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Nerdlocker Interview: Justin Brookhart

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For those of you who have never met Justin Brookhart, Mondo’s VP of Operations, I should probably warn you ahead of time. The dude is extremely likable. Always willing to talk to fans, answer questions (when he can), and just chat about stuff in general, he’s an engaging person to converse with. He talks with the same passion about the work that Mondo is doing, that he does when talking about his favorite movies growing up. You can instantly tell the guy is incredibly happy with the job he gets to do, and he’s even more excited about what’s to come.  We sat down for a chat to talk about the upcoming MondoCon on October 3-4, the future of Mondo, and the movie poster scene in general.

Nerdlocker (NL): So, it’s been a year since the first MondoCon. Obviously an event like this takes a lot of planning, but how far in advance did you actually start planning for MondoCon II?

Justin Brookhart (JB): It’s pretty much year round, you know? As soon as we finished last year, it was immediately the very next day, where we were like “Okay, what can we do better for next year?” The earliest stages of planning are us saying “What can we improve on?” We’re getting feedback from artists, exhibitors, fans, the Mondo staff. The next thing becomes reaching out to artists and exhibitors, and finding out who wants to come back and who would we like to invite. You have to plan out pretty early just to get on artist’s schedules, especially a lot of international artists because they have to do a lot more traveling that someone who lives here in the states for instance. So we reach out to them really early. And then about 6 months beforehand, that’s when the more creative portion starts, when we decide what kinds of panels we want, what we want the screenings to be, and which products we want to release. Then closer to around 3 months beforehand, we start finalizing things and going into production on a lot of the products like vinyl records, posters, toys and collectibles, and really start honing in on that process. So it’s definitely year-round, but each process kind of has its own stages.

NL: Was there any portion of MondoCon last year that you thought either didn’t work out the way you wanted, or ended up better than you imagined?

JB: Well the outdoor Mondo tent was something that we found out just didn’t really work. It was too hot and spatially it didn’t really work with what we had in mind. And in general, the space of the venue. We love the Marchesa, because it’s such a unique space. You’ve got the two exhibit halls and the theatre that seats a good amount of people, as well as the bar. And it’s great, so we definitely didn’t want to lose that. But we learned from last year that people just needed more breathing room to move around. So that’s when we came up with the idea of using the convention space across the street at the hotel. They have about 8,000 – 10,000 additional square feet of space that we’re going to be using to have more events, exhibitors and artists. And we looked at other alternatives, like different convention sites and things like that, since Austin has quite a few. And they were great but they all felt too much like a “large convention.” We really wanted to keep the smaller, more intimate vibe that we had last year, while also giving people more room. So we’re hoping it works out better having the dual event space. The biggest takeaway though from last year was that the spirit of the convention worked and that was the thing we were the most nervous about. We wanted MondoCon to have a different feel from some of the other “larger” conventions. We were very impressed that the con had the right vibe, with fans hanging out, talking to artists, sharing stories and being around other like minded-people.

NL: The community aspect of it.

JB: Exactly! It very much became about the community, and that was the vibe we wanted. It wasn’t just about having a space for us to sell things. We already have that with the gallery. It really was about bringing a whole bunch of artists and fans together for one weekend to really celebrate everything we love like movies, artwork, music, food and beer. And I remember a moment last year on Saturday afternoon after everything had finally died down after that initial rush. People were just hanging out in the lobby bar and just drinking and talking about posters. And I looked around and everyone just seemed really happy and really into it and I felt like we had hit the right vibe. And the challenge coming into MondoCon this year was sustaining that. We knew we wanted to do some bigger things, but we still wanted to keep that vibe. So, that’s what we’re hoping to pull off this year.

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Photo courtesy of www.Mondo-Con.com

NL: Is there any “Bucket List” type of events you’ve wanted to do, that you maybe didn’t have the chance to do last year or perhaps haven’t had the chance to do yet, that you really want to attempt?

JB: This year one of the things we wanted to do was a concert event at the same time as MondoCon, which we’re kind of doing with the Fabio Frizzi event on Friday night. We did the Texas Chainsaw Massacre live score last year which was really cool, but we wanted to do more of a larger live music event. So that will be fun. There are a few other ones though. Nothing I can reveal because that will ruin some surprises, but there’s an idea that we literally had just a couple of days ago, that we thought would be really exciting. It’s probably not an idea that we can make happen in time for this year’s MondoCon, but we already have it in our heads as something exciting that we can do for next year. Usually our wish list though is just artists that we’d love to see, different companies, or composers that we can get to come in future years. It always ends up that someone’s schedule doesn’t work out that we were hoping to have come out, and so next year I think we’re going to start working even earlier on getting on people’s radar.

NL: Well I imagine it’s hard as well, because you have people like Olly Moss and Laurent Durieux who all have so much going on.

JB: Yeah, it’s just sort of the nature of an artist’s schedule, you know? But that’s why our goal is always getting the most amount of talent we can in the building each year. We’re really stoked about everyone we have coming out this year and we’re looking forward to who we’ll be able to add to that next year.

NL: Is there a particular print that you’re super excited for? I know we’ve already seen a small preview for Taylor’s Batman, there’s the unrevealed Goonies print coming, plus you’ve announced prints coming from Aaron Horkey and others, so is there anything that stands out especially that you’re excited for everyone to see?

JB: Yeah, there’s a few really. A few we’ll preview before the convention starts, while there will be a few surprises that we’ll have there. But yeah, I’m pretty excited about quite a few. I think people will be stoked when they find out about the Horkey release, and Tom Whalen’s got a really exciting piece that’s coming out. The print that Martin Ansin worked on is pretty killer. But there’s top-notch stuff coming out from all the artists really. We just want to do some stuff that’s kind of unique, and when Mondo is choosing to release things at MondoCon, it’s usually because of the artist involvement as the artists are usually coming into town for the event. So when we’re thinking of what to release, we really try and tailer it to the talent that’s going to be there at the convention. I think the prints for the evening screenings are pretty big ones. It was fun getting to pick which movies we wanted to celebrate this year with the evening screenings. I mean Batman ’89 is one of my absolute favorite films, and it was probably the VHS tape I wore out the most growing up, so we’re definitely excited to show that up on the big screen and release Ken’s poster. We finally got approvals for Michael Keaton’s likeness behind the cowl, so that’s a pretty big one for us. Then the Goonies poster is pretty killer and we wanted to celebrate the 30th anniversary. We’ve done a few Goonies posters before, but we think fans are going to be super excited for this one.

NL: Last year saw the premiere of the Iron Giant license you guys picked up, and it was well represented across the board, with the mini-gallery, multiple prints, the collectible figure, the official score on vinyl, pins, etc. I know for some, that might have been an overabundance of products for one license, although I don’t think many of them took into consideration that Mondo was releasing everything all at once, instead of piece by piece over an entire year. As of now, Mondo has already previewed a major new license coming with Masters of the Universe. Can we expect to see the same level of focus in terms of the products at MondoCon for that, or will it be more spread out throughout the year?

JB: Yeah, I don’t think you’ll see anything like that this year where we’ll be releasing a large number of pieces for one property. For Masters of the Universe we have the Mike Saputo poster we’ve already premiered, we have the toy panel where we’ll talk about the creative process involving the collectible figures, and then we’re screening the documentary that talks about the sort of the original designs for the original figures back in the day, which is a really great documentary that I highly encourage people to check out if they can. But other than that, that’s mostly what we’re doing to celebrate Masters of the Universe at this year’s MondoCon.

NL: Was there ever a discussion about screening the Dolph Lundgren Masters of the Universe film?

JB: You know, we didn’t really consider it because we knew very early on in February about this documentary. We watched an early cut of it and we loved a lot of the personalities in it. William Stout is obviously in it, because he had a large part to do with some of the toy designs, and we knew we wanted to screen it. So because of that, we never really thought too much about screening the original film or anything. We knew we wanted to screen the documentary, we knew we’d have the toy prototypes on display, and we were conscious this year not to show too much stuff for one. One thing I don’t believe we’ve announced yet is that we’re going to be showing the original animated short that Mike Saputo’s poster is based off of, and that will probably be before the documentary screening, so hopefully the fans will dig that. But yeah, we were aware and we listened to a lot of the feedback numbers-wise there was a lot of Iron Giant stuff there last year, and so this year I think we’re a little more evenly balanced. I think there will be a few surprises that people aren’t expecting us to release this year. I think once people see Tom Whalen’s poster, they’ll really see that all bets are off and we’ll release anything at MondoCon, because it’s a lot different than the offerings we had last year. But yeah, a lot of fun different varieties will be there.

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Photo courtesy of www.Mondo-Con.com

NL: One of the greatest things last year was the Alfred Hitchcock figure that was previewed. How’s that coming along, and has there been any discussion about possibly continuing that series with other “Hollywood Icon” types of figures?

JB: I love that stuff. I was actually just out in Los Angeles and talked with Brock Otterbacher, our Creative Director for Toys and Collectibles, and we discussed the Hitchcock figure and we’re working on getting that exactly how we want it. Since it’s such a prestige product for us and we’re working directly with the Hitchcock estate, it’s really important to us that we get that looking as best as we possibly can. You know, the suit has to be perfectly tailored, he has to look really great. So that’s still continuing and it’s something I’m personally really excited about. I love getting to celebrate directors, whether it’s being able to do a director’s series or other things, so I can see us doing more along those lines, but the Hitchcock figure is definitely something we’re focused on right now, and hopefully if that one does well, maybe we can celebrate more of those icons in the future. There’s definitely plenty of them out there.

NL: So moving away from MondoCon a bit, with the gallery shows throughout the year, do you have a specific breakdown or formula about how often to do a themed show versus more of an artist showcase?

JB: It’s not necessarily a formula, but it is more of a feeling. Our gallery is curated by Mitch Putnam, one of our Creative Directors. he really helps establish the identity of the gallery in terms of how often we do artist shows versus big themed property shows. And we’ve tried to strike a balance this year, but we’ve also done a lot of really new things for us. Jason Edmiston’s Eyes Without A Face show was really the first fully formed realization of the idea of doing a show dedicated to only original art, which was a bit of a risk for both us and Jason, but as soon as we heard the idea and saw some of the concepts of Jason’s eyes, we knew we wanted to get behind that and support it. So this year when planning out the gallery, we knew we wanted to do some new really fun things like that, but then also stick in a Jurassic Park show that’s more of a bigger themed property show. Later this year we’re planning on doing one more kind of large property based show, that will be a combination of posters and original artwork. So we definitely try to strike that balance, for sure. We’re about 3 1/2 years into the gallery space, so we’re still kind of starting to find out exactly what we want it to be. We love doing the big poster shows, obviously that’s what people kind of know us for, but I think after the success of Jason’s show we’ve been finding out that people actually are wanting more original artwork, so we definitely want to bring more of that to the gallery.

NL: So with the artist showcases specifically, Mondo has had a lot of success with the shows featuring artists like Durieux, Stout, Taylor, Mitchell, Edmiston, etc. Going forward, are you looking at doing more shows with those artists, or have you looked into artists who haven’t been featured with a solo show at the gallery yet, like Jock or Francesco Francavilla, or even someone completely new?

JB: Oh totally! I think you’ll see some of the guys coming back because we love working with them so much, but we love introducing other people to our fans as well, so I think that’s something that you’ll see. Mitch is always on the lookout for new and exciting people, and people that he’d like to spotlight a bit more, so I think you’ll see new some solo shows or duo shows from artists who haven’t exhibited at the gallery before. And we’d love to do that because we love seeing what people can do when they’re given the space and time to focus on one unique vision, so that’s totally likely to come from us in the future.

NL: While Mondo has definitely been at the forefront of the Alternative Poster Art scene, there are also other galleries and companies putting out art, as well as companies like Marvel and Disney putting out their own work as well. With the amount of work being put out, is there pressure to try and obtain as many licenses as you can, or are you trying to focus more on obtaining specific licenses and just doing what interests you with those?

JB: It’s a combination. I think the good part about what you’re speaking of is a overall raised awareness of what we’ve been championing for years now, which is just creating great original artwork for properties we love and want to celebrate. Whenever we see other galleries or companies doing stuff like that, then it’s like “Great! People care about this enough that they want to step into this field.” I think it’s great. In terms of the licenses, we certainly want to go out and get the best stuff that we really like. It’s not really an arms race though, we’re not looking to go out and buy everything. We’re still really keep it highly curated. We really only want to stuff that’s exciting to us and to the artists we’re working with. It happens all the time where we’ll see a new movie and go “Oh, we have to do something for that” or “Did you know next year is the anniversary for this,” so that kind of stuff still happens.

NL: We’ve seen in the past the varying range of licenses Mondo has acquired to put out posters, from blockbusters to more art house or cult films. Have there been any discussions to go after more popular films, but ones that don’t really have much in terms of product for them, for instance Ray Harryhausen or classic Oscar-nominated films, etc?

JB: Yeah, I mean we all have have weird and unique tastes. We really try to go off things we’re passionate about. We don’t look for “What do we think it going to be hot in the next year.” It’s a lot of “I really love this movie, let’s try to see if we can do something for that” and then that’s really the approach we’ve always taken. We just try to create stuff that we love, and then hope that other people love it to. We’ve been really fortunate that this has been the case.

NL: One of the things that’s happened over the last few years is Mondo going against the traditional release strategy of the more strictly limited prints, and offering certain prints as timed editions. Both Olly Moss and Laurent Durieux have had success in the past, and most recently Mike Mitchell and Ken Taylor found success with their Mad Max: Fury Road prints, so has their been talking about continuing in the future?

JB: Absolutely. It’s not something we would do for every release, since we want to keep our feet firmly planted in the limited edition collectible business, but we do like to do that on occasion. It really opens it up so that we are a little more accessible to people who aren’t at their computers on Thursdays at 11:00am CT, or who just haven’t had luck in the past with Mondo posters. We like to do it with properties that we feel have a really large audience, so we can help get those people an awesome Mondo poster on their wall. They’re really fun and we’ve gotten great responses for them, so I imagine we’ll keep doing them on occasion going forward.

NL: One of the things people really love in the past have been the Mondo Mystery Movies. The last one Mondo did was Die Hard, which was fantastic.

JB: Yeah, that was almost two years ago!

NL: I imagine those events are almost like planning a mini-convention. Are there plans to do another one soon, and has there ever been a discussion about doing even a smaller Mondo-branded screening in another area other than Austin or Los Angeles, with even just a print release for it?

JB: Yeah, totally. We love doing stuff like that. I think you’ll probably see another Mystery Movie from us soon, as it’s definitely something we want to get back to. I think none of us even realized how long it had been until recently. They’re exciting and we definitely want to get back to them. As far as going out to other areas, I think you’ll see more of that from us as well. We obviously have a close tie to the Alamo Drafthouse, and the Alamo has been expanding to a lot of different markets lately. They have the San Francisco Alamo opening up later this year, and they’re working on the Brooklyn Drafthouse, and I think you’ll see us popping up at other Alamos in the future.

NL: I think for those who were at MondoCon last year, they saw how well the Mondo team works together as a whole. What is it like, having that kind of team around you to deal with the various aspects of the business.

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Photo courtesy of www.Mondo-Con.com

JB: It’s incredible, really. The group of people we work with, they’re such talented and hard-working people. It sounds cheesy, but coming to work everyday really is inspiring. Really everyone from the creative to the logistical side of the company are amazing, and it’s just inspiring to have a group of people that are so dedicated to making really amazing ideas come to life. And that’s really what we’re about. Whenever we come up with a great idea, that’s always fun, but it’s more fun actually making that idea happen. We all wear a lot of hats, and do a lot of tasks, but at the end of the day we’re all really stoked that we get to do this and we’re very lucky in that regard. For MondoCon specifically, we just want to make sure that people can say “I’m so happy I went to MondoCon because it was such a unique experience, and I couldn’t have stayed at home and gotten the same items and experience.” We know that at the end of the day, people come by to buy exclusive items and things like that. More than that, I want them to come and hang out with like-minded people, and meet some of their favorite artists and creators, and I hope people leave excited to come back again next year.

Special thanks to Justin for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. We can’t wait to see him and the whole team at MondoCon II!

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Born and raised in Texas, I live in the best city in the world, Austin. I spent the majority of my life sequestered in random theaters watching whatever I could, or in front of a TV ruining beloved VHS tapes and DVDs from overuse. I tend to act as a human IMDB for friends and family, as I have an uncanny (some would say useless) ability to remember a plethora of random facts regarding any given movie, actor/actress, etc. I spend the majority of my time these days passing on my geeky tendencies to my two kids. Confirmed Nerd. Lover of Film and TV. Extreme Hoarder of Collectibles: Screenprints, Statues, Action Figures, Prop Replicas, and piles of other stuff I deem incredibly valuable. Also, I usually have a beard.