We had the good fortune of connecting with Bret Smith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Bret, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
After four decades of loving science fiction, especially “Star Trek”, and horror, and attending or volunteering at 10-20 conventions a year, I felt like it was time to put on my own convention! I had just retired after 34 years as an IBM project manager and was intrigued to build a new business more closely connected with my hobby. I worked with a couple of friends who are experienced in starting and running conventions to identify a niche in Colorado that was missing. It was horror, and thus the Colorado Festival of Horror (COFOH) was born. To get us off the ground, we worked with local and national artists on a coloring book to raise funds for our show, as well as selling logo T-shirts and pins at various conventions and shows. In spite of the pandemic postponing our convention for a year, we’ve never stopped building our online presence, working with sponsors, and connecting with special guests and creators to prepare for our inaugural show September 10-12, 2021. In conjunction with COFOH, I had the idea to premiere a horror anthology book at the same time. From attending many conventions, I met Joshua Viola of Hex Publishers, and my wife Jeanni and I worked with him to produce the anthology “It Came From the Multiplex: 80s Midnight Chillers”. We released the book in September 2020 even though our convention was delayed, and it became an Amazon bestselling anthology. This experience led to Jeanni and me becoming copyeditors for several other Hex Publishers projects.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My biggest career success with IBM was starting as a microcode programmer and expanding my skill set to become a first line personnel manager and eventually a certified program manager. I was most proud of managing a portfolio of contracts with the USDA Forest Service to deliver hardware and software in support of their mission across the country that was also worth over $500M to IBM. My topnotch IBM Boulder organization continued to win these contracts for 20 years. I believe the key to my success was having the soft skills needed to work with people and bring teams together to win and then deliver on new contracts. Upon retiring, I wanted to move in a new direction but still bring my project management skills to bear. With the Colorado Festival of Horror convention and the accompanying “It Came From the Multiplex: 80s Midnight Chillers” anthology, I have a new and creative path in my life. This path embraces my personal interests that have grown over the years by attending all kinds of conventions, including San Diego Comic Con, and by volunteering behind-the-scenes at these conventions. Unfortunately, the pandemic impacted the very year I wanted to hold the inaugural convention and release the book. It has been a challenge to move the convention out one year, connect with the special guests to re-confirm attendance and work with the hotel to hold an event in a safe manner under new health guidelines. But you know what they say, “Never give-up, Never surrender”! I am super proud of our anthology released by Hex Publishers in 2020, proud of attaining Outworld Brewing as a sponsor for the convention and looking forward to the first Colorado Festival of Horror September 10-12, 2021.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Day 1: To Boulder for lunch at the Chautauqua Dining Hall followed by a glorious hike around Boulder’s iconic Flatirons. During the hike, we would take part in an “Arts In the Open” play. That evening we would catch a band in concert in the Chautauqua Auditorium. Day 2: A day of sightseeing and shopping around Boulder County, starting at Time Warp Comics, a trip to Lafayette Cemetery to visit the vampire grave, then up to Longmont to see the world’s largest Sticker Ball and onto Outworld Brewing for dinner and a flight of beer. Day 3: A bibliophile and musicophile’s dream. Starting at Tattered Cover and Twist & Shout, then onto Wax Trax Records and Kilgore Books. Add an afternoon scare at Distortions Monster World, and cocktails and dinner at Steuben’s, before catching a comedian at the historic Paramount Theatre. Day 4: Depending on the time of year, it’d be a trip to Nederland for Frozen Dead Guy Days or a hike around Morrison’s Dinosaur Ridge followed by an amazing show in the best concert venue in the world, Red Rocks. Day 5: To Estes Park for a trip inside Rocky Mountain National Park and then dinner and drinks in the historic Stanley Hotel. This would include a ghost tour and stop by Stephen King’s room where he wrote “The Shining”. Day 6: To Denver to see the Colorado Rockies win a game in the beautiful Coors Field ballpark. Day 7: Off to the inaugural Colorado Festival of Horror for an intimate fan experience and convention for all things horror, featuring celebrity guests, artists, writers, vendors, panels, costume contest, movies, convention beer and more!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My wife Jeanni is my biggest “Shoutout” as she was my partner in my successful 34 years at IBM and immediately jumped onboard to be a co-founder of the Colorado Festival of Horror. She brings organizational skills to our convention, is an incredible creative and as I recently learned, quite the editor! Josh Viola of Hex Publishers is an utmost professional, knows every detail in the field of publishing, is an amazing writer and artist and is an important part of the Denver convention community. Daniel Crosier is a highly skilled artist with connections to every aspect of art in the Denver area, is a co-founder of the DiNK Independent Comics Expo as well as COFOH and has built a huge online following with his skills as the host of the streaming “COFOH: Live & Undead” and “COFOH Presents” interview series. And finally, Dwight Thompson shares my Star Trek and horror passions and brings an expertise to running a convention, having been the Site Ops manager for Denver’s annual Starfest for over 20 years as well as for DiNK. He and his wife Lisa are also co-founders of COFOH. My involvement with COFOH and Hex Publishers has led to connections with so many talented and interesting people whose knowledge and expertise I would never have come across otherwise.
Colorado Festival of Horror logo by Gerhard Kaaihue It Came From the Multiplex covers by AJ Nazzaro and Josh Viola Colorado Festival of Horror Coloring Book Volume 1 design by Gerhard Kaaihue