SDCC – San Diego’s Biggest Convention
How the San Diego Comic Con Exploded into a Behemoth Venue for Video Crews
“San Diego Comic-Con International is a multi-genre entertainment and comic convention held annually in San Diego, California, United States. It was founded as the Golden State Comic Book Convention in 1970 by a group of San Diegans that included Shel Dorf, Richard Alf, Ken Krueger, and Mike Towry; later, it was called the “San Diego Comic Book Convention”. The name, as given on its website, is Comic-Con International: San Diego; but it is commonly known simply as Comic-Con or the San Diego Comic-Con or “SDCC“. It is a four-day event (Thursday–Sunday) held during the summer at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego.” – Wikipedia
In 1970, SDCC was pretty much a roomful of folding tables with comic books on display inside the U.S. Grant Hotel. The building was constructed in 1910 by Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., who named the hotel after his father, the U.S. President. During the ‘70’s, the hotel overlooked a rather seedy section of town that attracted sailors and transients to grindhouses, bars and peep shows. Today, San Diego’s tourism industry is booming. That red-light district of yore was yanked out and eventually replaced by restaurants, theaters, parks and the Horton Plaza shopping mall.
Today’s Comic Con boasts over 130,000 attendees each year making it not only the city’s largest convention but the largest annual comic and pop culture festival in the world. The Convention Center bulges with so many people that adjoining hotels like the Hilton Bayfront, Grand Hyatt and Hard Rock Hotel have absorbed many of the celebrity-laden events and after-parties.
For several years during the 1990’s, our DP, Mark Schulze, was tapped by a comic book enthusiast who was collecting interviews with some of the comic book industry’s most illustrious icons, many of whom have now passed. Mark and I would meet David at a Hilton hotel room, upend the bed and turn the space into a video studio. David would schedule an interview every half hour. I wish I had taken photos of all the luminaries back then; alas, opportunities lost.
Then at the Turn of the Century, the need for video crews to cover events, panels and press-room celebrity meet-ups really ratcheted up. Why?
In my opinion, the San Diego Comic Con’s mushrooming audience of geeks, nerds and cosplay aficionados coincided with a fade-out of the VSDA Shows that used to occur mainly in Las Vegas. The VSDA (Video Software Dealers Association) catered to everyone from Blockbuster to small mom-and-pop video rental shops. Everybody from independent producers of educational videotapes to the giant Hollywood studios would show up to sell their wares. As VHS tapes became defunct, the VSDA became less relevant. Their last show was in 2005.
My partner, Mark, and I produced several educational videos in the 1980’s and 1990’s. So we’d pack up our station wagon and head to Vegas with a car full of VHS tapes to make our fortune for several years.
We experienced the VSDA in its hey-day. We attended one party where champagne literally flowed into a pyramid of plastic glasses, and Lou Diamond Phillips performed with his band.
The Wet ‘n Wild Waterpark is now long gone. But it used to be the location of the Playboy Wet ‘n Wild Party. Attendees could enjoy a slushy margarita and taco then climb up to the top of a waterslide and zoom down. I remember looking down at the sidewalk below and observing Pauly Shore harassing a couple of Playboy bunnies. Someone from up top poured a beer on his head granting the bunnies an opportunity to escape.
I believe it was that same year when Shaq and his buddy made their way to the top of the waterslide and prepared to go down the slide together. The attendee said “Absolutely not, Mr. O’Neill.” But the Shaq Attack was undaunted and insistent.
“May we head down before you, in case you guys break the waterslide?” Mark asked him.
So down we went, Mark and I, then we swam to a safe distance where we could watch Shaq and his buddy thump on down. Yes, they did test the limits of that slide and the splash was epic. I actually did take photos of these events but lost my camera somewhere at the Venetian Hotel later that night, sadly.
As the Digital Age picked up steam, Hollywood focused its marketing beam on the San Diego Comic Con.
It was in 2001 when celebrities began to infiltrate the SDCC. We were hired by Victor Lucas to shoot interviews of producers including Bryan Singer for The Electronic Playground. It was a major coup when Mark spotted Weird Al Yankovic walking around the booths. He consented to give us an interview. And, as they say, we were off to the races.
The following year we videotaped interviews with Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Terminator 3”), Lucy Liu (“Ballistic”) and the boys from the “Lord of the Rings”.
2005, 2006 and 2007 were stellar years for San Diego and Los Angeles video crews. If you had not booked a crew at least three weeks in advance of the SDCC, you were out of luck. And you couldn’t just rent a camera and shoot anything yourself because all the equipment rental houses had nothing left but C-47s (clothespins).
In 2008, we helped set up a studio upstairs in a room overlooking the floor where Peter Bart and Peter Guber interviewed Kevin Spacey, Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron and others for their show, “Sunday Morning Shootout.”
Then the economy took a wicked downturn in 2009. Video production is the canary in the coal mine; it’s one of the first items cut from a company’s budget. The hit movie of that year was “Avatar” and the studios sent down their A List celebs including Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana and James Cameron himself. But there weren’t as many video crews on the scene.
2010 started looking up again for SoCal video production crews. I think maybe the Hollywood studios had duly noted that SDCC attendees were undeterred by budgetary constraints. These devotees work on their costumes all year. Their fingers are poised over their keyboards in March when SDCC tickets go on sale. They devour SDCC tickets within minutes. When they arrive, they are stand in overnight lines around the building just to watch a movie trailer or witness a panel with their favorite celebrities. Hollywood can count on at least 130,000 captive audience members for whatever film or TV show they decide to roll out.
2016 was a banner year for San Diego video production crews. The stew has officially overflowed its cauldron into the streets and buildings. The entire Gaslamp Quarter now simmers with SDCC events.
The Grand Hyatt housed Her Universe Fashion Show featuring cinema-inspired costumes. Emcee Ashley Eckstein wore a gown of 10,000 Legos designed by artist Nathan Sawaya.
Five Colonel Sanders statues popped up in various locations around downtown San Diego.
Justin Timberlake and Ann Kendrick came to town.
SDCC 2016 was a conflagration such as has never been seen before in the history of mankind.
Now we’re gearing up for the 2017 SDCC. Mark is juggling crews for several clients. It’s like spinning plates. Cue the clown music. We are both bracing ourselves mentally for the onslaught of traffic, parking, the necessity of carting professional broadcast equipment around (without an actual cart; they are prohibited) and wending our way around a tsunami of costumed enthusiasts.
Taking a deep breath. And…. Action.