This is the first time in my life that I won’t be halting my weekend productivity in order to follow all the news and announcements coming from Hall H at San Diego Comic Con. To inaugurate this new stage, I’ve decided to focus my productivity towards writing about the mother of all fan conventions, San Diego Comic Con.
When it comes to showcasing upcoming products, the bar that every presenter should aspire toward is the one set by Steve Jobs. It was no secret the man had a sixth sense for capturing the essence of his product and presenting it extraordinarily. I mean, there’s a movie, a book, and numerous other written works focused solely on that aspect of him. However, not many could take that knowledge and apply it to their own presentations with the same degree of success. With that in mind, I present a list of what should be done and what should be avoided at SDCC Hall H, a philosophy, if you will, of what Hall H is about and what steps should be taken in order to make it a consistently entertaining and exciting event for pop culture.
1.) Have the Presenters Do Something
There are three basic aspects in presenting: how something is being presented, what is being presented, and to whom that something is being presented. In regards to how something is presented, being able to effectively express passion and love for one’s work is enough to get the audience to get anticipated with an unreleased product. Plus a lively presentation immerses the audience deeper into the mass experience, like what any great live concert would do. There are a number of great examples of fun presentations at Hall H. On the Marvel Studios side, Tom Hiddleston coming out on stage in the full Loki outfit and giving a live reading of his speech from The Avengers (as part of his promotion for The Dark World) and also the full cast of Age of Ultron entering the stage to the tune of a Michael Jackson song are both good examples of fun, alluring presentations that also gave the audience expectations of their projects.
2.) Show Footage
It is important to note that fans are not entitled to anything related to how filmmakers approach a film based on an original property and how the studio chooses to market the film. In the context of presentation of products, however, I think it’s also important that they, well, present the product. Talking about a product without showing any visual proof of that product is a pretty unrewarding way to go about promoting, especially at San Diego Comic Con. Sure, that gets a bunch of journalists in a room rushing to tweet every single new detail said, but none of that news survives till Monday anyway. The simple solution would be to show footage, whether it be B-roll or actual footage from the movie. Guardians of the Galaxy showed unfinished footage from their first few days of filming and The Force Awakens literally had people crying over a behind-the-scenes featurette. Hall H has that giant screen for a reason.
3.) Highlight the Q&A Section
Presenters usually overlook the fact that fan attendees can be utilized to other means besides just screams and claps. They can do so much more then show footage, talk about it, and leave afterwards, and all they have to do is make sure there are a few minutes for a fan Q&A to happen. It’s a nice break from the basic “How are you and what do you like about this movie?” question the moderator asks the cast, and it allows the fans to have a direct line to the cast and crew. Sure, there are a couple not-so-intelligent questions asked in every panel. But, some pretty amazing things happen when the cast and crew get questions they weren’t expecting at all. The panel I like the most for this reason is the Game of Thrones Comic Con Panel. The cast usually does this right after the previous season has ended, so they don’t have any footage of the next season nor have they read the script for the next season. About three-fourths of their panel is just interaction with the audience and it works gangbusters because it provides a satisfying, interactive experience for the fans.
1.) Have the Cast Just Show Up
One of the Hall H’s biggest announcements was when Warner Bros. announced their follow up to Man of Steel would be a Batman/Superman movie. They had Harry Lennix read an excerpt from Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” before showing the Superman logo encompassed by the Batman logo. It was a great moment for fans, followed the next year by a presentation that was pretty awkward in retrospect. In that following presentation, Zack Snyder took to the stage once again and presented a short teaser before bringing out Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill… to stand on stage. They didn’t say a word, they just smiled and waved. Snyder then brought out Gal Gadot, who also just stood on the stage. It would’ve been a forgivable moment for Warner Bros., but they did it a second time last year when David Ayer brought out the entire main cast of Suicide Squad to also just stand and smile on stage. Well, at least Will Smith got to say something, and they all shouted the film’s title before exiting, but the awkwardness still comes through. Why would you fly these famous actors to San Diego if they were just going to stand on stage for a couple minutes, right?
2.) Present Your Film Slate
These last two are not popular opinions to have about how studios operate on announcements and advertising, but I stand by them nonetheless. I still stand by the fact that I think Marvel Studios’ biggest mistake so far (aside from Ant-Man) was to reveal their entire list of upcoming films for the next half decade. I know this was done at an event outside of Hall H, but they did do this with their less problematic Phase 2 slate and I see this as a problem for tentpole franchises going forward. My first issue with it is that it was pointless to announce films with no writer, director or star attached, and with some release dates being shuffled around and one film actually being dropped from the schedule, I was right to think so. Secondly, it proved to be a disservice to their films already in development, because fans like to think they know how stories build up to other stories, so when the films don’t line up with their expectations, they decide it’s not good. Like, some people actually thought Age of Ultron would explicitly set-up Civil War, and I just think that’s a very detrimental way to look at a film and overarching stories. In an interview with Vulture, Joss Whedon even jokingly said “What about my movie? I haven’t even been born and you already like my younger siblings better?” His joke makes a point though, and that’s the first time I felt so strongly against the franchise formula.
3.) Release the Exact Same Footage Online Shown at Hall H
Back to Hall H Comic Con as an immersive fan event, I feel that the exclusivity of footage shown helps contribute to that. The attendees paid for their entrance and waited hours just to attend a couple panels with the actors from movies and television shows they’re excited about. I think they at least deserve the privilege of watching footage that regular audiences won’t see for a few more months. I’d support studios releasing online an alternate cut of what was shown at Hall H, or if they didn’t release anything online at all, because that allows them to market the film on their own terms (not being dictated by the schedule of conventions) and it allows the fans to have a moment of pure wonder, being connected with everyone else in the auditorium, both fans and the people behind the film, while watching footage for the first time.
Steve Jobs once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” In the business of film franchises, it’s not just a team, but a whole collective of fans. And it’s Hall H’s annual job to keep them happy.
Featured Image: San Diego Comic Con