Romantic Times: The Documentary

Anyone want to check out a documentary film premiere at the Cut Film Festival in San Diego next spring? Novice filmmakers Cindi Finneran and Charley Reeves are premiering their documentary Reading, Riting, and Romance: Taming the Alpha Male, which examines the Romantic Times convention through footage of the 2007 convention and interviews with the attendees.

The documentary came about when Sharon Sala, who works with Finneran, suggested they “team up and document [the] convention,” and off they went.

There’s a 4 minute teaser video on YouTube featuring Kathryn Falk, conference attendees, and several of the ‘07 Mr. Romance contestants:

I’m really curious about this documentary, and I’m of three minds about what the trailer seems to indicate.


First, I don’t think you can properly appreciate or even understand the experience of the RT convention unless you’ve seen one and been there for the whole of it (which means my opinion means diddly since I had to leave early to go feast on the matzo this year). So to try to reveal the convention to outsiders, both to the convention itself and the genre on the whole, might backfire and invite more snide and demeaning comments about how silly, sexist, and sophomoric romance and its fans are, don’t you know.

I honestly don’t know that it’s possible to capture on film what makes RT the giant cluster of ?!! that it is, because underneath the costumes and the feathers and the contestants and the male beauty pageant and the balls and the matched sets of luggage that hold six foot chiffon wings are a dedicated posse of readers and fans of romance who live for that weekend. They save up all year and work for months on their costumes. It is impossible to overstate how much happiness the attendees squeeze out of the RT convention. They love it like I love donuts. I don’t know if it’s truly possible to capture that happiness beneath the costumes and festivities, which from the outside looking in miss ‘joyous and fun’ and might land squarely on ‘just plain weird.’ RT is a lot of, ‘You had to be there.’

Second, the degree to which the interviewees discuss Alpha Males in the trailer makes me pause. Phrases like, “We bring these women into the fantasy” and “We’re here for the ladies” give me the shudders because nothing says “silly empty-headed women” like the phrase “bringing into fantasy.” I didn’t think RT was so much about the Alpha Male, or the ever-present hero that embraces that archetype with his steely gaze and rock-hard abs. It’s certainly true that alpha maledom is a known element in the genre, but is that the avenue through which to introduce folks who aren’t familiar with romance to the genre? It’s not all Alpha males and wings, folks. Neither is it all women who “live in their books.”

Thirdly, I have to wonder about the way in which the RT Convention is being held up as indicative and representative of “Romance.” Given the “Romance is….” headers to each segment of the teaser, and the fact that the documentary revolves around the convention, the fans, and the authors, it would be easy for anyone who views the film to then presume that all romance readers are like those featured in the documentary. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in the three-plus years of running SBTB, it’s the simple fact that sometimes the only thing romance fans have in common is the romance novel itself.

My questions and reservations aside, I’d love to see this film, simply because RT and its surrounding Fiesta of Whoa are no doubt a ripe subject matter for documentary-style exploration. If you get a chance to go see the premiere, let me know how it is.

ETA – Thanks to Jane, here’s a link to the Daily Oklahoman coverage:


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Jane says:

    These people spend a year interviewing and the cover models is the thing that makes the most impact.  The entirety of the genre is encapsulated in one convention? 

    Anyone who participated in this documentary should have watched Trekkies prior to agreeing to be filmed.  They even referenced Trekkies in the video. 

    I loved the line that the one author said that something like these women ONLY live in these books and the cover models bring their fantasies to life. 

    “It’s fantasy.  How you want your life to be.”

    “Alpha men epitomizes the real man.”

    “I write erotic.  Some of the stuff I write, I haven’t done.”  Giggle giggle.

    Oh beejesus.  I give up.

  2. 2

    Second, the degree to which the interviewees discuss Alpha Males in the trailer makes me pause.

    I’m guessing they concentrated on that because someone figured featuring the sexy guys would mean more interest & sales.

    “I write erotic.  Some of the stuff I write, I haven’t done.” Giggle giggle.

    Oh beejesus.  I give up.

    Eh, that one at least might have been a decent discussion taken out of context… like talking about those one or two odd people who always have to ask whether you’ve done the things you write about.

  3. 3

    Oy, messed up my quoting code in that comment, so please forgive the double-post as I correct it:

    Second, the degree to which the interviewees discuss Alpha Males in the trailer makes me pause.

    I’m guessing they concentrated on that because someone figured featuring the sexy guys would mean more interest & sales.

    “I write erotic.  Some of the stuff I write, I haven’t done.” Giggle giggle.

    Oh beejesus.  I give up.

    Eh, that one at least might have been a decent discussion taken out of context… like talking about those one or two odd people who always have to ask whether you’ve done the things you write about.

  4. 4
    ev says:

    Let me start this with- Yes, I have dressed up like a Klingon on more than one occassion.

    The clip started out with good intentions, I think. But to concentrate on the guys as the only thing to come out of the convention is definately misleading.

    On the other hand, it is, from my point of view, so nice to see the tables being turned on the men after all the years of women getting the same treatment. Although, the guys always get treated better than women in these types of things do (I hate beauty pagents).

    One of these days I would love to be able to attend RT. and I will get there.

    I don’t read romance because my life sucks and I have to escape. I read it because i like the stories. I like an HEA. What’s so wrong with that? Why do the only books that seem to have any critical merit have to have a crappy someone died ending? No wonder our society is always so damed depressed all the time.

    Maybe reading romance should be mandatory in college? Before you can graduate you have to read and review a book with a happy ending? Think that would weed out the idiots?

  5. 5
    Julie Leto says:

    Well, I can’t judge until I’ve seen more than just the trailer, but it seems to me that if the documentarians wanted to really make a film about the entire romance INDUSTRY, then they should have done more than just attend one RT convention.  That is not representative of the industry at all…it’s only partially representative of the FAN industry.  To balance that, they should also have filmed a Celebrate Romance or the Lori Foster get-together.  If they want the whole industry, they should also have gone to an RWA conference and maybe attended a few local RWA chapter meetings/booksignings/fan events.

    That said, I’m curious enough to watch it if I get a chance.

  6. 6
    Kristie(J) says:

    The thing is, the RT convention is only a tiny, small glimpse into the whole package.  I’ve been to one and while I had a great time, it really isn’t for me.  I hope the documentary goes much further than women gushing over cover models. 
    I hope they plan on delving deeper into the writers and the readers so it’s clear we are down to earth, intelligent people who aren’t waiting around for some handsome alpha male to come and sweep us off our feet.  I’d love to see them focus on some of the good works and charity work that authors and readers do.  And I wonder if the producers plan on reading any romance books so they can see the incredible writing and story lines in may of today’s books.

  7. 7
    Ciara says:

    Did they talk about the whole Stalker Cover Model fiasco? I really wish they’d gone to RWA too.

  8. 8
    closetcrafter says:

    I think it’s great that they are making this documentary and I didn’t think that the clip was that hellacious.

    I actually think RT fans are lucky it was filmed in ‘07 and not in ‘08!  Did everyone forget so quickly the Mr. Romance contestant that had a breakdown?  How would that have looked in a documentary?

    Also the clip of the fim-makers were clearly positive about their experience filming and enjoyed the fans.  They want to screen it at the next RT, that should be an indication of how positive it is.

    I think once you are a serious fan of anything, there is going to be a group of people who want to make fun. Its just a shame that its about a topic that society sees as “Literature Lite”.

    If anything, I’d like to see a corresponding video about men preparing for a fantasy football draft, like my husband, that would be great entertainment. And let’s talk about rabid fans. So far, I don’t think anyone has ever been killed at an RT, but I don’t think the same can be said for soccer in Great Britain.

    These hobbies people have are all distractions from real life. I say FU to anyone who thinks that RT is any different (better or worse) from the Society for Creative Anachronism events, scrapbooking weekends,  antique/garage sale trollers, or football fan appreciation days at the local stadium.  Its all about your personal interests and where your disposable income is going to go.

  9. 9
    Liz L says:

    The clip was really bizarre for me because I am so removed from RT- it was barely a blip on my radar until everyone started reporting possible bad behavior this year and then a wonderful argument ensued over the whole convention.
    I’ll just holler out what everyone else has stated- RT is RT and for some romance readers it has absolutely nothing to do with our experience of the genre.  I would argue that romance is not alpha males (and it certainly isn’t cover models!).  As for romance-as-fantasy, the constant appearance of the fantasy/escapism argument in relationship to genre fiction is one of the most fascinating things (imo) about people’s response to these types of texts.  To accept and reproduce the idea uncritically is one of the silliest things (again imo) you can do if you’re really interested in what makes romance (or sci-fi, or mystery) tick.

  10. 10
    Flo says:

    I think that the clip epitomizes pretty much every single Hollywood view of any type of subculture festival.  If you took them to a renn faire I’m sure it would wind up about knights and ONLY knights.  Again… the trekkie thing.  The view from the camera will NEVER EVER be from those who participate in it.  It will be the sensationalized aspects of the festival.

    And frankly a good part of the romance genre is women enjoying an escapist read.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But to think that the whole foundation of the genre was to empower women and write HEAs is silly.  It didn’t start that way.  It may end up that way but it certainly started out as escapist fantasy.  Not to mention the bic flicking.  At least they didn’t go into detail about that.  That would have made me vaguely uncomfortable to watch all those women discussing how some Alpha male makes them cream their panties.

    To say any Con embodies the entirety of any genre is foolish.  BUT it gives viewers who have NO idea what any of it is about a starting point.  If they wish to find out more they will.  Regardless of what this clip shows.

    And no press is bad press!

  11. 11
    Melissa says:

    I worked at a hotel in Baton Rouge when the RT convention was held there about ten years ago.  I don’t think anyone prepared us for half naked cover models strolling from hotel to hotel.  It was an interesting week to say the least!

  12. 12
    gemiwing says:

    I think what disturbs me about the trailer is it seems more focused on the ten “escapist man hubba hunks”  at the convention and not the thousands of women. That, coupled with the escapism and alfa-male luuurve makes me sit back and go errrr, no I don’t like alfa-males.

    I wonder how this film will affect the RT con in the future, should be interesting.

    Still, I think I’ll watch the film. Even if it is just to punch my husband in the arm everytime he goes Hur Hur.

  13. 13
    RfP says:

    I love a *good* documentary.  Often with a novice filmmaker, I find the interest comes from
    (a) an interesting perspective on the subject,
    (b) an avid curiosity, or
    (c) a bizarre subject.

    The teaser shows primarily (c).  We’ll see what else is in it when it’s finished.

  14. 14
    Robin says:

    What happened to the trailer?  When I click it says that the clip is no longer available.

    As for the short interview with the filmmakers, it strikes me that there is still an element of “the Romance industry” as represented by RT being an oddity (the comparison to Trekkies and the whole emphasis on people doing “what we don’t understand” is telling, IMO).  That gives me pause, definitely.

    I was also struck by the comment at the beginning of that second clip by the attendee (whoever it was) who said something about how Romance is “how you want your life to be” (massive paraphrase there).  Really?  I thought that was the perception that we’ve been trying to counter.  And the clips of the cover models, one appearing to be kissing a woman and the others on those little horse things . . . well, that reminded me a bit of this year’s controversy, lol.

  15. 15
    Robin says:

    Okay, for some reason I was able to access the video at You Tube.  I wonder if the filmmakers really see the “Romance industry” that way—I mean, the emphasis seems to be squarely on sex and fantasy.  That one comment about delivering the fantasy for readers who live only through books was, uhm, interesting.  IMO, if that’s the image those filmmakers now have of the Romance community, and that’s the image film viewers are going to have, we’re back at the bottom of the mountain in terms of overcoming those demeaning stereotypes. 

  16. 16
    Rinda says:

    It was my understanding that the film is about the RT convention, not the romance industry.  But, I didn’t get to watch the entire clip—I just live in the same area and an article about the film was in the paper this past weekend.

  17. 17
    molly_rose says:

    I am so glad SB Sarah points out that readers are all so different, and that includes the reasons why we read. I read lots o’ lurve stories. I also happen to have an amazingly wonderful and love-filled life that I don’t nead to escape from. Maybe some people do need to escape, and that’s okay, too. But you know what? In the real world, it takes work to get that HEA, hard work. It takes imagination, spirit, and luck as well. Just because I read romance novels does not imply that I have sat back and decided to watch life pass by, only to recieve happiness through a tale about another woman’s good times. Books are books, no matter the genre – it’s our entertainment, not our existence.

  18. 18
    molly_rose says:

    oh, and can I just add? What is with that blonde model’s hair *wig*?

  19. 19
    Jane says:

    This is not just about RT.  This documentary is about the romance genre.  The genre as a whole but they use the convention to define romance readers.  To the filmmakers, we are oddities, a subculture.

    It would be one thing if the documentary is about just the convention and a look at romance readers that are convention goers, but that isn’t how it is advertised nor how the producers discuss this.

  20. 20
    Bonnie says:

    Ugh… that video is T.A.C.K.Y.  That could just about put me off romance forever.  Not to mention sex. 


  21. 21
    Ehren says:

    not any weirder or silly than an anime convention, comic book convention or sci-fi convention.

  22. 22

    “I write erotic.  Some of the stuff I write, I haven’t done.” Giggle giggle.

    It’ve written romantic erotica since before it became the rage. My first novel came out in January 2003 and I’ve written about 40 book and novellas. JC Wilder is around here somewhere (And I know others) who’ve been writing it far longer than I have.

    What has this got to do with the quote above? You don’t know how many times I’ve been asked about my “research” and “experience.” I can still remember the first time someone came up to me and said “Wow, you must have a lot of experience.”

    Uh, yeah. I’ve gotten it on with a guy who happens to be a weretiger.

    I’ve even had people who live the BDSM lifestyle think that I do, too. Hey, that’s a hell of a compliment. But, no. I have a great imagination and some good research skills.

    I’ve been married to the same man for a good, solid 22+ years, since I was 20, and we dated for 2 years before that. What’s wrong with a little fantasy in the mix?

    When I was a kid (NO I did not read erotica) I would read to escape and fall into the worlds the authors created. It was so fabulous. And my dream was to create books where readers could escape dinto a different world that I created, that I could try and give them what is given to me when I read.

    I’m sure J.R. Ward’s fans sure love those hot ALPHA vampires and enjoy that escapism her books bring. I sure do.

    It’s a fantasy. It sure as hell isn’t real. That’s the idea. To escape life’s every day boredom or job stress, or like some of my readers, have told me, to forget their physical pain—just for a while. To enjoy a book that allows them a respite from whatever they might face in life.

    Recently, the mother of my son’s friend told me she would read my books to her mother during her final days and how much they loved that time that helped her mother forget her pain for a while. I sure cried when she told me that. And it put a lot of things in perspective for me.

    If you read about werewolves, demons, vampires, shapeshifters, and whatever, you sure aren’t reading about real life. And who wants to read real life? Well, some people do. But a lot of romance readers, and I think especially paranormal readers, want to escape and enjoy a fantasy for a while. Along with that HEA. It feels good.

  23. 23

    oh, and can I just add? What is with that blonde model’s hair *wig*?

    That’s CJ’s real hair—it hangs all the way to his ass. He’s a really neat guy.

  24. 24
    Robin says:

    It was my understanding that the film is about the RT convention, not the romance industry.

    In the second clip, the filmmakers indicate that the documentary “covers the whole subculture of Romance:  the readers, the authors, and especially the cover models.”  They apparently interviewed authors, cover models, and readers for a year.  The voice over characterizes the film as about “the Romance industry,” and I get the impression from the interview that the convention is really being pushed as characteristic of the “industry” and the “genre.” 

    Frankly, I’m surprised there’s such a sanguine response here, especially given how, uhm, explosive other instances of Romance stereotyping have become in discussion (things that IMO were much less insulting).  These two clips represent the genre and its community as something from WE TV’s “The Secret Lives of Women.”  One of the filmmakers even talked about how the people at the convention are engaged in things “we don’t understand” but turn out to be basically “normal people.”  Well isn’t that good to know. 

    A trailer is supposed to peak interest in an upcoming film, and what does that trailer consist of?  Images and comments focused on sex, on everything, IMO, people complained about this year as increasingly definitive of RT.  That trailer is one of the most mortifying things related to Romance I’ve seen in a long, long time.

    That’s CJ’s real hair—it hangs all the way to his ass. He’s a really neat guy.

    He actually came off as one of the tamer interviewees.

  25. 25
    Anya Bast says:

    I’ve been asked more times than I can count if I “do” what I write about. Most erotic romance authors field that question from interviewers on a regular basis.

  26. 26
    Beth says:


    Nothing about the craft, the genre, the deeper human values to which this type of story speaks. I get that romance also functions as fun sexy escapism—perhaps for all of us at least some of the time—but to focus so intently on average looking middle aged women ogling those oily looking men makes “Trekkies” look like “Hearts and Minds”.

  27. 27

    but to focus so intently on average looking middle aged women ogling those oily looking men

    I think that’s a fairly offensive statement to our readers. Very offensive.

  28. 28
    Leslie H says:

    I suspect it just takes one tiny step to go from documentary to Mockumentary. I Don’t think Ms Sala would go there, but it is not always in our control. 

    I’ve been to RT and I go regularly to SF cons, so I am a connoiseur of the crazies.  Since I am a gaming geek, that makes me one too! On the other hand, Square Dance conventions wear funny costumes and get crazy together, so I suppose it’s just a flavor thing.

    Secutiry word “united28” Yep I guess we are!

  29. 29
    DS says:

    I’m not sanguine.  I’m appalled.  Of course I intend to see it if I get a chance—I think it’s going to have that train wreck quality.  I have a friend who despises romance novels.  If the clip is anything like the whole then it will confirm all her prejudices.

  30. 30
    Robin says:

    I have a friend who despises romance novels.  If the clip is anything like the whole then it will confirm all her prejudices.

    Exactly.  I wonder how those filmed will feel about the way they have been portrayed.  The filmmakers seem confident that they will have fans galore among Romance readers, but I wonder if that’s true.  I know RT can look kind of crazy to the insiders—to those who know and love what it’s supposed to celebrate.  So to outsiders who already see Romance readers as some sort of cultural oddity (based on their own description), I don’t think it would take much to make the whole thing (and by extension the entire Romance industry/community/genre) look like a spectacle of sex and sweat and women gone wild.

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