Over the next few weeks, 42 cities around the world in the USA, Canada, UK, Germany and Australia will be celebrating the 5th Annual Can’t Stop The Serenity (CSTS). CSTS is a global fundraising event where people gather to watch Joss Whedon’s film, Serenity, on the big screen, and take part in activities such as auctions, costume competitions and music. The main part of the proceeds goes the charity Equality Now:
“Equality Now works to end violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world through the mobilization of public pressure.” (from the Equality Now site)
Since 2006, $416,616.22 has been raised by these events. So how did it all start? To find out more I went to someone who should know: The One True b!X, the person behind the first CSTS. I follow @theonetruebix on Twitter and asked if he would answer a few questions about it:
PinkRaygun: Hi b!X (if indeed that is your real name!)
The One True b!X: It is my real name, in the sense that it is the name used in everyday life. It is not my real name in the sense that it’s not my birth name and can’t be used to sign legal documents or get cash from my bank account.
PRG: Why did you do it? What gave you the idea for CSTS in the first place and how long did it take to organise the first one?
b!X: Once upon a time, after Serenity had completed its abbreviated run in first-run theaters and been quickly reduced to popping up in second-run theaters around the country, two cities vied for the longest run combining first- and second-run theaters: Santa Ana CA, and Portand OR. (In the end, the title goes to Santa Ana, which if I recall correctly had a seamless transition from first-run to second-run, while Portland had a two-week gap.)
During this second-run period, local Browncoats here in Portland were going fairly regularly as it moved around town, and one night as a carload of us were on the way home from one such showing at, I think, the Kennedy School (a local brewpub theater), it was clear that we had no idea just when the stretch second-run showings would be over, and I wondered how we could keep seeing it on the big screen.
That thought very quickly became the notion that we might be able to convince a theater to screen it again if we did it as a charity event, which moments later I turned plural: events. In all of about 90 seconds, the idea had gone from “how do we get to watch the movie again when it’s gone” to “let’s get fans around the country all to show the movie for charity, at the same time”.
The notion wasn’t pitched immediately, but around the turn of 2005/2006, I had registered cantstoptheserenity.com and was tracking where Serenity was still playing in second-run theaters around the country. (It was modeled somewhat after the cantstopthesignal.com site for the May/June 2005 advance screenings of the Serenity rough cut.) You can, in fact, see the earliest-archived copy of that version of the CSTS site.
By the time of that early February version of the site, I’d already let it be known that it would eventually transition to a site for the charity screenings pitch (Big Damn Movie, Big Damn Benefits, as the site said at the time).
By the time we got to March 13, several cities were on board or in pre-planning for what was known at that time as Serenity Now/Equality Now.
PRG: Which cities were involved in the first year?
b!X: Helpfully, someone recently compiled a bunch of these statistics, so I don’t have to kill myself trying to dig them up.
PRG: How did you get permission to show Serenity?
b!X: My memory is hazy as to whether my initial form of outreach to Universal was via email of phone (I suspect the former, via form on a corporate website), but in short order the VP of Distribution got in touch with me, and I laid out the pitch. Also in short order, the effort was offered a rental rate appropriate for a charity event, and we were off and running.
PRG: What did you think would happen at that first event and was it anything like you imagined it was going to be?
b!X: I’m not sure what I might have imagined it was going to be. Almost no one — be it locally in Portland, or in participating cities around the world — had done any event organizing in the past. One of the hardest hurdles in the early going was explaining to people that there was no central office doling out screenings, picking cities, etc. If you wanted one in your city, you had to make it happen.
So, it was hard to have an image of what the events would be like. Personally, that question is further complicated by the fact that in addition to being involved in local Portland organizing, I was coordinating the overall global event that first year, so a lot of event day was spent checking online to see how *other* events were doing. (And, of course, not all cities had screenings on June 23 even that first year, although that was the core date around which others orbited. So on the one hand, in some sense, the “main event” was June 23, but the overall event rolled out over time.)
I think mainly there was a lot of shocked relief that things, both here and elsewhere, seemed to be going so well. And a lot of people, both here and elsewhere, realizing just how much power they had. So many people, who had never done anything even remotely like this before, had in fact just done it, all over the world.
Safe to say a lot of June 23, 2006, was spent in a kind of dazed giddy.
PRG: What sort of feedback did you get from people after the event?
b!X: Honestly, I don’t recall. There wasn’t a lot of immediate/near-term feedback beyond the general euphoric sensation of “we actually pulled this off” (amongst the organizers) and “that was pretty awesome” (from attendees). In the aftermath of the first year’s events, obviously organizers went to work on post-mortems and sussing what went well and what could go better. A process which continues to happen every year, as it should.
PRG: What is your stand-out memory(ries) of that day?
b!X: Having to run back up the aisle when I was on my way down to the stage to speak before the movie, because I had not zipped up my fly after using the restroom. And then, after speaking, having to run back down to the stage again because I had forgotten to mention that the second reason we were holding the screening on July 23 (the first being that it was the anniversary of the third and final rough cut advance screenings) was because it was Joss’ birthday.
PRG: Various stars of Serenity have appeared at different venues over the years but, more than that, it gives a chance for fans to meet up with people they might never meet otherwise. Do you have a favourite story about meeting fellow Browncoats?
b!X: Favorite stories are hard to pick, mainly because there end up being so many. But I think it would be difficult to beat the Browncoats Backup Bash (the hastily-organized fan convention to replace the canceled-the-day-beforehand-after-being-uncanceled-after-being-canceled-earlier Flanvention II), and difficult to beat Mutant Enemy Day during the Writers Strike. Mostly these are difficult to beat because, like the CSTS events, they are prime examples of the fandom rising to meet unexpected challenges simply because it asks itself to do so.
PRG: A committee is appointed each year now to handle the organisation since the event has expanded. Did you imagine it would still be going strong after five years and can you see CSTS carrying on indefinitely?
b!X: To an extent I could imagine it, because not long after handing off global coordination to someone else for the second year the idea became handing it off each year so that no one fan or local fan group had total sway over the idea. At the same time, one of the reasons there is a committee now is to avoid “event drift” while still allowing for adaptation and evolution.
Indefinitely? There’s no way for anyone to say. I think it will continue for some time, in some form. Whether or not there is abiding interest enough to result in dozens of successful charity screenings every year from here on out? There’s no way of knowing that in advance.
PRG: The main thrust of the event is to raise money for Equality Now, a charity that Joss Whedon has deeply identified with. How much has been raised so far?
b!X: Thankfully, I again can turn to someone else who has compiled these numbers.
PRG: What would you say to someone unsure about attending that might sway them to give it a chance?
b!X: Not to cop out on this question, but that would depend upon why they are unsure about attending. Are they fans? Not fans? Have they seen the movie? Have they seen the series? Are they unfamiliar with the charity (or charities)? Swaying someone to give something like this a chance is almost entirely dependent upon why they haven’t already, or what’s keeping them from doing so.
Thank you for taking the time to answer the questions, b!X. You can find more about The One True b!X, including his fine photography, on his website.
Since the expansion of CSTS after the second year, the organization of the event is now done by a committee. You can find all the details about all the screenings and related activities on Can’tStopTheSerenity.com.
I will be attending my third CSTS in Vancouver this weekend. In 2008 I hadn’t been in Canada a year, but I had met people through the BC Browncoat Meetup site (http://www.browncoats.ca/). They were so welcoming I decided to risk a trip into Vancouver for CSTS. I had a fantastic day, met some great people and enjoyed being part of something bigger. If you’ve never done anything like this before, if you’ve never even seen Serenity before – why not try it? I can guarantee you that you will be made welcome.
If you’ve been to a CSTS and/or plan to do so this year, share your experiences in the comments. Let’s be mighty, together.
WorldofHiglet is the online persona of writer Mary R. Higgins, a born-again geek reclaiming her heritage bit by bit. A youth filled with sci-fi, horror and adventure in TV, films, computer games and books was crushed by years of office grind. Buffy brought her back into the fold after years of denial. Discovering Firefly sealed the deal. Now she geeks fulltime on her blog ‘the last geek bus home’ . Her first novel ‘Turning left at Albuquerque” is complete and she has just launched HigletFilms.com, a new webvideo entertainment site serving new, original videos every Monday.
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