Every year during this time, San Diego is home to one of the largest comic cons in the world, but this year was something different. With COVID-19 being an obstacle, the famous San Diego Comic Con went virtual this year. Anyone could attend this event, and, best of all, it was free! SDCC 2020 took place during July 22-26, and was home to over 350 panels featuring actors, writers, directors, and more from across television, films, comics, and games.
From Script to Screen: Behind-The-Scenes of Your Favorite Film & TV Shows
The conversation included composer Devin Burrows (The Wretched), makeup designer Burton LeBlanc (The Handmaid’s Tale), composer Chad Rehmann (Camp Cold Brook), composer Ian Chen (Green Door), screenwriter and director and editor Tirsa Hackshaw (Jessica Jones), and cinematographer Catherine Lutes (Anne with an E). The panel was moderated by actress Danielle Harris (Halloween franchise). Various creators discussed their projects, how it felt to work on them, and how it’s like in the industry for them.
Ian Chen began the discussion, speaking about the first step of the creative process: “You start examining the theme, the characters, and the story between all genres. For video games, you approach the music from a top down, thinking about the major themes, whereas for television and film, it is timed to the edits and to what is on screen.”
Discussing his composing creative process, Devin Burrows shared, “I’m always experimenting with new sounds but The Wretched is also a throwback to old horror and action movies as well. The location of the woods needed a specific sonic character. They fell in love with the sarangi and we altered it to have a dry sound in the score. The orchestra helped create the unique sonic tapestry of the film.”
Burton LeBlanc gave insight to The Handmaid’s Tale: “The Handmaid’s Tale is all about realism. It is a constant adjustment until they start rolling the cameras. I pull inspiration from older movies which has inspired me in my genre filled roles.”
Sharing about her work on Anne with an E, Catherine Lutes said, “I went with a feeling of instilling a sense of magic and romantical feeling. I wanted to bring a sense of that through Anne’s spaces. I could bring in an emotional push and add new colors to the palette since this season is in summer. I wanted to bring a feeling of modern hand-held movement while discussing modern times in an older setting. I always try to come from the emotional approach of the characters.”
Chad Rehmann then shifted to talk about the role of diversity in the entertainment industry: “This career is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to think of yourself as a small business owner. We have a skill and we need clients. Getting involved somewhere outside the industry allows you to decompress and some of my best connections have been outside of the industry. But until we focus and address socioeconomic issues and systemic issues way before the job interview, we won’t make progress since we need to focus on the issues that start when we are young.”
Tirsa Hackshaw built upon this to add, “I’m passionate about bringing women in film as I am a member of Women in Film. Adding a spotlight to and bringing women on set is so important. Making a movie is like having a small army. You can bring authenticity to the production arena as well. Keep saying yes. Opportunities come and you may discover something new about yourself. All experience is good experience. You can find inspiration in unknown areas.” Catherine Lutes in agreement said, “You have to have a thick skin as a woman in this field. There is not one path to success. There are so many ways in and you have to follow what works best for you. Even with wrong turns, you have to stay true to yourself. Don’t try to fit in somewhere you think may be good or lucrative. People want to hire me for who I am and my perspective. I wouldn’t want to pretend to be someone else anyway.”
Music for Animation
From scoring the most well-known crime-fighting turtles to writing songs for comedy, a panel of musical experts discussed the creative process and gave insight to some of today’s top television and film projects for Comic-Con attendees.
For this year’s Comic-Con @ Home 2020, fans in anticipation watched music creatives discuss and share on the “Music for Animation” panel. The conversation included songwriters Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson (Central Park), composer Jefferson Friedman (Harley Quinn), composer Roger Neill (JJ Villaird’s Fairy Tales), composer Sebastian Evans (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and composer and orchestrator Tim Davies (Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia). Moderated by actors Keith David (JJ Villaird’s Fairy Tales, Gargoyles) and Alan Tudyk (Frozen, Harley Quinn).
Discussing how she and her writing partner Elyssa Samsel started working on the new beloved show Central Park, Kate Anderson started off by saying, “Writing for animation has been a good fit for us because anything is possible. We were both living in Brooklyn and hoping that something would happen magically. Josh reached out on Instagram and was like ‘Hey, can I talk to you guys about something?’ We were immediately super intrigued. He said they were creating this animated series and asked if we would be interested. We never thought someone would call and say, ‘Hey, do you want your dream job?’” Elyssa continued sharing a fun easter egg from the project: “The main character Bertie, is a busker in Central Park played by Josh Gad. I actually used to busk myself with my violin in Central Park so anytime you hear in the score or in the song you hear him playing violin, it’s actually me on the same violin I used to play in Central Park. Also, Kate is an incredible singer so if you listen carefully, you can hear her doing backups. This was really a dream project in so many ways.”
Discussing his love for music in both orchestration and composer, Tim Davies stated, “I like playing with notes. Anything I can do with music, especially live orchestras, is my favorite thing to do. Orchestrating is always with other people, whereas composing is more with just yourself. The composer writes the music and gets through the process. Orchestration is the after the process that can be possible from some abstract scores. The orchestra is my favorite instrument.”
Fusing hip-hop into such an iconic franchise, Sebastian Evans shared his work on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: “I’m a fan doing a dream job. I wanted to add the true ninja sound behind the Teenage Music Ninja Turtles. I wanted to insert that along with the hip-hop vibe and create an homage to all the past versions.” Sebastian continued, reflecting on the comparison between orchestral and hip-hop scores. “I don’t feel like it is different comparing orchestra from hip-hop music. The essence is the same. Putting hip-hop throughout TMNT felt right, because it draws from underground elements of hip-hop just like the Turtles. It doesn’t skip the orchestral elements either though. I love putting easter eggs in the score and often used different iterations of Turtles.”
Jefferson Friedman began to discuss the role of diverse perspectives within his work, “For me as a white cis-male, I always try to hire women or minorities. For Harley Quinn, one of the major plotlines is a ‘will they or won’t they’ between Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. For LGBT+ youth, it is considered the most important storyline. There is a big kiss at one point in an episode. I see it as an allegory for how hard it is to come out since they are hanging from a vine over a pit. When the episode came out, that moment helped so many people and made people’s lives that much better. Whenever you have the opportunity to contribute to a story that is more diverse and better for other people, it is what we strive for.”
Adding to this conversation, Roger Neill said, “As composers, we’re independent contractors, we have choices on who we can hire and who we can work for or with. In my case, I’m very proud and happy that I get to work with directors who are women. The idea of trying to break into the industry is so daunting. One thing I like to say is you didn’t get your break by somebody you’re going to meet one day but somebody you likely know now.”
Moderators Keith David and Alan Tudyk, fans themselves of music in animation, led the lively and fun discussion. Virtual Comic-Con attendees laughed and learned, as they gained understanding about the different musical components of some of their favorite projects, along with the important role of diverse perspectives in entertainment.
Future of Entertainment
From technology to entertainment, a panel of multi-talented industry leaders discussed the future of entertainment and technology with Comic-Con attendees. The conversation included Ted Schilowitz (futurist at Paramount Pictures), Cathy Hackl (Futurist and 2x LinkedIn Top Voice in Tech), Leslie Shannon (Head of Ecosystem and Trend Scouting at Nokia), Leigh Steinberg (Sports Agent at Steinberg Sports), James Pearse Connelly (Emmy-winning Production Designer), Phil Quist (Music Agent at Creative Artists Agency), and Ilyasah Shabazz (Community Organizer and Author). The panel was moderated by Travis Cloyd, futurist and co-founder of Worldwide XR, and professor at Florida International University’s iSTAR immersive & entertainment program.
Discussing the vastness of the virtual world, Ted Schilowitz said, “I was thinking about the other part of my life that spends in virtual spaces. There’s an awareness of the largeness of the crowd where people don’t actually physically have to be in the space to derive the energy of the space. The virtual and the real are coming together more and faster than people are expecting. If you look at companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, they take something that used to only exist in real life and put it into a virtual world. They have figured out how to build a virtual layer on top of a physical reality.”
Cathy Hackl spoke about her role with technology and what is needed in the technology industry: “As a futurist, I look at the trends and the technology but also how it affects humanity and society. We need to consider the behavioral and economic impact it has.” Cathay also continued to discuss the importance of many voices in the future of entertainment discussion. “One of the things that’s incredibly important is that we have people that are diverse, of different ages, different backgrounds, prototyping the future. I am Latina, for me, I have a lot of young women reach out to me. If I can help at least one woman have a career in technology, then I’m doing my part. I want to make sure everyone has a seat at the table and is crafting this future together.”
Leslie Shannon talked about the advancements and accessibility of technology, especially with regards to 5G: “5G is just an enabler. The really important stuff is the processing you attach to 5G. As a result, we’re now getting into building a reality that may not exist or rebuilding a reality that previously existed. People are already used to living in these virtual worlds, and it will be interesting to see how advances continue in this realm. I’m ready to gamify my real life.”
Leigh Steinberg continued on the discussion of emerging technology, especially in how it relates to the sports world: “The first challenge is we can play the games, but without fans, how do you replicate crowd noise that brings energy to performers? Do you simulate fans in the broadcast? How do we make a contribution in the wake of everything and simulate young people to go into sports? How do you bring fans together?” With this uncertainty, he spoke about how to begin innovating: “Reading and innovating as much as you can will allow you to visualize a future that’s not there. That’s the challenge.”
With the pandemic posing an interesting situation for live and filmed entertainment, James Pearse Connelly, an innovator in virtual production, shared, “Ever since March, I must talk about virtual audiences everyday and what those solutions are. For television, there is a creativity that’s possible to embrace to replace the audience. The challenges of television are a little lighter than sports. Are we acknowledging in the program the fact that we are under a pandemic? We are looking for a way to replace the positive energy [from audiences]. We’re thinking of skyping people in adding in laugh tracks for sitcoms.”
With music being at the forefront of the virtual world currently, Phil Quist added: “Before, people weren’t used to livestreaming because of live shows but now it’s become a big thing that I think will continue because of the pandemic. BTS just did [a livestream] and sold almost a billion tickets. You can be in a chat room and communicate with other people from around the world.”
Discussing how to bring diversity into technology, Ilyasah Shabazz said, “I think this is great because we want to see different images. We want to see different people reflected. We want to see truths and people cohabit together. It’s important to me to see young people happy…to know that they have opportunity, that they’re represented, that they have the opportunity to join the digital future and feel good about themselves.”
Throughout the panel, immersive technology entrepreneur and influencer Travis Cloyd, who curated and moderated the discussion, incorporated examples of emerging technologies into the discussion. This included an introduction from Bella, a digital human created by Soul Machines of New Zealand, as well as a real-time 3D avatar version of Travis created by loom.ai that is used for enterprise and business solutions.