Waiting for Hall H

I set out for Comic-Con International: San Diego with high spirits and high hopes. Like a kid on Christmas morning, I devoured the program, circling and highlighting the panels, planning and plotting my schedule.

I began the weekend full of inspiration and ideas. I’d return with a notebook full of material: Highlights from Hall H, Top 5 Celebrity Sightings, Best Quotes from the Convention, etc. Instead, only one experience stands out.

I’m waiting in line for Hall H. The “Con’s” glorified Mecca holds the lion’s share of its high-profile events and some 6500 seats, which sounds like a lot but really only constitutes 5% of the convention’s population. In other words, most people don’t get in.

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It’s Friday morning and I’m an idiot. This is my fourth or fifth Con, but I waltz into the line a few minutes before 10am like it’s my first time. It’s a lineup for the ages: Edgar Wright’s apocalyptic comedy The World’s End kicks things off at 11, followed by the Veronica Mars movie and Kick-Ass 2. But none of these hold a candle to the next two panels. The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are the equivalent of rock gods at the Con and they’re back to back… in the same room.

Now I could take this opportunity to rant about how asinine this is. I could put on my sarcastic pants and say, “Way to go, guys. It’s a great idea to put two of your biggest draws back to back in the same room. It’s such a capital idea to let people set up shop in the morning and never leave. Never mind that thousands of people are spending the day waiting in line when they could be spending money at your exhibits.” But I can’t in good conscience blame anyone but myself. The second I even dreamed of getting into Hall H I should have sucked it up and lugged a sleeping bag and a pillow to the front of the line the night before; sleep be damned.

Instead, I’m wasting away in the worst line I’ve ever seen, experiencing a level of existential distress that would make even Jean-Paul Sartre proud. Tensions are high as people dressed as zombies, superheroes, and mothers of dragons stand, sit, and wait, sometimes walking a couple of feet forward with hopes that the line is actually moving. It’s not. It just means that yet another poor soul gave up.

Sometimes, in some sort of sick cosmic joke, the line does move ever so slightly. An impromptu photo shoot with four Daenerys Targaryens clogs up the works. People aren’t happy. A street preacher marches beside us and castigates us for our sins, megaphone blaring. Surely he must realize that the crowd’s already at wit’s end. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that the hell he’s describing probably looks a lot like the line for Hall H. Maybe that’s what the H stands for in the first place.

It’s a house of cards. Only a tenuous grasp of law and order keeps the crowd from an all-out riot. Or maybe it’s that small glimmer of hope that somehow, someway, we’ll all get in. The people in front of me have gotten this close to jumping ship on several occasions, but the allure of the great Hall has compelled them to stay put. “Every minute we stand in this line my soul dies a little” one said, and he was not alone.

Delirium is setting in and I may or may not be hallucinating. I look up to see a giant blimp in the sky, but it’s no ordinary blimp. It’s one of the minions from Despicable Me, teasing us with the reminder that we’re all just minions of the great lord Hall H, waiting at his doors for just a hint of attention, a thank you for our many hours of servitude.

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Batman and Robin are running around in their underwear and I’m pretty sure I saw Blake from Workaholics drive by in the back of a golf cart. Here’s to small victories! Every time I gather up the courage to break the spell and redeem my day, something cool happens that keeps me glued to this interminable line. Christopher Mintz-Plasse takes pictures with the crowd and signs autographs. We catch a glimpse of Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus on the veranda. But as exciting as these tastes of celebrity may be, they ultimately remind us that minute by minute, panel by panel, the day is slipping away.

Dehydration and numbing boredom have made me a faux-mathematician as I try to calculate the number of people that will leave the Hall between The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. After careful consideration, algorithms, and permutations, I land on a big fat zero.

My fears are confirmed as the phrase “Game of Thrones is closed” ripples throughout the crowd. One of the costumed Daenerys Targaryens exits with her sentries in defeat. The line pities her with a standing ovation and sporadic cries of “Mhysa!” (or “mother” in GoT speak). I consider abandoning ship as well, but I don’t move a muscle. If I do, Hall H wins.

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So seven hours later, I enter the Hall for Sony’s pedestrian lineup of sequels, reboots, and franchises. I even get to see some movie stars–Samuel L. Jackson, Andrew Garfield, Jamie Foxx–but my heart’s not in it. It speaks to the sea change in the industry that Hall H empties after a couple of TV shows, even with big-budget Hollywood blockbusters next on the schedule. If there’s an audience that knows quality it’s Comic-Con’s and the habits of this year’s attendees show that the bulk of truly passionate fandom now lies in television.

Unsurprisingly, I left Hall H feeling empty and unsatisfied. As I was leaving the convention, I decided to check out Ballroom 20 on a whim, hoping that I could just walk in and see Joss Whedon. There he was, chilling on the stage by himself, no moderator, no clips, just the man and his fans. It was a treat to hear him indulge any and all of the crowd’s questions, no matter how bizarre. When asked to describe The Avengers sequel in one word, he offered this wry response: “movie”. Totally in his element, with a room full of people who adore him, he almost redeemed my entire day…almost.

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Comic-Con has always been a circus of dramatic highs and lows, heroic victories and soul-crushing defeats. But until this year, the highs have always outweighed the lows. On Sunday, I decided to brave Hall H again, this time arriving at 7am with hopes of attending Breaking Bad and Dr. Who…back to back…in the same room. Needless to say, I saw neither.

I could take this opportunity to offer up solutions: Split up the high profile panels. Schedule headliners like The Walking DeadGame of Thrones, and Dr. Who on different days, or at least in different rooms. Make people choose what they want to see the most and dissipate the crowd. And schedule these panels first! That way, no one camps out through the day to see the good stuff, leaving countless paying customers stranded outside. What’s more, if the big draws are over earlier in the day, attendees have more time to walk the floor, spend money, and fund the convention. It’s a win-win! I’m sure the programmers have excuses and according to those I’ve spoken to who know the guys who run this thing, nothing will change.

And if that’s the case, I have to quote Harrison Ford entirely out of context from the Ender’s Game panel and say: “I am never coming here again.”

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Brett has an MA in Cinematic Arts (Critical Studies) from USC. Exhilarated by the arts, he is an avid scholar, writer, critic, and teacher of Film/TV.

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12 Comments

  1. Mye Thanner
    0

    Thank you for sharing that. I knew nothign about what Hall H was. My nerdgasm doesn’t extend to a level where I will put myself in a situtation where I suffer in a line for half a day or more. A YouTube coverage is fine for me 🙂

  2. This is “somewhat” related… I never appreciated the love for Joss Whedon and his The Avengers. I even wrote an entry about this in my own film blog discussing how unreliable IMDB ratings are. Where to start…

    Let me just establish the follow IMDB film ratings as a reference:

    – A Clockwork Orange: 8.5 – Aliens (1986): 8.5 – American Beauty: 8.5 – Full Metal Jacket: 8.4 – Chinatown: 8.4 – Fargo: 8.2 – A Scanner Darkly: 7…

    These are the kind of movies that get (and should get) 8+ ratings. They have real content. They’re innovative, original, intelligent and thought-provoking. They’re timeless classics.

    The Avengers has an IMDB rating of 8.2

    I don’t really have much of a gripe with The Avengers, as after seeing Captain America, I expected nothing more than another formulaic blockbuster. Even so, it’s pretty bad even for a fill-in-the-villain/superhero/threat formula movie. A ridiculous super villain, flat characters, no excitement (as you know how things are going to turn out)…

    Is it possible that the movie is on IMDB’s top 20 because of Whedon’s enormous fan base? That is the only thing that makes any resonable sense… right?

    Ranting aside, this article was a very enjoyable read, keep it up!

    • Brett Siegel

      Thanks! I agree that IMDb ratings are a total joke and definitely not a reliable indicator of quality by any means. As far as Joss Whedon goes, I’m not the biggest Avengers fan (though I must admit I enjoyed it). However, I am a religious follower of his television work, as I think he’s one of the few that’s developed a truly unique voice within the medium.

  3. I feel that the whole system is run very poorly. They should assign time limits per person depending on the time of his/her entrance. This would ensure a constant flow of people, maximizing exposure and revenue!

  4. We lineup in the press section, which was absurd two years ago. Last year and this year I arrived the night of Preview Night, so my badge have already been picked up for me.

    • Marti Nix
      0

      I always like to keep an eye on lines before I jump in. Why waste my time sitting on my ass if I can go have a beer, come back and see if I need to sit down and wait it out?

  5. I laughed loads when reading this! I’m no stranger to waiting in line for hours (e.g. the recent Calgary Expo), but even this still sounds intimidating.

  6. Great story. The social media/internet age has benefited and hurt the San Diego Comic Con appeal. Thanks to the net, many people are able to find info on what and who will be at the event. However, trailers debuted at comic con can easily be captured on a phone and put on the net instantly. It almost defeats the purpose of these massive events nowadays.

  7. Nicole Christou

    This is a great read.

    Living in England, I have a distant dream of one day attending Comic Con but the more I read about it (especially things like this) the more I wonder if it will even be worth it! I go to a lot of film premieres so I too am used to waiting in line for hours, but it sounds like that’s all I’ll be doing if I ever do manage to go..

    • Brett Siegel

      Despite the doom-and-gloom nature of this article, I would still encourage you to go if you’ve never been before. It’s quite an experience and there are plenty of things to do that don’t require you to wait in line all day. It’s just that the more of a phenomenon Comic-Con becomes, the harder it becomes to get into the high-profile stuff. That said, even walking the floor, taking in the atmosphere of the convention, and checking in on some of the smaller panels can be a lot of fun, especially for a first-timer!

  8. Kevin Wong

    great article, i’ve experienced similar frustration when I was around E3 a few years ago.

  9. Jessica Koroll

    I think the best thing about this article, for me, is how perfectly you captured the ‘magic’ that causes fans from all over to make the journey to San Diego every year despite the endless horror stories that often circulate. Although I’ve only ever been to much smaller conventions, such as Fan Expo in Toronto, I can definitely relate to the frustrations of long lines and mismanaged panels. But, I can also very much relate to your recount of the costumed Daenerys and her sentries exiting to cries of “Mhysa!” from passerbys. While it’s exciting to see your idols up close, and conventions these days do seem to be hitting a bit of a crisis when it comes to managing things properly (which does need to be seriously addressed), the atmosphere, enthusiasm, and opportunity for fan interaction makes for an experience that is unlike any other and has always been the main highlight for me.

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