For Hollywood, Comic-Con has become a hype factory for its TV shows and movies, giving marketing mavens a valuable platform to get the word out early about new projects.
But the Comic-Con crowd can be a tough one. Say the wrong thing or show the wrong footage, and thousands of fanboys will unleash a hailstorm of negative buzz across the Internet.
“You have to be honest and you can’t do a hard sell,” said “X-Men” scribe and “Transformers” producer Tom DeSanto, a regular attendee of the Con over the years.
Studios made every effort to win over the 125,000 attendees of the annual San Diego confab that ended its four-day run Sunday.
For Warner Bros. and the filmmakers behind “Watchmen,” that meant letting the 6,500 that packed the confab’s largest hall know that the filmmakers and studio were faithful to the Alan Moore graphic novel on which the pic is based.
Helmer Zack Snyder called the book his “bible” for making the movie.
“It was a labor of love to get as much of the graphic novel in the film as we could,” he said.
McG, the helmer behind next summer’s “Terminator Salvation,” stressed his desire to be faithful to the previous pics.
“Prior to making the picture, I made sure I talked to Jim Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stan Winston,” he told auds.
Winning over fans is easier when the creators of the initial source material give the adaptations a thumbs up.
“Watchmen” artist Dave Gibbons did so, saying, “I wish Alan Moore could feel the same joy and excitement I’m enjoying.”
(Moore has been anti-Hollywood and against participating in any adaptation of his books after failures such as “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Multiple studios have been trying to adapt “Watchmen” for the past 20 years.)
The crowd also sparked to the enthusiasm shown by “Watchmen’s” stars, including Billy Crudup, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Carla Gugino and Patrick Wilson, who lovingly described their characters and how they embraced the roles.
That proved key for most of the Con’s panels — with attendees wanting the reassurance that their favorite characters were in the right hands and that the creatives were fully committed to the project.
Thesps have been criticized for not appearing that they wanted to be at Comic-Con in the past. But Mark Wahlberg, making his first appearance at the Con for Fox’s “Max Payne”; Keanu Reeves, there for “The Day the Earth Stood Still”; and Samuel L. Jackson, in “The Spirit,” were praised for their rousing performances on panels. The cast of NBC’s “Heroes” brought cameras to shoot the crowd, much the way Olympic athletes do during opening ceremonies.
Sony essentially used the Con to launch stoner comedy “Pineapple Express” the way it bowed laffer “Superbad” at the show last year, with Seth Rogen, James Franco, Judd Apatow, helmer David Gordon Green and co-scribe Evan Goldberg on hand to hilariously push the pic.
Rogen and Franco perhaps stole the show with their onstage antics for “Pineapple Express,” with Rogen jokingly chastising women cheering for his co-star. “Fuck you,” he yelled. “You didn’t do that when I started talking.”
But the cast of Summit Entertainment’s “Twilight” appeared uncomfortable at their session. At least one fan was heard grousing about the pic’s stars for sounding uninterested or hung over.
The key draw, though, is the early footage that studios and producers are willing to screen works in progress.
Nearly 7,000 teen and tween girls let out piercing screams for scenes from “Twilight.”
“We wanted to show footage that no one’s ever seen before,” McG said while presenting “Terminator Salvation.” “We want (the movie) to be exciting and, hopefully, that was reflected in what you saw.”
And exclusive footage proved a selling point for other pics, with Hugh Jackman making a surprise appearance during 20th Century Fox’s panel to play a montage of scenes from “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” which recently wrapped. The stunt resulted in cheers and positive online chatter.
“Watchmen” also generated heat with other filmmakers, with Kevin Smith calling the sequences “religious” while on another panel.
NBC rewarded fans of “Heroes” who had camped out the night before to secure a seat for the show’s presentation Saturday by screening the first episode of the third season, while Warner Bros. TV pushed its new Fox series “Fringe” from J.J. Abrams, with multiple screenings of the pilot.
Showing previously unseen footage compensates for a multitude of sins, as Lucasfilm did for the new “Clone Wars” series. Despite a hard sell that occasionally felt like a George Lucas testimonial, fans responded positively to the clips.
The opposite reaction sometimes results in a change in plans. A dull panel and unimpressive footage prompted Warner Bros. to bump “The Reaping” to the following year, where it still stumbled at the B.O. Studio has yet to release “Whiteout,” an actioner based on the graphic novel, that was given a big push at the Con last year.
This year, Universal underwhelmed with its redo of “The Wolfman” with a panel that opted not to show star Benicio Del Toro in full werewolf mode — despite having makeup artist Rick Baker onstage. The Mouse House also didn’t charm auds with “Up,” Pixar’s next pic, with footage failing to give auds a sense of what the film is about. “The Spirit,” from Lionsgate, received mixed reactions from auds.