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Sunday, April 18

Talkin Rondo with David Colton

David Colton is the creator of the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. He graciously agreed to do an interview with me to talk all things Rondo, which turned out to be a pretty fun one - I think you guys will really enjoy this…


Doc G - Hi David – thanks so much for spending some time with us. I want to congratulate you on another excellent Rondo Award season. This was the 8th annual Rondo Award – pretty impressive..

DC: Thanks, Doc. I think back to the first Rondo Award voting way back in early 2003, when we were thrilled -- literally thrilled! -- to have 186 votes come in. And now to routinely have almost 3,000 votes a year, yes, we've come a long way. Eight years is a long time and there's no sign of Rondo stopping.

Doc G - How would you explain the Rondo Awards to someone who had never heard of them?

DC: The Rondo Awards are an effort to honor and recognize those people and projects that keep the classic horror genre alive and vibrant. It is not so much about 'favorite actor' or 'favorite monster' but about the latest scholarship in books and magazines, the fun and creativity in writing, art, music, special events and horror hosts like yourself, and in the efforts to preserve the classic films.

Every vote is our attempt to thank and recognize all the creative people -- fans and pros alike -- who work so hard, often without any pay at all -- to keep the classic monster genre young and vital.

   As a journalist, I was especially struck by the in-depth research that went into the books and articles exploring the background stories of the classic horror films.

   The voluminous and meticulous research surrounding Bela Lugosi, as just one example, from his roots in Budapest to his tragic final years, by people like Gary Rhodes, Richard Cremer, Gregory Mank, Arthur Lennig, David Skal, Tom Weaver, Frank Dello Stritto, Leonard Kohl, Richard Sheffield, Richard Bojarski and so many other writers and historians ranks right up there with the Kennedy assassination in attention to detail and passion -- and obsession!

   It was my feeling that recognizing that kind of 'monster' journalism  was long overdue.

Doc G - Any other horror icons you considered naming the award after before deciding on Rondo?
DC: Back in 2003 on the old horror board at AOL, a bunch of us, people like Gary Prange, Kerry Gammill, Tom Weaver, Tim Lucas, John Clymer, Mirek Lipinski, a bunch of us, were wondering if the horror board should give out awards. Gary and Susan Svehla had been giving out "Laemmle Awards,'' named after the legendary Universal producer, at their Fanex conventions, and that was clearly an inspiration for our more fan-based idea.

   So we kicked around a bunch of possible names -- the Fritzes, the Ygors (I still like that one), the Belas, the Dwight Fryes, but none seemed right. We wanted it to be obscure and not so obvious. Someone (maybe me, but I'm not really sure), mentioned Rondo Hatton, then someone said 'the Rondos,' and wow, it sounded absolutely perfect!

    And then when we realized that in 'House of Horrors,' mad sculptor Martin Kosleck makes a giant bust of Hatton, that felt right, too. 

  Still, it was all just fanboy talk until Kerry Gammill -- a terrific artist who has drawn Superman for DC, Star Wars art and lots more -- e-mailed a sketch of what a miniature version of that bust would look like.
  I remember e-mailing back, 'You can do this?' A week or so later he e-mailed photos of the prototype busts and it was like, 'Wow. We HAVE to do this now.'

   And I have to say that I have believed from Day One that the true allure of the Rondos is to a very large degree that wonderful Rondo Hatton statuette.  You hold it and it just looks and feels perfect, and even people who have won Oscars and Hugo awards are eager to have one. So all props (as the kids used to say!), to Kerry Gammill for making a crazy idea real.

   And thanks, too to Tim Lindsey and Byron Salisbury, two very talented model makers and artists who have cast the more than 150 Rondo statuettes that will be out there by the end of this awards season. It is no small task and they do a great job (as does my wife, Eileen, who paints them one by one!)

Doc G -  I was pleasantly surprised to see District 9 win Best Movie this year (although I personally voted for Drag Me to Hell). D9 was a great movie, but I really didn’t expect it to win. Every year seems to bring about surprise results – what category surprised you the most this year?

DC: I was surprised that Avatar only ranked fifth in the voting (I voted for Star Trek, myself; yes, I get a vote!), and more than surprised that Monsters from the Vault's cover by Daniel Horne won even though MFTV had two covers entered. The beauty of Horne's work just captured voters when they saw it on the ballot.

Doc G - The focus of the Rondo Awards has always been classic horror first and foremost. But of course we live in the current age, so more modern genre entries are naturally going to creep into the ballot, and even win in some cases. Case in point was Rob Zombie’s Halloween winning best movie a few years back. How do you balance this juxtaposition of old vs. new, classic vs. current, in an award named the Classic Horror Awards?

DC: That's probably the toughest thing we have to face every year.
    Because, let's face it, to most of the fan base today, FRIDAY THE 13TH and the original HALLOWEEN and Freddie and Chucky and most of the '80s splatter horror cycle are as "classic'' to them as Frankenstein and Dracula were to us growing up.

   After all, Halloween came out in 1978, 32 years ago! In 1960, when I was mesmerized by Zacherley on TV in New York, Frankenstein had come out only 29 years earlier.  So classic depends on when you're looking, I suppose.

   Still, we have tried to keep a 'classic' feel to the awards. We recognize the HALLOWEEN remakes and the like, but things like the SAW sequels and some of the rougher stuff we don't include. It's controversial, but FANGORIA, a fine magazine, is no longer nominated because there is almost no classic horror content anymore, as opposed to RUE MORGUE and HORROR HOUND, two modern magazines that do salute the classics each issue so they are included. It's not perfect, that's for sure.

   But I guess my best answer is that "classic horror" -- which can also include sci fi and fantasy -- is a feeling, a sensibility, a common thread that stretches from NOSFERATU to DISTRICT 9.   It's a shared collective, a nod and a wink that every nominee, even if blood-filled or CGI-based, nonetheless have a Saturday afternoon at the movies, "monster kid" soul, deep down.

Classic means it has to have a good heart, in my view. 

 Doc G - Every year there are new categories added to the Rondo Awards. This year was the “Fan Artist of the Year “category. What prompted this new category, and what exactly differentiates a “fan” artist from a “pro” artist?

DC: At the Classic Horror Film Board we have an art folder and some amazing fan art has been posted there. I noticed in previous Rondos these artists received a lot of write-in votes, so it seemed a good way to recognize them.

   There was some bleed over in the two categories -- some fan artists were voted as pros, as vice versa -- so we're still sorting that out.  You kind of know it when you see it (though I fear a pro artist objecting if they win a fan category!)

  We've kicked around having a pro panel of artists nominate five or 10 fan artists for the ballot rather than a free-for-all write-in category so we may tweak the category a bit.


Doc G - I thought it was a very nice gesture to name the Fan Artist Category after Linda Miller. Can you tell me a little more about who Linda Miller is?

DC: Linda Miller was a fan artist who painted black-and-white watercolors of all the classic monsters, many in unusual poses taken from stills and off moments from the films. Her faces and especially eyes had an intensity that was quite striking. She died last year at the age of only 48. People may remember her online name: Meek. Naming the category after her seemed the right way to honor her memory, and the category.

Doc G - Any new categories we can look forward to next year?

DC: Hah. People say there are TOO MANY categories already. But we're open to suggestions. There's been talk of horror fiction novels, but I'd need a lot of help on that since I don't read many. 

Doc G - Unlike most awards of this type, the Rondo Awards are a fan voted Award, and have been from day one. I’m sure when you began this award you must have weighed whether to open it to voting. What was the ultimate reason that made you decide to go this route?

DC: I think having fans vote, as imperfect as it might be, remains another key to Rondo's success. The results aren't always what one would expect, but no system is perfect. It has truly become a fan's award, and the nominees and winners respect that. A lot.

We initially kicked around a different system: have fans e-mail nominations, and then have a panel of 5-10 "experts" decide who wins. Given the internecine warfare that too often infects fandom, I can guarantee that "bestowing" awards in some closed-door star chamber would be far more controversial than any other method! So having an open vote seems the fairest. And the most fun!

Doc G - This voting method sometimes leads to controversy. I know you have a policy against open campaigning from nominees in an attempt to keep the awards fair. Early on you even rescinded an award from one winner who had openly solicited votes in a blatantly unfair fashion. However, people are naturally competitive, especially creative folks - I see candidates campaigning every year, sometimes in not so subtle ways. I have mixed feelings about this - On the one hand it brings more notice to the awards and more votes and voters, which is the ultimate goal. On the other hand, it goes against the spirit of the award. How do you balance these two aspects of campaigning, and what steps if any do you take to ensure the voting process is fair?

DC: Every year it's a challenge.

   There are two ways to go at it: Have it just be a free-for-all, American Idol style, whoever can round up the most votes wins.

   Or very strictly monitor each and every vote to avoid duplication and the like.
   I've chosen a middle ground. I rarely throw out any votes (only when the same person starts voting more than once, or obvious duped votes that make no sense). But it's rare. The vote is the vote, you know?

  Some categories are unavoidably open to campaigning, truth be told.  Any time a Horror Band is nominated, they get their fans to vote, Myspace-style. Similarly with horror hosts, various write-in campaigns.  That's all fine, and as you say, it does boost the totals and spread the word, and that's good too.

   At the same time, I do step in every so often if I see an effort going too far. Usually a gentle e-mail to a nominee saying, I don't know if you know this but I'm getting 20 votes an hour from the same basement in Boise (or whatever), is enough to calm the waters.

  The downside is when people go too far. We've had entire ballots filled out, in every category, then e-mailed to people to then send to me as a vote. We've had dozens of AOL ballots come in (which are impossible to trace and easy to change names), all in the same font and typeface.  We count them all, but it's obvious to see what's happening.

     It's one thing to get an "I vote for Crabby Appleton" as best band (obscure 60s reference), but another to have that vote carry along 29 other categories, from some voter who doesn't know any of it. That's unfair across the board.

   So I always prefer that anyone who wants a vote to say, "hey, I'm nominated, please vote for me. To do so, go to the rondoaward.com site and get a ballot there."

    That's all fine, and it spreads awareness and hey, it's a popular vote so why wouldn't someone ask a friend to vote for them? Just try to keep it real, people.

Doc G - Speaking of voting, you currently have folks email their ballots in. Are there any plans in the near future to use an online ballot with radio buttons voters can click to vote to make the process easier, or will it continue as an email voting process.

DC: I think we'd all agree that it is amazing, literally amazing, that almost 3,000 people actually cut and paste and make check marks or highlight or type in names or otherwise wrangle with the impossibly long, furshlugginer ballot every year. You have to be a REAL fan to do that, and maybe that's why I kind of like it.

There's no doubt we'd get double, maybe three or four times the number of votes if it was read and click, read and click, More than 30,000 visits were made to rondoward.com in the last seven weeks.

As for automated voting, as you know, Doc, we experimented over the summer with that, using a variety of automated voting programs. Even with the huge size of the ballot, it does seem possible. I remain reluctant, though.

While those programs do prevent you from voting twice from the same machine with the same name, it's easy to vote many times from other people's machines or whatever. And maybe easier to convince a friend to click and vote than convincing a friend to e-mail me a ballot.

What I do know is that when I can actually see each e-mail, it's way friendlier, I have a much better idea of what's going on, and I also think the clumsy system we use now prevents fraud or skullduggery better than an automated system.

But again, a vote is a vote, and maybe opening it up all the way through automated voting is worth a test one year.  The folks at People's Choice or American Idol WANT people to vote as many times as possible. Maybe Rondo should too? Nah, I don't think mass numbers are worth losing the feel of a classic horror community coming together and voting.

But I struggle with this all the time and would love to hear what other folks think.

Doc G - How did the counting process go this year as opposed to previous ones? It seemed like you announced the winners quicker than before.

DC: I was able to keep up with the count better than in past years, so except for the final crazed weekend, I was usually current with the count. There can be 250 or more votes on the heaviest days. Not all are full ballots, though, so that helps. I count a few at work (shhh), and finish up at home each night or morning,

The biggest delay is just getting the winner's list ready, downloading art, etc. But we closed on Saturday and announced on Monday night. Then I slept.

Doc G - Your wife Eileen is a real trouper to put up with this craziness. How does she feel about this and how much time it consumes?

DC: She's the best. She jokes every year that this is the last year she'll paint the awards (it takes at least three coats), or at least I think she's joking, but yes, she's been incredibly supportive. She's a photographer, so her photos of the ceremony at Wonderfest are always a highlight. 

Two of my favorite photos from the ceremonies are you, Doc, looking at your Rondo with admiration, and of Zacherley holding his Rondo in triumph. Eileen took them both, so thanks for mentioning her. 

 Doc G - My favorite aspect of the Rondo Awards is the fact it spotlights many deserving websites and creative individuals. Every year I discover something new on the ballot. This has to make you feel proud as well.

DC: Yup. Many people complain about the length of the ballot, and every year I try to trim it.

But I also want the Rondo ballot to be a true representation of what is happening out there. I get many e-mails from even the most obscure nominees saying they don't expect to win but they've noticed an uptick in clicks to their website, in book or magazine orders and or just plain interest in whatever their project happened to be.  That really makes me feel good because it means the Rondos are helping lift all boats, or trying to.

Doc G - Every year the Rondo Awards grow larger and attract more media attention. I see this as both good and bad. It is good in that it grows the awards and brings more voters; bad in that the larger it gets the more difficult it is for the little guys to win. You see that with Rue Morgue sweeping the categories it’s nominated in, and I foresee the same thing with Famous Monsters Magazine once it gets cranking up full steam - anything with Forry Ackerman’s name attached to it seems to be an automatic win. What are your thoughts on this?

DC: As I type up the ballot I sometimes have an instinct on what will win. Yes, anything with Harryhausen, Ackerman, Bob Burns, Lugosi attached to it always has a better chance out of the box. But name recognition isn't enough, the project truly has to be worthy, too.

As for the "little guys" being overwhelmed, that's something to deal with at some point. There's no doubt that Rue Morgue and Horror Hound, coming out so regularly and appearing so prominently on magazine racks, have a built in fan base, but nothing wrong with that. Their support is earned by the work they are doing. Rue Morgue has been on a particular roll (Horror Hound has yet to break through but has become a real factor).

But Monsters from the Vault, Scary Monsters, Filmfax, Screem and the rest still draw very sizable numbers from what I like to call the "classic horror electorate.'' And then there's Video Watchdog's fans. So I think it evens out.

We've kicked around splitting the magazine category: Modern vs. classic, perhaps, and maybe now that there are more, not fewer as people believe, magazines out there, that's a possibilty. But I kinda like the simplicity of 'Best magazine' so I dunno.

In the end, I think the way to keep the "little guys" in the game is to keep the awards as intensely "classic" and wonderfully crazy as we can. That's where the little guys have an advantage!

Doc G - One of my favorite categories is the Hall of Fame. This category is a bit different from all the rest, in that it accepts six new entries every year. It is sort of a lifetime achievement award for promoting classic horror. I have to admit though that I am a bit confused on the criteria for acceptance. On the one hand fan favorite actors such as Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi are not in the HOF, but on the other hand German Robles (Mexican actor) and Ben Chapman (Creature from the Black Lagoon land creature) are. Can you explain this category and the criteria for inclusion?

DC: The Monster Kid Hall of Fame selections are bestowed based only partly on votes, but also the opinions of a few of us at the CHFB.

   The idea is not to include folks like Lugosi, Karloff and James Whale, but to honor the second and third generation of pros and fans who kept the "Monster Kid" in all of us alive.

   So it includes people like Ackerman, Zacherley, Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, Basil Gogos, Don Glut, the Svehlas, Dick and Nancy Klemensen, William K. Everson, Joe Dante, the sculptors of the Aurora models, etc. -- those folks who helped inspire or craft horror fandom into what it is today.

   It also includes some pros -- Ben Chapman, for example -- who became part of the fabric of fandom by attending conventions, cooperating with biographers and the rest. And on a few rare occasions -- the aging Mexican vampire portrayer German Robles, for example, on his rare visit to Monster Bash -- it's a chance to honor someone for taking the time to meet fans.

   It's a truly impressive list. I hope to build an online area at the Rondo site when I get a chance, and some help, to honor all the inductees.

  Funny sidenote: A few years back we got a flood of write-in votes as Monster Kid of the Year and Monster Kid Hall of Fame for young Daeg Faerch, who was in Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN. He was a true monster kid, after all.

   I had to explain that Monster Kid is not an age, but a state of mind. But even this year he got some votes. Probably someday he'll get in. When he's old enough!

Doc G - The controversy of the year category is obviously a joke, like the old Marvel no-prize they would give away in their comics. I heard one group that “won” got upset they didn’t receive a statue. Any thoughts on that and I assume this is one category that will continue to stay on the ballot?

DC: Last year's controversy "winner'' was the claim by Sid Terror that he had once held in the 1970s or 80s a reel of LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT in his hands.

And yes, his website angrily denounced the Rondos for not giving Sid a statuette. But that's not that kind of category, obviously.  Yes, it's a "no prize."

  Happily, I ran into Sid at Monsterpalooza a few weeks ago and he asked about it, saying even he didn't think it was that kind of category, and I explained that he was right. He seemed satisfied.

Just shows how coveted the little heads are!

Doc G - I’ve heard you mention before that you would love to see the Rondos televised. A live webcast of the award ceremony at Wonderfest could easily be arranged. Is this something you’d be interested in?

DC: If possible, yes. We'd probably have to work on the lighting, but the Wonderfest people have just been great, so one of these years.

Doc G - In your day job you are the front page editor for USA Today. Are your coworkers there aware of the Rondo Awards and your involvement with it, and if so what is their reaction to it?

DC: Yes, they know and it's fine, professionally. There are no conflicts and I don't use USA TODAY to push the awards or anything (although our Pop Candy online columnist Whitney Matheson has happily taken to mentioning when the voting begins).

As for colleagues and such, it's like anyplace else. Some people get it totally, vote, ask me when the ballot will be out, reminisce about horror films, think it's cool. Others look at me like I'm nuts.  The same reaction we all get, I suppose, wherever we work and we bring up, um, monsters.

Doc G - There is no way one person could possibly know about every worthy nominee for every category, so you naturally rely on fan input for more information. Tell my readers about the nomination process and how they can nominate their favorites. 

DC: One of the recurring questions I get is, do you read and see all that stuff? And no, of course I don't, no one could possibly have seen or read or own everything on the ballot.

That's why nominations and suggestions are so important so I can at least check them out, see what other people have said about a suggestion, before deciding if it makes the ballot or not. As Doc knows, I ask dozens of fans before the voting begins to take a look at certain categories, give me input, help out. So it's just not me.

Anyhow, if you want to suggest something for next year's Rondo ballot (Rondo IX!!!), you can make a nomination in the Rondo folder at classichorrorfilmboard.com, or, easier, you can e-mail me at taraco@aol.com.

The Rondos really do depend on everyone, so all help is appreciated!

Doc G - Well David, thanks again for agreeing to do this interview. This was a lot of fun. I look forward to seeing you again at Wonderfest next month.

DC: Yes, and I look forward to the return of your Chiller Theater Live this year! And Nurse Moan-eek, your beautiful and blood-challenged co-host. Thanks so much for taking the time to ask about...Rondo.

To find out more about the Rondo Awards and a complete list of winners from previous season go to: http://www.facebook.com/l/1bf63;www.rondoaward.com

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