Comic-Con Movies: From Tentpole to Shoestring

Actor Rainn Wilson and Director James Gunn discussing their indie film 'Super' at WonderCon 2011

Notes from WonderCon 2011

Although the name “comic-con” is based on the event’s origins as a convention for comic book fans, the comic-con has morphed into a broad survey of popular culture. Fans flock to these conventions in San Diego, New York, San Francisco and elsewhere, not just to complete their comic book collections or strut around sporting the costume of their favorite superhero, but also to see clips and attend panel sessions on forthcoming movies and television shows. This year’s WonderCon in San Francisco included the debut of an extended nine-minute sequence from The Green Lantern and clips from Hanna, Priest, and many of the other big budget summer movies.

While crowds mob into the large auditoriums at the comic-cons (such as the famed Hall H at the San Diego event) to uncover new details about their favorite television series or see a trailer from a forthcoming film, elsewhere, in the smaller meeting rooms, are discussions of more modest productions — independent films from up-and-coming directors and works-in-progress from first-time filmmakers.

At this year’s WonderCon, the middle ground between the big summer blockbusters and the low-budget entry-level works was exemplified by James Gunn’s Super. In a panel session director Gunn and actor Rainn Wilson (Dwight Shrute from “The Office”) talked about their radical reinterpretation of the superhero ethos, which is at turns outrageously funny and shockingly disturbing.

Gunn asserted that today “all studios care about is the opening weekend. So all that matters is the trailer.” Wilson lamented the difference from “the old days, in which ET could build an audience over several weeks.” He also pointed out that every studio is trying to release a “four quadrant” film, that is, one that appeals alike to young and old, male and female.

Gunn, however, is targeting a smaller, niche audience. His film’s odd tone and disturbing violence made the movie ineligible for an ‘R’ rating, so Gunn released the picture without an MPAA rating.

Gunn and Wilson were promoting a screening of Super in town that evening, imploring the audience members to come out to see the film “and bring your friends.” Wilson mentioned that each week he reviews spreadsheets showing  the ticket sales from each theater. For a movie of this scale, whether or not you bring a few friends makes a difference.

'What's Next in Indie Sci-Fi' Panel at WonderCon 2011

In an even smaller meeting room, a panel session on “What’s Next in Indie Sci-Fi” included an assortment of “do it yourself” filmmakers working to complete their own independent projects. Clips of works-in-progress and trailers without final music or sound effects provided insights into the process of creating a feature film on a shoe-string budget. A number of these efforts are using fan-funding campaigns through sites such as Kickstarter in hopes of securing the resources to complete their work.

Some of these potential films look promising. Others less so. Here are the filmmakers and the works they discussed on that panel. Take a look and judge for yourself:

Henry Barrial, Pig: http://thepigpicture.com/

Kip Rasmussen, The 95ers: http://95ers.com/

DJ Bad Vegan, In-World War: http://www.inworldwar.com/

Vincent Cortez, Roamer: http://filmmaker-cortez.blogspot.com/2011/02/roamer-trailer-and-status-update.html

It’s encouraging that in addition to the mass-market, “tentpole” productions that are pulling out all the stops to garner a large turnout for that critical opening weekend, comic-cons also provide a platform for indie filmmakers like Gunn and lesser-known aspirants working to express their personal vision on the big screen.

The next time you attend a comic-con — whether San Francisco’s WonderCon, the huge San Diego Comic-Con, or the other similar regional conventions — take some time away from blockbuster panels in the huge auditoriums. You’ll see all of these films as soon as they’re released anyway. Rather than hang out in Hall H in the San Diego Convention Center all day, venture into the smaller meeting rooms on the fringes of the conference and seek out the small, independent productions to discover what gems may be hiding there.

 

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4 Responses to Comic-Con Movies: From Tentpole to Shoestring

  1. DJ Bad Vegan says:

    Thanks for the kind words about the panel Kendall. Glad you were there! Let me know if you’re going to Comic-Con and perhaps we can grab a drink or break bread.

  2. @DJ:

    Thanks for the comment. I enjoyed the panel session at WonderCon. I hope to catch you again and get an update on your work at an upcoming Con.

  3. Pete Lauder says:

    Great to see the final release, I first saw outakes from Kip Rasmussen’s awesome 95ers a couple of years ago. The trailer looks more Hollywood than Indie, well done.

  4. Alan Wade says:

    Comic-Con 2011 sounded great! It’s too bad there was no early footage of Whedon’s The Avengers. Of all the (almost countless) number of comic book movies on the horizon, that’s the one that really excites me.

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