World’s biggest fan convention goes ahead without star power

World’s biggest fan convention goes ahead without star power

July 23, 2023

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With striking film and television actors staffing the picket lines in Los Angeles and New York, the world’s biggest fan convention threw open its doors at the weekend without a substantial slice of its usual star wattage.

Forbidden by their unions to promote studio-backed projects, striking writers and actors cancelled plans to attend San Diego Comic-Con, gutting the event’s usually star-studded panel schedule of A-list stars at the eleventh hour.

Australian filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippou at Comic-Con.Credit: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty

But in many respects it was also business as usual for the 53-year-old fan convention, with 130,000 attendees pushing through its turnstiles over four days, and some 100,000 more in the city attending off-site fan events. In total, Comic-Con injects around US$160 million into San Diego’s local economy.

Scheduled panels for Apple TV+’s The Wheel of Time, AMC’s Interview with the Vampire, the Disney-owned TV series Abbott Elementary and the new Amazon TV series Jury Duty were cancelled. So, too was a planned launch for Dune: Part Two, featuring its stars Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya.

But there were still memorable moments, including an appearance by Australian YouTubers-turned-filmmakers Danny and Michael Philippou, promoting the horror film Talk to Me. (As producer/directors, the pair are not affected by the strikes.)

The Adelaide-born twins, whose YouTube channel RackaRacka has almost seven million subscribers, are one of the year’s biggest Hollywood breakthrough stories, premiering their debut film at the Sundance Film Festival where it was acquired by A24, the indie studio which took out a stunning 16 Oscar wins this year from 49 nominations.

WOW: Women of Wrestling stars Kandi Krush (Amberley Shaw) and Genesis (Selena O’Sullivan) at Comic-Con.

“We never went into YouTube wanting to be YouTubers, we wanted to make feature films,” Michael told the audience. “There is a stigma that comes with being a YouTuber where people box you in. But I feel like if you’re a storyteller, you’re a storyteller. If you want to make films, and you’re serious about it, you can do it.”

Another emerging Australian star at Comic-Con was the wrestler Genesis, real name Selena O’Sullivan, who was there promoting WOW: Women of Wrestling, the TV show and wrestling league owned by sports entrepreneur David McLane and Los Angeles Lakers owner and president Jeanie Buss.

The sport is no less brutal than its men’s counterpart, O’Sullivan said, noting the key difference is exposure in the media. “We are the only all-women competition in sports entertainment wrestling,” she said. “But now that is changing.” [WOW airs in the US and Australia on Paramount+.]

The 29-year-old stunt woman said the WOW fandom is “all types of people; all age ranges, kids, older people, it’s for the whole family. But not a lot of people like me when I come out. [O’Sullivan’s character Genesis is a villain.] So I get a lot of boos.”

Wrestler Kandi Krush (Amberley Shaw), LA Lakers owner/president and WOW co-owner Jeanie Buss, and wrestler Genesis (Selena O’Sullivan) speak to reporter Ariana Cohen (far left) at Comic-Con.

O’Sullivan describes Buss, who is one of the most prominent women in US sports leadership, as an inspiring boss. “Having Jeanie at the forefront [of the code], she is such a successful woman in all her fields,” O’Sullivan said. “Great leadership comes from the top and trickles down.”

Despite the success of the series, the Los Angeles-based performer has not experienced fame first-hand yet in her home country. “We need to do a show in Australia, that is my goal,” she said.

O’Sullivan, whose heritage is Chinese-Malaysian, acknowledged the value her background brings to the sport. “I feel like I am getting to enjoy the fruits of people who paved the way, and now I am one of the people on our show who is a face of Asian representation,” she says.

In an ironic footnote to the first actor-and-screenwriter-free Comic-Con in decades, the biggest industry ticket at the four-day convention turned out to be the panel AI in Entertainment: The Performer’s Perspective, hosted by the National Association of Voice Actors (NAVA).

From left: SAG-AFTRA negotiator Zeke Alton, SAG-AFTRA national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, and actor and president of the National Association of Voice Actors Tim Friedlander at Comic-Con.Credit: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty

Among the panellists was Screen Actors Guild national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, one of the most prominent faces of the strike. He was joined by actor and union negotiator Zeke Alton and actor Tim Friedlander.

“We’ve got to reject the idea that this is just something that’s going to happen to us and we can’t say anything about it,” Crabtree-Ireland told the Comic-Con audience, adding that the uncontrolled use of artificial intelligence (AI) in film and television could devastate the industry. “The question is whether we’re going to let that happen,” he said.

While the striking writers and actors dominated much of the media discussion of this year’s Comic-Con, in truth the impact felt on the ground by fans was relatively small. Hall H, where the A-list star panels are usually held, only holds 6500 people – a fraction of the hundred thousand-plus who attend.

San Diego’s Hilton Bayfront is “wrapped” in a billboard promoting the upcoming FX series Shōgun during San Diego Comic-Con.

Most of the crowd is found on the convention floor, where comic book artists, sellers and resellers jockey for space with comic publishers such as DC, Marvel, Image and Dark Horse, and pop culture retailers like Funko, Entertainment Earth, Hasbro and LEGO. In total there are almost 1000 retail exhibitors.

Officially, almost all the major studios withdrew from major presentations at this year’s Comic-Con. That includes Warner Bros, Sony, Disney and Disney-owned Lucasfilm, Universal, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+ and HBO. That means no talent panels, but it does not mean those brands (or their films and TV programs) are missing.

Paramount staged a major presentation for Star Trek, giving the audience a sneak peek at the 2024 season of Star Trek: Discovery and screened in full the highly anticipated Star Trek: Lower Decks/Star Trek: Strange New Worlds crossover episode to applauding fans.

Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.

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