Forget Cannes, Sundance and the rest: Comic-Con is where the real Hollywood big shots – and big money – can now be found.
This week, the L.A. entertainment industry will descend on San Diego for what’s become the world’s most influential pop culture event. But while not a single distribution deal will be done or acting award handed out during the July 9-12 extravaganza, the studios and networks attending this ultimate fan fest are chasing something potentially far more valuable: buzz.
“Our research shows that among the people who attend Comic-Con are a lot of core influencers,” said Thomas Gewecke, executive vice president of strategy and business development at Warner Bros. “You want to get that audience excited and delighted by a first presentation of your upcoming tent-pole releases.”
With 2,429 press passes issued and countless blogs, tweets and posts from the 130,000 obsessive nerds in attendance, Comic-Con has the power to make or break a new project in a way the more exclusive and industry-oriented Cannes and Sundance festivals can’t.
Hollywood players might go to a film festival to nail down a distribution agreement, but they go to Comic-Con to sell tickets.
“These true believers are the first people in line for a movie on opening night or in front of their TV sets when a show launches,” said Rob Salkowitz, author of the book “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.” “Hollywood knows this event is their essential and best chance to win over that hard-core fan base, whose opinions are respected and followed by the casual fans.”
Stars know it, too, and while the event used to attract just cult celebrities and genre favorites such as “The Evil Dead” actor Bruce Campbell or Buffy the Vampire Slayer Sarah Michelle Gellar, it’s become A-list all the way in recent years with visits from the likes of Angelina Jolie, Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise. This week will see appearances by the stars and filmmakers of eagerly awaited blockbusters such as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Batman v. Superman,” introducing never-before-seen footage.
Recent advances in technology have played a big part in making the conventiongoers more responsible than ever for dictating the hype on such big-money projects and the other new TV shows, movies, video games, toys and comic books presented to them.
“Our audience has always been engaged but they’re regarded as more influential than ever now as technology allows for their opinions and views to be immediately broadcast globally,” said David Glanzer, Comic-Con’s director of marketing.
Trying to capture the eyeballs and affection of that audience has pushed studios, TV stations, video-game publishers and others to stage more and more elaborate presentations at the event.
Comic-Con started in 1970 as a comic-book festival but quickly morphed into a kind of science-fiction extravaganza, then into all manner of pop culture. For Hollywood, Comic-Con has been a steady build since the early 2000s when comic-book movies, such as the “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” franchises emerged and took over the box office – and Comic-Con in the process.
Now the entire film, TV, game, toy, comic and computer game industries will be under one roof in San Diego for the coming days with L.A. companies leading the journey south to the center of the pop culture universe.
Los Angeles and Anaheim have both coveted the lucrative event but despite their best lobbying efforts it was announced on July 2 that Comic-Con organizers had reached a deal to keep the convention in San Diego through 2018.
“Months of planning go into these crucially important presentations at Comic-Con,” said Warner Bros.’ Gewecke.
That studio will be bringing all its latest superhero actors including Ben Affleck as Batman, Henry Cavill as Superman, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and Jason Momoa as Aquaman.
Santa Monica’s Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. has lined up Jennifer Lawrence and her co-stars to talk about and introduce footage from “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II,” the final installment of the studio’s already hugely successful franchise. Quentin Tarantino will be on hand to launch his upcoming revenge western, “The Hateful Eight.”
These and other big movies looking to make a major impact will be relishing a greater chance at the spotlight in San Diego as behemoth Marvel Studios is sitting out Comic-Con this year. The Walt Disney Co. subsidiary behind blockbusters such as the “Avengers” and “Iron Man” franchises is choosing to launch its latest offerings instead a month later at Disney’s own fan event, the D23 Expo in Anaheim.
But while Marvel has surrendered the Comic-Con stage, the biggest impact is expected to come from another Disney property in the form of the panel for the new “Star Wars” movie, which will take over the main stage of the San Diego Convention Center’s 6,500-capacity Hall H at 5:30 p.m. Friday.
Thousands of fans are expected to camp out overnight to secure seats near the front for the eagerly awaited look at the latest footage and appearances by the stars of “The Force Awakens,” a film widely expected to break box-office records when it is released in December.
It’s not just movies being flogged at the four-day fest – another distinction between Comic-Con and the major film festivals. TV networks, streaming video providers and video-game makers will also be on hand, hoping for the same kind of buzz sought by the big studios.
TV shows looking to find favor with the Comic-Con crowds will include Fox’s “Lucifer,” about the devil deciding to leave hell and move to Los Angeles to open a piano bar, while the Asylum, the Burbank company behind cult hit “Sharknado,” will be giving a big push to “Sharknado III: Oh Hell No!”
In the digital space, Culver City’s Crackle Inc. will bring in “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston to promote his new Crackle animated series, “Super Mansion,” and Santa Monica’s Hulu is bringing late-night talk-show host Seth Meyers, creator of its hit series “The Awesomes.”
El Segundo toy giant Mattel will be presenting new WWE action figures at Comic-Con as well as a video game based on its He-Man character, while Santa Monica video-game publisher Activision Blizzard Inc. will be aiming to give a big push to special collector’s editions of best-seller “Call of Duty: Black Ops III.”
While those and other big players have booths and events inside the Convention Center, projects that can’t get space inside expand into San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, launching products and projects at their own promotional parties.
But booking party venues in the hope of capturing the attention of geeks on their way out of the convention doesn’t come cheap: The going rate to hire even the most basic bar close to the Convention Center for a Comic-Con party is $50,000 for three hours.
That’s small change, however, compared with the money spent and the headlines generated by the bigger bashes.
Just as the Oscars has the Vanity Fair Party, the VIP bash at Comic-Con is the Entertainment Weekly party. West Hollywood firm Slate PR has put together a guest list of more than 100 stars to attend the Saturday night soiree on the rooftop of San Diego’s Hard Rock Hotel.
Another hot ticket is Friday’s “Entertainment Tonight” party, celebrating the launch of “Fear the Walking Dead,” an upcoming L.A.-set spin-off of from AMC’s smash-hit zombie series, “The Walking Dead.”
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