Another whirlwind weekend in SF for WonderCon 2006. Aside from taking in the odd panel or wandering about the exhibition hall, I chatted with Brandon Routh and Bryan Singer (star and director of Superman Returns), J.J. Abrams (co-writer/director of Mission: Impossible III), Paul Walker and Wayne Kramer (star and director of Running Scared), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick), and Noel Neill (the original screen Lois Lane), among others. Transcripts will be rolling out here in the coming weeks.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 10: First up was the press tour for Brick, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the Clift Hotel. Levitt was gracious, poised, and considered in his responses. With the work he's doing now, Levitt's a young star on the rise. You'll be able to read the full interview here shortly.
After checking in at the press desk at the Moscone Convention Center (West), I took a stroll around the exhibition hall to see what was doing. New Line Cinema and Lions Gate had booths; DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and View Askew has their usual plus-size areas; and a variety of artists and celebrities sat for sketches and autographs on the outskirts of the marketplace of all things geeky (I mean, cool).
Now that I was on site, it became apparent that Frank Miller (All-Star Batman and Robin would be doing two signings, one at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund table Friday afternoon.) I hung around to meet Miller and have him sign a Batman book. CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein entertained my request for an interview, telling me to check back in the morning after he'd had a chance to go over Miller's weekend schedule with him (including a benefit screening of Sin City Sunday night in Berkeley). Around 5:00, I took in some of the "Gerard Jones: Men of Tomorrow" panel about the early days of the superhero biz (and Jones' book on the subject). Jones and audience members shared personal insights about legendary creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (Superman) and Bob Kane (Batman). Jones also let on that he's working on a new book about pulp fiction.
Next, I sauntered down the hall for the 5:30 panel "Modern Architecture: The Architects of the DC Universe," in which the core creative team from DC Comics debriefed their "Infinite Crisis" series and stoked the crowd for the breakthrough series to come: 52, an ambitious, epic weekly featuring nearly the entirety of the DC Universe. As for all DC panels, VP-executive editor Dan DiDio held court. This time, his panel included the 52 writing team (Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, and Geoff Johns) and 52 editor Steve Wacker. Being as open as they could without busting out major spoilers, the team explained how 52 (in the style of a "nighttime drama," as the 24-inspired title suggests) will not only be a story to make Wednesdays an event again (that's street day for comics) but also a story to redefine and clarify the form and function of the DCU. The historic continuity of DC will be addressed in multiple ways, with a galaxy of characters. Citing Google Earth as a perfect metaphor for 52, Rucka noted, "we can't show you every single thing, but we can point out some details" of previously unseen corners of the DCU.
Lastly, I queued up for a screening of Running Scared at the AMC Metreon. New Line's screening doubled as a public Q&A event for lucky fans of Paul Walker and director Wayne Kramer, and also an opportunity for press to see the film before the next day's scheduled interviews. Unfortunately, the screening began nearly and hour and a half late, due to a print-shipment snafu. Supposedly, the concern over print security has led to studios to ship prints as late as possible for this sort of event, a gamble that sometimes leads to miscalculations like this one. So I whiled away much of the time trading information and stories with Rebecca Murray of About.com; after previous cons and the Batman Begins junket, I've become accustomed to the hardy, tenacious press corps that makes the cons a priority. The screening eventually got into gear, with Walker—flown in on the Disney jet after his Tonight Show taping—and Kramer briefly greeting the crowd before the film rolled. Afterwards, Walker and Kramer took questions for twenty minutes or so, further pleasing the energetic audience.
After a weary, late-night commute back to San Jose, seeing Paul Walker on the So-Cal Tonight Show (not long after leaving him in SF) was a bit surreal, but I had fish to fry in order to be prepared for the marathon events of Saturday at WonderCon.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 11: When Saturday morning rolled around, I stormed the exhibition hall to take care of some unfinished business. After following up with Charles Brownstein (check back later, I'm told) and a DC promise of a V for Vendetta screening (secured a wristband), I was ready to set up shop in the WonderCon press room. Even armed with the room number, finding the press room was no easy task (for good reason), but once there, I was able to settle into the empty room and do some prep work as Moscone staffers hung a giant WonderCon/ComicCon backdrop behind me (they couldn'ta done this on Friday?). Downstairs, huge crowds were clogging up the registration lines, meaning that main panel site Room 2000 was mostly empty when the Brick panel was scheduled to begin. The day's Room 2000 Hollywood events consequently started late and remained late for the entire day. The Brick panel was all but cancelled, but thereafter Fox/Fox Searchlight took the stage to flog its 2006 offerings, beginning with Night Watch. The Fox rep announced he'd be screening the film...in a 2 1/2 minute fast-forward piece. It's evident from the piece, occasionally slowed to highlight cool shots, that Night Watch is visually arresting. I've since seen the film in real time, which I can recommend; it's not groundbreaking in plot, but the style and wit are envigorating (review on the way).
Then, the Fox flack introduced Wes Craven, Aaron Stanford, Vinessa Shaw, and bonus guest Dan Berg to promote the remake of Craven's The Hills Have Eyes, which the horror-meister exec-produced. The talent chatted (about the original film, the new director, and the process of making the remake), screened a tense clip, and took a few questions from the audience. Craven explained he didn't know when or if the Weinsteins would release Feast, the Project Greenlight horror flick also exec-produced by Craven. The cast admitted that they had been lucky in dodging more than little scrapes in the physical process of shooting the film, and Shaw talked about working with Stanley Kubrick. Craven said he wouldn't rule out shooting a Masters of Horror episode for Season Two, and announced that he's penning a Vegas spectacle called Magik Macabre. A "fan" asked for her money back for Cursed, which prompted a more direct Craven dig at the Weinsteins; the director says to watch the DVD for his cut. Craven made the interesting point, regarding remakes, that the Bogart Maltese Falcon was the third to hit screens (I'm aware of the 1931 version before the 1941 version—is there a third?).
After Craven and co. went backstage, the press contingent followed to see if they would, indeed, submit to questions. They posed for press photos, but alas disappeared without submitting to questions. No matter. Shortly thereafter, Paramount publicity was ushering in J.J. Abrams to meet the press for a roundtable interview. An upbeat, mile-a-minute talker, Abrams instantly won over the press by smiling and shaking his way around the table, introducing himself to each reporter ("You got my vote, senator," one wag cracked). Abrams spoke about Mission Impossible: 3, working with Tom Cruise, and Lost (which he co-created). You'll find my Q&A with Abrams in this space soon.
On Abrams' way out, he was forced (by SF radio personality Hooman) into an awkward meet-and-greet with Paul Walker. Then, it was my turn to sit down with Walker and Wayne Kramer to discuss their collaboration on the new thriller Running Scared. The results, in transcript form, are here. With the press room turning quiet, it was time to hustle back into Room 2000, where Abrams was unspooling two jaw-dropping clips from MI: 3, both of which are glimpsed in the trailer. In the first, Cruise's Ethan Hunt and villainous Philip Seymour Hoffman are enagaged in a hardball interrogation session on an airplane; the second was a lengthy portion of the high-octane Chesapeake Bay Bridge action sequence. Encouraging stuff—this franchise may be, at long last, living up to its promise.
Abrams had warmed himself up with the press and repeated many of the same beats to the crowd: about feeling the chance to direct MI: 3 was all a part of being "punk'd," about being afraid to write action since Cruise would insist on doing his own stunts (Woo's nervousness on the MI: 2 DVD becoming a cautionary tale for Abrams), about learning who Ethan Hunt is, other than a rock-climber. Abrams worked the crowd expertly, especially when recounting at length how he got the job. He also noted that he must regrettably not direct the series finale of Alias, as he will be promoting MI: 3 abroad.
After Abrams, I made my way downstairs to check in with Charles Brownstein of CBLDF about a Frank Miller interview, but I had missed him, so it was back upstairs to Room 2000, where Kevin Smith had already begun one of his legendary bull sessions. No question is off-limits as Kevin talks about anything and everything, all of which proves to be good for a raunchy laugh. Smith chewed over old news (like Green Hornet), more recent developments (the new Fletch, which Smith has departed), his comic-book writing stints, the J. Lo-fueled failure of Jersey Girl, and his attempts to turn a rumor (Kevin Smith directing Star Wars TV series) into a reality ("We'll see..."). Smith also invited onto the stage a ten-year-old fan who wishes to be "Young Jay" in a future film; Smith bantered with him then sent him away in mock-envy of the attention he was getting. With each increasing year, it seems Smith's raconteurship (and entrepeneurship) is his business, with filmmaking an occasional working vacation. Entertaining as always, and capped with a scene from Clerks 2 (preceded by an absurdly long spoof of those "no pirating" warnings that precede screenings and clip presentations these days.
With Brownstein overwhelmed at another Frank Miller signing, I was sent away without an answer (methought, at this point, the Miller interview might not be in the cards). Back in Room 2000, Pixar was boring much of the crowd with the details behind Cars. Who doesn't love Pixar? But a starless panel late in the afternoon that was consumed with technicalities and design challenges didn't exactly light up the room. The clips fared better than the Pixar talent and execs, and best-of-panel went to "One Man Band," the very funny, very well-animated Pixar short nominated for this year's Best Animated Short Oscar.
Meanwhile, Sony was worrying over what to do with Deborah Kara Unger. The word on the street was that she would do press before her onstage appearance to promote Silent Hill, but the final proclamation was that she would do her press afterwards or, in other words, during the Superman Returns panel. Needless to say, Unger was left alone in the press room during the hottest event of the day. Adding insult to injury, Unger (a supporting player in Silent Hill) was onstage for about five minutes (to drily introduce a trailer and gory clip) before stepping aside for the Superman show put on by Warner.
The Superman Returns panel followed Bryan Singer's pattern of coming out, looking at the crowd, and playing spontaneous ("How does this work? Are there questions?"). Singer answered a few questions, paused to roll the Comic-Con extended trailer, answered a few more questions, then paused to introduce a "surprise" that most had already guessed: Brandon Routh was here to meet the public. What followed was the usual breathless fan Q&A, with dead-horse questions (what's up with the Super-suit?) mixed with silly questions (how about that Superman curse, Brandon?). Singer and Routh were gracious and did their best to play along with the questioners, after which they met the press at a remote location within the cavernous Moscone Center.
Warner knows Superman is the 300-pound gorilla in the place, even to the point of setting up an exclusive press room for Superman Returns only. It's good to be the king, as they say. The WB handler cut the press time short (partly due, I suppose, to the whole con running late), but Singer and Routh fielded several questions from the press over fifteen or twenty minutes. Backstage and when in transit to and from the press conference, Routh had his arm conspicuously coiled around girlfriend Courtney. Click to read my Q&A with Bryan Singer and the new Superman, Brandon Routh.
With hours to kill until a 9:45 V for Vendetta screening, I wandered back to Room 2000 to check out some of the "Star Wars Saga: There's More to Come! with Steve Sansweet" panel. Apparently, Sansweet confirmed that the Star Wars TV series in development will take place between Episodes Three and Four, but the part of the panel I stayed for (which wasn't much) was a boring parade of non-news: special-effects montages of 2005 ILM films (Harry Potter, Revenge of the Sith) with featurettes on the making of the effects. When Sansweet started talking about the latest in Star Wars video games, I walked out. Before lining up for V for Vendetta across the street at the AMC Metreon, I finally made contact with Brownstein again: indeed, the Miller interview was not to be this weekend, but perhaps in the not-so-distant future.
V for Vendetta was quite enjoyable, and seemed to go over well with the crowd. Check back for my full review, which will be available before the film opens.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 20: I started the day by making a bee-line for Noel Neill's table, where the original Lois Lane graciously agreed to an interview. When the exhibition hall became open to the public at large, the increasing crowds slowed down the interview (numerous pauses to step aside for fans seeking autographs or chat time), but Miss Neill hung in to answer my questions. Our conversation will appear here in the coming weeks.
The "DC Comics: Crisis Counseling: One Year Later" panel offered roughly the same content as the aforementioned "Modern Architecture: The Architects of the DC Universe" panel, with Dan DiDio, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, and Steve Wacker cheerily answering most questions with the promise of answers to come in...52. The easy rapport of the group and the palpable excitement about their work testifies to the good vibes at DC Comics these days. The core team also let slip that a basic narrative game plan has been drawn up through 2008.
A last-minute change of venue to the jumbo Room 2000 slowed the start of the "Spotlight on Frank Miller" panel, but the crowd was thrilled when WonderCon maestro Gary Sassman introduced Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein, who wasted no time in, in turn, introducing Miller. Brownstein proceeded to conduct a heady Inside the Actor's Studio-styled onstage interview with Miller. On the bright side, this format minimized geeky, poorly formed questions from fans and maximized sensible content from Miller. Still, short-changing fan Q&A to a handful of lightning-round questions rushed through by Brownstein had to be a disappoinment for those hoping to get a word in with Miller (myself included). The big scoop of the presentation was Miller's announcement of Holy Terror, Batman!, a work-in-progress graphic novel: "Not to put too fine a point on it—it's a piece of propaganda...Batman kicks al Qaeda's ass." The writer-artist explained, "I wish the entertainers of our time had the spine and the focus of the ones who faced down Hitler....Superman punched out Hitler. So did Captain America. That's one of the things they're there for....I just think it's silly to have Batman out chasing the Riddler when you've got al Qaeda out there." Though he book has no set release date, Miller noted that he's finished approximately 120 of 200 pages.
After the Miller panel, "Trailer Park" rolled out previews of The Da Vinci Code, Click, Monster House, Open Season, The Ant Bully, Happy Feet, Ultraviolet, Running Scared, Nacho Libre, The Fountain, Mission: Impossible 3, and V for Vendetta, as well as the Superman Returns reel. The near-empty room got even emptier just before a panel for SciFi Channel's new series Eureka. Though co-creator Andrew Cosby and star Colin Ferguson (Coupling) were visibly rattled by the empty house (I counted about fifty people in the giant auditorium), they soldiered on bravely, cracking jokes along the way. A brief commercial gave some idea of the series concept, further explained by the guests. Based on so little evidence, it's impossible to say whether the show will be any good, but I can tell you that I ducked out of the panel after about ten minutes and saw the talent downstairs in the exhibition hall not long thereafter.
I ended the weekend by waiting in line to get All-Star Superman signed by writer Grant Morrison, who doesn't get out to American cons all that often. While in line, I noticed unannounced guest Jim Lee hanging out in the DC booth. Eventually, Lee sat for an impromptu signing, so I hustled over to the star artist before meeting Morrison. And that's all for this year's WonderCon, but more interviews and reviews are always on the way...