Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Some of you may know that fandom, and fan cultures, are major interests of mine. I'm interested in fan cultures academically, because I'm fascinated by the immersive experiences that fans can create around a book, movie, TV show, or video game, and the community that also participates in this experience, and extends it. People take ownership of creative works that already have "owners," because creativity cannot be owned. They feel empowered to rewrite and recast characters and situations to fit their own visions, whether it's finding a way to get Harry and Hermione together as a couple, or exploring the adventures of Rose Tyler and John Smith in their alternate universe. People also forge communities through their fandom, subverting the often socially isolating experiences of TV watching, book reading, and video game playing. They connect online, of course, constantly, finding common ground with other people all over the world who also think there's totally a ton of sexual tension between Sherlock and John, but they also connect in person, through conventions, and the experience is really, really, really fun.

I say that last part because, of course, although I'm very interested in fan culture academically, I'm also interested in it personally. I read and write fanfiction. I have a favorite wizard rock band (It's Swish and Flick, for those of you playing the home game). I collect fan art. I make fan art. I attend fan conventions. And, yes, I cosplay at those conventions. Here I am cosplaying as my favorite superhero, Krrish, at the Indy Pop Con last weekend:

Matt went in regular clothes, but with Sharpie tally marks up and down his arms as one who fights the Silence, and the children cosplayed as their OCs, The Awesomes.

There are a ton of things to do at a fan convention. Some people like to meet celebrities and get photos and autographs. Some people like to buy rare collectibles. Some people like to photograph the other cosplayers. Some people like to meet up with their friends who they usually only interact with online. The kids like to shop for vintage toys and, for Will, dragons and sharp pointy things. Syd likes anything My Little Pony. Matt likes to watch live gaming (at this con, we sat in on a Halo championship that was being livestreamed on Twitch--very cool). I like to browse the fan art for sale in the exhibit hall, all of which is created by super-talented indie crafters and artists, check out brand-new indie comic books and video games, and attend the workshops and panels.

I really like celebrity panels, because I'm always interested in the process of creation, and I always like to hear about a writer or actor's experiences. At this con, for instance, I insisted that we all get up bright and early so that we could be sitting in our seats in the third row of the main hall in time for the first panel of the day, a Q&A with Sam Jones, star of Flash Gordon:

Although Jones is now back in filmmaking, he has apparently spent much of his time since Flash Gordon running a security and extraction services business aimed at high-profile businesspeople traveling to Mexico.

Jones spoke a lot about his experiences making Flash Gordon, of course, but also about his cameos on Ted and Ted 2, and since these are his only film credits, and there's so much time separating them, I was curious about his thoughts on the evolution of filmmaking during that time. I mean, just animating that talking teddy bear in Ted uses technology way beyond all the tech involved in making all the effects in the special effects-heavy, sci-fi Flash Gordon.

As I'm standing with the microphone, however, asking this question, I go off on a little tangent (of course) about how much I'd loved Flash Gordon as a kid, and how one scene in particular--the one in which they're sticking their arms into the woodbeast's lair, when at any moment it could bite their hand off--had scared the stuffing out of me, even though it had required no special effects at all, and I said that I'd watched Flash Gordon "a lot."

"How many times?" Jones asked me.

Well, when Flash Gordon is asking you how many times you've seen his movie, you've got to tell the truth, so I replied with the approximate number, and this number was so large that even the other fanboys/fangirls in the audience with me audibly gasped.

And in case you're curious, the acting in that woodbeast scene was so good, Jones says, because it was an open set, and the lair was actually elaborately constructed as an actual lair, and the actors were actually concerned that little animals could actually have sneaked inside it at some point and could actually be waiting to bite them when they stuck their arms in.

John de Lancie, at his Q&A, had a lot more ground to cover, because he has been in TONS of stuff:

It was interesting, however, to see the way that he thinks of his career. Whereas Edward James Olmos, who I'll tell you about in a minute, had some very powerful things to say about why he chooses only projects that are personally meaningful to him, and how he treats his acting as art, de Lancie portrayed himself as much more of a career actor who chooses his roles based on time and money. For instance, he says that by the time My Little Pony became a hit and people began to contact him about his role as Dischord in the series, he had completely forgotten about having done it. He'd accepted the part, prepared for the role, voiced all his scenes over three days in the audio booth, and then gone about his business, leaving it all behind him.

He therefore had more interesting things to say about the technical aspect of acting, how to fabricate a side story to save a poorly-written scene, how to work with other actors, how to prepare your voice for the recording studio (never eat chocolate when you're going to be doing voice work!).

So he was interesting. And Sam Jones was interesting. But Edward James Olmos?

He was freaking AWESOME!

I'm mostly familiar with his work in Battlestar Galactica and Dexter (I know he's also on Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, but I'm not up to date with that series yet, so don't spoil me!), so I already knew that he was a great actor, but the stories that he told about his work, and the way that he cogently explained how  he decided to take the projects that he did, were incredible. He was really sharing what it was like to be a gifted artist and how to make meaningful contributions to society using his gift.

For instance, his role on Miami Vice? He was offered that part while he was still a relatively new actor, and one would think that he would still be interested in taking roles for the money, right? Lots of actors do that their entire careers, and do just fine. But Olmos described getting the call, with an offer that was more money than his father had earned in his entire life.

And he turned it down.

Of course he did take the part, after several more negotiations, and for reasons that went beyond the money. And then he told us a bunch of stories about how miserable it was to work with Don Johnson, who was an utter prima donna, and how their contentious relationship off-camera affected their scenes together, evidence of which you can see in the scenes.

It was really cool.

He offered the same kinds of fascinating insights about all his roles, bringing depth and context to the way that I'll watch Battlestar Galactica and Dexter and Agents of SHIELD from now on. And he's gotten me thinking about how American films portray Hispanic culture.

The other major guests at the con included these super-famous Youtube gamers, Markiplier and Jack Septiceye. Matt and I aren't way into them, but there is a huge fan culture that is WAY into them. Seriously, the line to meet them was hours long--no, it was days long, because when we were all sitting in the main hall waiting for the Edward James Olmos panel to begin at 1:00, they made an announcement that the people who were waiting in line to get in line to meet them were not going to be able to meet them that day, as the line was already full up to the end of the day, and they were given tickets to come back the next day to get in the line.

Here's a little video from the meet-and-greet. What you see here is probably .01% of the fans who came to see them:

When this was filmed, I was waaaaay across the exhibit hall, checking out fan art smack at the other end, and I could still hear the singing.

I bought a couple of great art prints--a My Little Pony castle scene for the kids' bedroom, and a Hermione Granger, surrounded by books, for myself (from this guy)--and saw a ton more great examples of the genre, but a bunch of these types of artists aren't really online. Copyright, you know. Or this isn't their full-time gig. Or they do enough business in person that it's simply not necessary. So now I'm kicking myself for also not buying anything from the artist who creates her own My Little Pony designs based on mythical creatures, or the artist who makes Rorschach prints that look like superheroes, OR the artist who makes furry critters who will sit on your shoulder and can actually move their heads, because who knows when I'll see them again?


Here are some of the awesome artists who ARE online, however:

So that was the con! We saw some cool stuff, we learned some interesting things, and we had a great day together as a family.

And the kids didn't even think it was weird to spend the entire day at a fan convention, so I win!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Julie - GREAT write-up of the convention! I was lucky enough to be the moderator for Sam's, John's, and Edward's panels, and you absolutely nailed it with what you said about them, their personalities, their processes, etc. After we left the stage, Sam mentioned your woodbeast question - he said that he had forgotten how nerve-wracking shooting that scene truly was until he talked about it again in answering you! So great job there. Hope to see you at next year's PopCon! :)