Halloween Weekend with Danny Elfman and Comikaze Expo

We spent Halloween weekend in Los Angeles, seeing Danny Elfman, Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo, and TeamMate.

Last year, as a rare treat, Danny Elfman joined the symphony performing the singing role of Jack Skellington in the symphonic concert of his music for Tim Burton films. We immediately regretted not attending.

This year, the symphony went on tour but without Elfman. We thought we had missed our chance until the Los Angeles performances, again on Halloween weekend, were announced. We got tickets minutes after they went on sale, and our plans were made months in advance to spend Halloween watching Danny Elfman sing “This Is Halloween.”

We spent the day driving south on Friday. On the way, an enormous billboard for Bravo Farms in Kettleman City convinced Michele to pull over for lunch. She allowed us a good hour to rest and eat. I would describe it as two parts tourist trap, two parts American Pickers and two parts tasty food. We had a tasty meal at Wild Jack’s of chicken flautas and a pulled pork BBQ cheeseburger (yes, both meats). We enjoyed browsing antiques and not so antiques on the property. They even had a piece of a 2000 year old Sequoia tree in the gift shop. I also captured the Ingress portals around the compound. We got a scoop of cookie dough ice cream with tons of cookie dough bites in it before we headed out.

Checking in at the hotel was a small challenge. They had overbooked someone else and the credit card reader wasn’t responding well. Eventually we got settled and dropped off our stuff in our room. We took the Metro, featuring newly repriced and much easier to pay fare, to 7th Street and walked up Flower toward the LA Live complex, passing by the Red Bull 30 in 30 Days stage where Cut Copy and MS MR would be playing later in the weekend. Sadly we were unable to stay for those shows.

We got to the complex at least an hour early and decided to try to get our Saturday Comikaze passes at the convention center nearby. A couple of wrong turns had us go around the entire massive building out of the way, trying to enter the West Hall of the convention center when Comikaze was in the South Hall. In the end, despite dehydration and walking for 40 minutes, everything worked out and we gratefully picked up our passes for Saturday with three minutes to spare before registration closed for the evening. We left and found we’d simply gone in the wrong direction to start with, and the entrance was just around the other side of Staples Center. Oh well.

The symphony performance was awesome. I realized as we were sitting there, I haven’t really seen that many Tim Burton/Danny Elfman collaboration films. That didn’t make the music any less entertaining to listen to, but the MiB theme would be awesome to hear. The visuals of just a few pieces of concept art per movie weren’t all that great. I would have liked them to have had more visuals or none at all and just focused on the awesome orchestra and choir instead. It felt like there were a minute or two of visuals for every six minutes or so of performance. Removing the visuals or adding them kind of disjointed my brain a bit.

There were two talented boy solo vocalists. There was a female solo violinist whose striking costume was patterned after Edward Scissorhands along with her hair. She slayed the solo. The conductor was impish too, putting a finger to his lips to shush for when the music stopped at one point. At another point, all the violinists stood up to swoop with the music. Most violins ever. There only seemed to be four cellos, Michele’s heart was broken. The program listed 8 though. There was a good cello part for Planet of the Apes. At the end of Mars Attacks the stage lights swept up the audience, bathing us in green light.

Danny ElfmanWhen the time came for Nightmare Before Christmas, Danny Elfman took the stage to loud roars and screams from the crowd. The conductor and several of the choir members came down and performed with Elfman during This is Halloween. The conductor got to play the role of Santa Claus when the second encore with Elfman as Oogie Boogie happened. Danny Elfman was incredible so animated and spunky. It’s a shame he doesn’t perform more live shows. The conductor also sang! and donned a Santa hat with Danny. They pranced around the stage repeatedly for bows at the end and Danny gave high fives. Michele’s reaction was “Oh my god” over and over.

Outside of getting our stuff doused with beer from an overeager fan behind us who apparently also didn’t know how to use a cupholder, the show was fabulous. I am very glad we made the journey south to see the show and in the end it was just the beginning of a great weekend.

We ate a late dinner at Subway where a bizarre customer was trying to get something taken off of his catering order and kept lingering until the staff would let him talk on the phone to one of their managers. It was really odd. After he left, a couple of presumably homeless people came in and waited until the staff had their backs turned and stole some potato chips. Flower Street is very odd around midnight on Halloween.

We boarded the Metro and when we got back to the stop for our hotel it was suddenly raining hard. Suddenly the beer wasn’t so relevant. We couldn’t dodge the rain completely and ended up wading through lakelike puddles and got drenched from head to toe by the time we got to the hotel. Oddly my hooded sweatshirt and socks and shoes weren’t all that wet, but the rest of me was. My wife managed to mostly keep our programs from the symphony and her gear dry. She spent the majority of the rest of the weekend attempting to dry out our clothes to the best of her ability using the hotel room hair dryer and heater. The hair dryer didn’t really work out, we only had five clothes hangers, and the air con/heater’s top was sloped, so stuff couldn’t lay flat on it. Everything dried out eventually by the end of the trip, but we had to go out the next day in wet jeans.

Saturday morning, we drove in for Comikaze. We didn’t want to risk the rain again, and we had loose plans to attend a concert in Silver Lake depending on how tired we were after the convention.

We got there just before 10AM and despite my protestation that we should hit the exhibit hall floor first to avoid the crowd later, we ended up at the Playing With Fire: Marketing to Fanboys panel. The panel was both good in that it confirmed that some of the marketing my wife and I have done has been done the “right” way, but also disheartening because the challenges in wanting to do things for fans that we face are the same ones that folks that have been in the industry working for big name clients have faced. Studios are incredibly reluctant to allow fans to have a voice in their properties, and many view the fans as commodities and not consumers. Hopefully that will change in the years ahead. There was also a point made that nobody knows how to market to the audience that isn’t already there. Something I found interesting was the panel mentioning that the movie going experience will be almost completely different in five to seven years, with VR and AR being added to make the theatrical experience more of an event. I don’t see that happening that quickly, but I’m sure they have more insight into how these things are happening, so maybe it will.

Our second panel, Nobility: These Aren’t The Heroes You Are Looking For, featured some of science fiction’s best actors. Christopher Judge (Stargate SG1), Miracle Laurie (Dollhouse), James Kyson (Heroes), Ellen Dubin (Skyrim), plus Cas Anvar, Torri Higginson, Darren Jacobs, director Neil Johnson, composer Charles-Henri Avelange, and creator EJ De La Pena were on the panel. The cast kept cracking each other up constantly. As fans, it was awesome for us to see Miracle and James. Everyone on the panel, including the director and the music composer, all had great things to say. Christopher had a Darth Vader Free Hugs shirt. Miracle refused to answer why she keeps taking sci-fi jobs, which seemed odd. They showed scenes with fellow cast members Doug Jones, Walter Koenig, and Adrienne Wilkinson. After a lot of anticipation, at the end, we watched the trailer, and sadly it wasn’t funny. The description that the show was “Serenity meets The Office” was not demonstrated at all. I still wish Nobility the absolute best of luck and hope someone picks it up, or they release as a web series or whatever the future holds. The cast is very talented and deserve recognition and steady work, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this bunch together.

Up next was the reason we decided to stay an extra day to go to Comikaze. Showrunners, a documentary film that features interviews and on-set documentation with Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson, Damon Lindelof, J.J. Abrams, and a ton of other awesome television showrunners, was having a panel with the production staff behind the documentary. We had backed their Kickstarter, and were excited to be able to be there for the panel to have a peek into the story inside showrunning. We originally planned to watch it in an LA theater, but when they mentioned the panel, we didn’t have time to watch the movie first.

As fans of at least three quarters of the showrunners featured in the documentary, it was cool to hear about the 18 months of filming over a four year period, and the struggles the filmmakers had with getting permission initially to visit writers’ rooms and sets. Doors started to open after their first interview with Jane Espenson. When they finished and she asked what they wanted to do, she basically told them that what they were trying to do was impossible, and why. Along the way, they actually hit every reason she gave them. They discovered the hard way that a pitch should only be a sentence or two, not one or two pages long that nobody has time to read. A later interview with Damon Lindelof went so well, they cut it into a sizzle reel, and suddenly some of Damon’s friends like J.J. Abrams weren’t saying no anymore. In the end, Showrunners featured 24 showrunners, telling the story of how they bring a television show to air, and guide the story through one to many seasons.

The panel touched on other subjects related to showrunning, including noting the clips they showed were all men. They had asked more women, but some had declined to be interviewed. They went through what they are currently watching, and ended with, “Please don’t cancel Selfie,” and Michele broke her taper silence to agree.

It was a great panel and well worth the modest price of admission for the day. Everything else that happened at Comikaze was a bonus… including what happened next.

I decided to go to the exhibit hall floor. My wife was going to a panel about a new Geek and Sundry produced series about a piano player. It turned out her panel wasn’t going to start until later and conflicted with our next panel together, so we ended up meeting on the floor. Before that though, I stumbled upon Alan Oppenheimer’s table. The voice of Skeletor. One of the great cartoon voice actors of my childhood was right there in front of me.

I made note of his location and searched for the Nobility booth where the actors would be signing. Turns out my wife ended up searching for the same booth. We met with and got a photo and autograph from James Kyson, and chatted with James in his unicorn costume and Miracle Laurie about Halloween. She had dressed as Maleficent for Halloween, and said she would post photos online of her costume later.

Next we met Alan Oppenheimer. He was awesome. He was a bit snarky and playful, and downplayed/seemingly really appreciated the honest compliment that I gave about the many hours of enjoyment I got watching cartoons featuring his voice in my childhood and into adulthood.

We tried to visit Barbara Eden’s booth, but she wasn’t there. Instead we took a brief break for lunch and ate some Lunchables, Snickers, and cheese and breadsticks we had picked up before the con. I wanted to go back to the floor, but Michele insisted on going back to the panel rooms, which were all far way from each other. Despite the enormity of the convention, most panels we went to didn’t fill, and many rooms didn’t even have mics.

At that point, we split up. My wife went to the Icon-O-Clash Final Femme panel which featured former Mythbuster Grant Imahara trying to always defend the underdog, in battles that lead to Ripley beating out Princess Leia, and two other strong female contenders in the final four. I went to the Intellivision Blue Sky Rangers panel and heard tales of video games from the early 80s from the folks who made them.

The Blue Sky Rangers talked about their time at Mattel and later work at Atari, Activision, INTV and M Network. They talked about how a game like “Astro Smash” ended up being too much like Asteroids and needed to be changed. One of the parts that really hit home though was when they talked about how they would always work together as a team and some of their best ideas came up when they were outside playing frisbee together in a park or just relaxing and looking at the blue sky above them.

We both enjoyed our respective panels and headed back to the exhibit hall to explore a bit more before our next panel. The exhibit hall didn’t have huge tentpole corporate booths. The biggest booth was from main stage sponsor Hot Topic but KROQ, Classic Gaming Expo, Dave and Busters, an R2 Builders Club, a VR production company, a Wall-E Builders Club and other small conventions all shared booth space scattered across a floor. Things were arranged in a Sci Fi section, a horror section hosted by Elvira, a comic book memoribilia museum hosted by Stan Lee and Pow Entertainment, and a tabletop and video game museum section. It was awesome to walk around and see so much content in a fandom friendly and not corporate shilling kind of way. It felt like Wondercon back in the day. There were still a ton of people. There were diverse booths, including robotics and VR companies from Maker Fair. The wizard from Pee-Wee was there. There was tabletop gaming. Yet Dave and Busters and KROQ didn’t overwhelm all the other little people.

We took a picture with KITT, who along with the Delorean was there to advertise the Hollywood Science Fiction Museum, who disappointed my wife with their Shut Up Wesley tee shirt when they were on Kickstarter. The booth volunteers were discussing getting new designs in, so hopefully they get rid of that one.

Then we finally got to meet Barbara Eden who still looks beautiful but didn’t seem to want to make small talk with fans. Not sure if she’d be better if the fan initiated the small talk, since we’re not that type. Oh well, she does have a memoir book out if we want to hear from her, and it was cool to meet her.

To end our Comikaze experience, we inadvertently skipped the line for TheOneRing.net’s panel. While we don’t visit the site unless we’re looking for info, Michele wanted to go since it was going to be one of their last panels. It was an example of the diverse programming for the con, from Hollywood actors, to fandom stuff, to topics of diversity, with many female centered topics. After discussing the extended edition of the second Hobbit film, they warned of a spoiler filled discussion of what they expect might happen in the third and final film this December. It was funny to see people surprised with a certain character’s death being discussed and abruptly leaving mid-panel. Haven’t these people read The Hobbit yet? But then there were a ton of people who had never even been to the site, hopefully they got some converts. There were some notes of getting info from Lego figures and art department leaking stuff that writers probably would gave to retcon later.

The panel ended up being 90 minutes, which was at least 40 minutes too long, and we were starving by the end.

We decided to head to Silver Lake and grab dinner at Leela Thai, a restaurant about half a block up the street from The Satellite, the venue for the concert we were debating attending.

The food at Leela Thai was very good and they had a big variety of choices. If you’re ever in Silver Lake for a concert or any other reason, I’d recommend eating there.

After a refueling meal, we still had time to kill. We rested in our car for around 30 minutes before walking in to The Satellite. We enjoyed soundcheck and a performance by TeamMate, a bicoastal band that for the second show ever, featured Phil Galitzine, former bass player for The Animators and Atomic Tom.

It was great to see Phil on stage again and rocking out, singing, clapping, and smiling his face off. TeamMate’s songs have extremely autobiographical lyrics, but they delivered a lot of passion in their performance. Scott Simons played keys and sang, and Dani Buncher pounded drums and sang on a short set of 80’s inspired electronic pop songs.

After the show, we filled Phil in to our recent shenanigans, then had an uneventful drive back to the hotel, with no rain in sight.

On Sunday, we headed home after a nice brunch at Shakey’s. The “fall back” time change away from daylight saving time made the trip seem either longer or shorter than it actually was. I’m not sure which.

We got back to the Bay Area around dinner time, and had a great, vegetable heavy meal at Sweet Tomatoes, before heading home and back to our normal lives.

I would definitely like to check out Comikaze again next year depending on when it falls, and would love to see Danny Elfman do more songs in the future. It was a great weekend, as many of them are when I share them with my wife on an adventure.

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