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2008 LA Salute to Supernatural, Part One (Spoiler Warning!)

2008 LA Salute to Supernatural, Part One (Spoiler Warning!)

My apologies to everyone who has been waiting for me to finally get on the stick and write up my view of the LA Supernatural Creation convention. Sorry to be late to the party! I plead an incredibly busy real life and the prior commitment to get an essay submitted in the Ben Bella Books Smart Pop contest. But I’m here now, and I’m not going to leave out any of the details I remember, even though I’m sure you’ve all been inundated with everyone’s accounts, photos, and video clips. I’ve interspersed a few photos in the account, and you’re welcome to visit the broader album. Panns already posted the best of my photos here, along with Schroan’s and Met’s.

Given the length of this, I’m splitting it into two pieces, one covering Friday and Saturday, and the second dealing with Sunday. Here comes Part One! Note there are spoilers in the Kripke section, although I don't think that most people would mind them too much ...

Friday: Piru, CA and Jason Manns

First off, a big hello to everyone I met, both old friends and new! Lynn and Cathy ran into me on Thursday, as I was heading out to play tourist with a friend of mine. (We never managed to really connect again – sorry about that! I’d love to talk more about your book, ladies …) On Friday, before all the con events began, I reconnected with Sandra, and met Winter, Vickie, and Mousitsa. Winter had a car, and played chauffeur to take Vickie, Sandra, and me up to Piru, where parts of the pilot were filmed. We got great photos of the bridge and the gas station, both instantly recognizable locations. We learned from one of the locals that Disney was coming out the following week to redress the ex-gas station yet again for their upcoming Witch Mountain movie, so if something in there looks a little bit familiar, don’t be surprised!

Friday night was registration, followed by the Jason Manns concert. A friend of Jensen, Jason is a singer/songwriter with a folk/southern rock style, and did a solo acoustic set that I enjoyed very much. He had two albums and a single for sale, and the single proved irresistible even to folk who may not have purchased the others, because it was a recording of Jason singing Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” with Jensen not only doing backup, but soloing on the second verse. Describing the origin of the single, Jason was really funny. He and Jensen had sung the song together once for a friend’s wedding, and ever since video of it hit YouTube, Jason kept getting asked for the song and encouraged to do it with Jensen. Acknowledging that Jensen is shy about singing in public, Jason grinned that he “drug Jensen down” to the recording studio and made him do it. The con was the first appearance of the single, which you can now purchase through Jason’s Myspace page. Please buy it, don’t bootleg it: Jason paid all the studio fees to produce the thing out of his own pocket.

Jason, by the way, chuckled that he looked totally different from the album cover photo that the Creation folks had posted; he’d bulked up in weight, grown his hair long, and grown a beard, all for a role in a film called Rockslide. He said we should keep our eyes open for other familiar faces in it …

Saturday: Fredric Lehne, Chad Lindberg, Eric Kripke, Steve Carlson

Saturday’s big events involved Fredric Lehne (the Yellow-Eyed Demon), Chad Lindberg (Ash), the master himself, Eric Kripke, and a concert by Steve Carlson and his full band. What a great day!

Fredric Lehne

Fred was a hoot. He opened his session by playing and singing a slightly warped version of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” – Supernatural is a pretty musical bunch! He apologized to any attendees from last year’s Chicago con for having opened with the same song, and promised to come up with a new song for the Dallas con this summer. This year, Fred is celebrating 30 years as an actor. He peppered his stories and recollections with references from the past, usually noting that “you’re probably too young to remember this, but …” When I went up to get his autograph, I laughed and told him that there were more of us in the audience of an age to get his references than he probably credited; he handed me my signed tote bag, grinned, and said, “Thanks for being my age!”

I think his funniest story came from shooting 1997’s Con Air with John Malkovich. Fred played the pilot of the airplane Malkovich’s character hijacked. He described the scene as written and initially shot – that Malkovich broke into the cockpit, shot his co-pilot, threatened him with the gun … and then left the cockpit. After thinking about it for a while, Fred said that he somewhat hesitantly asked director Steve West why, once Malkovich left the cockpit, Fred’s character didn’t just get on the radio and report that the plane was being hijacked? West reportedly huffed and fumed, and left without answering. According to Fred, Malkovich leaned over and whispered, “You know, I’ve been wondering that same thing … but I’m glad that you’re the one who asked!” Months later, Fred said he got a call to come back and reshoot that scene, because the studio brass who saw the first cut of the film asked the same question he had! Of course, by then he’d gotten a crew cut and required major makeup work to match the look he’d had during the original filming …

Asked if he’d been the subject of any pranks by the boys on set, he laughed that he hadn’t been, but that considering the way his life went, the boys might have pranked him without him even noticing it. As he put it, it would have been par for the course for someone to have come up to him and said, “There’s a horse in your trailer!” and for his response to just have been, “Okay,” without it ever occurring to him that the boys might have been behind it. To hear him tell it, funky stuff just happens to him no matter what he’s doing.

He shared stories we’ve seen in other interviews about the problems of acting while wearing the yellow-eyed demon’s contact lenses, noting that he couldn’t see anything except lights and, from the lower corners of his vision, white things, so they placed a light on the camera he was supposed to face and made piles of white chalk to mark where he should stand … which didn’t help when he had to walk on a road in daylight in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2!

Responding to a question about why it’s so hard to find all of his past credits, since he’s sometimes listed as Fredric Lane rather than Lehne, he admitted that he’d made the mistake of trying to change his name to the simpler version about midway through his career, and that it caused a lot of confusion he now regrets.

To my mind, his single funniest line came when someone asked him about whether the yellow-eyed demon might return someday, despite having been killed by the Colt. “You’ll have to take that up with Kripke,” he said, and then grinned slyly. “Mention the word ‘spin-off’.”

Chad Lindberg

To the delight and cheers of the audience, Chad brought Ash back to life on the stage the first moment that he tossed his cap-covered head to flip the mullet he no longer wore. Asked what his favorite line to deliver in the show had been, he indicated it was no contest: “All business up front, and party in the back!” Asked about his reaction when he first learned that Ash was going to die, and whether he thought Ash might ever come back, he shrugged and noted that he wasn’t surprised that Ash died. As he put it: “Show’s called Supernatural. You kinda expect to die. And then, the show’s called Supernatural – and you kinda expect to come back.” He said that he hoped Ash would resurface, because he really didn’t buy the hand with the watch thing – he confessed that his own thought was that Ash was hiding out a bit. If Ash did come back, he’d like to see him do it “full force and with more of an edge.”

Asked about some of his other career highs, he said that he lad loved doing The Fast And The Furious, that it had been really fun. He noted that his appearance on Buffy The Vampire Slayer had been his first job in LA. At the time he was shooting, none of the episodes had aired yet, and he said he didn’t really think that anyone would watch; his “I was wrong!” garnered a very appreciative laugh. I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t remembered him being in October Sky, which was his first feature – I’ll put it down to Ash being so memorably unique! – but he was happy to have that level of quality in his resume.

In response to fan questions about his work as Ash, he reported that Ash’s habit of picking up and drinking anyone else’s leftover beer was a choice he had made, not something written into the script or requested by a director. He said that he hadn’t been given a backstory for Ash, and that he doesn’t try to get into his characters by building his own version of where they come from, but just goes naturally with what feels right. He did say that Ash was supposedly going to have some big lair of his own, but that never happened. In terms of regrets about the show, his only one was that Ash hadn’t gotten out of the Roadhouse to do any action – he said he wanted to ride in the back seat with the boys, and get the chance at least once to burst in to rescue them. He did a hilarious bit acting out Ash kicking in a door and brandishing a crossbow, saying that bow and arrow would be his weapon of choice. Asked about the “Dr. Badass” scene, he reported that he was indeed naked for the shoot – at least, he couldn’t remember wearing the flesh-colored thong he might have been given – and that Jensen and Jared couldn’t keep a straight face with him standing there. Asked about his favorite onscreen scene, he said that the naked moment really was a priceless one, and it would be hard to top that. In response to questions about what Ash wanted in a woman and what kind of car he would drive, his response to the first one was that Ash likes the hard core, and if you opened up the door, he’d have two or three of them – “Close the door; demons can wait!” On the car, he immediately said a Jeep with the top down so his hair could blow in the wind, and he’d have one hand on the wheel.

When asked to think about Dean and Sam and indicate which was Mulder and which Scully, he paused for an instant and then offered the opinion that maybe they switched back and forth, with one being strong while the other would have an emotional moment. Asked about Ash possibly coming back as a demon, he thought it might be cool, and he hadn’t thought of that.

In response to questions about actors and directors he’d especially like to work with, he noted directors Sam Mendez, Steven Spielberg, and Ed Zwick, and actors Ed Norton, Ryan Gosling, and Leonardo DiCaprio. When someone asked him what he would do if he wasn’t acting, he reported that he had wanted to be a cop, like his dad, before he’d discovered acting. Now he’d like to venture out to produce and direct, someday.

One fan was asking all the guests three of the questions interviewer James Lipton always uses on Inside the Actor’s Studio, those being the guest’s favorite word, least favorite word, and favorite curse word. Chad’s responses were, respectively, “momentum”; “Ash is dead”; and “the f-word.”

In terms of upcoming things, he told us to be on the lookout for a controversial documentary called My Big Break which should be coming out soon. He said that it covers the ten years while Chad and three others were sharing a house while trying to get work in Hollywood. He laughed that the documentary’s director was the one sleeping on the couch. According to Chad, the documentary records what happened as three of the guys in the house all started breaking out, gaining roles and recognition, becoming successful, while one wasn’t getting anything, and the film captures how all of their characters and relationships changed.

Eric Kripke  [Here be spoilers!! You have been warned!!!]

With all due respect and love for the actors, having show creator Eric Kripke there and talking was what really made the convention for me. Eric posed without charge for photos with anyone who wanted them taken – yes, I got mine – and signed autographs for all comers. He told us that while we fans sometimes drove him crazy, we also forced him to make the show better, so how could he not love us? What I saw on the stage was a man passionately in love with what he was doing and thoroughly enjoying every moment of it, even this dialogue with several hundred rabid fans, most of us female.

He opened the floor to questions right off the bat. Asked why he’d killed off Ash, he grinned and said that no one dies forever in Supernatural. Responding to a question about crossovers, he said that he’d love to do a comic crossover with Hellblazer, using the Constantine character, because no matter what anyone thought of the movie (I’ll confess, Keanu Reeves does absolutely nothing for me …), the comic book character would be a perfect fit for the Supernatural universe. He also shared a funny about the writers from Two and a Half Men having offices across the hall from his Supernatural writers’ room, and joked that he’d love to figure out a way to kill that one-half man …

Observing that “we have the smartest fans in the world” when asked about which mythos surrounding Lilith the show was using, Kripke reported that Supernatural’s Lilith will be a combination of all the myths involving Lilith, not just the biblical story. He said they would cover the whole range of Lilith as both the destroyer of children and seducer of men – but he teasingly observed that since Lilith is in the third season finale still in the body of a 10-year-old girl, the destroyer of children would be in the forefront and the “seducer of men” part would have to wait a while. He gleefully observed that he loves doing creepy kids. Later on, he said that Lilith will leave that little girl and go into different characters.

In response to people noting that we’ve seen demons but not angels in the show, he said that we’d never see any of that sappy Touched By An Angel stuff in his show, but he did allow that if there were down and dirty versions of angels, then maybe … He laughed that he’d learned never to say “never.” He said human hunters, however flawed, were the forces of good in the show.

Asked about the possibility of Supernatural on the big screen, he said that there were no talks yet on doing a feature, but that he’d love to do one … but much further down the line. He said that he really does envision the series ending after five seasons, when it can still go out on a high and not become season six where the boys go to Hawaii and meet Vincent Price and Dean rents a motorcycle and literally jumps a shark.

The question of when and how he decided he wanted to make movies produced a story I’d never heard. Kripke said that he knew the exact moment: that it was 1983 (no wonder that was such a fateful year for Supernatural!) and he was nine years old, watching Spielberg’s E.T. He said that he kept turning around in the theater to watch the audience, fascinated at how they were all spellbound and reacting to what was on the screen, and he decided right then that he wanted to be a film director. He laughed that his announcement was probably a relief to his mom, since he’d earlier wanted to be a fish, and then a stop sign (because everyone obeyed them!), but that she may have reconsidered since!

The question of who told Gordon about Sam – who was Gordon’s Roadhouse connection – opened up several doors, one involving Sterling K. Brown, the actor who portrayed Gordon, and the other about story issues in general. On the real story side, Kripke said that they’d had a couple of scenes in the Roadhouse with a shifty character, some guy who got into a little dust-up in the parking lot with Dean and subsequently spilled info to Gordon. But the scenes didn’t fit in the episode, they didn’t flow, and so they got cut, which unfortunately left Gordon’s connection as a hanging loose end. Kripke laughed that he’s a real fanboy and that he hates little holes (that fans remind him of …), but sometimes they happen because the overall production has to come first.

About Gordon, Kripke said that Gordon’s storyline was intended to be much longer, that he was going to find out about Sam having killed the hunter Steve Wandell (when he was possessed during Born Under A Bad Sign) and use that information to recruit and lead a posse of hunters in pursuit of Sam. But doing that would have meant several appearances by Gordon, and Sterling K. Brown was under contract to Lifetime to appear in their series Army Wives. Lifetime was adamant that they would agree to let Supernatural have Sterling for only two episodes, period, end of story – so to make the most of what they were allowed to have, they went with the Fresh Blood story and killed him in spectacular and meaningful Supernatural fashion. Because of that, Sam’s killing of Wandell will likely never come back up, at least not in the context of other hunters realizing that he was responsible and coming after him for it.

In a similar vein, when asked about possible future appearances by Ash and Henricksen, he said that Ash was a possibility (“And not just because Chad is backstage listening to this!”) and that Henricksen might be as well, but when actors get regular jobs, they either can’t make time (read Jeffrey Dean Morgan) or get contractual releases (like Sterling) to appear, so future appearances depend in part on independent developments in the actors’ careers. Kripke noted that Supernatural was very fortunate in having high caliber actors, who unfortunately for him, get broad recognition and other lucrative job offers that they have to consider. Explicitly asked about Samantha Ferris reprising the role of Ellen Harvelle, he said that they'd really wanted her for the season three finale and had offered her basically the same deal they'd done before, but this time for whatever reason she didn't accept it, and they had to rewrite the episode without her.

Bela and Ruby inevitably came up. About Bela, Kripke said there were some things he couldn’t say, but he proceeded to dish out quite a bit anyway. He said that they do twist her story in a way that ties into the mythology and concerns that thing in her past. In Kripke’s words, “We cliffhang the hell out of her and leave her dangling in dire straits!” With regard to Bela, Kripke admitted to a little disappointment in how she had turned out – no disrespect at all to actress Lauren Cohan – agreeing that there had been two things wrong with the character: first, that she made the boys look stupid once or twice too often, and second, that she wasn’t tied into the mythology of the show. He said that Bela shows up once more this season, and that he had insisted that when it happens, she doesn’t show up the boys – that instead, they need to show her up. He also promised that any fears about Bela being redeemed are unfounded; to quote Kripke, “She will not be redeemed. She cannot be redeemed.” [Mary wonders: might Lilith possess Bela? That could have interesting potential …]

Concerning Ruby, Kripke had a one-liner response, said emphatically but with a broad grin: “If you don’t like Ruby, tough – she’s staying!”

In response to questions about demons and their hierarchy, Kripke noted that the show has about a 15-page bible (and wouldn’t we like to see that!) describing the overall story arc, and that he always knew as part of it that we wouldn’t see Lucifer. Looking back on the season, he also said that if he had it to do over, he’s not sure that he would do Sin City again, just because the less you know about demons, the scarier they are, and that wonderful dialogue between Dean and Casey may have said too much and given us too much understanding. He did say that Lilith was more powerful than the Yellow-Eyed Demon.

When he was asked the James Lipton questions, he provided his favorite word as being “renewed,” his least favorite word as being “cancelled,” and his favorite curse word – following considerable hesitation on his part and much reassurance from the audience that it would be all right to say it – being “f___ing s__t!”, delivered with passionate feeling! He used it a few times in his response to later questions, especially when describing the administrative tasks and hard decisions he has to make playing businessman when what he really wants to do is have fun with the creative process.

In response to questions about the brightness of scenes this season and about the relative shortness of Supernatural episodes relative to episodes of other programs, Kripke took the blame for the first, but laid the second squarely on the show’s limited budget. He laughed that the lighting change wasn’t the fault of studio suits constantly griping about the show being dark, even though that is a real criticism they lampooned in Hollywood Babylon, but was an experiment on his part to try distinguishing between the scary pieces and the more normal scenes. Basically, rather than having the entire show look washed out and gritty, he was attempting to make it seem more as if the boys were inhabiting our real, normal world during most of their interactions with people, only going into the dark and gritty when the supernatural forces themselves came into play, to emphasize the contrast. He confessed that the experiment hadn’t worked as well as he’d hoped, and that they’d probably make some corrections for the next season. But the short length on episodes, as well as the relative absence of the show’s classic rock music, he definitely attributed to the show’s small budget. He said that on every script, they would go over budget if they shot what they wanted, and they look for things they can cut in order to stay within the lines. Usually, that means cutting scenes, and when they’re desperately looking for pennies to shave, the music budget is a solid chunk that they can trade for more scene time or a snazzier effect. He expressed the maddening frustration that every episode turns into a balancing act between the things that they really want versus the things they can afford to have. When fans asked if there was anything they could do to chip in for the music budget, at least, Kripke reluctantly observed that it wouldn’t be feasible because it’s in the tens of thousands of dollars, even when they aren’t trying for the impossibility of Led Zeppelin. Kripke also noted that there will be no increase in the budget for the fourth season.

Asked about directing, Kripke confirmed that he will direct another episode in season four, and said that he would have done one in season three if it hadn’t been so brutally shortened by the writers’ strike. His favorite scene from the episode he directed, What Is And What Should Never Be, was the group scene in which Dean was facing the choice, with all the other characters ganging up on him and making the case for why he should stay in the fantasy.

Asked about one fan-favorite potential storyline, involving a body-swap between Sam and Dean, Kripke admitted that the idea has been pitched and there’s no good reason why he’s been resistant to it, except that other things have been more important … but he ended by saying, “Never say never!”

Asked about upcoming episodes and what will happen in the shortened season, he said that he’s ending the third season with a cliffhanger, and as he gleefully put it, “This cliffhanger’s gonna be a bitch! You’ll bite me on the ass for this one!” He also confirmed that this was the cliffhanger he was going to give us even if he hadn’t known that the renewal for a fourth season was in the bag, and it was the cliffhanger he was going to give us before the writers’ strike shortened the season. He said that, apart from the first new episode, all of the remaining ones focus on Dean’s deal, and he thinks they do justice to the story despite the season having been shortened. He said that they jettisoned all the other storylines to focus on Dean’s, to make up for the episodes they lost to the strike.

The one non-deal-oriented story is the first episode we’ll get when the show comes back. Ghostfacers! is the show’s tribute to Ghost Hunters, in which the characters we met in Hell House are shooting their own little cable show. According to Kripke, Ben Edlund not only wrote the script – he also wrote the theme song for the Ghostfacers! show. Kripke said that the entire episode was shot using hand-held video cameras, so it won’t look like any other episode. He also noted that Phil Sgriccia directed the episode, and that of all the show’s directors, Phil has really great instincts when it comes to letting the cast ad-lib. Without singling out scenes, he said that some of the best of what we saw in Nightshifter, for example, came from Phil letting the boys and the guest actors run beyond the script, and that he did the same in Ghostfacers!

Concerning season four, Kripke said that there will be an episode all about how Mary knew the demon. He said that he’s interested to learn more of the John and Mary backstory, maybe including when they were teens, and how things tie in to the 22-year cycle of the demon mythology. He said that season four will follow the basic pattern they had set for the show of having 8 myth-oriented episodes and 14 stand-alone ones each season.

Asked about certain episode details, Kripke confirmed that Ben (from The Kids Are Alright) really, truly wasn’t Dean’s kid; Lisa was telling the truth about having a type and knowing which of the type was Ben’s father. He also didn’t know why writer Jeremy Carver chose to set Mystery Spot in Broward County. As he put it, it sounded okay, so he went with it, and all the writers have learned that he always wants the stories to be set in blue collar or otherwise less well-known, interesting-sounding places scattered around the country, not in the big cities that everyone knows.

When asked about Sam and Dean and their respective roles in the show, Kripke said that Dean is the hero (“Apologies to the Sam lovers out there, but Dean is the hero!”). As he put it, Sam is the classic Joseph Campbell hero character, but Dean is the one with no faith who keeps going anyway. He noted that Dean is ultimately practical – that he uses a rosary to bless holy water because he’s seen it work, and doesn’t think about it working because of the power of God or anything else intangible. He has no faith, he believes nothing, but he keeps hunting, keeps fighting – and that action in despite of everything makes him a hero in Kripke’s book. Responding to a question about why Dean’s eyes bled in Bloody Mary, he said that he wasn’t sure they’d actually ever have the time to get around to explaining it, but there was something that the writers know established in Dean’s backstory that caused his eyes to bleed. And concerning Dean’s amulet – he said that there is some additional mojo to it, that we might someday learn.

Crediting Robert Singer with a lot of the psychological depth of the characters, Kripke noted that the show really hit its stride and found itself when it became a show about the brothers and their relationship, definitely by the time they did the episodes Skin and Home. He revealed that he has a big brother, and has a good relationship with him, and knows very well what it’s like to be little brother Sam (but without the freaky powers). He emphasized the irony that the Winchesters, while trying to defend the right and the good, actually keep turning further and further against nature – that the right thing to do back in both Faith and In My Time of Dying would have been to let Dean die, and that Dean should have left Sam dead in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2. He said that they’re pathological about sacrificing themselves for each other, and that, as the Trickster noted, it’s their Achilles heel, their weakness. And as he put it, “We’ll be seeing this in the finale. In a show about brothers who would die for each other, sometimes, well – they do.”

Responding to my question about what we could expect as extras on the season three DVDs, Kripke said there would be a featurette on Ivan Hayden and the visual effects for the show, and that would be the main extra. He said there wouldn’t be any full episode commentaries, but that there would be “favorite scene” commentaries by a number of people, including writers and directors. And there will be a gag reel!

After Kripke’s talk, the con organizers set up the autograph tables for the day’s guests, and we all queued up. The best feature of the signings, beyond having a scattered few seconds to say how much I appreciated all the work they had done, was getting to see Kripke and Fred Lehne meeting in person for the very first time. It had never occurred to me that they wouldn’t have met during the casting process, so that was a surprise! They posed for a couple of quick handshake pictures after all the autographs were complete, so those of us who hung around got an unexpected treat.

Steve Carlson

Steve is another musician friend of Jensen’s, and came Saturday night with his full band for a lively southern rock concert that had people literally dancing in the aisles. If you haven’t heard his music, go visit iTunes or his Myspace page and take a bit of a listen – he’s well worth your time. And his band – man, the guy on the sax and the flute particularly impressed the socks off me! It made a great coda to the day.

Before the concert, a bunch of us congregated for dinner in the hotel sports bar, and we had a blast reliving the whole day.

Good memories all around, guys.

And that was just day one … I hope to post day two tomorrow. I'll be on the road to Atlanta, but hope to have some writing time.

Tags: cons, eric kripke, real life, robert singer, supernatural, television production, travelogue

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