Comic-Con and Wonder Women!
About two years after the Sara Bareilles debacle, something that had been on my bucket list finally got checked off. Comic-Con. Always wanted to work it. Don’t know why, but I did. It looked like an absolutely stupid collection of video and animation nerds together in one space, and that is exactly what Comic-Con is.
And I would nothave lobbied to work on it, had it not been through one of my favorite clients, Jill Byron of CBS and CBS Interactive.
One of CBS properties was an on-line site called TV.com. It served as a place to curate interest in the prime time shows on the network. To further generate interest in the property, Jill put together an awards show called, oddly, “The TV.com Now Awards.”
And the venue? PetCo Park.
The schedule? During the biggest self-inflicted freak show on the planet.
With the possible exception of San Francisco, Comic-Con is the largest collection of reality escaping, self-indulging narcissists converging on one geographical area. And, in the pursuit of full disclosure, I was not lying. Attending this homage to arrested adolescence has been on my bucket list for years.
I have no interest in dressing up as Wonder Woman and putting myself through the serial embarrassment of faking a good time. What I do have is a curiosity as to why people would want to dress up as Wonder Woman and put themselves through the serial embarrassment of faking a good time.
I also have no interest in buying a pass to attend. It’s expensive and that doesn’t take any of hotel, meal, and transportation costs into account. CBS Interactive hiring me opened the door to attending and having someone else pick up the check. That’s not to appear smug or cavalier about the task entrusted to me. I expected to take in Comic-Con in my down time, of which I knew there would be little.
I opted to drive to San Diego. As with most of my jobs in southern California, I had to schelp so many things that boarding a flight with all I needed to nursemaid a batch of middle-aged pre-adolescents through a job presented a task of curbside luggage hassles I could no longer accept. Also, I’d need a rental car when I arrived anyway.
The day before my scheduled departure, I picked up the compressed show files at Elastic Creative, the post/animation company that provided all the videos. Even in this modern era I had to act like Laurence Olivier in Marathon Manto get a straight answer out of the show control people as to how they wanted to receive the media. They just don’t want to commit to anything. Drilling into their teeth, while an option, was time-consuming and didn’t always yield good results.
This is a pet peeve, to use a cliché, of mine. I harbor no thoughts of genocide except for one particular tribe. Event producers, and specifically the hermitic and unhygienic dweebs that populate every satellite truck, back of the house, and control booth of every venue into which I had the displeasure of having to enter.
The TV.com Now Awards proved to be no exception. I did get to hire my own on-site show producer, an incredibly gifted woman named Karen DeTemple. But even she couldn’t prevent the obligatory black site conversation I had to have with the person in charge of the control room for the awards show.
Me: “How would you like me to deliver the media?”
Social Pariah: “Digital files will be fine.”
Me: “That narrows it down to about 3,000 options. Would you like to tell me exactly which type of file? Can you give me a spec sheet?”
Social Pariah: “HD.”
Me: “We’re down to 2,000 types. Fair warning. If you don’t specify which type of file, compression, output, size, audio, and all the other necessary elements, I’m going to send you what I think is most appropriate.”
Social Pariah: “What if it doesn’t work?”
Me: “Then I will hunt you down, like the passive-aggressive loser that you are and beat you with an old 1” tape machine.”
Social Pariah: “Let me get you our spec sheet.”
Every job is like this with event people. I don’t get it. I am more knowledgeable about matters that involve show masters and delivery of appropriate digital files than most. But like everything else in the production industry, there is some sadistic pleasure taken by those who just want to see a producer look foolish, which I refused to do after the first few years of my career. If I didn’t take the time and trouble to actually request specifications on deliverables, this wouldn’t gall me as much as it does. But I was vigilant about pursuing that information. My colleagues, however, did not show as much enthusiasm as providing it. To this day, I cannot tell you why.
An ugly confrontation took place years before The TV.com Now Awards. Let me have some laughs at the expense of the company that tried to embarrass me.
In the fall of 2000 I flew out to Washington, DC for a medical device convention. Prior to traveling, which I only did because the representatives for the production company wanted to make sure a scapegoat would be on site, I had a meeting with the head of the company which supplied all the hardware to run the show, including video.
Me: “I have three videos that play at this event. How do you want to receive them?”
Passive-Aggressive Loser: “Standard format.”
Me: “Let me be clear. I will send you HDCam with a three second title card at 30 seconds. 17 seconds of black, and then a 10 second countdown. So speak now if you want something different. In other words, is that what you consider standard format?”
Passive-Aggressive Loser: “No.”
This devolved into a lot of bad language. The Passive-Aggressive Loser told me to “chill out,” a term reserved for doofuses who have nowhere to go. We put each other in a headlock and the president of the production company broke the stalemate by assuring me that a spec sheet would be coming my way.
Which I never received.
The incompetent creative director of the production company informed me that I had to go to DC and to hand carry a back-up of the media.
Me: “Sure. What format would you like the media?
Unskilled Drain on the Overhead: “Morty can tell you that.”
Me: “Did you miss the headlock I had him in during the pre-pro meeting? You saw that Morty wouldn’t have given Brezhnev any intel if they ripped his testicles out and showed them to him.”
Unskilled Drain on the Overhead fled the scene.
I arrived in DC with a back-up copy of the media, done to my specifications. Checked into my hotel and headed over to the convention center, where the usual pre-show hysteria had commenced. And as soon as The Producer (Me) came on the scene, the wailing pre-adolescents descended on me.
Petulant 12-Year-Old: “We need a different version of the media. Morty said to see you as soon as you arrived.”
Me: “Gee and I thought Morty would greet me himself and exchange headlocks.”
Petulant 12-Year-Old: “Huh? So can you remake the show masters?”
Me: “Of course! I carried an entire editorial system on the plane with me. Not only that, I brought every tape deck known to man to cover every possibility.”
Petulant 12-Year-Old: “That’s great. We’ll need the new tapes ASAP!”
Me: “Do you have the specs?”
Petulant 12-Year-Old: “Sure.”
The Petulant 12-Year-Old handed me a piece of paper with a very complete set of instructions for delivering media to the hardware vendor.
Me: “Does Morty know about this?”
Petulant 12-Year-Old: “Why wouldn’t he?”
Me: “No reason. Give me a second.”
I read the spec sheet. The only difference between what I provided and what they specified? As opposed to 17 seconds of black before they countdown, they wanted two.
Me: “Your tape ops can just bookmark the two seconds prior to the countdown. This can easily be done by show control.”
Petulant 12-Year-Old: “Sure, but that means they have to do that every time they come back from break to restart the show.”
Me: “Oh, horrors! That means they have to build an entire cue! Why that should take them three whole minutes. That will cut down on their grousing time, won’t it?”
The Petulant 12-Year-Old looked at me with the same sort of admiration and respect given to a pedophile or drug dealer that hangs around grade schools.
Petulant 12-Year-Old: “I take it you didn’t bring an edit system in your carry-on luggage.”
Me: “No, and if Morty has an issue with me not wanting to spend thousands of dollars redoing videotape just because he doesn’t want to hear a handful of social misfits complaining about having to do some actual work, he can come talk to me about it. Capisce?”
And that was that.
Back to Comic-Con, 2010 and the start of my drive to San Diego.
Elastic Creative, again the facility where the videos were executed, performed all the necessary compressions and delivered them to me, as requested, on a hard-drive and a back-up hard-drive. Additionally, they stored them on DropBox in case that would be an easier get for the truly unambitous excuse-making mooks that populate back of the house.
Just as I settled into the comfy leather of my SUV, the cellphone rang.
Scratchy Voiced Misfit: “George Young?”
Scratchy Voiced Misfit: “This is Dak from Lousy Show Productions.”
Me: “Dak? Were your parents trying to save room on the birth certificate?”
Scratchy Voiced Misfit: “That’s my nickname.”
Me: “Oh, what’s your real name?”
Scratchy Voiced Misfit: “Bo.”
As it turns out the compressed files, which cost me thousands in hard drive purchases, compressions, and production time, were no longer the preferred format. Oh no, the vendor in charge of running show control switched to a different command truck that used some format of mini-HDCam.
In other words, during the phone call with Dak, my SUV and I went back in time two years.
I had to drive away from the Bay Area in less than 16 hours. That would not be a problem, if I
didn’t need, at close of business, to find a relatively obscure tape deck, even more obscure blank tapes, and arrange for Elastic Creative to make show masters for me overnight.
Me: “So, Dak, level with me. Why the change in the truck?”
Scratchy Voiced Misfit: “Much cheaper.”
My head exploded. After I cleaned up the mess, and sent the iPhone footage off to David Cronenberg, I thanked Dak and walked back inside Elastic. After explaining the conundrum to Drew Fiero, the World’s Calmest Father of Three, I found a private room and shut the door. I phoned the Social Pariah in charge of the satellite truck.
Social Pariah #2: “George, how nice to hear from you. I guess—”
Me: “Shut up, you douchebag. You went and switched delivery formats on me less than 24 hours before rehearsal! Are you insane?”
Social Pariah #2: “Calm down, all you have to do is—”
Me: “Like I said. Shut up, you douchebag. Don’t tell me what I have to do. You switched delivery formats because you think producers are the equivalent of inviting David Copperfield to your tenth birthday party. I’d hang you out to dry on this if I didn’t like Jill Byron so much.”
Social Pariah #2: “Hey, chill—”
Me: “Don’t tell me to ‘chill out, dude.’ Just shut up and thank me for dragging a couple dozen mini-HD tapes down to San Diego because you wanted to save $1.98 on the satellite truck.”
Social Pariah #2: “I—”
Me: “And I’m charging your company for the tapes, the tape deck, which I understand has to be trucked to San Francisco from San Jose because there are only five in the state of California, and for my time. I hope you saved the gross national product of France by switching trucks.”
I arrived in San Diego at the end of July, 2010. Ten minutes after exiting my SUV, parked along the main drag that surrounded PetCo Park, I spotted four Wonder Women. And two of them might have been actual women!
Regarding Wonder Woman.
1. Unless you’re Linda Carter in the 70’s, or have a body like Linda Carter’s in the 70’s, do not wear a Wonder Woman costume.
2. Unless you’re Gil Gadot in 2016, or have a body like Gil Gadot’s in 2016, do not wear a Wonder Woman costume.
3. If you’re a man, and I don’t care if you identify as a woman, or are in the process of becoming a woman, do not wear a Wonder Woman costume.
4. In general, there are nine women in the entire world who should wear a Wonder Woman costume and none of them attend Comic-Con.
There are, however, plenty of svelte, spandex-wearing young women who attend Comic-Con. They squeeze themselves into costumes that probably that last worked in 50’s sci-fi films. And based on the amount of gravity-defying cleavage on display, there were more polymers at the event than just those of the costumes.
But more so than the appearance of artificial flesh, I am fascinated by the herds of cattle that attend the event and stampede into the place to get a glimpse of actors who will be on the national radar for the shelf-life of chocolate in an Easter basket. There also is a deluge of movies and videogames to investigate.
1. Batman 27: The Latest Ofay Actor in Black
2. Black Humanoid: POC Tossed Another Bone
4. Surgery, the Bloodletting
5. Military Assault on a Middle East Looking Country Never Named for P.C. Reasons
6. Dragons, Dragons, Dragons and more Dragons
Of course any of these titles could be swapped out as movie, TV series, or videogame. If there is any clarity as to why Comic-Con exists, it’s lost on me as an objective observer from afar. Perhaps being on-site will change my mind.
To the job.
I had to produce all the video for the gig, the bulk of which broke down into the individual nominees and ultimate winner of each category, of which there were about 20. To separate The TV.com Now Awards from the Oscars or the Emmys, Jill and her creative team came up with some interesting and unique contests. Here are some of them.
- Actor you are happiest to see back on Television
- Best performance as a Vampire
- Best reboot of an old show
- Best Actor returning to the small screen
- Best performance by a Non-Human
*Yes, there is yet another Superman
Some of the categories made sense because there had been an explosion of TV shows and movies with Vampires. And that had not reached saturation with the average viewer. Best reboot of an old show proved easy too, since several Baby Boomer specialties had returned to both CBS and other channels, including cable and the initial streaming services.
But some were difficult. We had problems narrowing down which actor we were happy to see back on television, since there were over a hundred suggestions on the cbs.com website when the general population got a chance to be polled. Also, Best performance by a Non-Human? I suggested Bill Maher about 400 times. When one of the station executives finally asked me explain myself I replied that he must be quite an actor if he’s able to convince HBO to allow him to go on the air on two separate occasions with two different unwatchable shows based upon the same disingenuous drivel.
CBS refused my request to nominate Maher.
A huge upside to the job, other than Jill Byron’s involvement, had to be Rob Diehl, the creative director of the event production company, MKTG. I had found my own personal unicorn. I did not believe in the existence of a creative director who had actual creative skills, and yet I finally met one in Rob Diehl. Not only did he have training in the arts, but a wealth of experience as well.
Rob could draw. He understood art direction and set construction. He had worked his way up from a theatre background and could tell you the difference between a piece of Louis XIV furniture and its nearly identical version from the Renaissance period. That may seem insignificant, or petty, or at the atomic level, but after decades of dealing with the agency owner’s room temperature IQ brother-in-law as an art director and the usual cult of 26-year-old copywriters who hadn’t read anything more complicated than a comic book, his experience and skill level provided welcome relief.
When he gave feedback, it made sense. When he felt something worked, he stopped trying to improve it. When a video component felt incomplete he explained why. I don’t think I had more respect for anyone on the creative side since I finished my last video game for George Lucas.
Working with Rob Diehl made every previous memory of the collection of hungover and incompetent creative department hangers-on fade into obscurity, at least temporarily.
Every comic book aficionado, basement dwelling hacker, and weather girl wannabe clogged San Diego’s downtown and waterfront during the four day Comic-Con. Jill dispatched her underlings to distribute flyers on ‘The TV.com Now Awards.’ The CBS websites blasted rich media with hourly updates and the B-List celebs who would be in attendance. A couple of musical acts that I won’t mention because I can’t remember who they were, also graced email blasts and hastily created Facebook pages.
We had an actual Red Carpet walk. Limousines pulled up and discharged the likes of Rob Lowe, Pauley Perrette, and Cheryl Burke. They smiled; talked to the press; and waved at the, ahem, “crowd.” I hustled back and forth between the dugouts, where we had established green rooms for category winners like Daniel Day-Kim and LL Cool J.
And it was all for naught.
Because if someone goes to Comic-Con it is to do a small number of things. The hormone-clanging males go to check out all the firm, young flesh (Or flesh, period. Not that much was firm.) squeezed into the previously mentioned 50’s Sci-Fi costumes. The females go to either shoehorn themselves into spandex, or play video games with the man of their dreams.
And both go to get into freebie screenings of the latest summer movies and videogames.
That’s it. They don’t go to stand in right field at PetCo Park and watch a bunch of actors accept a plexi statue for acting in a show that nobody who attends Comic-Con cares about.
As I watched the footage at the local post facility, located in the lovely porn district of San Diego, I wondered what CBS Interactive would do next year for “The TV.com Now Awards.”
I had a hunch it would not involve Comic-Con.