For anyone unfamiliar with Comic-Con, know that Hall H is the main stage, where the headliners present. Its official capacity reaches 6,500 people, and some folks wait outside for 24-plus hours for a day’s worth of access to insider gossip on blockbuster properties.
So yeah, it was a big deal when the 2015 schedule came out and revealed that on Thursday afternoon, for the first time, Hall H would feature a panel devoted to a web series.
Of course, the reason for handing over Hall H to a web series is that said web series is currently one of the most successful crowdfunding stories of all time and was able to fill the stage with nearly 20 members of the cast and crew, who represented a murderer’s row of some of television’s most popular science fiction shows.
And also, it’s about going to comic book conventions.
As previously reported, “Con Man,” written and directed by Alan Tudyk, is a heavily fictionalized spin on Tudyk’s experiences touring the convention circuit after becoming a fan favorite on the cult Joss Whedon series “Firefly.” Produced with his friend and “Firefly” co-star Nathan Fillion, “Con Man” follows actor Wray (Tudyk) as he seeks life after the cancelation of his cult favorite show (that bears no resemblance to “Firefly,” it’s very important to note).
Moderated by Nerdist icon Chris Hardwick, the first five minutes or so of the Comic-Con panel were mostly devoted to introducing the panel and playing musical chairs with nametags because there were nearly 20 people to introduce, including Tudyk, Fillion, Mindy Sterling, Tricia Helfer, Felicia Day, Casper Van Dien, Nolan North, Alison Haislip, Michael Trucco, Sky Haarsma, Seth Green, and Wil Wheaton.
The panel was extremely different from “Con Man’s” take on convention life. As revealed in the Comic-Con exclusive trailer screened for fans, Tudyk’s take on conventions is full of oddballs and awkward encounters, revealing a life that might seem glamorous until you lead it. But on stage at Hall H, Tudyk seemed almost moved to tears by the standing ovation he received when walking in.
It was easily a moment of triumph for Tudyk as a creator, who, per Hardwick, came up with the idea for the series while sitting at Fillion’s kitchen table. The decision to pursue “Con Man” got Tudyk fired by his agents because he wanted to focus on the series instead of going out for roles during pilot season. But choosing to go an independent route made sure the project felt inclusive to fan culture. “We’re all part of this community and we can laugh with each other,” as Hardwick put it. “It’s better that no one got their grubby corporate mitts on it because it was able to stay authentic.”
“Con Man” is pretty straightforward, as far as projects go, but what came out in the panel is the deep sense of love and community that brought all these people together. Seth Green, when telling the story of how he got involved, said that he would have done anything Tudyk asked. Wheaton exaggerated his depression over waiting to being asked to join the cast because he kept seeing that “everyone he knew” was participating. Haislip canceled a trip to New York, with less than 48 hours notice, to take on her role as the assistant to Nathan Fillion’s character.
“He doesn’t understand how much we all wanted to be a part of this,” Michael Trucco said. “This is the kind of show that everyone wanted to be a part of.”
Why? It comes down to — in Felicia Day’s words — “family.” As she said, “the actors at cons form a family. It feels like coming home. […] [‘Con Man’] has the beautifulness of both worlds combined.”
In fact, that sense of family was personified beyond words when, at the very end of the panel, key crew members Barry Bishop and Billy Brooks, who’d been involved with the production’s visual effects and makeup, got engaged in front of the entirety of Hall H. It got a bigger standing ovation than the initial introduction.
But it extends as well to include the fans: The trailer screened near the beginning of the panel (which teases yet more guest stars not present at the panel, including Gina Torres, Michael Dorn and Joss Whedon) credited the producers of the web series as Tudyk, Fillion, P. J. Haarsma and the 46,000 others who funded the project via Indiegogo, some of whom were in the crowd.
Thanks to those 46,000 people, Tudyk and his team had $3.2 million to play with, allowing them to upgrade production value. For example, to represent one convention, they went from “putting up a curtain to renting the Long Beach Convention Center,” in Haarsma’s words.
But that goes towards the general state of digital content in general, which is evolving its DIY mentality by leaps and bounds these days. “We’re really trying to retrain people as to what the web can be. The idea that the web can be a little thing. […] It can be a lot of things,” Tudyk said.
For one thing, it can mean a lot to a civilian. The first fan to ask a question wore a homemade “Con Man” costume. “You have to understand how much of a dream come true this is for us,” she said to the assembled panel.
“You’re ‘Con Man’ Fan No. 1,” the panel declared. But she wasn’t alone. After all, it doesn’t matter what kind of content is being featured. Hall H — hell, Comic-Con — is really for the fans.
“Con Man” will premiere September 30 on Vimeo on Demand. Pre-orders now available.
READ MORE: Exclusive: Indiegogo Releases Free Handbook for Filmmakers on How to Crowdfund