This was my first year covering San Diego Comic-Con solo. It was only the second time I had ever been to #SDCC (a hashtag my hands have become accustomed to typing just as much as they type #Supernatural). Alice had a schedule conflict this year so I was left to navigate tickets and passes, emails and contacts, technology and geography on my own. To say I was nervous all the time wouldn’t come close to describing my perpetual state of mind for the weeks preceding and the entire week of Comic-Con.
This year was also the first time I would have the opportunity to attend a Supernatural Comic-Con panel. I’ve read about them, watched them on YouTube and written news items covering them for several years but I've never seen one in person. Last year I came close to attending one but instead was tortured by having to stand outside as long-time friends and fans I had just met filed inside Hall H (being on a press room schedule doesn’t allow one to stand in line for hours to secure a place at the coveted panel). This year, though, was different.
“You’re late! They opened the doors early this year! They've never done that before! Hurry!”
I was already power walking the mile between the hotel and the convention hall when that text pinged my phone. You would think leaving 90 minutes before a panel that's just down the street would get you there with time to spare, but I guess not when it's the biggest event of the week and something special is planned. Nothing like notching up my panic just a bit more! I was in “business casual” clothes and shoes (to look decent in the Supernatural press room that afternoon), so running was not really an option. Besides, my purse was weighed down with tripods, cameras, notebooks and other miscellaneous equipment befitting SDCC “press”. Then of course I missed the shortcut to the hall because I was walking too fast to see it.
When I finally arrived at the imposing hub of SDCC activity (rather sweaty and out of breath), the designated door was mercifully exactly where I was told it would be. I had to switch seats three times to find the correct section for my ticket (sorry folks whose feet I stepped on - newbie here), but then I took a moment and looked around to take in the scene. I was alone and searching for familiar faces so I was elated when I realized I was just two rows in front of the Supernatural writers Robert Berens, Steve Yockey and Davy Perez! I didn't expect them to remember me from last year’s #SDCC Wayward Cocktail Party but I wanted to at least say hello and tell them that I was representing The Winchester Family Business!
“You picked a great year to come to your first Supernatural Hall H panel!” teased either Steve or Davy (I forget which one - Give me a break. I was excited.). They of course knew "the secret” that had been so carefully protected by SO many for SO long. I had been told by several insiders that there was a big surprise for this year’s panel but no one was spilling the beans, so I was just as anxious and curious as everyone else as to what was about to happen. Why was the stage set with just two covered, large, shadowy boxes instead of the traditional long table with water pitchers and standing microphones?
Were Rob Benedict (who I knew was in town because I had talked to him and Richard Speight, Jr earlier in the week) and Jensen going to open the panel with a reprise of their “Saturday Night Special” duo from the Supernatural convention circuit? Bob Singer plays a mean harmonica and Jared has a lot of experience pounding the tambourine. Were they going to surprise us with a Supernatural rock concert? I had also talked to Briana Buckmaster that week. She’s a phenomenal singer and the WB might want to promote her because of the potential spin-off. Would she join them as the “surprise guest” that had been promised?
The anticipation was killing me. I wanted to make sure I captured everything so I returned to my seat and checked and rechecked my phone, the wifi signal, the lighting and the clearance of my vantage point. There was a man in front of me wearing a giant cosplay hat for the Dirk Gently panel that was later in the day (he was very nice and promised to remove it before the panel began). In front of him was a lady wearing a colorful beanie (which I was advised by the nice man had special significance to the woman so I should not ask her to remove it). There were so many people around me in every direction!
Hall H looked different to me in person. Its massive scale swallowed up the 7200 people who were all sitting in folding chairs neatly arranged in an endless array of rows and columns. For an enclosed space that held a mass of fans who were bursting with anticipation and excitement, the room really wasn’t all that loud. Other than the endless bathroom line made up of fans who camped out overnight or stood in the Hall H line all morning, most people were sitting in their seats, almost as if they were afraid that someone would sneak in from behind and take their place if they so much as stood up. All that restrained energy just made the waiting so much worse! The emcees of the hall were passing the time and attempting to raise the excitement level in the room (a rather unnecessary task) by conducting “cheering wars” to see which side of the hall could yell the loudest. The audience happily complied (my section did not win despite three rounds of “let’s try this again”) just to have something to do while bouncing in our seats. The minutes ticked on.
Finally, the lights went down and Sam and Dean Winchester suddenly appeared on the giant screen above the stage. They were talking in the Impala, saying something about a road trip to San Diego. It was honestly hard to hear them amidst the roar of fans who were elated to see an iconic scene that had become cherished throughout most of the past 264 episodes. The brothers said something about Hall H and Dean being Wonder Woman, an idea he was honored to consider by the look on his face. This made the crowd cheer even louder so I really had no idea what the details of this conversation were. Since then I've watched a full video of the panel and heard this introductory dialog. It was really cute and well written but the people who worked so hard on it might be disappointed to learn that I couldn’t hear it at the time. It didn’t matter. The long-anticipated panel was starting. The boys that I love so dearly were on the screen.
Suddenly curtains that lined the massive walls of Hall H (which I honestly hadn’t noticed until now but can be seen clearly on the left in the picture above) began to pull back, opening from the stage to the back wall on both sides of the room. At the same time, “Carry On Wayward Son” started blaring through the speaker system. It was a familiar end to many of the show’s opening sequences so it felt natural to hear it. Fans starting singing along but in that split second it seemed to me that the stage was still dark. It was hard to process the sensory overload that was clearly meant to stun the crowd. My tweets from that moment captured my overload.
Oh360° concert— WFB Supernatural (@WinFamBusiness) July 23, 2017
I was attempting to pass thoughts from my shocked, elated brain to my phone’s keyboard, which has touch screen keys that have NEVER been large enough for me to type correctly spelled words with proper punctuation even in the calmest of circumstances.
Then laser lights began beaming across the crowd, the stage lights went on and there was a rock band jamming in front of us.
Who …? What …?
Remember Kevin in “Reading is Fundamental” screaming “WHAT IS HAPPENING?”? That was the scene for me. Then the reality finally broke through the sensory bombardment.
Oh. My. God. It’s KANSAS!! They are here, playing their song, our song, the song that brings me to tears because of how well it tells the story of this show and the brothers’ struggles. KANSAS IS HERE!!
I tried again to share what was happening, breaking my previous string of jumbled words into two coherent tweets.
Kansas!!!!!! Carry on! #wbsdcc pic.twitter.com/XinZr69C40— WFB Supernatural (@WinFamBusiness) July 23, 2017
360 degree screen!!!#Supernatural— WFB Supernatural (@WinFamBusiness) July 23, 2017
I don’t know if I was happier for Supernatural, that they finally had the honor of being united live with that iconic music, or for Kansas, that after all these years got to play their song to a group of people who loved it more than any other fans for the past 41 years (the song was first released in 1976), or the fans, who were in physical communion with their show.
Lights, sound and emotion overflowed as I turned to see that twelve years of Supernatural were being flashed from floor to ceiling, front to back, wall to wall. As a point of fact, the screen was not 360 degrees because it covered only the two side walls. Kansas was in front of me and thousands of screaming fans were behind me. I didn't know (and certainly in the moment couldn't think) of another way to communicate the enormity of the visual, though. I would have had to have stood up and turned completely around with my back to the stage to see anything other than Supernatural. So while I was sitting in my seat it was all around me, as far as my eyes could see in every direction. To me, it was 360 degrees. Forward and peripheral vision, sight and sound - total immersion in Supernatural.
Live in the moment! Watch the show!
No! Tweet what’s happening!
Don’t look down at your phone. Take it all in!
Wait, you have to get this on video. Start shooting!
Don’t watch the show through your tiny phone screen! Watch it live! This is unbelievable! You’ve got to experience this!
Such was my mental battle in those few seconds. I am extremely proud and happy that I got as much as I did on video. Live it with me:
I have played that video a few dozen times since I’ve gotten home. The thrill of that outstanding show returns every time I see it.
And the panel hadn’t even started yet.
It is an immense testament to the stature and courage of the Supernatural cast and the love the Supernatural family has for them that Rich, Rob, Jensen, Jared, Bob and Andrew could match the enormity of that introduction. When they took the stage, the excitement for them was no less than for the five-minute epic immersion in all things Supernatural we had all just experienced.
The love in the room was intense.
Richard and Rob were hilarious, as usual.
It’s no small feat to engage 7200 people who were just blown away with shock and awe, yet they had our FULL attention. Jensen and Jared, who are always larger than life superstars to us, were soon going to be on the stage and we couldn’t wait to let them know how much we love them and their show.
I was happy that the stuffy setting of a formal conference table had been replaced with the more casual director’s chairs for the panel. It made the conversation more intimate, like old friends chatting for a few minutes. It may have made the guys (all of them) more at ease as well, as the stage looked and felt a great deal like the Supernatural convention panels that they have done 15 times a year for the past decade. The the moment we had all been waiting for:
In Family Don’t End With Blood, Jensen wrote that he would never have been able to get on stage in front of a crowd without extreme anxiety,
and Jared freely shared his struggle with acceptance and anxiety. I couldn’t help but think of how far they’ve come together with us, their fan family, because they appeared confident and calm on stage. That was more than I could say for me (or any fan in the audience).
The boys!!#wbsdcc pic.twitter.com/7gmP5rZHr7— WFB Supernatural (@WinFamBusiness) July 23, 2017
Their charisma filled the room that was large enough to fit a football field. How can two people have that must presence?? It's mystifying.
Once Andrew joined them, all the chairs on stage were filled. In my bungled mind, it seemed natural that the introductions were over. All seemed right with the world. I was on the edge of the seat hanging on every word of banter, anticipating that talk of the new season would soon follow. I was totally taken in by the reality they were presenting instead of thinking straight like a rational human being. If I had been coherent, I'd like to think I would have realized that Misha was missing! When he walked himself on stage, without introduction or fanfare, I was caught completely off guard. Oh for heaven's sake - Misha!! How did I forget about Misha? I just laughed at my own gullibility. Obviously, that was the intent. Misha’s gag about Castiel being “dead and forgotten” and having to bring his own chair was brilliant.
It also gave him a bit of his own spotlight, which I thought balanced the attention very effectively.
.@mishacollins "I'm not going away!" #Supernatural pic.twitter.com/w4kH8do4zk— WFB Supernatural (@WinFamBusiness) July 23, 2017
The fact that he could make fun of himself in that way and play off Jensen and Jared's popularity so well is pure Misha. His self-deprecating humility is as funny as it is inspirational. He says he never wants to take himself seriously. He truly lives what he preaches. May we all aspire to being that comfortable with ourselves. I couldn't help but think, "And the last shall be first."
Now that the panel could truly begin (in earnest this time!), I tried to get as many close-up shots as I could from 15 or so rows back. I wanted to freeze in time as many "perfect" moments as possible, as much for you as for me.
If I couldn't get the close shot, the jumbo screen provided some great images too! Enjoy the show!
About two-thirds of the way through the panel, the most senior member of the Supernatural team, Bob Singer, took pity on poor Misha and exchanged chairs with him. It was a very sweet gesture that drew an "awww" from the audience. From then on, Bob was in the mini-chair...
...and Misha was center stage with Jensen and Jared.
This is my favorite shot because it appears that Jensen and Jared are looking down on the panel and the crowd with approval and love in an out-of-body sort of way.
I captured four clips of stories that particularly touched me during the panel. Alice spliced them together into a short six minute movie:
You can watch the entire panel on YouTube, but honestly, I prefer the photos and clips. They break the experience down into singular moments that can be savored and relived without having to absorb an entire panel of questions, answers, spoilers and teasers. That all engages the intellectual side of the brain, where we will all meticulously examine every word they said and theorize on what’s in store for us in season 13.
By all means, let’s get that going on the Spoiler and S13 Discussion Pages on the site! There has to be a place too, though, to just wallow in the emotion of how much we can love this show.
All too soon the panel was over.
That was honestly okay, though, because it was one of the most amazing hours I have ever experienced. A chapter I co-wrote for my Twilight book* talks about transmedia marketing and engaging fans by giving them an immersive experience that transcends the physical limitations of television, movie screens or the pages of a book. I have to congratulate the Warner Brothers publicity and marketing teams because I can now say I lived through a spectacular example of total immersion. For five minutes, I was in Supernatural’s world. The surround screen viewing of a heroic journey and live music sing-along with a rock band’s own iconic song transported me to the Impala sitting right beside Sam and Dean. Then the men who write them and the actors who are them shared their ideas and theories with us as if we were sitting together on a sound stage having a casual chat. Wow, we’re lucky to be #SPNFamily.
The rest of my last day at San Diego Comic-Con was spend in the Supernatural press room. Enjoy videos of my interviews with Jared, Jensen, Misha and Bob (I didn't get an opportunity to talk to Andrew. He had to leave early) as they talk about what lies ahead in Supernatural, and start theorizing which Threads we’ll be tracking next year! In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll share more of my experiences at SDCC, including previews of new Supernatural action figures, an interview with authors of a new Supernatural book to be released in October, plus additional panels and interviews. Until then, I’d love to hear your reactions to the various videos you’ve seen of the Supernatural panel, or your experience if you happen to have been one of the other 7199 people in Hall H with me!
Is there any way this spectacular experience can be matched or even surpassed at next year's SDCC? I don't know but you better believe I'm going to try to be there to experience it in person! To be the best of my ability, I'll bring you with me to live in the moment.
Notes: 264 eps from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Supernatural_episodes
*If you've somehow missed it, my book is Fan Phenomena: The Twilight Saga!