I went to the Comic-Con this past weekend.
I've been going for ten years now.
This is the annual event where thousands of comic book fans, sci-fi aficionados and movie geeks descend on the city of San Diego and meet the creators and stars of their favorite TV shows, movies and video games.
If you're a fan, you are guaranteed a great time.
And if you're from a movie studio, or allied with any production entity, it's great, too -- but with a proviso: These fans know more than you do. They can quote your movie and tell you what kind of maple syrup Hellboy likes with his pancakes. And they are not afraid to call you out.
"What about Jar Jar Binks?" asked one fan standing at the microphone. Up on stage was the producer of the latest Star Wars trilogy, Rick McCallum, and Hayden Christensen who will don the dark helmet of Darth Vader in the series' final installment next year. Both of them just smiled as the fan went on. "So will you be doing something about Jar Jar... since he pretty much ruined the first two Star Wars movies?"
The auditorium with 7,000 Star Wars fans erupted in cheers.
If you're Rick McCallum, what do you say to that?
Fans rule here at Comic-Con. And if you're a movie studio person plugging your movie you do so at your peril.
Because the fans will tell you to your face if you suck.
But the benefits for the winners are uncountable. This is the place to come to build buzz among the base, and if you pass the test, if you gain their approval, you will start the viral marketing spreading among the people most likely to show up at your movie. It's like some mythological test. Can you stare into the eyes of these fans and not blink? They sense fear. They can smell insincerity. But if you can get through it and pass the test, if you can win them over, maybe you have a chance. God knows it's worked in the past.
When the Con was a lot smaller, years ago, this was where George Lucas and company came to launch their little "knights in space" epic. This is where the Spider-Man franchise, and all other comic book-to-movie vehicles, gained acceleration. Comic books are the king media here and discussions about the pros and cons of various artists are the hot topic. Director Robert Rodriguez used to come here himself; he was a fan of guys like Frank Miller (comic writer and illustrator supreme) and his Sin City graphic novels. Now he's back, right up on stage with Miller and the cast of the movie he insists is "Frank Miller's Sin City." Rodriguez is not only a fan, but he knows the hazards of trying to make it "Robert Rodriguez's Sin City." Here at the Con, if you step on gods like Frank Miller in any way, you are dead meat.
And so is your multi-million dollar project.
In a sense, too, it is these very fans who backed and supported the Indie movement of the ‘90s, the ones who will not be sold to by the studios, who can sense crap at 100 paces. We can learn a lot from intermingling among the fans here. And every time I come down, I just look around and try to get the vibe. When there's word of mouth building on a particular project you can feel it: A scary movie called Saw and Open Water (being billed as The Blair Witch Project with sharks) are movies that got the best buzz. And Sin City plugged into the heart of the fans -- but who else will get it? Hard to say. You can also smell the blood in the water, the feeding frenzy surrounding the losers here, too. And the things that went CLUNK are unmistakable. Here, then, are a couple of the winners and losers from Comic-Con 2004:
Winner: Quentin Tarrantino's Kill Bill spawned the coolest costumes in my opinion. I saw several faux members of the Crazy 88's walking around the Convention Center and hands down they were the best. I did not think at the time that Tarrantino was creating a brand-able hero look that could be copied. But the fans came back with the answer.
Loser: Sorry. Lord of the Rings may have made a billion dollars around the world, but the herd of forest dwelling gnomes with pointed ears standing in line at the Starbucks concession looked a lot less cool than they did a year ago. Especially disturbing were the quartet of six foot tall elves spotted in the main hall, three of whom were female, isn't that a bit anti-thetical? Or maybe that was the joke?
Winner: Kal Penn and John Cho of Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. These guys are on a sleepless round of press appearances, but put on a great show and won over the crowd. Honorable Mention: Carrie Fisher -- hilarious as always.
Loser: Jessica Alba who appeared on the panel for Sin City and managed to use the f-word in every sentence. This in front of a crowd of all ages. Tacky, tacky, tacky.
Winner: The trailer for a re-release of George Lucas's THX 1138 coming in September. They showed two trailers for it actually. Hint to Lucasfilms: the first one was better.
Loser: New Line's Cellular. Starring Kim Basinger and preceded by a very dull feature-ette about the stunt work in the film. A real snoozer. Back to the drawing board, guys.
Winner: MovieWeb.com! Alan B. Orange worked overtime to get the interviews and the inside scoops at the Con. He's the fastest interviewer in the biz, with exclusives from the makers of Fantastic Four and Keanu Reeves. Plus! Thanks to MovieWeb's man on the scene, we were able to break the new Star Wars title, Revenge of The Sithbefore anyone else on the net! This proves once again, click on MovieWeb first!
Loser: Batman who had no news, not really.
Winner: Cory Haim and Cory Feldman. The line was around the block for these two ‘80s icons. Who knew!??? Special Mention: Matt Groening, who shows up for this kind of thing rain or shine. Generosity is a virtue and Matt's is genuine.
Loser: Richard Hatch. Soon to be seen parodied on an episode of The Simpsons created by the guy in the next booth.
Winner: Whoever that guy was who asked the Jar Jar Binks question (more of a frustrated complaint). God love ya!
Loser: Nobody. Win, lose or draw, the Comic-Con is for fans who were all winners -- they always have the best time.
See you next year!!!