great idea but no one to film with, or someone will have plenty of time to edit a film, but can’t come up with good ideas, Patton said. Trailer Wars has a Facebook group where you can post questions, comments or ads for help, Palmer said.
“If you are really good at writing stories, or if you really like filming or you really like editing, just put it out there and try to find people who love making videos,” Palmer said.
The goal is to get more people involved, Palmer said. Videos don’t have to be shot with a fancy HD camera or fancy sliders; the event is meant to be open for those with any level of film experience, Patton said.
“Trailer Wars works to strip away the pretension around some film events and just getting to the root of having fun for free, with no resources,” Patton said. “Make something out of what you have available to you and don’t let things, like budget, hold you back.”
Attendance at Trailer Wars has always been up and down, due to the uncertainty of what the next theme will be. If someone names an obscure category, like pirate hip-hop, attendance will be lower than usual, but that has never stopped Trailer Wars, Patton said.
“As a host, I let the audience know that whatever we have is on them, which might suck sometimes,” Patton said. “But we will always be back for the next one.”
Past participants have created a weird and unique environment where anything can happen, and the crowd has the tendency to just go with the flow, Patton said.
One of Patton’s favorite memories from Trailer Wars occurred when the audio didn’t work on one of the trailers.
“The people who made it tried to mime along to it. We just played it without sound,” Patton said.
From humble beginnings to Pickford blowouts, Trailer Wars has pushed the Bellingham and Western community to have fun and create an environment where everyone is welcome and all trailers are played. As Trailer Wars comes to an end, Patton is hopeful that the last four are better than they’ve ever been.
“I think we’ll see a surge on the last few and I hope we do,” Patton said. “I hope the last one is two hours long; I don’t care, we’ll stay there all night.”