In the last few years, Hollywood has learned to play alongside TV in the Comic-Con sandbox. This year, it will have to settle for second best.
Concerns about piracy and the value of debuting exclusive material at the annual fan-focused event means that, this year, several studios have turned their backs on the traditional slate panels.
Apart from Thursday’s DreamWorks Animation panel and two heavy-hitters from Warner Bros and Marvel Studios scheduled for Saturday (July 23), Hollywood has scaled back on the broader presentations.
There are individual events based around particular films. On Wednesday night, Paramount staged the public world premiere of Star Trek Beyond on an Imax screen at the outdoor Embarcadero Marina Park Amphitheater in San Diego, where JJ Abrams and the cast paid tribute to the late Anton Yelchin, who died in a freak accident last month. The film opens in North America on Friday (July 22).
On Thursday, Europacorp will trumpet Luc Besson’s sci-fi fantasy Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets in an hour-long session in the hallowed Hall H, while off-site later in the day Open Road has scheduled an invite-only screening of Oliver Stone’s Snowden and live link-up with Edward Snowden in what it insists is an outside event that has nothing to do with Comic-Con. Saturday sees Fox celebrate the 30th anniversary of Aliens.
Yet the knowledge that an exclusive trailer in Hall H will inevitably leak online has led studio executives to eschew San Diego as a launchpad for the latest snippet from an upcoming tentpole.
“I understand the film side of it stepping back and saying, ‘Why do we need to show a trailer in Hall H when we can just release a trailer online?’” says Joel Begleiter (pictured top left), a TV literary agent at UTA who represents publisher Dynamite Entertainment, comic-book writers like Ed Brubaker (Captain America, Daredevil, Scene Of The Crime) and Rick Remender (Uncanny Avengers, Fear Agent, Tokyo Ghost) and is closely involved on the animated adult spy comedy series Archer.
There is a feeling that studios can save themselves money and heartache by either releasing footage at Comic-Con simultaneously with a wider online release or simply staying away.
Similarly, as was seen with Snakes On A Plane, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and, in the case of North America, Warcraft, there is no consistent correlation between the release of advance materials at Comic-Con and a film’s eventual box-office success.
“It’s a crapshoot,” says one agent who asked to remain anonymous. “People ask, ‘Is this attention legit? Does it reflect money made at the box office or eyeballs on something?’
“Sooner or later, using the Suicide Squad trailer as an example, it’s going to get out there. If you’re going to release [a trailer] at Comic-Con, just release it everywhere else at the same time.”
The production cycle also counts. That is why Marvel Studios missed last year’s Comic-Con and excitement surrounds its return this year to talk up the likes of Doctor Strange, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 and who knows what else.
The prevalence of other conventions means that studios are being strategic about where and when they turn up. Last week’s Star Wars Celebration Europe event in London unveiled Alden Ehrenreich as the young Han Solo and explains the evident lack of anything from Lucasfilm at Comic-Con this year, in contrast to last year when virtually the entire cast of Star Wars: The Force Awakens attended a panel.
Getting business done
Yet away from Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment and the plethora of TV properties plastered over the edifices of downtown San Diego for Game Of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Mr. Robot and other TV staples, there is plenty of business to be done in mining talent and setting up projects – and it does not just begin and end at Comic-Con.
“The convention is an opportunity to focus Hollywood on comic book-related IP, but I’m packaging this stuff year-round,” says Lars Theriot, motion picture literary agent at ICM Partners who represents among others the celebrated, Scotland-based comic-book writer Grant Morrison.
“The projects we’re putting together for Grant didn’t come out of Comic-Con; they’re based on relationships we have been building on Grant’s behalf for years, in and out of the convention.”
Morrison’s credits include major superhero books like JLA (Justice League Of America) and Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knightbut he is also famous for The Invisibles and wrote 18 Days and Avatarex, graphic novels based on Indian mythology and published through Graphic India.
“Whether they’re a comic-book writer or a TV writer, the goal for almost everybody is to work in TV or streaming. It’s the place that’s most creatively free – that’s the gold standard these days,” says Begleiter.
With an eye on the global market, Theriot is actively looking for media partners with whom to package his Morrison properties and others for film or television.
“People are looking to create stories based on non-western mythology more and more to open up the market,” he says. “If you’re making books solely based on Western mythology, it’s going to be tough to crack China, for example.”
While Begleiter agrees that there are tantalising non-US properties swirling about in the ether that have crossed the pond or are about to – he cites a Fox 21 remake of Idris Elba-starrer Luther, A&E’s (now cancelled) The Returned based on French hit Les Revenants and Douglas Adams’ beloved Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency with Elijah Wood coming to BBC America in October – he notes that the focus at Comic-Con for now continues to be English-language properties.
Interestingly, he notes the relative paucity of adaptations from Asia. Part of the reason may be a different way of looking at ownership and the laws that govern ownership.
“It’s different in China but in South Korea and Japan the rights are not always at one company. It becomes onerous.”