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Supernatural Report from Comic-Con!

Supernatural Report from Comic-Con


Well, folks, my sojourn at Comic-Con 2007 is over. First off, I must say, regretfully, that I have no personal close encounters of the Supernatural kind to report. And given that there were many people there with cell phones and tiny digital cameras with video capability recording the panel, you’ve probably already seen things on YouTube, so none of this may be new to you. Oh, well – I’m going to write it anyway. I attended the panel, I had a great time, and I don’t regret having gone for a moment! I don't know whether any of my photos will turn out to be decent at all (I have serious doubts), but if any do, I'll post links.


This entry will be devoted entirely to Supernatural. I’ll do a separate one addressing the more general Comic-Con experience, as well as descriptions of the two Stargate-related panels I attended, and my reaction to the delightfully sweet and funny pilot for Pushing Daisies (although I suppose that saying that much pretty well gives away that my reaction was positive … <grin>).


On to Supernatural! Due to a little stupid scheduling on the part of Warner Brothers (although, admittedly, they didn’t have a whole lot of choice, given the time limitations of the day), attendees pretty much had to choose between listening to the one-hour panel from 2:45 to 3:45, or lining up for the signing session with the panelists laid on for 4:00 to 5:00. You have to understand: Comic-Con is MASSIVE. Lines for signings held down in the exhibit hall area opened an hour before the signing itself (in other words, 15 minutes after the panel began!), and they filled up very quickly for popular events. Lines had to coil around the exhibit booths, because space was very limited and the size of the crowds made navigating around the exhibit hall floor an exercise in not getting crushed. And since other booths down in the exhibit hall were conducting their own similar events, the problems multiplied rapidly. Warner actually got a little pissy and cut the Supernatural signing short because the post-panel crowd so clogged the area that crowd control was a major headache. In defense of the crowd, Warner really didn’t do a good job of letting people know that they would have to choose between the panel and the signing, and a lot of people who attended the panel at least hoped to get close enough to the signing to be able to take decent pictures. In defense of Warner, they didn’t really have a lot of choice in terms of setting aside time or arranging the crowd effectively, not once they made the decision to hold their signings down in their exhibit area – where they could also distribute promotional material – rather than in the more open and easily controlled autograph area set up in the Sails Pavilion. But it really could have been better handled with a little more effective communication.


But enough grumbling. Panel time!


The panel was held in Hall 6CDEF, the third-largest venue available for Comic-Con programming. The hall holds about 3,500 people, and it was FULL. (The biggest venue, incidentally, was Hall H, which holds 6,500 people. Ballroom 20 can handle about 5,000 people. Halls 6A and 6B can each hold 1,000.) Watching the staff scurry to set up the front table for the Supernatural panel, it quickly became apparent that there had been a couple of changes from the program. I knew from checking the Comic-Con website before coming that Sera Gamble had been added late to the panel (yeah!), but when staff took away the name tentcards for Jared Padalecki and Peter Johnson, the observant among us realized that we were going to be two folk short. The panel consisted of Eric Kripke, Jensen Ackles, Ben Edlund, Sera Gamble, and panel moderator Craig Tomashoff from TV Guide. Peter’s absence wasn’t explained, unfortunately, but Jared’s turned into the first funny story of the day, because Eric reported that Jared had really wanted to be there, but his shooting schedule on the current episode led to his Friday night work not wrapping up until 6:00 Saturday morning, and Jared missed his flight! Jensen was nodding and smiling in smug amusement throughout Eric’s recitation: Jared’s clearly not going to be able to tease him any more about oversleeping and missing flights without getting it tossed back at him in kind!


But I’m getting ahead of myself. At the start of the session, Craig announced that we’d be seeing a couple of video clips before the panelists entered: the script-to-screen DVD special feature on the making of All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2; and a two-minute compilation of clips prepared exclusively for Comic-Con. I’m not going to say much about the latter, except that it was a glorious piece of editing linking flash clips from both seasons of the show with a driving Latin guitar score, and concluding with Sam’s “We’ve got work to do” line from the end of the pilot. Fantastic!


The script-to-screen feature – The Episode From Hell – was delightful. In it, we learned that Eric’s original script for the finale was, roughly in Robert Singer’s words, “A six-hour miniseries, which then was successfully cut down to a two-hour feature.” Of course, from that, they had to cut it down to a single hour, which apparently involved much conference-calling, hair-tearing, and burning of midnight oil, and even at that it was running over budget. In Eric’s original script, each one of the five churches anchoring the points of the devil’s trap contained a holy relic of some type to power the defense, and Jake’s mission was to go from church to church destroying the relics to break the protection, with the Winchesters, Bobby, and Ellen trying to anticipate his moves and playing increasingly desperate catch-up. Sets or locations for each of the churches, together with near-misses and interim fights, were major components of the time and the cost, and it was the masterstroke of someone suggesting that the churches instead be connected by railroad tracks defining the parameters of the devil’s trap that saved the day. Railroads were a perfect touch of the American West, the use of iron to bar demons fit with the show’s mythology, and myriad individual encounters between Jake and our heroes could be cut down to one. Kim Manners was credited with creating the stand-off between Jake and the others by having Jake force Ellen to hold the gun to her own head, and the defining scenes took shape. Footage shot in the writers’ room demonstrated that questions such as how and why Dean could get a year of life thrown into the deal when his father had died immediately, for example, actually did get hashed around, and weren’t simply glossed over.


The availability of Jeffrey Dean Morgan for his scenes was another major issue. To fit into JDM’s schedule, they shot JDM’s scene with the boys six weeks ahead of the rest of the episode. Many of the script changes apparently didn’t happen until after those scenes were in the can, and since JDM wasn’t available for any reshoots, technology had to play a role. For example, the earlier script used during the JDM graveyard shoot included a climactic slugfest between Sam and Jake, which ended with Sam very bruised, cut up, and bloody.  The video shows that Jared was in post-fight makeup, covered in blood, when they shot the final scene of John’s farewell exchange of looks with his boys in the graveyard. In the final script, of course, the hand-to-hand battle with Jake was eliminated in favor of Sam shooting him, which meant that Sam wasn’t bruised and bleeding at the end. They reshot with Jared in front of blue screens, with no one else present, trying as best as possible to match his steps forward and establish his eyelines to Jensen and Jeffrey using green tennis balls on poles mounted at the head heights and relative positions of the two missing actors in the scene. Then they digitally erased the original bloody Sam from the scene, and rotoscoped the reshot Sam in over the holes left by his original appearance.


To make matters even more complex, given that they had only four nights in which to shoot the main graveyard sequence, and that they were shooting late enough in the spring that the nights were getting pretty short, they elected to do daytime shooting with an eclipse effect provided by lens filters, but that meant that their original graveyard location – which had no trees or anything else to provide shadows – wouldn’t work visually, and they had to search for a second location. In the end, given the weather and the time, that one didn’t work either, and they had to re-create the original graveyard as best as possible on the soundstage. Kim Manners reported that the truckloads of tons of dirt dumped on the soundstage floor smelled suspiciously of manure, which apparently contributed to the amusement of shooting the scene. All in all, it sounded like a major challenge.


And here’s a tasty tidbit: from a couple of pages of Eric’s original script, flashed up on the screen during the feature, there had been dialogue between John and the boys – well, Dean at least – in the long version. It wasn’t clear whether the concept of words exchanged survived at all, but the brief flash I remember seeing had Dean asking John if he was okay. I didn’t see the line where John would have responded, unfortunately.


I wonder if we’re ever going to get the chance to see that original script, and its various cut-down versions leading to the final one? I’d certainly love to!


After the DVD feature and the clip compilation, Craig Tomashoff came back to the podium to introduce the speakers. Responding to the audience’s enthusiastic reception of the video bits, and the very evident vocal presence of a lot of female fans, Craig teasingly noted that he wished he could have the support of a fanbase like the Winchester Girls. One quick-witted woman shouted back, “More coverage of Supernatural in TV Guide, and you’ll have it!” and the resounding cheers and applause made that truth apparent. He introduced Sera (who now has a producer credit), Eric, Jensen, and Ben, all to great applause. Sera sat furthest from the podium with Jensen beside her, then Craig, then Eric, and finally Ben. Jared’s absence was the very first thing addressed. From the moment they each walked out and took their seats, and continuing throughout the story of Jared’s missing the plane and beyond, the explosions of camera flashes were non-stop – and in a room with over 3,000 people, that was quite a barrage. Sera was at once delighted and intimidated, observing first that she’d never seen that many cameras in her life, and then, leaning over to Jensen, she said that she had to sit next to him more often. It made for a great laugh.


What follows here is going to be out of order, because I know I won’t recall everything, much less what things followed each other. Eric opened by saying that they were all very excited about the third season, and that it’s going to be different because it’s a wartime season. He referred to it as being a very giddy season in the writers’ room, precisely because, having killed off the demon and resolved a lot of the initial series mythology, they now had a new blank slate to work with and the freedom to explore new ideas where almost anything could go. He’s looking forward to new villains and new battles, ones that will still illustrate the characters’ internal conflicts but will expand the canvas.


One of the very first things that Eric addressed, with minimal prompting from Craig, was the addition of the two new female characters. He said the same things we’ve heard before, very explicitly stated to overcome any misconceptions about the characters: that they aren’t being introduced as love interests, that they are antagonists, and that they’re going to give the boys a lot of problems. He emphasized that they are not going to team up with the boys or be riding in the back seat of the Impala, eating Scooby snacks. He described them as intersecting with the story of the boys, moving in and out of their story while on stories of their own, as has been done with other characters, citing Gordon, Hendrickson, Bobby, and Ellen. Eric referred to Ruby as being somewhat deranged, ruthless, and without conscience, and said that there will be a major reveal about her in episode two, demonstrating that she isn’t what she seems. Jensen was nodding throughout that description. Eric and Craig tossed the ball to Jensen with a question about how he and Jared felt to have these additional characters in the story, and Jensen gave a charmingly exaggerated eye-rolling sigh of relief and said, “Finally!” That got a laugh, and I’m delighted to say that no one asked any questions targeting Ruby and Bela once the floor was opened to questions from the audience.


To describe Bela, Eric turned to Ben, because Ben had created her. Ben described his choice to bring her in as reflecting his desire to explore the introduction and dynamics of a character who wasn’t mission-driven, who didn’t have the imperatives we’ve met in the boys and other hunters of either revenge or saving others, but instead was motivated purely by selfishness and gain.


They quickly opened the floor to questions from the audience, and I’m going to toss them out as I remember them, which won’t necessarily be in the order in which they occurred. Bear with me!


A question early on concerned what they could tell us about the other characters we would see this season. Eric mentioned that we’d be seeing Gordon again, and Agent Hendrickson, and Bobby and Ellen. Sera professed to love the character of Gordon, noting that she really loved the performance that Sterling Brown delivers, and then – perfectly in keeping with what we know about what Sera like to do to characters she loves! – Sera gleefully proclaimed, “Bad things are going to happen to Gordon!” Eric laughed that they have the most fun creating characters and then torturing them, and Jensen’s face was a study in wry amusement, since he’s on the receiving end and having to play out that torment. Sera noted that what they’re doing with Gordon requires shooting around Brown’s schedule in Army Wives, so we won’t have much of him, but we’ll enjoy what we get. Eric also said that they’d be telling Bobby’s story this season, so we’ll be learning more about our favorite support character.


One of the funniest moments happened when a fan asked about Dean having only a year to live, how he’ll react to that, and what he’ll want to do. Jensen delivered the most lascivious leer and observed, laughing, that we all know what Dean wants, and that he’s going get it - lots of it! I can’t possibly recount the whole exchange, but between Jensen riffing with Eric and Sera on Dean’s appetite for sex, Eric wound up observing that we might all wind up watching the Dean Winchester Diaries on late night cable! (Shades of David Duchovny and The Red Shoe Diaries …) Apologies, but I was laughing way too hard to take notes, even mental ones! Jensen’s broad innuendos concerning Dean satisfying his libido (and other cravings) were positively hysterical.


Asked how much advance planning he had done for the show, Eric noted that he has the general outline for several seasons in his head, but he’s left a lot of holes in the outline because you never know what’s going to crop up, and because the story sometimes takes you down paths you didn’t expect. He said that he has a plan for the season, and several points he knows they want to make, but other things are free to develop along the way. And he said, “We’re all hoping for a happy ending for the Winchester boys when all is said and done” – but then he wickedly noted that a lot of things could happen. Cruel Eric!


One question concerned the wonderful music on the show, and the likelihood of a soundtrack album or at least the provision of a complete list of the music used in the show. Eric explained that they had tried very hard to get approval for a classic rock soundtrack release, but that Warner vetoed it on the grounds that there were so many compilations of classic rock already available that there wouldn’t be anything to distinguish the Supernatural album and create a market demand for it. You can imagine the groan of frustrated disbelief that greeted that announcement! Eric spread his hands, agreeing with us on that one, but noted that unless something could change the minds of the Warner execs to convince them there was enough money to be made, it simply wouldn’t happen, and he didn’t really see the chance for it. On the other hand, he agreed that a list was something that should be doable – perhaps as a playlist on iTunes – and he looked over at the Warner reps sitting in the front row and told them to make note of that. Wheeee! I mean, hey – we know most of them already, but where there are question marks, we could finally get them resolved!


Another fan asked about the favorite episodes of each of the panelists, whether because they wrote them, or felt something worked particularly well, or any reason at all. Eric demurred at first, with Sera laughing that we were asking him to choose between his children, and he tossed it to her. She professed to have a similar problem, loving too many, but finally indicated that she still particularly loved the pilot, because seeing it convinced her that she really wanted to work on the show. Continuing to talk, though, she observed that she thinks they really do well with season openers, because she also loves In My Time of Dying. Jensen agreed that he loved the pilot for being the beginning of it all, and said that Dead in the Water holds a special place in his heart because it was the first opportunity he really had to get inside Dean and start peeling back some of those layers. He threw his final vote for All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2, though, simply because of the toll it took on him. He said that episode had been the hardest work he’s ever done, because – as he put it – he had worked for two years with Jared, establishing both on-camera and off-camera relationships as brothers, getting really close … and then he had to play scenes in a room with him, dead. He confessed to having been totally wiped out at the end of the day shooting those scenes.


And that’s when I most regretted Jared’s absence, because I would have loved to hear how Jared felt, having had to play dead while he could hear Jensen as Dean going to that very dark place … Oh, well.


Eric finally did pick among the season two episodes, and professed Nightshifter to have been his favorite, just because of the way everything came together so perfectly in that episode in terms of plot, performance, timing – the lot. Ben chose “the dream one” – What Is and What Should Never Be – leaning over to look at Jensen and say that the dream episode had also really taken it out of him. For season one, Ben noted that the last three episodes (Dead Man’s Blood, Salvation, Devil’s Trap) had been the ones that had hooked him, because they were so relentless and linked together the myth to just keep building through to the end.


One girl asked for technical details on the various Impalas, starting with the size of the engine. Eric laughingly questioned what had happened to stereotypes, caught short in surprise about that question coming from a girl rather than a guy, and was himself at a loss to answer, but Jensen picked up the ball and started talking about the stunt car having a 427, the most powerful engine among the various cars they use, and also being equipped with skid plates and special brakes … and Eric promptly crowed, “Jensen’s a man!” to general and delighted laughter.


Eric was asked about the revelation in Part 1 of All Hell Breaks Loose that Mary had recognized the demon, and whether we’d learn more about that or be left hanging with the demon dead and the “special children” storyline finished. In response, Eric said that, with the demon dead, Sam isn’t having visions or premonitions any more; that he’s back to being ordinary Sam for the moment, although he’s still got choices to make and issues to resolve. Eric confirmed that Sam is the last survivor among the psychic kids, and jokingly said that doing the stories about the kids had been fun, but after a while, he got sick of them and said, “That’s it – it’s time to kill them all!” But he also said that we’d be getting some answers about Mary and the past in season two, and that there’s a big reveal about Mary in episode two. (Okay, an aside here: by my count, that’s TWO major reveals in that episode: Ruby and Mary. Is there a link? Does Ruby’s family history maybe tie into the same kind of thing that made Mary recognize the demon? Inquiring minds want to know!)


Jensen was asked about the pranks on set, and particularly about the best prank that was pulled on him, and the best prank he ever pulled on someone, particularly on Jared. He neatly dodged the latter question, saying that he and Jared decided early on that they’d better stick together and not target each other, but that they tend to work through the crew members. As for the best prank pulled on him, he told the story of Kim Manners arranging, on No Exit, to shoot the scene of Sam and Dean climbing down into the storm drain as the last scene of the day, actually rearranging the schedule deliberately to make that happen. As he described the scene, they’d built a shaft for the boys to climb down on the set, so it really was just a vertical tube with no egress at the bottom. He said that there’d been some suppressed hilarity on the set all day, but that he and Jared hadn’t cottoned on to the realization that Kim had enlisted the entire crew in his little plot, and that everyone on set was pretty much in on the gag with the exception of Jared and himself. The first clue they had of the prank came when two of the crew guys appeared at the top of the shaft with five gallon buckets of water which they proceeded to dump on the guys, who couldn’t escape. Jensen said slyly that he and Jared had gotten their own back, but he cagily didn’t say anything about how they’d done it. He did say that Kim was deliberately rolling film when the water stunt got pulled, and that we’d see it on the gag reel!


Jensen was also asked not just about any spookily supernatural things happening on set, but also whether there were just funny, unplanned things that had happened. He answered that nothing unexplainable ever really occurred, and that if it did, no one would notice anyway because of the nature of the show they were working on and the weird things that were programmed to happen. On the second part, he laughed that dumb things happened all the time, and he engaged in a little physical slapstick illustration of reaching into the car and yanking out the duffel he was supposed to be grabbing from the back seat, only to be pulled off balance when he learned too late that the opposite handle of the bag had been accidentally closed in the car door. He said that a lot of those events also wound up on the gag reel.


Eric was asked whether there would be another flashback episode someday with the little Winchesters. He responded that they’d broken the first ten stories of the third season thus far, and that there weren’t any flashback stories among them, but he also said that he’d love to do the little Winchesters again, if he found the right story. He laughed that Jensen and Jared were always encouraging him to do more with the little Winchesters, since that would give them some more time off, and Jensen gave enthusiastic nods and thumbs-up to that idea.


Another fan paid additional tribute to the show’s music by applauding both uses of “Carry On Wayward Son,” to enthusiastic applause and endorsement by the entire hall and the members of the panel. She asked whose idea it had been to use “Renegade” in Nightshifter, and Eric responded that Ben had written it into the script. Ben quickly gave credit for how well it turned out to episode director Phil Sgriccia, who had chosen how to time it and cut it in (and I’ve always LOVED the way he extended the heartbeat vamp to play under the boys’ silence and Dean’s “We are so screwed,” and to then take off with the howl!), and Jensen chimed in to say that he thought that was his favorite music cue of the series so far. Everyone agreed that it just fit perfectly.


I did manage to get in a question, at the very end of things. I applauded the quality of the promos used last season, expressed delight that they had won awards at the Promax/BDA 2007 show, and said that it would be a shame if they weren’t preserved. I asked whether they might appear on the DVD. Eric looked a little quizzical, until I mentioned the Johnny Cash “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” one, at which point the light went on, and Eric said, “What a great idea!” Unfortunately, it’s not one that had occurred to anyone before the DVDs were completed, so the promos aren’t on the season two set, but Eric seemed taken with the idea of doing that in the future. He also said that the promos were the work principally of two guys over at the CW who love the show as much as we and Eric all do.


 Before I left the mike, I said that I hoped that there were people in the audience who had never seen Supernatural, and who would now go home to catch up on it and get ready to tune in come the fall, because the show deserved more viewers. That sentiment won some cheers and applause. As the panel was wrapping up, Eric confessed that he’d been worried about the show getting a third season, what with it having stayed on the bubble right down to the wire, and he asked all the fans to please preach the word of the show to everyone, to try and get the numbers up to help improve the odds for a season four. He promised us a great ride in season three.


And I’ve probably missed things – I know I have! – but I also know that there are probably other accounts already out there filling in the blanks.


The Warner people provided only a couple of Supernatural promo items, consisting of a cover art photo card advertising the release of the season two DVDs, and a small poster using the classic image of the boys in the Impala’s front seat looking back, with Dean holding a gun in his right hand on the seat back and Sam holding the curved blade we saw him stuffing into the bag in the pilot. The poster advertises the October 4, 2007 third season premiere, and includes the slogan, Devil’s gate is open … and darkness is closing in.


As I remember details, I’ll post more. And I’ll post the non-Supernatural stuff, too!

Dang - almost forgot to mention: Plastic!Winchesters were at Comic-Con. They weren't allowed by Warner Brothers to pose with the panel, but they posed with the tentcards ... I can't wait to see the Comic-Con segment of Plastic!Winchester Theatre!!  When informed that Plastic!Winchesters and Anteka were in the house, the whole panel applauded!!

Tags: ben edlund, comics, cons, eric kripke, jared padalecki, jensen ackles, real life, sera gamble, supernatural, television production

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