Friday, July 21, 2023

Convention Do's and Don'ts During WGA and SAG-AFTRA Strike

It’s that time of year again when geek-culture conventions are on my mind… and, really, at the forefront of the thoughts of many. San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) is happening as we speak, continuing through July 23rd. Here in Louisiana, we have Geek’d Con happening August 18th - 23rd. Dragon Con in Atlanta, GA runs from August 31st through September 4th (Labor Day weekend). New York Comic-Con isn’t too far behind running October 12th to 15th.

These gatherings celebrate fandoms and give the average fan a chance to meet some of their favorite actors, artists, and costumers while also getting the opportunity to shop for souvenirs in the process. I have long been a fan of these conventions where we can all let our geek flags fly proudly amongst our fellow geeky peers. I adore pulling in friends that may not realize how much fun they can have at these events and watching them have a blast geeking out too. I enjoy volunteering at the conventions I attend to help them run smoothly and give everyone a great experience. I used to work as volunteer staff at Dragon Con for several years, however, travel expenses have curtailed that long ago and I now stay closer to home working with Geek’d Con.

2023 is going to be significantly different from previous years, however. 

The WGA (Writers Guild of America) and SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) are on strike in order to push the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) to contract with fair wages and updated rights that take into consideration this new digital age. This means members of the 2 striking organizations are limited in what they can and are willing to participate in without “crossing picket lines.”

SDCC’s Hall H is going to feel a bit empty this year without all of the A-list appearances, panels, sneak peeks, etc. However, that doesn’t mean that everything related to meet-and-greet and celebrity interactions are off the table. Union members simply aren’t able to participate in anything that promotes or is organized by the studios and production companies that are on the other side of the strike. 

A common question pops up: What does that mean for convention attendees? What can we do or should we not do when we see our favorite celebrities at events or “in the wild.” 
Here’s a helpful guide for navigating this convention season. 

  • DO purchase tickets and attend events where celebrities are still appearing. Even if you want to show solidarity with the strike, these events still help support the writers and actors. If they are there, you can bet that they’ve worked with their agents and other representatives extensively to ensure they’re in compliance with the strike rules. Your attendance shows your support! Their primary job is on hold, so these appearances are important to them as if a part-time job while they are laid-off. 

  • DO remember to bring with you any article you wish to have signed that might come from any current in-theater work or other projects that are affected by the strike. The convention guests will be able to sign something YOU provide them, but they won’t have merchandise or photos at their booths or panels reflecting any of the work that is affected by the strike. (Keep in mind that anything from struck-work is up to the discretion of the individual celebrity whether or not they’re willing to sign an item - but the SAG rules allow it as long as THEY don’t provide the item themselves.)

  • DON’T get upset if the guest you are seeking an autograph from doesn’t have a photo or merchandise available from your favorite project, if it was covered under “struck-work” or if they don’t want to sign the item you have brought with you. Some members of the WGA or SAG-AFTRA might feel like it is an ethical stand to avoid ALL dealings with the productions that are involved with the strike. The strike rules leave it up to their discretion so they are able to decline if they choose. Save it for another future date after all of this is resolved. Maybe ask their agent or handler if there is an address you can send an item to at a later date after the strike is resolved - though, this is a long-shot and they may not be willing to accept the liability for your item.

  • DO feel free to ask your burning questions about general topics “such as about [their] process, why [they] wanted to be an actor, what [they] like/dislike about working in the industry, and the like..” (Direct quote from SAG-AFTRA strike appearances FAQ)

  • DON’T ask about topics that cover “struck-work” (or at least try to avoid doing so) - i.e. any production made/produced by any of the companies involved in the strike. I know this might be harder to remember in the moment, but it helps avoid an awkward moment where the guest has to either decline to answer your question or has to dance around the topic. (i.e. movies or TV shows currently In-Production, soon to be or currently in theaters, etc. like Deadpool 3 or Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse, and so on.)

  • For Cosplayers - if you are wanting to show solidarity with the strike, DON’T dress up as a character from any of the struck-work. If you’ve been working all year on a theme or costume, it’s absolutely acceptable to continue with your plans to wear it - however, if you have an optional back-up costume that is from a non-struck concept, then consider that costume instead. Cosplay as a character from a struck-work (i.e. Deadpool, Spider-Man, Superman, any Marvel character, etc.) is technically considered promotion of that work. The SAG-AFTRA strike FAQ does allow for this contingency regarding photo-ops etc. so you’re not going to get anyone in trouble if you wear a struck-work related costume. 

  • DO feel free to discuss the strike with an open mind and with information from trusted sources if celebrities/guests are willing. Keep in mind that the big companies that the strike affects own some of the big-name media outlets that provide news content regarding the strike. Make sure your sources are neutral or are directly from the WGA or SAG-AFTRA sites. Actors, writers, and artists may be willing to discuss the strike to broaden the reach of its message - just remember to keep things civil. 

  • DON’T complain about the strike and the rich celebrities in the picket lines around celebrity guests. Remember that the strike isn’t about the A-List actors and ultra-famous writers, etc. The strike is about fairness for everyone else behind the scenes of the productions. It’s for the actors that get paid practically nothing for a single recording session and then have their likeness and voice used in EVERY episode of a long-running TV show without any further compensation - and situations like that.

All that being said, you might be wondering which studios and production companies are involved in the strike, and thus how to determine what is “struck work” and what isn’t. has put together a useful list that outlines the organizations within the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers). You can find that here.

I am looking forward to August and my annual Geek’d Con experience and I am wishing the best to all convention attendees this year. The best advice I can give for the unusual circumstances resulting from the strike is to simply go with the flow, and lets support the creative souls that bring us our favorite shows, comics, books, movies, and art!

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Action - Revisiting Personal Cinematic Landscape

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My first stop on the journey through my updated personal cinematic landscape is the action genre.
Action and adventure are almost always mentioned together. The genre itself is marked with a slash between them. If there’s so much as single explosion or fight scene, it’s marked as action/adventure. I’ve never agreed with that. I don’t think all actions are adventures, and vice versa.
For instance, one of the first movies I mentioned in 2018 for the action genre was Die Hard (1988). As action-packed as Die Hard is, I don’t think anyone would rush to call it an adventure. Because it’s not. John McClane doesn’t go anywhere. He spends the entire time in one building. As exciting as it is, it’s certainly not adventurous.
I see action and adventure as two very separate genres that complement each other. Much like romance and comedy do. As a result, I will only be touching on the action genre in this article.
Aside from Die Hard, I also talked about how Kill Bill (2003-2004), Gladiator (2000), and Battle Royale (2000) all shaped the way I perceived other films of the genre. You can read about those opinions in my Week One: The Effect of a Personal Cinematic Landscape ( article. The way those flicks affect me hasn’t changed, but I’ve seen 2 movies since then that have reshaped the way I look at the genre.

I’m going to start with Extraction (2020).
If you follow the blog at all, then you’ve seen me go on and on about Extraction. It was a great film, but it had some of its slightly off moments. I’m not saying it’s the next Die Hard. That’s not why it’s here. If anything, it’s not even the film that shapes my perspective, really. It’s the director.
During my research into Extraction, when we were setting up our Top 20 article for the month of its release, I looked into Sam Hargrave (Thor: Ragnarok, Atomic Blonde, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2) and found an impressive stunt resume behind him. He had 80 stunt credits to his name at that time. There was everything from Avengers: Endgame (2019) to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) on his credit list. He’d stunt doubled for Chris Evans, Hugh Jackman, and Jensen Ackles (among others). He was credited with just about every stunt job in Hollywood. But as a director, Extraction was the first full-length feature film on his list.
It made me seriously consider what it meant for a stuntman to move into a director’s seat. I found myself researching other films that had been created by people better known for their stunt work and found a bit of pattern. A high number of those movies had some of the best action sequences. I put my prediction up that Extraction would go that same route and Hargrave proved me so right.
The action sequences in Extraction raised the bar for other action films. Not only that, but there were scenes that only a stuntman could have caught. In one case, he took the camera and jumped off a building with the protagonist just to get a unique point of view and it was insanely memorable.
Extraction altered how I saw new directors in the action genre. Now, whenever I see a new name credited as a director, I don’t just research what else they’ve directed. I investigate their background work. What they did as crew members affects what I expect from them in that director’s chair.

Then, there’s John Wick (2014).
I’m just going to say it. The first John Wick had the worst marketing. I was convinced that it was just going to be another bullshit, fast-made, low-quality, old-guy in an action flick. As a result, it took me over a year to even bother to see it. Even after the great reviews started coming out.  
When I did watch it, I found that it was a whole new experience.
From the very first frame of the film to the very end, the character of John Wick is easy to sympathize with. The story goes hard straight from the jump, but it doesn’t give you a real glimpse into the world the story takes part in until you’ve already decided you’re on Wick’s side.
Then the story starts to unfold into these complex layers of underground societies, gangs, favors owed, and strange relationships that are impossible to look away from. What was marketed as just another straight-up, kill ‘em all, action actually had a unique world with gloriously blooming roles and complex figures in it. It wasn’t a turn-your-brain off anything. You needed every inch of your mind to follow the threads of plot and connection the flick was showing.
Even more impressive was that the quality and world building spread out and continued into a second, third, and fourth film. Every one of them hovering around the same quality as the first. That’s unheard of.
I’ll still watch fun action films with much more basic stories and be fine, it’s not as often that I’ll go out of my way to offer them significant praise based on the setting, though. I might go hard to praise their banter, or their characters, but very little compares to the world built by the John Wick writer, Derek Kolstad (Nobody, The Package, One in the Chamber).
Where Extraction raised the bar for the combat in an action film, John Wick raised the bar on story quality.
Between Extraction and John Wick what I expect from the quality of an action film has changed completely. I now see exactly how good certain aspects of these films can be. With the bar raised, I still find greatness in other action films, but I expect more from their writers and directors.
In the next installment of my personal cinematic landscape examination, I’m going to look at the adventure genre.  

Monday, July 17, 2023

Revisiting Personal Cinematic Landscapes - Introduction

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I wrote a series of articles in 2018 explaining the importance of identifying our own personal cinematic landscapes.
The general cinematic landscape includes movies that objectively matter to all widely consumed media and society as a whole. Regardless of how they make you feel, personally, they have unquestionably shaped the movies we see today. You may not be a fan of musicals, but West Side Story (1961) still represented one of the most famous works of Shakespeare and brought it to a whole new generation in an accessible way. It changed how people looked at musicals, and how they were presented to the public. You may find Citizen Kane (1941) boring next to the movies of today, but it still offered a brand-new method of cinematography that awed the movie world when it was released. Maybe superheroes aren’t your thing, but Iron Man (2008) rebirthed a whole genre of films and altered the expectations of both audiences and Hollywood. 
Whatever your personal opinion, every bit of that is a fact. The National Film Registry is where you can find a list of movies that audiences and critics have voted to preserve because they are deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It’s not about whether the movies are good or bad. It's just about their importance. It was set up as a part of the National Film Preservation Act of 1988 and includes films going as far back as 1891. Most of which you can find on various streaming services and YouTube.
When I talk about a personal cinematic landscape, I’m not referring to those films.
Just as the movies in the National Film Registry have affected society and film, our personal cinematic landscapes affect the way we see other movies. Although 12 Angry Men (1957) is a harrowing and impressive film that is still very much relevant today, it’s not going to mean anything to someone who’s never seen it. On top of that, remakes and reboots may speak louder to newer generations because they're updated to represent our current reality.
A personal cinematic landscape can’t be argued against because it’s completely subjective. It’s all about how a person feels. It’s about what they like and what they’ve experienced. The movies that come to make up their personal mosaics of cinema will undoubtedly shape what they look for in other films.
It’s why no two critics have the same exact perspective on the same film.
I know that I like creature features. I grew up on Jurassic Park (1993) and Jaws (1975). When I saw the trailer for Sharknado (2013), I knew it’d be nowhere near as good as those, but I also knew it’d be fun for me to watch. My best friend, however, hates creature features. He tolerates Jurassic Park, but will not even try to sit through Jaws. I cannot describe the level of eyerolling he gave me when I turned on Syfy to watch a tornado full of sharks.
Neither of us were wrong. Our experiences with previous films guided us on how to react to that movie.
We’ve been over most of this, even though it’s been a while. What we’ve never talked about is just how much a personal cinematic landscape can shift over time.
It’s easy to consider how watching movies new to you might alter how you see things. Since 2018, I’ve watched hundreds of films, some that I’ll never remember and others that have found spots on my list of favorites. What people tend to forget is that what we experience from year to year can change what previous films once meant to us.
As we get older, we face new challenges and learn. Over the past 5 years, I’ve had a baby, I’ve moved away from the only city I’ve ever known, I’ve gone through at least 3 different apocalypse scenarios… I’ve changed. The world has changed. And so has my perspective.
That’s what I’ll be going over in this series of articles. I’m going to revisit my personal cinematic landscape from 5 years ago and see how it’s been altered. I’ll examine why things may be different and how I expect the changes will affect the way I digest films in the future. New movies will be added, and older movies may mean just a little more than they used to. Some of the movies I once felt were incredibly influential to me, may not mean as much. I hope you’ll join me on my journey.
Last time, I did many different genres in each article. It made the posts long and a bit difficult to follow. This time around, I’ll narrow my focus to one genre at a time. I’ll also go over some new genres that I didn’t touch last time. It will take a while to go through them all, but with the WGA/SAG-AFTRA strike going on, we’ve got nothing but time. I’ll be posting at least one genre per week and, depending on what else we post, possibly more.
I’d love to know what your personal cinematic landscapes look like and how they compare to mine. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know!
The first of the articles will be posted on Wednesday, July 19 at 6pm EST. We’ll be kicking it off with the action genre.