SD Comic Con Tales
SD Comic Con is the most attended of any convention in the City of San Diego.
It is truly intimidating in its Hulk-like proportions. Over the years, our video production company, Crystal Pyramid Productions, has provided crews to broadcast studios such as 20th Century Fox, Nickelodeon, M-TV, Daily Variety, Savan, and many others.
We’ve worked the SD Comic Con for nearly 25 years now, participating in the four-day maelstrom known as the San Diego Comic Con.
From the Beginning
The San Diego Convention Center is the official home of the San Diego Comic Con. The U.S. Grant Hotel was the very first venue of the “Con.” According to Wikipedia it was “founded by Detroit, Michigan-born comics fan Shel Dorf, who in the mid-1960s had mounted the Detroit Triple-Fan Fairs, one of the first commercial comics-fan conventions. When he moved to San Diego, California in 1970, he organized a one-day convention (Golden State Comic-Minicon) on March 21, 1970 “as a kind of ‘dry run’ for the larger convention he hoped to stage.” Apparently, Shel Dorf helmed the Comic-Con as its President for many years and then became estranged by the organization.
The overwhelming growth of the Con has continued to bust out at the seams of the SD Convention Center. To avoid losing the Comic-Con to another city with larger facilities, San Diego’s adjoining hotels now take up a great deal of “slack.” The Hilton Bay Front Hotel, the Grand Hyatt, Marriott and theHard Rock Hotel all house red carpet press events, fashion shows and movie screenings. These are clever ways to accommodate the vast number of humans who want to be at the San Diego Comic Con because it’s the “SAN DIEGO” Comic-Con.
Our DP, Mark Schulze, remembers attending the “Con” as a kid, when it was at the El Cortez Hotel. He says it was a bunch of card tables stacked with comic books and trading cards. This convention, San Diego’s largest, now tops out at approximately 130,000 with the San Diego Convention Center bulging at the seams. And San Diego Fire Marshals walk around with a major look of concern on their faces.
Badges, We Need Those Stinking Badges
The SD Comic Con is usually sold out in March within seconds of when tickets become available. Serious fans have their fingers poised over their respective keyboards at that auspicious moment in March. “Badges, we don’t need no stinkin’ badges” is simply not true. Those badges are like pure gold as people scramble for entry into the Con. It’s just like the way Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and Tin Man attempted entry into Oz. All those characters had to do was provide a pair of ruby slippers. Anyone who wants to stroll into the San Diego Convention Center in July would need to throw their soul in along with the slippers.
Every year we have worked the Con has been exponentially better than the previous year. Here are some sparkling moments which I will share…
Bopping Lucy Liu
When I was still a “mere pup” at sound mixing, back in 2001, I bopped Lucy Liu on the head with my boom pole. It was one of those extraordinarily embarrassing moments where the adrenaline zooms up and down your body. It then encases you in an immediate sweat while causing your face to glow a bright red. She was very gracious about it. She said, “Don’t worry, I’m fine,” and we went back to the interview. Later, when I saw her performance in “Kill Bill,” I realized she could have put a serious hurting on me. Thank you, Lucy Liu, you are one class act! (And I adore you as Watson in “Elementary.”)
A Hammy Hand Shake
That same year, Mark and I were in the Press Room and spotted Arnold Schwarzenegger sitting at a table. We approached him to see if he was up for an interview about the movie he was appearing in, “Terminator 3.” He didn’t want to be interviewed, but he did consent to shake my hand when Mark introduced me. The weird thing, though, and it’s a pet peeve of mine, was that he didn’t look directly into my eyes as he was shaking my hand.
Sunday Morning Shoot-Out
In 2004, AMC’s “Sunday Morning Shoot-Out” tapped the Crystal Pyramid Productions crew to interview Billy Boyd and David Wendham. They spoke about the extended version of “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” special DVD edition.
That same year, Michael Chiklis and Ioan Gruffudd spoke about their roles as Ben Grim and Reed Richards in “The Fantastic Four.”
2004 turned out to be quite a special year for celebrity hunks. We also met and interviewed Jude Law for the Daily Variety. Editor Tim Gray had a great time asking questions of Jude who spoke about his movie, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.”
Director of Photography Mark Schulze also shot interviews with Giovanni Ribisi and Bai Ling. This handsome duo also had roles in “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.”
In a sound-proof room above the convention floor, Sunday Morning Shoot Out created a mini set for a couple of years to broadcast live from the San Diego Comic Con. They interviewed many actors, including Kevin Spacey. As Location Sound Mixer, I was elected to place a lavalier microphone on Kevin Spacey. Who knew that Mr. Spacey would become such a droll yet savvy politician (“House of Cards”). Sorry about the fuzzy quality of the above photo; flash photography was not allowed on set.
Also in 2004, I was fortunate to capture the above photo of the famous comic book magazine illustrator, Will Eisner, as he was signing autographs for adoring fans. He had been an illustrator for over 60 years. The photo appears in the recently-published book, “Last Day in Vietnam.”
Wedding Crashers Change the Game
In 2005, “The Wedding Crashers” came to the San Diego Comic Con. What does the movie have to do with comic books or sci-fi, we wondered. This is when we realized that Hollywood had found a very dependable vehicle to showcase its movies at the “Con.”
“The Forbidden Planet”
Crystal Pyramid Productions’ broadcast video production crew shot an interview of the Forbidden Planet cast at the 2006 San Diego Comic Con comic book convention. As broadcast video producer, I asked the questions and Warren Stevens, Richard Anderson and Earl Holliman let fly with the answers. Mark Schulze, Director of Photography, captured it all for Extra!
Also in 2006, we shot an interview at San Diego Comic Con with Annasophia Robb who stars alongside Hilary Swank in “The Reaping.” Annasophia told us about her trials and tribulations on the set. That included experiencing a cloud of locusts.
DP Mark Schulze found a good angle as I interviewed Hilary Swank about her role in “The Reaping” for Extra at the San Diego Comic Con. That’s Director Stephen Hopkins in the background.
When Extra! asked that we interview Tobey Maguire, they included one question that we saved for last, about the birth of his baby. At the time he was still “Spiderman” and unmarried, so he said he was not going to answer that question. Interview over.
On the other hand, Kirsten Dunst was charming and laughed when I handed her a copy of the above photograph taken when she had played Claudia on “Interview with the Vampire.” Mark took the photo in 1994 at a Video Software Dealers convention in Dallas. As you may notice, I had gashed my face in a mountain bike crash a few days earlier.
When our paths crossed at the Comic Con 12 years later, Kirsten posed with me for a photo. She, Toby Maguire and other members of the Spiderman 3 cast gave interviews in the Press Room.
Later in the day, we videotaped The Ringers in concert. They were the band that appeared in the movie “Accepted.”
The cast of “Accepted” were also on the scene and a very fun-loving group of people, for sure.
Crystal Pyramid Productions sent multiple broadcast video crews to cover the 2007 San Diego Comic Con. Clients included 20th Century Fox, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and M-TV Gametrailers. I shot the video and photos of the Sarah Silverman and Avatar panels.
San Diego Hotels Step Up
In 2010, people overflowed into venues at the newly built San Diego Hard Rock Hotel, the Marriott, Grand Hyatt and other nearby hotels, and it seemed to work pretty well. Speaking as a crew that videotaped Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell in (who were both there to promote their movie, “The Other Guys,” it certainly was nice to have the celebrities all to ourselves (the video journalists), in a cordoned-off area “far from the maddening crowd.”
In the photo above, Mark Schulze and I are capturing footage of the wildly popular panels for one of our studio clients. The guy standing on the riser behind us is videotaping for the large projection screens known as I-MAG, which I believe means “Image Magnification.” He is using a long lens video camera which can zoom to Extreme Close Ups of the talent on the panel. If anyone sets their coffee down on the riser or bumps into it, that jiggle will be seen by every eye in the auditorium, because the camera mounted on its tripod is highly sensitive to any “assaults” on the riser.
Actors Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly appeared on the Panel for the theatrical release, “The Day The Earth Stood Still.” The moderator who introduced Jennifer called her “Jennifer Garner” which stimulated a collective gasp from the audience, and Keanu came to her rescue by correcting the moderator, “No, that’s Jennifer CONNELLY. C-o-n-n-e-l-l-y.” Classic. Would not wanted to have been the errant moderator at that point; almost worse than having your fly open.
Hugh’s Big Surprise
Hugh Jackman had just flown in from Australia aka “Oz” and thrilled the vast number of people in the audience by strolling in for a surprise guest appearance. Once the audience had calmed down, Hugh said something every comic-book-movie afficionado wants to hear: “It is because of you that I have a career. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Without you, there would be no Wolverine!” Again the crowd went wild. Not everyone who stands in a line coiling around the San Diego Convention Center will make it into these panels that feature “A” List celebrities there to promote their movies. For a video crew it is always extremely tough and tricky to make it inside the panel auditorium, even when the studio sponsoring the panel has hired the crew! Hugh Jackman was a very class act.
Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg were on a panel to talk about their movie, Max Payne. In responding to questions from members in the audience who stood in line to speak into a microphone, while Mark Wahlberg seemed very upbeat in a very energy-drink-buzz kind of way, Mila Kunis did not have much to add to the conversation and all her answers to the audience were very short and curt. From the angle where I was taking photographs of her, she seemed to dodge in front of either the water pitcher or the bulbous microphone as though trying to stay hidden in a room full of thousands of paparazzi.
Aboard the USS Midway
Mark Schulze shot interviews of the Stargate Continuum celebrities including Beau Bridges, on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Midway aircraft carrier. This “floating museum” is permanently docked in San Diego Harbor.
The crew were all so excited to see Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver!) walking up the red carpet. I was the Field Audio Technician (on left). Mark Schulze (on right) shot celebrity interviews with a small Sony high definition camera. I noticed that Richard appeared to be profusely sweating. So I offered him a Kleenex. He gratefully mopped his brow. When he was finished, I held my hand out as though I intended to put his DNA-laden tissue up for sale on E-Bay. He looked completely aghast until I assured him I was kidding. (Or WAS I?)
“Scary Movie 4”
One highlight in 2008 was an interview with Kim Kardashian and Carmen Elektra inside a suite at the San Diego Hard Rock Hotel. Kim and DP Mark Schulze learned that they have one thing in common. She’s Armenian and Mark is half Armenian. The ladies spoke about their movie, “Scary Movie 4.”
In 2010, I ran into Zoe Saldana (star of Avatar) in the ladies’ room. I really wanted to snap her pic but bathroom photos always seem so creepy. And I didn’t want to sully our short-and-sweet chat with a bonehead request for her photo. She, like Lucy Liu, was a lovely woman with a beautiful smile. And I really enjoyed seeing her in Avatar.
Terra Nova was a television series helmed by J.J. Abrams. It cost the studio too much money, so it ended after Season One. But the 2011 San Diego Comic Con featured a Terra Nova Mobile Experience. It was almost as fun as being on the set. And we also interviewed some of the cast members from Alcatraz, a show we really enjoyed. Unfortunately for the actors and their fans, this series was destined to last only one season.
As the Comic Con expands like a gigantic sea monkey in a water tank, we’re looking forward to future encounters and ensuing stories. So stay tuned!