Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

This was my fifth year going to Atlanta’s annual geek convention, and based on the comments seen online during the course of the convention, it seems as though many people are at a crossroads when it comes to D*Con. This year, I was as well, but for different reasons that didn’t really have anything to do with the con itself. I’m currently in my first romantic relationship, and my girlfriend, Meredith, attended with me; it was her first time going, so needless to say, I was kind of worried going in about whether she would have a good time.

That wasn’t the only change this year in my Con routine, though. For the first time, my mother and I got hotel rooms downtown for myself, her, and Meredith. (Actually, we were in midtown, but it beat commuting from Marietta every day.) Also, I decided to utilize MARTA, Atlanta’s mass transit system, to get from the hotel to Con, rather than driving down and paying ridiculous parking lot prices every day. The first change worked like a charm, in my opinion; the second one was more of a mixed bag, but both worked out reasonably well for myself, even if MARTA added yet more walking to an already heavy-walking weekend.

So, let’s get to it. As I have the past two years, I went to go pick up my membership badge on Thursday, this time with mom (who drove down separately, as well as checked into the hotel) and Meredith, who drove down with me after an appointment I had at Georgia Lung Associates. The line for pre-registration was ridiculous as always, but moved pretty quickly. Meredith and I had to work at our respective jobs that night, so while my mom stayed downtown, the two of us wouldn’t be starting our weekend until Friday.

Friday, August 30

As you know, I always try and make a point of getting a running start at Con on Friday. However, that was adjusted a bit this year, as both Meredith and I were exhausted from our work schedules the week leading up to Dragon*Con. We started our drive down around 9:45am that morning, dropped our stuff off at the rooms, and Meredith laid down for a day of R&R while I got my Con started. The great thing about the MARTA idea was that the nearest station to our hotel was ½ mile away, as well as the fact that the station I got off at was right in the middle of the Dragon*Con area, including right across the street from the new home for the dealer rooms.

I got down to D*Con around 11-11:15am, and I headed to the Hyatt to try and get into an 11:30am panel with members of the “Futurama” cast, but unfortunately (and not surprisingly), it was full. After that, I made my way over to the Marriott, and tried my luck to get in to a panel for “Torchwood’s” John Barrowman, which my mom attended, but that was full as well. Rather than try and make another panel, I decided to stay at the Marriott, people watch, get some pics, and try to charge my phone while waiting for the Walk of Fame to open up at 1pm. (The Walk, by the way, was moved over to the Marriott this year in one of the rooms that used to have the vendors in there.)

After the Walk opened, it was off to get started with autographs. Unfortunately, one autograph I was unable to get this weekend, which I was really wanting to get, was Amy Acker from “Angel,” “Dollhouse,” and Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” who had to cancel at the last minute on account of falling ill. That said, there were plenty of other people for me to meet, and the first two were Doug Jones, the pantomime master behind makeup who played one of the Gentlemen in the “Buffy” episode, “Hush,” as well as several memorable characters for Guillermo Del Toro, and Ernie Hudson, who’s best known as Winston from the “Ghostbusters” films, but whom is a favorite character actor for me thanks to his performance in “The Crow,” which is where my interest lied. After meeting them, and walking around a little bit, I met up with my mother just outside the Walk. We contemplated trying to get to the RiffTrax panel with Bill Corbett at 2:30pm, but time was just a little too tight to do so, and after my previous attempt to get to the “Futurama” panel earlier, I decided to take it easy for a bit, recharge my phone some, and see what I might do from 4pm on that day, but not before going back into the Walk to talk to, and get autographs from, Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange”) and Burn Gorman, who is best known for “Torchwood,” but whom I wanted to talk to about his performance in “Pacific Rim” this summer.

My second pass through the Walk done, I decided to go to the Peachtree Center food court before going to my first panel of the Con: “Meet the Stars of ‘Clone Wars.'” Originally, I was going to pass on this panel, mainly because I was holding out for a “Star Wars” panel with Billy Dee Williams, but nothing else was going on at 4pm that really struck my fancy, and I have gotten into the “Clone Wars” series of late. It was a decision I look back on fondly. The crowd was pretty small, especially for a “Star Wars” panel, but the guests– prequel era Boba Fett Daniel Logan, and Skywalker Sound sound designer, and voice of General Grevious, Matthew Wood –were well worth it. Matthew Wood, in particular, was really enjoyable to listen to, as a longtime Lucasfilm and Skywalker Ranch mainstay, but Logan was definitely a trip to listen to as well. As was the case a couple of years ago, when Ashley Eckstein (Ahsoka on the “Clone Wars” show) made me curious to give the “Clone Wars” series another try, I was enthused by what I heard, as I continue to plow through the “Clone Wars,” and look forward to “Rebels,” the upcoming animated series in the “Star Wars” universe.

Luckily, what I took in next happened to take place on the same floor of the Hyatt as the “Clone Wars” panel, and it’s something I started getting into a couple of years ago, when I finally started to get into the Dragon*Con Film Festival. On Friday, I returned to the Festival with a block of shorts in the “Sci-Fi Action & Comedy” genre. I ended up in standing room in the back, but it was well worth it for some of the images, and comedic hilarity. My favorite ones were “Karl of the Future,” about a hapless janitor on a star ship, and “Voyage Trekkers,” where a ship not unlike the Enterprise finds itself having an inspection with one of the higher ups, and not having a good one, but all of the shorts– from the action heavy “The Storm,” “Posthuman,” and “Red Sand” to “Brand Expanders: Vaderade,” where ad executives are trying to deal with Darth Vader –kept me entertained in one form or another.

As the Festival block wrapped up, I left to head over to the Hilton, my only trip over there this year, for my last event of the day: “Ernie Hudson: Cleaning Up the Town.” It was a great, entertaining way to close out my first day at Con this weekend, from the moderator-asked question regarding the status of the long-discussed “Ghostbusters 3” to Hudson’s candid discussion of how money plays a role in his business of acting to more personal discussions about his life, his family, and his time in Hollywood. Some of my favorite answers he gave were in regards to “The Crow,” even if it was tinged with sadness because of the death of Brandon Lee, and “Congo,” in which he took on a British accent and, in the questioner’s words, “out Tim Curry-ed Tim Curry.” After that panel, I made my way to a booth a friend of mine from Regal was working at to say hi and get my picture taken, and then I headed to MARTA, and back to the hotel. When I got back, Meredith and I got some dinner at a local bar (which left much to be desired from a customer standpoint), then hung out a bit before retiring for the night in our respective rooms.

Saturday, August 31

Ever the early riser, I was ready pretty early to get things going, although I should have been more ready when Meredith got up, and we prepared for the day ahead. And by “more ready,” I mean, I should have had breakfast from the Chick-fil-a nearby ready for us, ’cause we needed it. Instead, we met up and headed straight to a crowded MARTA. How crowded? Well, apart from Dragon*Con crowds, we had football crowds and gay pride crowds and other crowds to contend with as well. And because of the timing, which was right around the re-routed parade’s start, we had more walking to do when we got off of MARTA by being re-routed ourselves to a different exit from the station. However, it did put us in a good place to check out the vendors in their new location at Americas Mart.

Now, in all of the chatter I’ve seen online, both during and after D*Con, the change of venue for the vendors has been the biggest beef with people on both sides of those tables, and I get it, because honestly, the layout (especially on the second floor) was pretty convoluted. However, while I went during a few of the lower-traffic times Saturday-Monday, I will argue that there’s still a lot more walking room than there was in the Marriott, and most importantly, the fact that there were multiple entrances and exits to the rooms, rather than one place where either prospect was frustrating, was a huge plus for me, although it also meant not necessarily being by the main “Con-friendly” entrance when you left the rooms, as Meredith and I learned the hard way Monday. Overall, though, I found the change in the vendor area to be an improvement, although unfortunately, my mother didn’t make it over this weekend.

After walking around the vendors, Meredith and I headed over to the Walk of Fame, where we took a pass around to start out with before I stopped to get a couple more autographs. (Mere got one for herself, from Silas Weir Mitchell from “Grimm,” and a friend of hers.) The first was Ed Asner, who I found to be very nice, and not only signed my poster for “Up,” which is my favorite Pixar film, but also posed for a picture with me. Next up was on the other side of the Walk, and Maurice LaMarche, who has been one of my favorite voice actors on “Futurama” over the years, as the voices of Kif, Calculon, and others. And while at his table, I also met Rob Paulson, another voice actor who was on “Pinky and the Brain” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and got his autograph for Ron, who was under the weather, and was originally looking like he might miss Dragon*Con entirely this year. (More on that Sunday.) I also made my way over to see Kristine Sutherland, who played Buffy’s mother on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and got my picture taken with her, closing out our time at the Walk today.

Then, it was off to the Westin, and what ended up being our only panel of the day. The home for the Whedonverse track the past few years, the Westin is, arguably, one of the more frustrating places to go to watch a panel, mainly because of how inconvenient it is to get to compared to the other host hotels. Still, when the panel is as strong as our 2:30pm was today, it’s hard to complain too much. We made it over around 1:15pm to get in line for the “Guests of the Whedonverse” panel, and were able to be in a pretty good spot to sit down and relax until they let us in. I also happened to run into my friend, Johnathan, while in line, and we chatted and caught up for a bit during the wait. I also got into some Whedon-centric discussion with others in line before being let in while Meredith played her Nintendo DS.

The panel, as almost always is the case for the Whedon panels, was well worth the wait. James Marsters (aka Spike) wasn’t involved with this panel, and seemed to be more on the Brit Track this year with “Torchwood,” but there was still plenty of good times with guests Nicholas Brendon (Xander), Kristine Sutherland (Joyce), Eliza Dushku (Faith, and the star of “Dollhouse”), Miracle Laurie (also from “Dollhouse”), and writer Jane Espenson, who wrote some of the most memorable episodes of “Buffy.” As they did a couple of years ago, Brendon and Eliza were the dominant personalities on the panel, although everyone had some memorable moments. While I had the chance, I decided to ask a question of the panel about Danny Strong, who played Jonathan (a favorite character of Espenson’s) on “Buffy,” and has since become a hot screenwriter thanks to his award-winning scripts for “Recount,” “Game Change,” and this summer’s “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” (He’s also writing the scripts for the two-part “Hunger Games” finale, “Mockingjay.”) Overall, it was a lively and entertaining panel, and for both Meredith and I, a definite highlight of the weekend.

Afterwards, my mom (who was also at the panel), Meredith, and I went across the street to the Hard Rock Cafe for what was Mere and I’s first food of the day. The wait for a table was a tad long, but the food was more worthwhile than what Mere and I had the night before. We discussed our course of action for the rest of the day, and while my mom stayed downtown for a few more hours, Mere and I were ready to go back to the hotel after the long day, and so we headed to MARTA, and did the trek back to the hotel. I’ll admit that I had a lot of anxiety going on Saturday night. I was genuinely concerned that Meredith wasn’t having any fun at all this weekend, and that I’d lost her interest in Dragon*Con Saturday. Thankfully, though, she helped alleviate those anxieties as we parted to our respective rooms, and got ready for Sunday.

Sunday, September 1

You may have noticed that my good friend, Ron, hasn’t been mentioned much this blog. As I said earlier, he’d fallen ill Thursday, so the prospects for him coming down to Con this weekend seemed slim. However, by Saturday afternoon, he was feeling better, and caught a ride with a friend of ours downtown. By Saturday night, he was at his first-ever rave, and partying like it was an ironic version of 1999. Way to get him out of his element, guys.

The positive vibe of finally having Ron make Con this year helped when it came to Sunday, as did getting some breakfast in our system when Meredith and I got off of MARTA, and into Peachtree. Seriously, it helped out a LOT, and we even ran into my booth tech at the theatre, as well, who had caught the Dragon*Con bug last year. After getting some food into us, we headed over to the Marriott, and decided to walk around before going, rather spur-of-the-moment like, to a panel for the smash HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” which Meredith has been a fan of, and which I just recently started watching. It was a very good choice, and yes, it got a little spoiler-iffic at times, but not enough to where I feel watching the next two seasons, when that happens, will be adversely effected. Featuring James Cosmo (Jeor Mormont) and Natalia Tena (Osha), there was a lot of engaging discussion about their respective characters, and their careers in general, as well as the show and George R.R. Martin. It’s one of the few panels that I think I’ve gone to on a genuine whim, and for Meredith, it was another highlight of the weekend.

As we exited the room for the “Game of Throne” panel, I got a text from my mother. Well, my mother’s number. The text itself was from Bill Corbett, of RiffTrax and “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and who had become something of an elusive sasquatch at the Walk of Fame over the weekend. Before heading to our next destination, and long wait for a panel, I heeded the text’s instructions, and headed down to the Walk to, finally, see Mr. Corbett, and tell him how much I enjoyed the most recent RiffTrax Live! show, and was looking forward to the “Night of the Living Dead” one. Unfortunately, I had left the poster (for their live riff of “Manos: The Hands of Fate”) I was going to have him sign back at the hotel, but the text, and a picture with him, made it worthwhile, as Meredith and I then headed over to the Hyatt to wait for the second of this weekend’s “Futurama” panels. (The first one, you’ll recall, was Friday, and I didn’t make it in time to go to.) Since we knew my mother was going to join us for this one, we waited for her to get there since she got in for the handicapped seating. Good thing, too, because almost as quickly as we were let in, the room was jam-packed for an hour of hilarity with John DiMaggio (Bender), who also shared a bit of a voice acting documentary he made; Maurice LaMarche (Kif); Phil LaMarr (Hermes); and Lauren Tom (Amy). I wish Billy West had made it this year, because he was a huge highlight of the “Futurama” presence back in 2010, but these four didn’t miss a beat, and kept the fun going for the entire time. Even Meredith got into it a little bit when they got into demonstrating the character voices, but this was definitely for my mom and I, longtime fans of the show, more than it was for her.

We didn’t have too much time to spare afterwards, though, as Mere and I headed back to the Marriott to try and meet up with Ron for the only time this weekend, and get into our third and final panel of the day, for Mr. Billy Dee Williams, better known as Lando Calrissian from the “Star Wars” universe. The line at the ballroom for this panel was beyond convoluted, but we were able to meet up, and say hi, before joining the cattle call to get in, which we were able to do. (My mom even made it in, being a few rows behind us in the ballroom.) The moderator, Derek Maki, was the most involved in the panel of any others from the panels I’d seen, and was, in my opinion, the most annoying one, as well, but the “coolest guy in the galaxy” helped make up for it, having genuine interest in discussing his history with “Star Wars,” in addition to other projects he’d done in his career. Like Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew a couple of years ago, listening to him discuss “Star Wars” wasn’t quite as intriguing as it was some of the recent additions to the “Star Wars” universe, whom I’d gotten to hear from on Friday, but it was a fun panel regardless. For myself, at least; Meredith wasn’t feeling too good herself, and being not quite as big a “Star Wars” fan as I am, she didn’t enjoy it much at all. After the panel ended, we cleared out, talked a little bit, and, with Meredith feeling a bit better, tried to get back into the room for a voice acting panel that featured the likes of Ed Asner, Michael Dorn, Phil LaMarr, Malcolm McDowell, Rob Paulson, and David Warner, but unfortunately, it filled up before we could. Gee, I wonder why.

Not quite done yet, Meredith, Ron, and I left my mother, who went on her own to walk around some more, and headed over to the Dealer rooms at Americas Mart. This was the first time that both Mere and I went into the first floor room, and it was well worth the trip, as we looked around for things to get. Neither of us did much actual purchasing today, since we knew we had tomorrow as well, although I fueled my recent LEGO “Star Wars” addiction by purchasing a few minifigurines from one vendor. Ron, however, got the one thing he had been wanting to buy– a quality lightsaber, and as a “Star Wars” fan myself, it was a thing of beauty, and not just because of the ridiculously reasonable price. I’ll admit– I was kind of jealous, and believe me, I’ll be getting one for myself. (Ron also picked up a poster for the Troma film, “The Toxic Avenger,” for our friend Marv, and was able to get the creator of the film, and all the Troma films, to sign it for him.) After our trip through the vendor rooms, we tried to grab a bite to eat at the Midtown diner, which was a favorite place for Ron and I to eat last year, but the long wait for a seat wasn’t really worth while, and we parted ways, and Meredith and I headed back to the hotel for the day. On the whole, Sunday was a lot better experience than Saturday had been, and that evening, I slept like a log, even though I knew, disappointingly, that there was only one day left of Con this year.

Monday, September 2

One way in which having a hotel room was really beneficial was because, for the usually brief Monday, I wasn’t driving all the way from Marietta for a few hours before driving back. Instead, Meredith and I packed up our stuff, got in my truck, and drove down for the first time since Thursday, and headed straight for the vendors. Meanwhile, my mom packed up her stuff, checked out of the hotel, and tried to meet us down at the vendors, but didn’t find a good way of parking that would lead her to get there easily, so she just headed back to Marietta. Meredith and I, meanwhile, decided to stop at the official Dragon*Con store before going to the dealer rooms, and picked up a couple of official items, which would be joined by a couple of shirts for each of us at the vendors over at Americas Mart. Our finances exhausted, we headed back to Marietta ourselves, picked up Meredith’s car at my house, and went to grab some lunch before parting ways for the weekend.

Overall, this Dragon*Con was, arguably, the most “mixed bag” one I’ve had yet, and for a lot of different reasons. If I had to rate it among my previous years going, I think the general feeling would be that it was maybe second to last year’s pretty terrific Con, bumped up primarily because of Meredith being there with me, and because we had a place to stay that meant not driving from Marietta every day. On the other hand, though, I felt bad for Meredith not really enjoying things on Saturday (mainly due to the excessive walking, which was her big hang-up about the weekend on the whole), and not feeling well during some of Sunday, although she didn’t rule out going again in the future, which meant a great deal for me to hear. Having Meredith there to spend time with made up for a lot of things, like Ron not being able to come down until Saturday (and thus, us not being able to do Jay and Silent Bob this year); not doing a lot of panels this year; and not really doing anything at night, in general, and I really would have missed not having her there at all.

As for the planning with regards to the hotel rooms and MARTA, overall, it worked fine, I think, although I’ll definitely be trying to get into a host hotel next year, which would make not only the walking easier, but also the possibilities of longer days (with some rest breaks in between) more likely. (MARTA, meanwhile, was successful from a financial standpoint, saving on parking Friday-Sunday, but added at least a mile of walking every day, which meant exhaustion by the end of the day.) As usual, there are Con-related regrets in terms of things, and people, I missed: I didn’t do as much “people watching” as I usually do; another block or two of the Film Festival would have been cool; I didn’t actually meet Billy Dee Williams, or get to talk to George Takei, Lauren Tom, or any of the “Torchwood” people besides Burn Gorman, at the Walk of Fame; Mere and I had originally planned to take in some robot battles, but ended up not doing so; and I completely missed the people from “Fraggle Rock” & “The Dark Crystal” who were there this year. Those type of Con “misses,” though, are to be expected during a busy weekend like that. The most important thing is that you can look back on the experience positively, and that anybody you’re sharing it with can do the same. I can’t speak completely for Meredith on that part, but I can definitely say this was a very good Dragon*Con for me, and I’ll take the lessons from this year, and transfer them to making a better experience for myself and others in 2014.

Thanks for listening,

Brian Skutle
www.sonic-cinema.com

Dragon*Con 2009
Days 1-4

Dragon*Con 2010
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

Dragon*Con 2011
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

Dragon*Con 2012
Day 1
Day 2
Days 3 & 4

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