Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

This is my seventh time attending Dragon*Con, Atlanta’s annual Labor Day convention of sci-fi, fantasy and all-around geekiness, and there’s a part of me that thinks this should be an exact science by now. By this, I don’t necessarily mean the Con itself, which will always have ebbs and flows that go with the year, and who we run in to, but writing about Dragon*Con. As some fans of the site may realize…I still haven’t finished up my 2014 write-up yet. A lot of that was due to just taking too much damn time to write it, although the busy work load for the classes I was taking online no doubt played a part of it. That will be completed in the future, though, as I enjoy talking about my Labor Day weekends, even if there are moments that aren’t great.

Returning to the party this year after taking 2014 off was my (now) fiancée, Meredith, who isn’t quite as into the panels and such as I am, but was glad to have a weekend away, and peruse the vendors with me. Taking 2015 off, sadly, was my best friend Ronnie, which meant no Jay and Silent Bob (although I did take the outfit with me, and considered getting a 40 to pour on the sidewalk as a sign of missing Jay), but also just spending some time with the man, which hasn’t always been easy recently with some tricky scheduling. My mother also went down, although we didn’t really spend a lot of time together, which was both a good (and bad) thing. I’m not going to focus on the bad, though, because regardless of any stressful moments that hit, this is a weekend to enjoy being around not just people we love, but people who understand the love we have for nerdy things.

Thursday, September 3

For the second year in a row, my mom and I decided to stay at the Hilton Gardens Inn downtown, right by the Georgia Aquarium. It was a great place to stay last year, and so, we booked a couple of rooms for this year. And for the second year in a row, I did something I should have been doing a while ago…took Thursday off. You might recall that, since 2011, I’ve been going down on Thursday to get my badge so I can just hit the ground running on Friday. Well, in ’14 and ’15, I finally took that a step further and, rather than having to work that night (as I have had to in prior years), I took Thursday off of work while cutting back the back-end to go back to work earlier. This has been a true Godsend, and was especially the case this year with Mere doing the same. For the second year in a row, we made our way down to get our badges, not needing to stress ourselves out with when we needed to get back to our side of town, and then went to check in to the hotel, where we all just relaxed and recharged after the previous week. I also had a Fantasy Football Draft in one of my leagues to do that night- I think it went well.

Friday, September 4

Mere and I had agreed to get breakfast together before starting the day so she met me at my room to go get breakfast at the hotel’s dining area before we headed downtown. Unlike 2013, we drove down rather than taking MARTA, although we could have just walked down with how relatively close we were to the main hub of activity. I need some place to put stuff, and wind down, though, so jacked parking prices be damned, I was driving this year. We got down there after 10am and walked around before getting in the Marriott’s Atrium Ballroom for our first panel of the Con, “GoT: Highgarden to Winterfell.” It was the first panel in the Ballroom so they let people in very early to hear from Kristian Nairn (Hodor), Finn Jones (Sir Loras) and Julian Glover (Grand Maester Pycelle). It wasn’t quite as engaging as the panel for the show we went to back in 2013, but it was fascinating nonetheless to hear from each actor, all of whom whose characters are still alive on the show, not just about the process of making the show, but also the characters themselves and their careers, especially Glover, whose also been in the likes of “Empire Strikes Back” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Getting into this show has been fantastic for this geek in the last few years, and hearing from the actors is always entertaining.

After that panel, Mere and I headed to the Vendor’s Room, which were moved two the AmericasMart Building 2 after two years in Building 1, which many people had issues with. The line to get in (they opened at 1pm) had already formed, and was quite long, but we stood in it regardless, since we didn’t have anything else on our agenda for a while. When we finally got in, it was wonderful to see how the change in location had really opened up the Dealer Rooms in a way they hadn’t been since moving from the Marriott. The confusion that beset the years of it being in Building 1 was gone, and it was in here that we also got lunch at one of the open food kiosks for lunch. We did primarily window shopping, so to speak, although we did buy a few things before heading back to the main area on the Con, where we dropped off our purchases at the truck and headed to the Walk of Fame.

This year, my Walk of Fame priorities were not really the same as they had been in previous years. The first six years, I went after meeting, or saying hi, to anyone and everyone who interested me, whether I had met them before or not. This year, that really wasn’t the case. Yes, Felicia Day and Amber Benson (two multi-hyphenates from the Whedonverse) were back, and meeting them had been highlights of previous D*Cons, and the same is true of MST3K veterans Bill Corbett, Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu, but as fun as those people were to meet and interact with, there were really only two names who truly piqued my interest. Those names were Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, and if you don’t immediately recognize those names, it’s understandable, since the film they are most famous for (“2001: A Space Odyssey”) is more popular for who directed it rather than who starred in it. But since they are the most notable people still alive from the production (apart from visual effects master Douglas Trumbull), it was important for me to meet them and share my appreciation for the film, including sharing my 2010 album inspired by the film, “Beyond the Infinite: A Musical Odyssey,” with them. I don’t know that they’ll listen to it- I hope so- but just to put it in their hands as a way of showing how much the film means to me on a personal level was important enough as a gesture. While Mere and I looked around at the whole Walk, those were the only two people I talked to before her and I made it down to the bottom floor of the Marriott, where I signed up for a photo op with Keir and Gary for the next day.

From there, we still had some time to kill before our next panel of the day, so we started to head back to the dealer’s before getting an urgent call from my mother, whose car had been booted, despite paying for the space. After that drama, my mother (who had visited the Walk of Fame and seen a “Meet the Stars of ‘Star Wars'” panel on her own) went back to the hotel while Mere and I took some time to relax before going to the Westin for a “Guests of S.H.I.E.L.D.” panel with BJ Britt (Tripp), Edward James Olmos (Gonzalez) and a special appearance by Eddie McClintock (Vin-Tak). Britt’s infectious enthusiasm set the tone for the panel, which his co-panelists replicated effortlessly, and made for an enjoyable cap to our first, full day of Dragon*Con 2015. Yes, that meant ending at 8:15pm, although we did spend a couple of hours around the hotels, but we aren’t much into the late night scene of the Con.

Saturday, September 5

Saturday is always a slammed day when it comes to people coming down to the Con. The big reason is the parade at 10am, but also, a lot of the big panels and guests are available starting that day. I haven’t taken in the parade myself, but maybe one day I will. This year, though, Meredith and I took the time to go to the new Dealer Rooms. We got there about 40 minutes before they opened, but most of the time was spent inside, thankfully. When we were allowed in, the first place we went to was the Ultrasabers booth where we would get Meredith her very own lightsaber to go along with mine. While we waited for that to be built, we walked around some more looking around. When her lightsaber was done, we left the Vendors and headed to the Marriott to go to my photo op with Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood. It didn’t last too long, but it was worth it when John Barrowman (from “Torchwood” and “Arrow”), who was also doing photo ops at the time, came out and told his fans what to expect with the ops in hilariously fun fashion.

When we finished at the photo area, we headed over to the Hyatt, with the original plan being to go to a “Meet the Stars of ‘Star Wars'” panel at 1pm, but when that line proved too long to wait, we decided to get in line for a 2:30pm panel, “The Many Worlds of Whedon,” which was also at the Hyatt. That meant a 90 minute wait for the panel, but with the seats we ended up getting for the goodness that BJ Britt, Amber Benson (Tara from “Buffy”), Clare Kramer (Glory from “Buffy”) and James Leary (Clem from “Buffy”) made it worthwhile. All four of the panelists brought some enjoyment to the proceedings, although it didn’t take long for things to get dirty, but that type of thing will happen with Whedon people. The panelists had fun, and the audience had some good questions and back-and-forth, the tone of which was set by Kramer, who is sweet and serious in equal turns. My mom didn’t get into the panel until a bit later, but she managed to see the high points of the panel. Afterwards, we went our separate ways, and while my mom stayed downtown for a bit longer, hitting the Walk of Fame, as well as a “2001” panel with Keir and Gary, Mere and I were pretty well spent, getting dinner at the Metro Café Diner before heading back to the hotel for some needed R&R on both of our parts.

Sunday, September 6

Sunday is an interesting day for Dragon*Con. After the chaos of people from Saturday, and all the hard-core partying of the days before, Sunday feels relatively slow by comparison. However, it still ends up being a pretty busy day for panels, and some big guests may just be showing up, or making their last hurrah at the Walk of Fame. It’s arguably as important a day for Con-goers as Saturday is. No time to relax for some, but it’s important to kill some time otherwise. This year, Sunday was definitely the former for me.

Mere and I met up for breakfast again before going down to the Con area for our only block from the Film Festival track this year, which was devoted to Superheros. The best film of the bunch we saw was an original creation entitled “The Red Thunder,” but the one we went for was “Breakfast With Clark,” which was made by a friend of Mere’s. “Breakfast With Clark” was a simple premise, with Clark Kent and Lois Lane having breakfast- brunch, really- while Lois finds an easy way of breaking up with him. Meanwhile, “The Red Thunder” is about a daughter who wants to go on a date with this guy from her school, but can’t get her mother to give her the car for the night. When she takes it anyway, she gets more than she expected. Another highlight of the block was “Lapwing,” which was like watching an episode of the 1960s “Batman” series as filtered through the entire 1970s. It was quite a wild movie to watch.

Up next after the Film Festival block was a trip to the Hilton for an 11:30am panel on “2001: A Space Odyssey” with Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood. For an uber-fan of the film myself, it was a wonderful and enlightening hour of Q&A about Kubrick, the film and the two stars of the film themselves, with a comparison of HAL’s death to the end of Of Mice and Men, Keir recalling watching the moon landing in the same room with Arthur C. Clarke, as well as some technical secrets of the film’s making for two of the most remarkable sequences in the film. I appreciate Mere indulging me in my “2001” fandom, as she didn’t get into the film when I showed it to friends a few years ago, but the truth is, Kubrick’s masterpiece was a big part of why I was excited about Con this year. After that, we headed back to the Marriott, where we got pizza for lunch, and got in line for our next panel.

The third event of our Sunday agenda was pretty much for Meredith. The past couple of years, she has been a fan of the Fox series, “Sleepy Hollow,” so knowing that some of the people from the series were going to be at Dragon*Con this year meant at least one panel being included. After another hour-plus wait to get in the hall (like we did had on Saturday), we waited for a bit to get some disappointing news: one of the scheduled panelists (co-star Nicole Beharie) had to cancel for personal reasons, and the other one (the show’s Ichabod Crane, Tom Mison) was running late, though thankfully, they had some back up in the form of actor John Noble and makeup effects creator Corey Castellano, who has some interesting insights on the show and their processes to share before Mison arrived halfway in. For a non-fan (although I have liked what I’ve seen of it), it had a lot of spoilers, but it also got me interested in watching the show for myself. After leaving the ballroom, we then headed down a couple of floors to the Walk of Fame to see how long Mison’s line was going to be for Meredith, and see if there was anyone I was interested in meeting before heading across the way for our final panel of the day, and it turns out, the Con.

This is an exciting time for a “Star Wars” fan, with “Rebels” successfully continuing the tradition of the “Clone Wars” series and “The Force Awakens” looking to return the film franchise to it’s former glory. Both endeavors were represented this year in the persons of Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca himself, and Vanessa Marshall, who voices Hera on “Rebels.” They were the panelists for this year’s “Meet the Stars of Star Wars” panels, which my mom joined us for on Sunday afternoon. Unlike the last “Star Wars” multi-guest panel I went to in 2011, a lot of the questions weren’t simply rehashing stories for Mayhew to recount that have been well known for years, although neither of them could say anything about their upcoming contributions to the universe. Although Mayhew seemed to enjoy the panel more than he did the one in 2011, it was because of Marshall’s enthusiasm for “Star Wars,” and her part of it, that made the panel so entertaining. She set the tone, and Mayhew seemed to join in a bit in letting it bloom, with the results being the most collectively fun “Star Wars” panel I’ve done at Dragon*Con to date. After the panel, Mere and I went back to the Walk one last time, where I finally decided to talk to both Peter Mayhew and Vanessa Marshall in person, tell them how much I’m looking forward to “Rebels” Season Two and “Force Awakens,” and get a picture with both of them. We then headed to the Hard Rock Café for dinner before calling it a night, and preparing for Dragon*Con Monday.

Monday, September 7

Simply put: Monday has become more about the Vendor Rooms than doing anything at hotels the past couple of years, and that is what all three of us did after checking out of the hotel. We found close-proximity parking to the new Vendors building, and spent the last few hours of our Con shopping, or at least looking, before making our way home.

On the whole, this is one of the most collectively positive Dragon*Cons I’ve had, to date. As far as Cons with Meredith, this was definitely a better one than the one in 2013, and hopefully, will be a template for future trips downtown for us in the future. The big disappointment for me was Ronnie not making it down this year, but come Hell or high water, that will change next year. (Hear that, Jay. 🙂 ) I did less Walk of Fame meeting and greeting, which was mostly positive, and I like the Vendor Rooms a lot better in their new location. I didn’t get a chance to hang with several of the friends who went down this year, but that’s always a difficult trick to pull off. Maybe one of these years, all of these things will come together, but if seven years of Dragon*Con has shown me anything, it’s that you really just have to go with the flow on Labor Day in Atlanta.

Thanks for listening,

Brian Skutle

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

Dragon*Con 2013
Days 1-4

Dragon*Con 2014
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