Aug 2, 2009

NOTES ON SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2009, SUNDAY - Phineas & Ferb, Final Observations

Sunday at Comic-con is always a little more chill thanks to the fact that the programming is lighter – it’s kid’s day so a lot of animated shows, etc. and some other TV and smaller film events (Hall H is wrapped) – the day is shorter as everything shuts down at 5 and the 4 day attendees and exhibiters are beyond tired and are just looking forward to it all ending. This year it felt even more so because it was an exhausting yet exhilarating convention – a little more controlled than in the past couple of years, but just way more marquee events and way more to see and do.
I make it a point to attend at least 1 panel, if not 2 on Sunday; usually something spur of the moment. This year was a little different however as the PHINEAS AND FERB panel was being held. I have several acquaintances and have hung out with the production/creative team on the hit DisneyXD animated show – which has been nominated for an Emmy – not to mention I like the show.

Featuring the creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh as well as several of the voice actors, the panel took a look at some things happening with the show which has been extended for a couple of more seasons, and took questions from kids and parents. Surprising how most of the questions from the younger children are often better phrased and more thought out than those often heard in Hall H directed at A-list celebrities and directors by much older "mature" fans. All I can say is, the creative team has some fun things in store for the new season – including a great time travel paradox episode – and thank goodness Perry The Platypus will be back in action.

Usually on Sunday morning, I am gung-ho for one more day of the show, but then by the afternoon, sensory overload and exhaustion set in and I’m ready to head back home to L.A. – although I am usually sad to see it all end and have to head back to real life. This year that was not the case. Burnout came on Saturday night, and at the end of it all thanks to such a jam packed and exhausting weekend, I was ready to go home to rest and normalcy happy to know there was a year before I would be ready to do it all over again.

Comic-con 2009 was just as fun, if not better in that there were so many exciting newsworthy events, but in a way thanks to how large the show has gotten and with the newly inflated attendance (word is there were 200,000 people on Saturday alone), the show has lost a bit of its charm.

No longer can you just decide to go to a given panel, you need to plan your schedule out in advance, and it always entails standing in very long lines sometimes early in the morning. You also get a sense of being marketed to more now than ever given the bigger Hollywood influence. It seemed there were tag lines everywhere hawking a new TV show, video game or movie, and very little fandom or comic-centric material. Oh sure, people still dress up and there are an abundance of Green Lantern, Superman and Batman t-shirts, but the marketing effort is more present now than it ever has been and I see it getting worse in the future.

Then there is the TWILIGHT effect which has taken hold the past 2 years. Rabid TWILIGHT fans, many of whom are not really considered geeks or fanboys, etc. invaded the convention – especially on Thursday, making for longer lines earlier (they camped out) and a much different Hall H vibe than normal. Usually after a given panel, Hall H clears out and more people file in but because TWILIGHT was in the afternoon, nobody was leaving shutting many people out of events they would have enjoyed while the TWILIGHTers are just basically waiting them out – which I do sometimes, but enjoy seeing the other items as well. Then again, while speaking to the rest of us is basically “preaching to the choir”, these new fans present an untapped resource. A demographic that might while seeing these random panels, just decide to go see these movies they never would have thought of and hopefully spread positive word-of-mouth. One film that definitely benefited was ALICE IN WONDERLAND. By bringing out Johnny Depp and sending the TWILIGHT fans into a frenzy, they created way more buzz for that movie. THE HOLE as well, even though most people didn’t know who Joe Dante was, many of the young girls were screaming and reacted positively to the excellent footage.

While this is the case, I still wonder if Comic-con might now be wiser to get the TWILIGHT panels (there should be 2 left) out of the way earlier given the camp out factor, and would create less havoc with the lines of people trying to get into other events. Not that they expected this craziness. This is a new addition to the appeal of Comic-con beyond the fanboy reach.
Many fans over the course of the show loudly protested their anger towards the TWILIGHT fans stating they ruined the weekend. I don’t think so – although the 2 parties did clash in sensibilities (fanboys mocked the girls screaming for R Patz and Taylor Lautner, the girls hissed the boys fawning over Megan Fox). This is one of those things that the regular goers need to get used to (including myself) as this kind of material starts spreading out to a broader appeal creating more fans that don’t fall into the preconceived notion. It will be interesting to see what happens once TWILIGHT is all wrapped up (and next year will there even be a TWILIGHT presence as ECLIPSE opens a month before the show?). By the time BREAKING DAWN is released, HARRY POTTER will have finished its run as well. With the series nearing the end of wrap, we might even see an appearance by the POTTER cast for the first (and last) time.

One experiment I was glad to see fail was the screening and panel connected to a sitcom starring Patricia Heaton called THE MIDDLE. The idea was that it is counter-programming, and dubbed as “Mom-con” was a way to perhaps tap into the large crowd. Well, the large crowd has come for specific things, and a sitcom starring Patricia Heaton is not one of them. The studio was quoted as citing BIG BANG THEORY as an example, but that show has characters that are much like the Comic-con faithful and appeals directly to their sensibilities. So for THE MIDDLE, a 2000 seat auditorium attracted 75 people and Patricia Heaton was told not to bother taking part in the panel at all (which probably ended right after the screening). Another example of this – although I don’t know what the outcome was – was a screening and panel for WEEDS. Although a good show, it didn’t seem to fit with with the Comic-con programming.

One thing I also noticed was that this year in Hall H, the push (outside of a very quiet listing on one of the screens) about registering for next year and “saving money” was low key, and here is why. The price next year is now higher ($100 for the weekend. When I started going it was $45, and this year was $75 – although as an industry professional I get another deal altogether), so there were no real savings plans (unless of course when the website goes live for registration, the price is even more). Not surprising as I am sure the addition of the bigger screen and the costs associated with 3-D not to mention the larger crowds has jacked up the price of running the show dramatically. The 3-D was a treat, and I have to say $100 for that experience still is still reasonable. Not to mention, the show doesn't really need to go out of its way to sell itself anymore. They KNOW the people will come and most there this year probably got wise and pre-resgistered knowing the sellout factor will just keep increasing.

There were fewer nighttime film screenings this year (boo) and the 16mm screening room is gone for good (disappeared a couple of years ago). There were more nighttime panels (yay) and more advance screenings – DISTRICT 9, PONYO and Quentin Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS were the most significant. There were also more off-site events and marketing ploys – Disney’s ALICE tea part and Flynn’s arcade, the DISTRICT 9 anti-alien tank, etc. – and the viral marketing (which I like a lot) was a lot more evident. Companies have finally learned that making people work for their free stuff raises their product awareness rather than just throwing out random shirts to pushy, rude crowds who don’t care what they’re being handed.

In the past, film panels also included individuals beyond the cast and directors such as screenwriters, producers, authors of source material, etc. Not so this year. Sadly with the growth of the convention, all too often the screenwriters sat on the panel only to sit by looking bored as the cast and directors were asked all the questions. Knowing what the audience was after, it was an all-star show this year with the inclusion of a few producers (like Joel Silver who is a name). Author Stephanie Meyers wasn’t included on the TWILIGHT: NEW MOON panel like she was on the TWILIGHT one last years which I found surprising.

There is a rumor that after the contract with San Diego is up in 2012, the show could move and Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Anaheim and even Denver, CO have been named as locations being eyed by the committee. While the show has definitely outgrown San Diego, I would miss it there because it is a pleasant city and everything is within walking distance of the convention center – not to mention those other places would mean even MORE people making the show crazier than ever. However it would mean bigger spaces and more available and reasonable hotel rooms. That is of course, if the move happens.

2009 is in the books, and as exhausting as the show was, I found myself still excited and enchanted by the sneak previews and the enthusiasm and passion of the crowds. No matter how crazy it gets, I will be back in 2010 and beyond.