By Ben Helms
One of the most anticipated panels at Comic-Con this year was Entertainment Weekly’s panel of filmmaker visionaries featuring Kevin Smith (Zack and Miri Make a Porno), Frank Miller (The Spirit), Zack Snyder (Watchmen), and Judd Apatow (Knocked Up). Obviously, it had some big names on it, and over 6,000 people showed up to hear them bestow bits and pieces of their vast wealth of knowledge.
The panel was moderated by EW.com’s senior editor Marc Bernardin, who did his best to reel in the extroverted Smith and Apatow, but ended up just playing the part and laughing along with the rest of the crowd. Kevin Smith took control of the show rather quickly and began asking the majority of the questions to the other panelists.
It didn’t take long for the entire crowd to be completely in the panel’s control. Every single word from Smith and Apatow was like a golden drop heavenly humor from above, sent from its most vulgar and glorious levels.
After some hilarious banter, there eventually came some great questions from the audience.
When asked how much he takes test-audience reactions and comments into consideration, compared to just following his gut, Kevin Smith said, “I tend to go with my gut, but my gut is prodigious so…I guess that’s good. But my gut has lied to me many times in the past, because my gut was like ‘Jersey Girl’s a great idea!’”
Starting off each comment with a joke, Smith almost always transitioned into more serious, sometimes even poignant comments. He continued on with that question admitting that people often accuse his films of being “all masturbatory” and aiming solely to amuse himself.
“They’re f*cking right!” he laughed, then he continued with a more serious tone, “But, I think if I enjoy it, some other cats will too.”
Throughout the hour, Smith continued to seemingly monopolize the questions at times, and appeared to almost scare off the other panelists from answering anything at all.
Another question soon after came, “Do your films belong to the filmmaker, or do they belong to the people you make them for?”
Smith answered first, “I think it’s both. I think definitely you have to kind of own it yourself, but at the end of the day you are giving it up for the ages, and not just your theatrical release, but it’ll live forever in some form of home video. So, yeah, it’s for both…for me at least.” He then looked to Apatow, Snyder and Miller. Silence. Next question…
“Do you think that Dark Knight is the turning point for comic book movie adaptations, or do you think comic book movies have always been this good, it just took a more serious movie for the public to realize it?”
Initially, the whole panel just looked at Frank Miller for insight, being the only one who’s actually been around long enough to remember what Hollywood was like before big comic book movies were the norm. But then, after the crowd laughed a bit, they each answered in their own ways.
Zack Snyder replied first, “Look, I mean, is it a good movie and does it also have a superhero in it? Yes. Does that change comic book movies, or super hero movies? (shrug) I think it’s good for ‘em. (pause) I think it’s also the best thing for them. But I think the cool thing about [Dark Knight] is that Chris made it to (and I think that the best movies are movies that) have a particular point of view. It’s personal to him, and so the movie becomes personal to the people who are watching it. And that’s the best experience you can have at the movies, where you go, ‘F*ck! I wouldnta thoughta that!’”
The wise, yet quiet, old comic veteran, Frank Miller replied more to Snyder’s comments, “Well, I figure it’s my job to give you what you don’t ask for, and what you don’t know that you want.” much to the delight and surprise of the audience.
Then the question was asked: “Is ‘geek culture’ is here to stay, or are superhero movies just a fad?”
Kevin Smith answered (after a few jokes), “I think it’s here to stay. I think in terms of comic book movies it was only a matter of time before A) technology caught up with what they can do on the page, and B) they proved to be financially viable…I think once they proved that like, you make one of these you have a good shot making $300 million domestically, you know, why not mine some of the most creative material ever written? And it’s just been sitting around for 50-60 years. And since we work in an industry where originality is not hailed…you know, why not just go to the source material, which has been time tested and proven, but not necessarily available to the mainstream audience, because they were just like, ‘Oh, funnybooks, those are for kids.’ And that’s just talking about the superhero stuff. (pause) In case you didn’t follow. Um…I think geek culture’s here to stay…thank God for Quentin Tarantino.” It was then that there was a rousing applause in both his approval and in awe of Smith’s wisdom on the subject.
At one point someone asked Frank Miller what it was like seeing the graphic novel that he had put so much of his life into, be put to screen, during the filming of Sin City. He responded, “It was on the first scene where Bruce Willis comes in and finds out that the girl that he had saved had become an exotic dancer. It was the first time that Jessica Alba appeared on stage, with a lasso. And I had picked the music we had on stage; it was Emmylou Harris’ ‘Wrecking Ball’. And, she danced an elegant dance, swinging the lasso. (pause) And I found myself bursting into tears because I realized a dream had just come true.” There was a pause at first, as people were shocked at just how vulnerable Frank Miller, the author of Sin City, 300, and now writer and director of The Spirit, made himself, but it quickly turned to overwhelming applause of appreciation, as they again, realized how special that moment really had been.
So, for the most part, it was a hilarious panel, lead by the always talkative Smith, and anchored by his counterpart for the panel, Mr. Judd Apatow. However, there were (surrounded and often buried in outbursts of laughter), many deep and profound speeches. While most of the crowd ate up any and all jokes (thank you Kevin Smith), it was the truly insightful statements that seemed to transform the crowd from laughter, to honest applause and awe at the true genius that the panel possessed. Whether usually portrayed by laughter on the screen, or by gorgeous visual effects, the panel portrayed themselves as four truly gifted, and lucky, and knowledgeable people who love what they do, and love passing on the wisdom they’ve come across over the years.